There are plenty of things to like about streaming anime. A few bucks a month gets you more content than the average human could possibly watch, available in HD whenever and wherever you want. One of the few things that the simulcast scene has been missing is a sense of occasion. New episodes tend to come out in the middle of the day while most of us are busy working, and we all get around to watching stuff at our own pace. Convenient, yes, but it lacks some of the magic of primetime television. There’s no sense of watching a new episode at the same time as zillions of other people.
Funimation is taking a shot at capturing that “appointment television” feeling with their expanded broadcast dub program. The company experimented with the idea last season, releasing dubbed episodes of Psycho-Pass 2 and Laughing Under the Clouds a few weeks after their subtitled counterparts aired. It must’ve gone over well, because they’re jumping from two shows to ten this season. The core of that lineup is weekly primetime block, complete with a half-hour live discussion show. Think of it as an anime version of Talking Dead, AMC’s recurring talk show companion to The Walking Dead.
The project offers a wide variety of challenges, and it will be interesting to see if Funimation is up to the task. On the technical end, they’re essentially asking people to flood their servers at 8:00 PM every Wednesday. That’s potentially an awful lot of simultaneous traffic to deal with, and I’m already having apocalyptic visions of compromised video quality and endless periods of buffering. The only reliable way of testing something like that is to just do it, and I suspect that there will be some very nervous IT people a few days from now.
The live discussion show takes those technical hurdles and adds an extra variable in the form of fan interaction. Some poor soul is going to have to sift through a live feed of comments ranging from “DIS IS MY FAVORITE SHOW EVAR” to “U GUYS SUCK” in search of coherent questions to feed the hosts. Heaven help them if they’re planning to make that discussion stream visible to everyone, as they’ll also have to deal with fans arguing in real time. Massive server traffic is hard to simulate, but there’s absolutely no preparing for human interaction. Maybe everyone will be calm and civil, but Internet history suggests that’s kind of a long shot. Best of luck, forum moderators.
Even if all of that goes well, there’s still the small matter of dubbing ten shows on a fixed schedule. Even for one of the major players in the US anime industry, that’s a tall order. Spacing the launch dates out over the next month should help a bit, but the pressure will still be on. Under normal circumstances, it’s tough to get “on time,” “under budget,” and “worth watching” together as a packaged deal. Tokyo Ghoul also presents the added challenge of dubbing the second season of a series before the first. Maintaining consistent writing and acting quality is hard enough when you’re up against a deadline, and adding a full season of backstory probably won’t make it any easier. If they’ve been working on this since day one, at least they’ve got a six-week head start.
If (and that’s a very big IF) Funimation can stay on top of all these moving parts, the broadcast dub program has the potential to be a big deal. It could give anime something resembling a primetime TV block, bring dub fans into the simulcast loop, and present a more compelling case for Funimation’s streaming subscriptions. Even with last season’s trial run, it’s still a very ambitious move. Time will tell if it works, but it’s at least intriguing enough to lure me into watching this Wednesday.
This Week in Anime is hastily cobbled together by Paul Jensen. You can follow his ramblings about anime and manga on Twitter. Check back every Monday for new articles.