The Internet is buzzing after the news that Sony’s purchase of Crunchyroll, using their Kimetsu no Yaiba bucks to buy the popular streaming site for $1.2 billion and essentially becoming the dominant player in anime distribution in much of the world. Let’s take a look at why some fans are concerned, as well as the long history of Sony in the anime industry!
The History of Sony and Anime
While I understand the concern of fans over the Crunchyroll purchase, let’s take the time to understand Sony’s relationship to the anime industry that we all love.
Sony, of course, is the world-famous company begun in 1946 by Masaru Ibuka and Akio Morita to make electronics. The company changed its name from Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo to Sony in 1958, because the founders thought the phrase “sonny boy” sounded cool. They had several breakthrough products, the most famous being the stylish Walkman personal music players which became a status symbol for young people around the world. Growing up in the 70s and 80s, I can say that Sony was always tied to the idea that “everything cool in the world comes from Japan” which began in 1978 when coin-op Space Invaders games first appeared.
Then Sony entered its mature phase, and started to get somewhat less cool. While the Playstation was a huge success, they decided to become a music and media company, buying CBS Records for $2 billion then Columbia Pictures for $3.4 billion. They made a lot of mistakes, most notably becoming a music giant right before the rise of MP3s and Apple’s iPod would make that industry a shadow of its former self. Most of their investments turned out to be bad ones.
Fans concerned that Sony is “taking over anime” might not understand that they’ve been deeply involved in anime for 25+ years. The anime-related companies owned by the Sony Group include:
- Anime planner and
issuer of YouTube takedown noticeslicensor Aniplex, originally Sony Pictures Entertainment Visual Works, founded in 1995
- Sony Music, which makes anime soundtracks
- A-1 Pictures, the animation wing of the company
- CloverWorks, another popular animation studio
- Animax, a Japanese streaming platform
- Funimation, which they purchased in 2017
- Madman Entertainment, an Australian streaming platform
(Japanese conglomerates always enter business areas that would be surprising to most of us. Sony has an insurance arm that sells life and auto insurance, the internet-based Sony Bank, a real estate branch, and for years they sold a line of Sony-branded make-up which Mrs. J-List loved.)
And now Sony has purchased Crunchyroll… and anime fans are losing their minds. Are they right to be concerned? Let’s find out!
Why Are Fans Are Worried about Sony Buying Crunchyroll?
Fans Are Concerned Anime Will Be Altered with Political Agendas
In the Funimation dub for Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, the script had Lucoa refer to the “pesky patriarchal societal demands” as the reason she changed out of her super-sexy outfit. This caused much rending of garments, as fans were not amused at having politics inserted into their favorite anime. These days there are YouTube reviews of individual issues of dubbed anime, reporting on how accurate each dub was.
While I certainly agree with these fans and don’t want anything inserted into my favorite anime that isn’t in the original, my view is that every company should be allowed to make mistakes from time to time, as long they learn from them and try to do better in the future.
Fans Believe Sony will Censor Anime
In recent years the Nintendo Switch has become the default platform for anime games, in part due to Sony’s “stupid switch” getting flipped on the subject of censorship for the Playstation platform. A few years ago Sony started adding steam and light beams to anime-style games, and removed a sexy boob-touching side game from the Dead or Alive Xtreme 3. The president of Sony said, “regarding the regulation of the depiction of content, it’s simply a matter of matching global standards.”
Having worked with a lot of Japanese companies, I can easily imagine how this decision was made. The Japanese are an extremely conservative and downside-averse people, always focusing on possible pitfalls. “What if one person in Tennessee objects to this sexy camera angle? What would we do then? IT’S NOT WORTH THE RISK!” Remember that all the Sony executives involved with this decision are in their 50s or 60s and are far more concerned with avoiding a mistake that could cost them their pension than anything related to the works themselves. Which is funny, because the reason Sony became dominant in the 1990s was that Nintendo wanted to censor blood and gore out of games on their platforms in order to keep things “family-friendly,” which turned off most serious gamers.
I’ve worked with large companies who expressed these kinds of concerns, and have had to bend over backward to assuage their fears in order to guarantee that JAST USA and J18 Publishing are able to bring fans visual novels and doujinshi in the uncensored formats they want. One reason we have corporations both in Japan as well as the U.S. is so we can take the legal responsibility for licenced works out of the hands of Japanese companies, in case that person in Tennessee gets angry at something.
Sony is Preparing for a Post-Playstation World
While the Playstation might be the number one console in the world today, there are indications that Japanese fans, at least, are less interested in expensive gaming hardware and much happier to play Fate/Grand Order or Uma Musume Pretty Derby on their cell phones all day. This is why Sony moved the headquarters of their Playstation division to California in 2016.
It’s possible Sony believes its future lies more with making and distributing anime and less with relying on its Playstation platform. And looking at the explosive sales of Sony-owned Demon Slayer last year, I can see how they could come to this conclusion.
Will Crunchyroll and Funimation Be Merging?
While I’d be surprised if Sony intended on combining the two anime streaming platforms, essentially cutting their income in half, the company has indicated that they plan on doing just that. Details on when and how this will happen are TBA.
Fans Want to Know if Sony Will Fix Their &@$! App
I live in Japan, where services like Funimation and Crunchyroll are blocked, so I’ve never used either service. But a lot of fans seem to think that if Sony has enough money to be making expensive acquisitions, perhaps they could fix their &@$! streaming apps? I’m just passing along what I’ve heard from multiple fans, in case anyone at one of these companies reads this.
My Take: Will Sony Be Good for Anime?
While I acknowledge some concerns fans might have over Sony’s acquisition of Crunchyroll, I think none of us need to worry, or go get our “pirate hats” out of the closets. Sony will likely change nothing, except to hopefully improve the experiences for customers of both Funimation and Crunchyroll by making content available to both customers groups.
As to fans who fear Sony will censor anime, here are some of the sexier anime Sony’s subsidiaries have made over the years:
- Fairy Tail
- The Asterisk War
- Eromanga Sensei
- Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny-Girl Senpai
None of these anime are Interspecies Reviewers, but it’s not like Sony is averse to making anime with the visual elements fans actually want to see.
What I actually fear the most is that Sony’s penchant for making bad production decisions will somehow start affecting what anime get green-lighted. Sony is a company that has horrible decision-making processes and has some horrible flops in their history, like The Emoji Movie, Pixels, and the 2016 Ghostbusters. Whenever they do have some financial success, like 2002’s Spider-Man, they proceed to run the IP into the ground with too many sequels and reboots. They won big with The Girl in the Dragon Tattoo, but couldn’t see that making The Girl in the Spider’s Web with different cast members was a terrible idea.
So as fans, let’s all be patient and supportive of Crunchyroll, Funimation and Sony. Let’s remember that streaming provides money to the people without whom anime could not exist, the individual animators!
Thanks for reading this post about Sony’s acquisition of Crunchyroll, and what it means for anime. I hope that all fans will keep an open mind, and communicate any concerns they have about the change to the various companies in a civil manner. Got any thoughts on the Sony deal? Post them below, or tell us on Twitter!
Great news! J-List has posted a ton of our signature personal stress toys, with something for every fans in stock for you! Make sure to buy before August 20, so you can take advantage of our automatic $20-off-$100-or-more coupon!