As with many other countries worldwide, there is no longer a requirement to wait months if not years to watch your favourite anime series from Japan legally. With improved online technology, fans can watch hundreds of their favourite shows either free (supported by advertisements) or pay a nominal monthly/annual fee. For me, I doubt it things will get to a point where I willingly forgo my monthly purchase of anime. But whether you have a low anime-buying budget, want a stockpile of anime fast, or like to “try-before-you-buy”, using streaming services allow you to have access to a cache of shows, the size of which would have been unthinkable even a few years ago.
In terms of services released for Australia and New Zealand exclusively, AnimeLab from the regional anime publisher Madman Entertainment was the first (and only remaining) anime streaming service available. To get the full swath of shows available to international audiences, you will need to invest in additional services such as HIDIVE, Netflix and Amazon Plus. But, AnimeLab’s library of hundreds of subbed and dubbed seasons and thousands upon thousands of episodes will keep you entertained for an incomprehensibly long time. They could very well be the only service you need.
In 2019, Madman Entertainment’s anime division was acquired by Sony’s Aniplex anime division, which also owns the US-based anime publisher Funimation. This could have spent good news or bad news for the company and its loyal fans, given how integral they had been to the country’s anime scene. Fortunately little has changed in their direct distribution strategy, and in terms of AnimeLab, has seen almost Funimation’s entire online catalogue guaranteed to be on the AnimeLab platform. This came to a head in early-2020, with thousands of episodes never-before-licensed by Madman suddenly available on the platform.
From mainstream shows such as Naruto to Dragon Ball Z to niche works such as The Helpful Fox Senko-san and A Certain Scientific Accelerator, there is a lot on offer. The only apparent downside is that much more focus is being put on licenses managed by Sony companies in the US, meaning that other publishers such as Sentai are acquiring ANZ streaming rights themselves and putting them on other platforms. All that said, if you already have a HIDIVE and CrunchyRoll subscription as well – you are pretty much set for most anime released in Japan.
For many, the web interface would be what you use most. Retaining its purple and white colour schema which it has kept from day-dot, the user interface is familiar and has received only minor tweaks to it since launch. Most of the improvements have felt to be more about performance improvements rather than adding new functionality. The web version really feels like it is an app, where visual guidance is of focus, and you can find the episode of your choice in a couple of clicks rather than going through several menus of news and advertising. Don’t know what you want to watch? Perhaps not on the scale of Netflix, but there is an adequate level of categorisation for each season – from show age and new simuldubs or simulcasts down to more than 30 show genres.
I think the only trivial issue with AnimeLab is the availability of its smart device app. Trying to use it for the first time last night, it did not support my PlayStation 5 or LG TV – two platforms you would expect it to be available for. That said, earlier generation PlayStation consoles do have support, in addition to the Xbox One and Xbox Series X. This is merely a small issue, however, as in-use, the app works great.
AnimeLab features a two-membership plan structure, with no need to worry about extra add-ons for additional devices. Furthermore, the pricing is reasonable for the amount of content you get, especially for a service focusing on niche content, with the plan prices hardly changing since launch.
A Basic Membership sets you back absolutely nothing. While there are some notable limitations such as no access to dubbed episodes and standard definition video quality – for paying nothing you will get an expansive catalogue to work with. If you want to use the service exclusively to watch simulcast anime and don’t mind waiting a week, free should work very well.
Of course, then you have the paid plan for $7.95 AUD per month or $79.50 AUD per year. This in my opinion, is a reasonable price to pay for the service, especially (as someone who watches dubs) as the simuldub season commences and having that option to switch the audio language at will. The enhanced player isn’t too different from the standard version, but overall functions seamlessly as well.
Could Australia have survived without AnimeLab provided that international publishers ensured online streaming was available to our community as well? Certainly. But having a local anime streaming platform means that Australians and New Zealanders get the sense that they are being listened to when it comes to decision making, allows us to access locally based servers, and continues supporting our blooming industry.