Saturday, 9 January 2016

Random Topic: Funimation's Redesigned Streaming Service is coming to the UK

Rather than making this an industry news topic, I figured I'll go into detail a bit on my thoughts about the fact that this is perhaps the biggest news that the UK anime community has received for a long time now.

For this random topic, I'll be talking about Funimation entering the UK market via streaming. For now, we have no idea if they have any plans for physical media. Honestly I'm pretty excited for this.

So first things first, this is not a brand new website that they haven't done before. Funimation have had a streaming site for many years and this is just a re-branding of their service ever since Universal got involved with their distribution and now Sony DADC have partnered to help with the streaming. Their 'all-new' streaming service has a new name to it as well - Funimation | Now.

Future Plans:

Starting February 2016, Funimation Now will be available to a number of things. For starters in addition to their existing console apps the service will also be made available for Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV as well as Airplay and Chromecast features. The iOS and Android apps will be updated also to reflect the re-branding. But perhaps the biggest news is the launch of Funimation Now for the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland, the rest of Ireland is probably also part of the plan but there's no mention of it).

Before I get into the discussion about the UK there's also other pieces of updates planned for the streaming service. In May 2016, the website will be completely revamped to provide what Funimation describes as a 'completely new, immersive website experience' alongside new console app updates. The new website plans include easier navigation for mobiles and tablets, and advanced search and filtering for discovering new titles to watch. The console applications involved in the new update are PlayStation 3 & 4, Xbox 360 & One, and Roku.

Funimation UK Background:

So is this a big deal for the UK? ABSOLUTELY.

Funimation isn't new to the UK. They have partnered with distributors in the past to release a number of titles for the UK. A decade ago, Funimation teamed up with MVM Entertainment where they released the likes of Chobits, Fullmetal Alchemist and Kiddy Grade on DVD. Geneon titles Serial Experiments Lain, Tenchi Muyo! and Texholyze were also distributed under MVM but they may be separate to what Funi was doing at the time (all three were rescued by Funimation once Geneon went defunct in the states). At some point Funimation decided to stop their deal with MVM and switch to a different distributor called Revelation Films in late 2006. At this point they basically sold nearly the exact same sets that the US anime fans would be receiving, the difference here is with Revelation's logo added to the covers. Titles they distributed include Beck, Fullmetal Alchemist (the rest of the single volumes followed by box sets), Gunslinger Girl, Mushi-shi, Rumbling Hearts, School Rumble, Suzuka and more Tenchi Muyo!

Eventually things went well until 2009 when Funimation decided to no longer distribute directly to the UK. Instead they teamed up with Manga Entertainment UK where Manga would sub-license the titles Funimation have and distribute them for home release. Most of the titles Funimation released prior to the Manga deal did not transfer over to Manga (with the Fullmetal Alchemist: Conqueror of Shamballa movie being the only one to see a re-release). The deal essentially allows Manga to have first dibs on the titles they want to release, so they got a lot of popular titles including Afro Samurai, Attack on Titan, Claymore, Evangelion: 1.11-3.33, Fairy Tail, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, Ouran High School Host Club and Psycho Pass. This deal lasted until sometime in 2015.

In 2015, it was revealed that Fairy Tail would no longer continue in the UK, going only up to episode 108 (Part 9). It was revealed that Funimation decided to end their partnership with Manga Entertainment UK and as such Danganronpa, Evangelion 3.33 and Noragami were the last titles to be released under Manga's name from Funimation. This sparked a number of discussions as to what's going to happen next; with many fans noticing Anime Limited had acquired a number of their titles and they instantly thought that Anime Limited would take over on behalf of Funimation - this is not true as Anime Limited got the rights to a number of Funimation titles straight from Japan (Kadokawa, Showgate & Universal).

So now we got the retail topic out of the way, what about streaming distribution? Well that is a different but simple note. Essentially Funimation acquires all English-speaking rights to a number of titles (unless that particular Japanese company is strict in which case Kadokawa Pictures, Toei Animation and Universal will only allow rights to their own zone, i.e. US & Canada). The English-speaking rights applies to all or most of the following; Region 1: US & Canada; Region 4: Australia & New Zealand; and Region 2: United Kingdom, Ireland, South Africa and Scandivania (no idea why). Because Funimation acquires the rights to all English-speaking zones, the UK & Ireland was essentially left out in the streaming business as Funimation had no service to provide one and while they had Manga UK sorting out home releases, Starz Media the company who owns Manga UK was making things difficult which was even worse (I think they hate streaming).

Before the website became a major focus for Funimation, they used to provide UK access to a number of titles released on their YouTube channel. They still do, but no more titles were added for the respective zone. But that's probably no longer going to be an issue now that we have finally come to this point - Funimation's streaming service is coming to the UK.

The shows I think Funimation's UK service will have

The biggest question that a lot will be asking is what shows will be available on the service. This is actually something that myself and many others over on the Anime UK News forums have been talking about, since Funimation have a lot of titles with UK rights included. We've pretty much nailed down what titles could be included and what titles won't be included. Here's my list of what I think the service will show:

All of their shows added to Animax UK
For at least two seasons, Funimation have added a bunch of their recent simulcast titles onto Animax UK since it's obvious they had UK rights to those titles. The titles they added were from a mix of Winter 2014, Spring 2014 and Autumn 2015 seasons. So what titles did they include, well I may as well list all of them here, bare in mind that some of these did end up getting licensed by Anime Limited which I'll explain below:

 - Aria the Scarlet Ammo Double A
 - Attack on Titan: Junior High
 - Buddy Complex
 - D-Frag!
 - Daimidaler: Prince vs Penguin Empire
 - Dance With Devils
 - Date A Live (Seasons 1 & 2)*
 - Dragonar Academy
 - Fairy Tail (Series 2)
 - Heavy Object
 - No-Rin
 - Noragami (Seasons 1 & 2)
 - Ping Pong the Animation
 - Riddle Story of Devil
 - Selector Infected Wixoss
 - Shomin Sample
 - Soul Eater Not!
 - Valkyrie Drive Mermaid

*This one might not have come from Funimation. Season 1 was handled by Anime on Demand (Kaze UK's streaming service) and then added to Animax UK a while after. But Season 2 was added around the exact same time as Funimation's other titles on Animax UK and the planned home release is also slated to be compatible with Regions A, B, 1, 2 & 4 which makes things even more strange.

Now I mentioned Anime Limited just above the list, well in the recent months they picked up the home video rights to Attack on Titan: Junior High, Buddy Complex, Ping Pong the Animation, Riddle Story of Devil and Selector Infected Wixoss for the UK. Myself and others on AUKN pretty much debated on whether these would still be made available on Funimation's new streaming service, despite the fact that the distributor could have UK streaming rights also. To me I think there's a chance but for now I'm going to assume they probably won't be included. I guess I need to ask Andrew Partridge of Anime Limited if he has the streaming rights for those titles.

All of the shows added randomly on Daisuki and Viewster
As I mentioned in the Autumn 2015 round-up for UK streaming, Daisuki and Viewster have added Funimation titles to their service. Of course some of the titles from Viewster eventually expired but I'm still going to point them out here. These two services were the saving grace for how Funimation were handling the UK streaming rights. Like Animax, a lot of the titles added to Viewster were also picked up by Anime Limited so I'll be omitting those and mention later in this topic. Here's all of the titles they have that are licensed by Funimation:

 - Aquarion Logos - Daisuki
 - Bikini Warriors - Daisuki
 - Death Parade - Viewster
 - Hetalia: The World Twinkle - Daisuki & Viewster
 - Mikagura School Suite - Viewster
 - Samurai Warriors - Viewster
 - Ultimate Otaku Teacher - Viewster
 - World Break: Aria of Curse for a Holy Swordsman! - Viewster
 - Yatterman Night - Viewster

All of the shows made UK accessible on Funimation's YouTube channel (minus Aniplex titles)
As I pointed out earlier, Funimation had a ton of shows on YouTube that were accessible for the UK (as they have the rights). Of course they stopped doing it for the newer shows but the older ones are still kept. In fact there are some incomplete titles that are also accessible. The shows I'm omitting are of course the US only titles but also the Aniplex ones. It's been confirmed that Funimation no longer have the UK rights to both Fullmetal Alchemist and Mushi-shi while Baccano! is handled by Aniplex themselves (and then later acquired by Anime Limited). There's a ton of titles to mention so here goes:

 - 009-1
 - A good librarian like a good shepherd
 - Ah! My Goddess: Flights of Fancy
 - Air Gear
 - Aria the Scarlet Ammo
 - Baka & Test: Summon the Beasts (Season 1 & 2)
 - Baldr Force EXE
 - Bamboo Blade
 - Barakamon
 - Big Windup!
 - Birdy the Mighty Decode (Season 1 & 2)
 - Black Blood Brothers
 - Blessing of the Campanella
 - Blue Gender
 - C3: Cube×Cursed×Curious
 - Casshern Sins
 - Cat Planet Cuties
 - Chaos;Head
 - Chobits
 - Corpse Princess
 - Coyote Ragtime Show
 - Dance in the Vampire Bund
 - Devil May Cry
 - El Cazador de la Bruja
 - Eureka Seven: Astral Ocean
 - Fafner: Dead Aggressor (Season 1)
 - Fairy Tail
 - Free! Eternal Summer
 - Freezing
 - Ghost Hunt
 - Glass Fleet
 - Gonna be the Twin-Tail!!
 - Gunslinger Girl (Season 1 & 2)
 - Haganai: I Don't Have Many Friends (Season 1)
 - Hero Tales
 - Heroic Age
 - Hetalia: Axis Powers (Season 1 & 2)
 - Hetalia: World Series (Season 3 & 4)
 - High School DxD (Season 1)
 - In Search of the Lost Future
 - Initial D
 - Jing: King of Bandits in Seventh Heaven
 - Jinki: Extend
 - Jormungand
 - Jyu-Oh-Sei
 - Laughing Under the Clouds
 - Le Chevalier D'Eon
 - The Legend of the Legendary Heroes
 - Lord Marksman and Vanadis**
 - MoonPhase
 - Murder Princess
 - Nabaru no Ou
 - Negima!
 - Negima?
 - Okami-san and Her Seven Companions
 - Ouran High School Host Club
 - Phantom: Requiem for a Phantom
 - Project Blue Earth SOS
 - Rainy Cocoa (Season 1)
 - Rideback
 - Rumbling Hearts
 - The Sacred Blacksmith
 - Sands of Destruction
 - Sankarea: Undying Love
 - Save Me! Lolipop
 - School Rumble (Seasons 1, 2 & OVAs)
 - Sekirei (Season 1)
 - Sengoku Basara: End of Judgement
 - Shattered Angels
 - Shigurui: Death Frenzy
 - Shin Chan
 - Shonen Hollywood -Holly Stage for 49/50-
 - Shuffle!
 - Spice & Wolf
 - Strike Witches (Season 2)
 - Texhnolyze
 - The Tower of Druaga: The Aegis of Uruk
 - Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle
 - We Without Wings
 - xxxHolic (Season 1)

Yep, that is a lot of titles that Funimation have provided for the UK. **This title was recently licensed by Anime Limited so it may not be included in the final result.

Other Possible Additions
There are a few more possible additions that could make the list. The first is the fact that Funimation have a bunch of licenses for simulcast that haven't even been used for UK territories whatsoever, so that includes the recent Winter 2016 season as well as previous ones in the past. The other is from titles released with Region 2 compatibility, now this is debatable as it doesn't mean that the UK is always included in the license, it could be South Africa instead for example so it's not clear on what the show belongs to unless the countries were listed, unfortunately they aren't so for now it's up in the air.

The shows I think Funimation's UK service won't have

Now we get to what I think won't be appearing on the UK side. Granted we do have to face the facts that not all of the titles that the US have will make it over here but for these lot there are certain things getting in the way.

Toei Animation titles - Dragon Ball franchise (Dragon Ball, Z, GT & Films) & One Piece
Yep, the biggest prick of a licensor - Toei Animation. If you live in USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, you probably don't have any problems with them but for everyone else, most notably the UK & Ireland, we literally don't have any legal access to any of the Toei titles aside from a few (Saint Seiya: Soul of Gold & World Trigger on Crunchyroll). Yep, despite we recently managed to get Dragon Ball and One Piece in recent years for home release, we still haven't gotten any legal streams whatsoever. And due to Toei's incompetence I can't see them being included on Funimation's service for the UK, heck I'll be damn surprised if they do but that's just very unlikely - if it did happen though, Jerome of Animatsu is going to be pissed.

Universal titles - Hellsing Ultimate, Index/Railgun franchise, Shakugan no Shana franchise, Tenchi Muyo! franchise
Not as annoying as Toei, Universal (also known as Geneon Universal) are a bit tough to deal with when it comes to licenses, heck it took Funimation years to get the final volumes of Hellsing Ultimate and Blu-ray versions for Index, Railgun & Future Diary. But when it comes to licensing and how UK distributors have certain titles I don't see them being made available on our side.

Titles acquired by Anime Limited
As I said before many times, Anime Limited have the rights to a ton of Funimation shows (not directly, but from Japanese licensors) and this could affect Funimation Now quite a bit. Here's the list of titles I'm referring to:

 - 009 Re:Cyborg
 - Assassination Classroom
 - Attack on Titan: Junior High
 - Baccano!
 - Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad
 - Blood Blockade Battlefront
 - Buddy Complex
 - Castle Town Dandelion
 - Chaos Dragon
 - Claymore
 - Cowboy Bebop
 - Eureka Seven
 - Full Metal Panic! (Season 1, Fumoffu, The Second Raid)
 - Fullmetal Alchemist
 - Gangsta.
 - HAL
 - The Heroic Legend of Arslan
 - Ninja Slayer from Animation
 - Ping-Pong The Animation
 - Prison School
 - The Rolling Girls
 - Seraph of the End (Vampire Reign, Battle in Nagoya)
 - Space Dandy
 - Snow White with the Red Hair
 - Terror in Resonance
 - Tokyo ESP
 - Tokyo Ghoul (Seasons 1, Root A)

Yep that's a lot of good titles that could have been included but it's not the end of the world. Unlike the other UK distributors, Anime Limited doesn't mind getting their titles out to various streaming platforms as so far they've managed to contact Animax UK, Netflix & Viewster. In recent weeks Anime Limited have no plans for Viewster during Winter 2016 but they are still looking for a platform that could support all of its content. Given that Aniplex of America and Sunrise have started to add bits of their catalogue to Funimation already, I hope that Anime Limited can do the same for the UK side.

My thoughts on Funimation coming to the UK

So, what do I think about all of this. Well I'm honestly glad. The UK has been screwed over for far too long now because of Funimation and for them to finally hit the UK means all of the titles they acquire from now on should hit the UK at the same time. Heck it's been confirmed that we will be given English dubs which is a bonus as there are UK fans out there who prefer dubs over subs (I use both options) so that's a neat treat.

There are some flaws to Funimation that have occurred quite a lot over in the US. The streams have suffered from color issues that many fans have pointed out to Funimation but so far it hasn't been fixed. Some have said that the re-design would fix the issue but for now I don't think that's the case. The other issue is with the subtitles, sometimes they don't handle sign subs very well as certain titles generally don't receive them or have it misplaced on the screen. This might not bother some though but it's been a major complaint for quite some time. Other issues folks have pointed out include the translations for certain phrases and the English dubs given the 'western reference' treatment.

But overall I'm still eager to see how Funimation Now will be handled for the UK, we have 1 month to wait which is around the same time that their broadcast English dubs begin their simulcasts. For now I have to sit back and wait, but I still want to know how many shows will be available. That's it for this random topic, I know it's a bit lengthy but I hope it's a doable read.

Funimation Now's main website is currently region locked but if you live in US & Canada, you can check it out here. If you live outside those region, here's the full image of the site.

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Member of the Anime UK News forum, and also once part of the Sheffield Hallam Visual Arts society throughout 2013-2017. Been collecting anime since 2012 and supported the anime distributors ever since. Also been hanging around on the Blu-ray forum and Fandom Post forums.

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