Anime Piracy

I was introduced to anime in the late 2000s. Before I started watching Fairy Tail, One Piece and many other shows, I had only seen things like Pokémon and Shaman King on television in small amounts. The shift to watching series in order on my computer was a big shift. Mind you, I think my monitor had only just upgraded from being a cube, so it’s not exactly a 1080p experience yet, but just being able to follow along with the stories was a nice change of pace. There was just one problem. And I’ll be honest, I didn’t see it as much a problem back then and don’t see it as much of a problem now. But it is considered problematic. There was really no way to legally watch anime where I live.

So instead I watched episodes of One Piece on a pop-up infested streaming website that has long vanished by now. The creators of these series that I watched never received any money from this, which is obviously a bad thing. I just went to check Crunchyroll and this is the first time I checked that One Piece is actually available in its entirety. I will admit it’s been a little while since I last checked but even as recently as two or three years ago it was impossible to stream One Piece where I live. I’m confident it probably still is impossible in many places. When writing this post, I felt it was only fair to do a quick check of the availability of the shows I’m currently watching. It was way better than I expected and this honestly might be the push I needed to start watching on Crunchyroll. I’m watching 26 shows this season, 20 of which are on crunchyroll, 6 of which are currently unavailable for streaming in my region. That’s not bad. 

But I’m digressing from the point I wanted to make. For me, watching anime illegally was the only option I had for a long time. I did the same with manga for years. As a student I didn’t have the money to buy volumes legally and the availability back in the day wasn’t exactly great. That’s rapidly changing and although I’m still broke, I’ve stopped reading manga on pirated websites altogether. It’s just not convenient. I can read my Shonen Jump titles on the official app (although it sucks that not more of their content is available here, a lot of it is still region locked) and I read my webtoons on the webtoon app. That is if Tower of God ever continues, I hope the author is doing well, he deserves his rest. Everything else I read nowadays, I buy the physical volumes for. That brings me to the point I want to make.

Pirating media isn’t inherently a bad thing. I know this is a controversial take that a lot of people will agree with and I admit it is a nuanced issue. But I want to approach it from my personal experience. If I never watched One Piece on dodgy websites with pop-up advertisements, I would have never bought the entire manga. I spent close to a thousand euros on One Piece stuff alone. Without piracy, that money would have never gone to the creators, publishers, distributors etc. If I never watched One Piece illegally, I wouldn’t have ever bought the manga legally later in life when I had the means to do so. The same is true for the other manga I have on my shelf. Access to a new medium, fandom or series leads to new fans and new fans leads to more sales. This isn’t always a direct link, some people will just keep watching, reading or gaming through pirated means. But I can guarantee you, and there’s people in the industry who back these claims up, that piracy has done more to boost sales of media than to undermine it. Gabe Newell, founder of Valve, has famously said that piracy is an issue of service and not of price. I think that’s a good way of looking at it. If I need to spend a ton of effort importing manga through a reseller or setting up a VPN to watch my anime, then I’m not going to bother. If you go “give me twenty bucks a month and you can watch everything at a high quality with no ads” I won’t hesitate.

A big counter argument I sometimes hear is that when you pirate something, the creators miss out on sales. I’m sure there will be instances of this, but I don’t think this is as big a thing as people claim it is. In my experience, hearing from people around me – so this is strictly anecdotal, take it with a spoonful of salt – they only pirate things they weren’t going to pay for anyway. I stopped pirating a bunch of manga when it became inconvenient to do so. I didn’t then suddenly buy those manga instead. There is no loss of sales there. I was never going to buy the manga for (for example) Love so Life, because it simply does not legally exist in a language I understand. I read it from start to finish, absolutely loved it, went to find where I could buy the volumes, and simply couldn’t buy them. There is no loss of profit there for anyone involved. The only thing that comes out of this is that if it ever does get translated to English, they’ll have one extra buyer. Pirating things you can easily afford to get legally is bad. But pirating something that you weren’t realistically going to spend money on is a different story.

That brings me to the final part of this post, and I know I’ve been ranting for quite a while today, so I’ll shut up after this. Anime and manga have absolutely blown up in the west lately. When I was in high school you’d get bullied for watching anime, now the kids I teach make fun of each other for not having watched the latest shows. And I wholeheartedly believe that without my generation pirating part 2 of 6 spanish sub Naruto on Youtube, we never would have gotten to this point. For something to become popular, it first needs to be available. Piracy has had a net positive effect on the anime and manga industry. That’s what I think. I will keep buying my manga and supporting the shows I love, but I don’t think I would have been able to do this without a generation of piracy. But that’s me and my opinion, please let me know in the comments down below if you agree or disagree with me. It’s a nuanced topic and I’m not claiming to be an expert either. Regardless, thanks for reading.

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