To Be Lawful or Good: Why Crunchyroll is Doomed to Fail and Japan Needs Unions(along with co-ops)

Disclaimer: This is a Post-Marxist analysis of the anime industry. Reader discretion is advised.

“The history of all hitherto society is the history of class struggle”-Karl Marx

To be lawful or good, that is the question. For over 10 years corporate streaming sites like Crunchyroll have sought to gain power by claiming moral authority over the anime fandom. The only thing keeping growth steady has been idealism. Abstractions. They have ignored the material reality that exists, resulting in bad deals for the consumers and creators alike. Only the pockets of the middlemen get filled, as they make promises that if only they had a bit more support from everyone, the wealth would trickle down to the people who’ve actually earned it. And for the consumer, we get shoddy services. Paying for betas, slow connection, low quality videos, no download capabilities, region locks, exclusive licenses haphazardly mingled together, un-updated and low quality subs (the openings and endings aren’t even subbed), terrible layout designs, bullshit ads and ad placement, lack of buffer bars, false advertising, and perhaps worst of all a social media presence, whose main goal seems to be moralizing, being utterly & disgustingly cringy.

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Leaving the subjective issues aside, the charging of and control Crunchyroll has on the western anime industry is outrageous especially considering how none of these technical problems have been fixed in years. Of course, a mountain’s worth of PR money has been spent to trick a large majority of anime fans into committing to using both Crunchyroll and illegal sites (instead of just illegal sites as the should). I’m but a humble man vs the propaganda power of a large Corporation. Nonetheless, I will not sit idly while this injustice continues. This moral argument will be ended once and for all! But this isn’t just an argument for why it should fall, but why it will. It cannot be sustained by the material reality that exists.

Before we can ask whether it is better to be lawful or good we must know what is good. Good is what is best for the people. I choose to be good. I choose to represent the people.

Exploitation and Reaganomics

When you give a small group of people more money, they end up with more money. And it’s easier to make money when you have money. People generally want more money. Therefore it’s in the best interest for any small group of people to convince others to give them money by any means necessary, even promising to give some to others later, even if they won’t.

This is the true nature and motive behind trickle-down economics. It has failed to meet its outward promises everywhere but its true purpose has always been a success; more money for the rich and powerful. Now you maybe would think humans would learn but if you did you haven’t been paying attention. Many today still fall for the blatant lies of trickle-down economics hook line and sinker. And unfortunately, this line of thinking is also continuously used by legal sites like CrustyShit in order to convince the gullible and the brainwash that this will help animators.

Of course what historically happens is what happens again here. The executive’s pocket most of the money as profit having easily extracted the surplus value of the poor animator’s labor and any money that they actually do reinvest back into the industry only goes to producing more of the product with no increase in wage.

Right wingers and other capitalist defenders will tell you that the value of the worker’s labor should go up along with their wage. After all supposedly in a “free-market” that’s the way, it’s “supposed” to work. What they often fail to include in their economic analysis is that the process of determining a wage doesn’t start with trade but production. The worker and the capitalist do not start off on equal footing. The capitalist owns the means acquire through violence at some point in history, while the worker needs a job to survive. The capitalist can choose from one of millions, and so long as the workers themselves don’t determine the standard wage, capitalist will take whatever chump will accept the lowest and move on from there. The “trade of the free market” doesn’t start on even terms. which of course leads into…

Unions

Going back to the topic at hand animators are paid below the minimum wage often and are overworked to the point of literal death constantly. The hardcore capitalist will say they “made the decision” to work in such conditions completely ignoring or excusing structural ills as they tend to do. But as we already established, outside of pure, admirable love of animation the economic isolation and alienation of Japanese animators from each other keep the power in the hands of the bourgeoisie. In the past, this is where you would see unions forming as workers become more class conscience, however, capitalism as an institution has had many years to adapt and what Marx got wrong is that class is not the single most important motive even if it is the defining characteristic of an age.

People can be separated by race gender and nationality, and be taught from a young age to accept the status quo. The latter is the issue in Japan. While the Japanese mindset of conformism and collectivism gives it many strengths that put it above other nations, it makes social reform difficult. Add to this the specific conservative movement in Japan which is strong and naturally support right-wing economics. This is all not to mention the extreme risk aversion society has adopted in the post-modern era.  Rocking the boat by forming unions seems to be tantamount to treason.

But collectivism is also its strength as I said. It allows for it to be that when social reform does happen it’s on a massive scale, quick, and the entire society can reorientate. We’ve seen this historically many times from the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate to the Meiji restoration. Japan is slow to change but can change radically when need be (i.e when outside pressure is exerted). Opposite to the past American investment into the country, including the western anime industry, is helping to keep it stagnant instead of change. Only an outside shock to the system will spark the change that needs to happen in Japan.

The issue is not that illegal sites are morally superior, it’s that the whole established framework of how anime is made should be scrapped and restructured to support the workers. That means not supporting legal sites and getting money directly into the hands of labors.

What is to be done

So how we do that? How do we help lay the groundwork for co-op and union movement in Japan? And why did I say crustyshit was doomed at the start regardless. The answer to both those questions lies in 1 recent development, the establishing of a patreon for Studio Trigger.

As of the time of writing this it hasn’t started yet but once it is started I will guarantee you it will blow up. It’s not a question. This is TRIGGER guys. The same people who made the giant that is Little Witch Academia. And they are pushing hard for financial independence. It’s not for funding anime but it’s a start to getting money directly into animators hands. Even in the unlikely event that this bombs they’ll find another way. They always have and always will. Because THEY’RE TRIGGER. And once they succeed, with or without our help, everyone will copy the Trigger model given the incestuous nature of the industry. It will be the end of the middleman.

Anime shouldn’t become mainstream in the west for a variety of reasons. But the most important is that it won’t totally change the way media distribution platforms function or totally change the way the anime industry functions. And if you truly care about anime you must care about the people who make it. If the status quo is god, we must do what Japanese like to portray in their own media alot, and slay it.

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2 thoughts on “To Be Lawful or Good: Why Crunchyroll is Doomed to Fail and Japan Needs Unions(along with co-ops)

  1. Interesting post, as I was reading the first few paragraphs I was already thinking ahead to patreon as a potential alternative.

    I agree that Crunchyroll has failed to do what it could have done, the tech hasn’t been great and the anime selection is not great either. On top of that their own production ‘newsletter’ or review type of content hasn’t been great. They had a near monopoly for a while and totally failed to capitalize on it. Here comes Netflix 🙂

    I’d don’t know the actual figures, but as you suggested I think subscribing to crunchyroll vs. stealing anime probably benefits the middle management that aren’t really creators much more than the oririgal artists. But then again buying a DVD boxset in Tokyo also doesn’t benefit the creators much based on known info about industry salaries.

    I think old media in general has a lot of catching up to do. Self publishing for books has grown a lot, with tools like YouTube, twitch, patreon, and other online marketplaces etc. could a self publishing model work for anime, cut out the promoters completely and creative studios directly interact with their audience. The less that goes to middlemen the cheaper the product and more to the creators. I’d happily micro transact direct to creators for good episodes or series packages.

    I think unfortunately that still leaves a supply and demand issue, there simply aren’t that many people that want to spend money on anime vs. the number of people that want to work in anime. That’s why a lot of people are salarymen, most of them don’t like it, but it’s profitsble business so plenty of jobs to go around.

    Keep up the interesting thoughtful posts 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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