This may or may not surprise many of you - most of the streaming services commonly used to watch anime are actually illegal.
Jokes aside, illegal streaming is undoubtedly harmful to the anime industry, costing around 288.8 billion yen in 2014 (approximately 2.5 billion USD or about RM 10.5 billion) which, in an industry already known for having absurd work hours for little pay, isn’t all that great for the future of animation. Of course, trying to give more money to an animation studio may not necessarily raise salaries, but it can certainly help to support well-made anime and takes away company executives’ excuses to take advantage of often lowly-paid animators.
Piracy comes in many forms; however, the simplified definition boils down to any form of directly profiting off someone else’s content, where none or little of the proceeds go back to the creators. Before we address how to give back to content creators, let’s discuss reasons why someone may pirate rather than watch anime legally.
There are more reasons, but these are the major ones and should be addressed beforehand. Firstly, it is indeed difficult to watch some anime titles legally especially if the country’s distributor decided not to allow it to be shown for whatever reason. It’s also unfair to have to wait several months to watch an episode that consumers elsewhere have already watched, as spoilers will impact the enjoyment of the title. Finally, one may be understandably cautious about spending on any shows - especially if it does not live up to its hype. These are all understandable reasons, but there are ways to contribute to the industry if you cannot directly support its creators.
Most obviously, the most direct method is to watch via a legal streaming service, such as Crunchyroll, Hulu, Netflix, Anime-Planet or iFlix. This ensures your money makes it back to the anime studios, as these services pay licensing fees to broadcast anime. TV subscribers can watch Animax, which is offered by Astro satellite TV services, although it may be late. As titles shown on these platforms are usually either made in part or fully backed by the companies owning the platform, this means every penny spent here will be funnelled back to the creators.
“But I can’t afford to pay a monthly subscription fee!”
That’s fine, there are other ways to support your favourite anime studios!
You can buy official merchandise and Blu-ray editions of their anime, which ensure profits return to the studios - as long as they aren’t third-party; fanmade work (doujinshi), while helpful to local artists and creators, do not directly benefit the anime studio - so it’s up to you choose whether you want to support either or both, the latter of which is definitely more ideal.
Spread the word!
Not only will this ensure more viewers, it will also make the studio more aware of overseas fans, and (hopefully) mean more willingness to license their anime to non-Japanese platforms. As seen in the now-discontinued service Daisuki (the international streaming site managed by Anime Consortium Japan) the studios are definitely aware of the ever expanding foreign market but are understandably cautious of investing too much money and time into such a venture. M.A.G. claims that over 50% of fans in the United States pirate anime, losing as much as 2 trillion yen (approximately 20 billion USD or about RM 79 billion).
“Piracy is almost always a service problem and not a pricing problem. For example, if a pirate offers a product anywhere in the world, 24 x 7, purchasable from the convenience of your personal computer, and the legal provider says the product is region-locked, will come to your country 3 months after the US release, and can only be purchased at a brick and mortar store, then the pirate's service is more valuable.” - Gabe Newell, in an interview with The Cambridge Student, 2011.
Not everything can be solved right now, and reasons people pirate anime extend further than plain penny-pinching. However, as a consumer you can do your part and part with some of your hard-earned money to your favourite studios, so they can keep producing the works you enjoy and pay their employees livable wages. This feed-in cycle could be the turn-around point for anime studios to even one day come to the viewers as shareholders, like how Studio Trigger funded the Little Witch Academia second movie through Kickstarter – and successfully, might we add.