If you’re an anime fan and browse the internet for any decent amount of time, chances are in the last few days you’ve come across a number of articles like this one.
For those unfamiliar: I’ll keep it brief. Crunchyroll has made some recent changes to their encoding process, drastically reducing the bitrate of their video, and, as a result, quality has taken a nosedive. Users stumbled upon this discovery almost on accident, as Crunchyroll appears to have jumped the gun and applied the lower bitrate to the newest episode of a handful of series, as opposed to just applying the change to older episodes that don’t necessarily get as much traffic. Unfortunately for them, users picked up on it quickly, and already there are a number of articles and reddit threads highlighting the differences and comparing screenshots. Essentially caught red-handed, Crunchyroll did roll back some of the changes, but only for new episodes.
Users who maintain a premium subscription to get the latest and greatest anime as it airs are in a tizzy, many revoking their subscriptions and encouraging others to do the same. Crunchyroll is not doing itself many favors at the moment either, with their modest rollback being overshadowed by their self-righteous attitude towards users questioning why they should pay for lower quality video when they can pirate higher quality anime for free. The holier-than-thou stance ran itself pretty thin when it was rolled out years ago by studios fighting to justify their ridiculous pricing on box sets (Remember when you paid $95 for the first DVD and a mostly empty box with maybe a t-shirt in it? Mithrandiel remembers.) Crunchyroll’s past certainly doesn’t help much either.
Those who are familiar with Crunchyroll’s history are aware of the particularly painful irony that the site essentially began as a place to watch fansubbed anime that was, well, pirated. Since those early days, much like a rehabilitated gangster, Crunchyroll has moved away from those “shady” practices to set up a proper business. Along the way they’ve enjoyed a significant rise in the 5-7 years, recently claiming an important milestone of 1,000,000 paid subscribers, not to mention their huge presence at pretty much every major anime convention in the United States. This win, celebrated last month, only seems to be adding fuel to the fire as users continue to wonder aloud how a company that has over a million paid subscribers makes the decision to knowingly harm the quality of their viewing experience.
To be fair, between Crunchyroll, FunimationNow, Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services, anime fans seem to have no shortage of legitimate ways of acquiring their anime. That being said, this latest move by Crunchyroll seems to dismiss one of the biggest perks of being a paid subscriber: high quality video. If users aren’t going to get the quality they paid for, the alternative appears to be seeking out fansubs once again. Former mainstays such as HorribleSubs have been invoked frequently, and the community as a whole is having a debate that we haven’t properly seen for years.
While the fansub community as a whole is in pretty sorry shape, many simply ripping from Crunchyroll to begin with, it will be interesting to see if their involvement sparks Crunchyroll to take more aggressive steps to address their lackluster video quality. If they don’t, or if the current PR fiasco continues to run amok, it will be interesting to see what sort of momentum this could give an otherwise defunct industry.
Regardless, this incident has revived the specter of anime piracy in a big way, and Crunchyroll will likely be battling this revenant for some time.