The current times have been strange for the anime industry. In the short time that distribution giant Funimation acquired their competitor in Crunchyroll, a new batch of controversies has transpired since, ranging from ongoing union disputes between dubbing companies and voice-actors, to the sudden erasure of adult content from retailers such as Right Stuf. For anime fans, these new developments feel like the calm before another storm of issues that continue to have an effect on both the shows they watch and the industry they support. For all kinds of otaku in the streaming age, this only adds to the problems they currently face with another distribution platform in Netflix, a service that many consider to be simultaneously helping and hurting the anime they acquire through their marketing and binge-watch model. But, while these worries are valid ones, does that actually translate to a show’s decline in viewership and conversation? Is putting an anime in “Netflix Jail” still something for fans to fret about in 2022 and beyond?
Now, before we go any further, you may be reading this wondering what the term “Netflix Jail” even means, and why it’s a discussion worth having in relation to anime distribution. “Netflix Jail” is a term that’s commonly used within the anime fandom to describe a show that should be simulcast in English-speaking countries at the same time it airs in Japan, but gets delayed in those territories so that it can be released under the service’s binge model, either in scheduled batches or in its completion. This strategy started to gain notice a few years ago with shows like Beastars and Carole and Tuesday having already aired on Netflix Japan months or a year ahead of their debut in the states. That being said, these shouldn’t be confused with “Netflix Original” anime, which are shows that were produced in part by the streamer to be released worldwide all at the same time (shows such as Devilman Crybaby, Yasuke, and most recently Cyberpunk: Edgerunners). While it's easy to understand why shows that are from Netflix get released this way, it’s not difficult to see why their mindset toward shows that are for Netflix can be met with such backlash.
Certain information regarding the shows is withheld by the streamer for lengthy periods of time, with news such as release dates and castings being available weeks, or sometimes on the day before, they drop on the service. A notorious example of this revolved around their massive acquisition of Neon Genesis Evangelion, a classic anime that was known for its inaccessibility in areas outside Japan at the time. Little was shared about whether there would be any changes to the series for its streaming debut until the day Evangelion dropped on Netflix worldwide, where it was revealed that the series received an entirely new dub with scripts that changed the perception of crucial scenes to long-time fans, as well as the controversial change of removing the show’s rendition of “Fly Me to the Moon” due to licensing issues. While this acquisition is far from an act of incompetence from Netflix’s aspirations to expand their anime library, it is strange that they’re also unwilling to disclose certain information about their content, much like how they are with their true viewing data for content in general.
A more egregious example came recently when Netflix acquired the streaming rights for the latest season of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, it was never made clear the show would be released in batches, with Netflix having timed exclusivity on the episodes before they could be aired weekly in Japanese television stations a month after. Prior to its arrival on Netflix, JoJo’s would air its seasons on a weekly basis, which naturally created a sense of community for fans as it became their weekly show to talk about. When Netflix began airing its latest season, titled "Stone Ocean", the first 12 episodes were released in December 2021, and fans had to wait until September 2022 for the following 12, with the remaining number of episodes currently unknown. If that isn’t milking something dry, I don’t know what is.
Yet while these issues are certainly ones that the community is right to be upset about, does that equate to a depreciation in their overall engagement? While it’s impossible to learn this data from Netflix since they don’t publicly share it, we can speculate via other available stats. According to WikiShark, the traffic for JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure on Wikipedia peaked at over 10K page views at the time that "Stone Ocean" began airing in December 2021, but by the release of its second half, that number decreased by more than half its peak with a high point of over 4K in September 2022. Despite this being a poor decline for such a beloved series, this didn’t necessarily translate to other shows imprisoned by the streamer.
For example, take the search traffic for Beastars between the time that it aired in Japan in January 2021 to its release on Netflix everywhere else in July that year, and you can see a drastic uptick in page views from 3K to a little over 4K. It should be stated again: these are not stats that can confidently illustrate how the shows perform on Netflix, but it’s an interesting collection of data that raises more questions about why they do the things they do with anime, and how it may affect the fanbase of these franchises.
Like others before me, I am not writing about these issues as a call to be pro-Netflix or anti-Netflix. They’re a company that’s managed to survive this long by going forward with decisions such as the ones mentioned above, and for the most part, remained successful at it. It’s clear that I’ve left out the most popular issue surrounding Netflix Jail, and that is if their decisions would ultimately lead their audience to pirate their content as a result. While it’s a topic worth discussing, piracy even in its modern form has always been in response to obtaining media that isn’t available in any legal form, and these shows are not that. For a Netflix subscriber, chances are that it’s way easier for them to wait for a show’s international release (or even use a VPN to watch it on Netflix Japan) than it is to pirate them.
The real question for them, however, may involve what they plan to do once the service inevitably increases its subscription charges in the future. After all: For a show like JoJo, can someone be willing to spend their income on a service that’s charging them more for the same season of television? In these competitive streaming wars, the way Netflix operates with its content now may lead them down the path of their downfall. Time will tell whether it’s right for them to gate their content until deemed otherwise, or if they must evolve from their past and set those titles free.
Raul Cruz has had a knack for writing ever since he could grasp a pencil with his tiny baby fingers. His professional writing experience dates back to 2018, with reporting and transcribing news in the media industry through Collider, CBR, Looper, and his own independent channels. A music and communications graduate from the University of Miami, Raul is currently developing a YouTube channel while also hosting his podcast American Nerds. A go-getter and aspiring thinker, Raul hopes to be the best there is at what he does, and what he does is simply okay.
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What Is Netflix Jail and What Does It Mean For Anime? – Collider