Sunday, June 08, 2008

Toei direct download: better than nothing?

Toei Animation has been gearing up for this for a while. Selecting titles that they know people want but are too long to send to DVD and not marketable enough for TV, they've put them up for direct download that you pay to watch. Now, this makes sense on some levels, but is it really the best option? No, but it may be the only option.

Nostalgia is go.

At first, you'll probably ask, "What's so wrong about this?" And on the surface, you're right. People are already downloading their favourite anime anyway. Fansubs in the olden days used to be mailed around between groups of friends on scratchy VHS tapes where the only option was those ugly neon subtitles that people still complain about on modern DVDs. I haven't seen these direct downloads, but due to the lack of limits on the internet, they might even have pretty-looking subtitles. Details like the rose vines in the Rozen Maiden subs and the glittery snow in the Kanon subs have made me keep those on disc even after buying every available DVD once they were licensed. Not to mention files are easier to manage than a DVD box, and cause much less waste! So why am I complaining? I'm not -- not about these things, anyway.

The fact is, pay direct downloads are far from perfect, despite all the advantages. The companies are very aware that you could just buy one copy and then send it to all your friends for free. At least Toei is letting you burn one backup copy -- most don't even let you do that. There's an encoding in the download you receive that won't let you play it on more than two computers, ever. So if your computer breaks, like mine did back in February, and you need to replace it, there go your two computers; you can't take the series to anime club or lend it out to your friends. And what happens when you upgrade to your next computer? Companies are far stricter on downloads than on DVDs. Take one order company, for instance; if you buy a DVD, it's yours, and they're very courteous about it, but if you buy a download of the same movie, you can only play it on one computer, in one place -- if you've taken your laptop on a trip, you can't open the file and watch it, or they could take it away from you. Seriously.

Toei will probably do the same thing.

So with all that, why don't they just license these series for DVD release? Simple: because they can't. All the shows selected for the promo were either previously or never licensed, and they're all around 52 episodes, as usual for the company. The thing about English TV, though, is that they want to aim for specific markets and don't want a single bit of "weird" for fear that it'll alienate the customers. You all remember when ADV picked up Pichi Pichi Pitch, right? They held onto the license for a year and then dropped it; though the series had an established fanbase, 52 episodes was just too much for them to viably release without attracting new viewers with a TV deal. You tell me which TV station would pick up an uncut, unlocalized magical girl anime about a big-chested mermaid princess who turns into an idol singer and fights by singing into the kind of karaoke microphone that was last popular in 1999. One of the series that Toei is offering, Futari wa Precure: Pretty Cure, doesn't even have as weird a premise as Pichi Pichi Pitch does, but when 4Kids had it, they were going around for years trying to get the networks to pick up their proposed hack-job. TV doesn't want girls' series like Pretty Cure. They don't want sports series like Slam Dunk, old series like Digimon Adventure, violent series like Fist of the North Star. The only thing Toei can do is market it in a cost-effective way that targets these shows' existing fanbases.

Toei's direct download program has me wary. I've been wanting to buy a decent release of some of these shows for a long time, but with all the disadvantages, I think I'll pass. I can't help but feel a little guilty about that, though. Considering the situation, it looks like there will be no other way to get them.