In April 2008, a company called GDH tried a little experiment. Two new anime series would be subtitled into English, with episodes released online within 24 hours of when they first aired in Japan.
It seemed to go all right. Then another anime company tried it. And another. And suddenly, today, we have arrived at the point where nearly every new anime series is simulcast to most of the rest of the world online.
Many of the predictions about the brave new world of TV on the Internet have come true. Illegal downloading of these shows has gone down. Studios get actual money, either from ads on the free streams or from paid subscriptions. Viewership has gone up.
But the best part is something I don't remember anyone talking about much: the enhanced experience of being a fan. It used to work like this: A series would air in Japan, and the lucky people who actually lived there or the ones who spoke Japanese and had no qualms about downloading could discuss it. Then the people who waited for other fans to distribute unauthorized copies with subtitles could see it. Then after a while, it would start to get picked up for licensed distribution in various regions. Some people would buy the deluxe edition straight away, and some would wait for the discount thinpak version.
So the conversation about any particular series had always been horribly fragmented. But now we are all on the same page, and it's wonderful. Suddenly going to online forums to swap theories about a show seems worthwhile because everyone has the same clues to work from. Suddenly it seems like a great idea to get together with fellow fans of a show at Worldcon, because even internationally, everyone is seeing the exact same show together.
There are still a few issues to work out. Streams don't pay the studios anywhere near as much as DVD sets do, and volumes aren't high enough yet to fully make up for the money they've been losing to downloading. There is still a chance for a reportedly high-quality show to not be picked up for streaming. (Mawaru Penguindrum, I'm looking at you. Or at least I wish I were.) But things are finally looking up a bit for the anime industry, and for the fandom along with it.
Next: The Encounter Log