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Crunchyroll: Anime, FGC, and Game Publishing

Elizbar Ramazashvili
7 min

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Crunchyroll: Anime, FGC, and Game Publishing
A serious punch to get into gaming

Anime has never been more popular in the West than it is today. It was once a niche medium, largely confined to its country of origin, Japan, due to the absence of a proper distribution method. In the early days of anime's global expansion, fans had to rely on fan-subtitled VHS tapes and, later, digital files obtained through less-than-legal means. This scarcity and lack of accessibility made it difficult for anime to gain widespread recognition beyond dedicated enthusiasts.

However, the landscape changed significantly with the emergence of Crunchyroll. Founded in 2006 by Kun Gao and a group of UC Berkeley graduates, Crunchyroll started as a platform for users to upload and share their own videos, often featuring fan-subtitled anime content. Over time, it transitioned into a legal streaming service, striking licensing deals with major anime studios and content creators. This transformation allowed it to become a legitimate and reliable source for streaming anime to a global audience. By offering a vast library of titles, some even simulcasted with their Japanese release, Crunchyroll played a pivotal role in democratizing access to anime. It provided a legal, convenient, and affordable way for fans worldwide to enjoy their favorite shows, marking a significant shift from the era of piracy that had characterized anime consumption for years.

Gabe Newell, the co-founder of the renowned video game company Valve, once famously remarked, "Piracy is almost always a service problem, and not a pricing problem." This quote holds true for the anime industry as well. Crunchyroll's success exemplifies how the provision of a well-structured, accessible, and reasonably priced service can not only combat piracy but also foster the growth of a once-niche medium. By addressing the service problem, Crunchyroll became a transformative force, helping anime achieve global recognition and cementing its place in mainstream entertainment. There were others, too, of course. There were many services and TV channels that showed and distributed anime, but ask anyone at any kind of convention (like I did at gamescom) which service or platform they associate anime with, and the answer will more than likely be Crunchyroll.

In a significant development for the anime industry in the West, Sony's acquisition of Crunchyroll in December 2020 further solidified the streaming platform's position as a powerhouse in the Western anime market. Sony's expertise in media distribution, combined with Crunchyroll's extensive anime library and user base, presented an opportunity to create synergies that could benefit both companies. The acquisition, valued at more than a billion, marked a strategic move by Sony to expand its presence in the streaming sector, and it allowed Crunchyroll to tap into Sony's vast resources and global network.

One notable outcome of this acquisition was Crunchyroll's increased involvement in the world of competitive gaming, especially fighting games, as many popular fighting games incorporate anime-style characters and visuals. Crunchyroll's sponsorship in the fighting game community has included partnerships with major esports events and tournaments, the main one being Evo, where they have provided anime-themed content and promotions.

When I asked the people at the Crunchyroll/OPM stand at gamescom about what it is exactly that draws Crunchyroll to the FGC, the answer was simple: it’s our passion. Each and every person who signs up for the pools at Evo is a Shounen protagonist in their own right. Fighting games are most likely the closest thing to anime in games: crazy super moves, lighting-quick battles, and huge casts of striking, memorable characters. Fighting games are anime, whether you like it or not.

But Crunchyroll isn’t simply doing relatively hands-off sponsorships. Not too long ago, they launched their new venture called Crunchyroll Games, which publishes various games for mobile and PC platforms. One of the games is highly-successful Street Fighter Duel, based on the universe and characters known to each and every fighting game fan.

But Crunchyroll Games’ latest project eclipses in scope everything they’ve done before. It’s not a fighting game per se, but a character-based beat-em-up is as close as it gets, and, well, there’s also a fighting game set in the same universe available for a couple of years already. The game I’m talking about is One Punch Man: World. It’s an accurate retelling of the story that manga and anime have already shown us, but this time, you can participate in it directly. The developers made a conscious effort to present familiar scenes through different perspectives so it doesn’t get stale for someone who knows what happened already. The game features a huge cast of characters, and as the producer explained to me at gamescom, the story will be constantly updated and new playable heroes added.

One of my biggest questions was, how do they balance characters like Saitama and Mumen Rider, who have such an obvious gap in strength? The answer was, they pick story battles carefully for each character, so they simply don’t feel weak. Challenge battles are a different beast altogether – for a challenge against Carnage Kabuto I picked Mumen Rider, and it was much more difficult than if I had chosen Saitama or Genos. The meaning of this is, that the characters are balanced for the battles they participate in, but there’s still a power gap and, honestly, room for skill expression. After all, I was able to beat Carnage Kabuto with a measly Mumen Rider.

But the most impressive feature of the game for me was the skill-based gameplay and how each and every move changed situationally based on your state. Some moves transform while you’re dashing, others get more powerful when you channel them, all while you’re charging your bar to unleash the devastating ultimate ability.

And the best part? You can do it all with your friends.

I’m not sure how the game will be monetized or if there will be any microtransactions that sell you power, so I can’t, in good conscience, recommend this game based on my time spent with it at gamescom’s personal demo. What I do recommend, however, is that you keep your eye on this game. It will be available on PC and mobile and may just as well surprise you with what it has.

Crunchyroll’s involvement with the FGC and gaming in general seems like a good-faith effort to bring the worlds of anime and gaming even closer together. Let’s hope they don’t stray from this path.

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