Netflix versus the discourse (on Anitwitter and elsewhere)

December 17, 2018

I usually think of myself as someone who watches anime as a pretty solitary activity. It's not really true, as I've understood for some time (for instance, I know I face the tacit pressure of conformity), but most of the time I can not really be conscious of the social side of my watching; it's just sort of there, as something that happens. This year, Netflix provided an interesting reminder of that social side.

With a weekly show, there's always a current episode, the most recent episode that aired and then became available here, and that's what most people are watching and reacting to and talking about. While the discussion is generally at its most intense the day the episode becomes available, not everyone watches it or reacts to it right away. And even if you watch it later in the week (as I often do for some shows), there's still people to talk to about it or read current reactions to it in various places. This whole environment enables a discourse that is focused on that episode; it's the obvious thing about the show to talk about, to react to, and to frame a discussion around.

Netflix shows did not work this way. Netflix released most or all of the anime shows it funded this year in the same way that it releases other TV series, which is to say all at once, with every episode immediately available. In particular, it released Devilman Crybaby that way, with all episodes available January 5th. Some people burned through the entire show in the next day or two; some people burned through it in a week; some people took much longer. One of the results was to distinctly attenuate the discussion about Devilman Crybaby, because people who wanted to talk about it lacked the common ground of a 'current episode'. If you were an early watcher, you might avoid discussing things because of spoilers, or have only limited other early watchers you could talk about things with. If you were a later watcher, you might have to carefully not look at early discussion in order to avoid spoilers and in any case your current episode might be old news to a lot of people.

(And even if you didn't deliberately avoid spoilers, you had to go find old discussions, or have them already bookmarked and saved; they weren't on top of Anitwitter, feed readers, Animenano, and so on.)

I don't know if this lack of fan buzz hurt or even helped Devilman Crybaby, either to get more viewers or to get people to think about the show more independently than they might have in the discourse's usual echo chamber. I do know that it made my own experience of Devilman Crybaby feel distinctly different from watching weekly shows, and I likely didn't discuss it half as much as I would have done if it was a normal show.

(Also, of course, the experience of burning through something as intense as Devilman Crybaby over a short period of time is definitely different than it would have been seeing it at a one episode a week pace. I don't know if a forced weekly pace would have made Devilman Crybaby more or less powerful, but it certainly would have made things feel different.)

I suspect that Netflix's mass episode drop also lead to less blog entries and so on about Devilman Crybaby than there would otherwise have been. Certainly I expect it led to less episode by episode analysis, because there really wasn't much point unless you wanted to do a close reading of the whole show or record your reactions and thoughts on an episode by episode basis. But with that said, Shin Mecha Guignol did a very interesting series of articles on each episode.

I also watched Netflix's B - The Beginning and some of A.I.C.O. - Incarnation, each of which was made available all at once and each of which didn't get too much discussion that I saw, but with both of them I think there are what you could politely call other factors at work as well. Violet Evergarden is an odd case, because it was available week by week everywhere except in the US, where it was available all at once at the end of its weekly run; as a result, I experienced it week by week as a normal Winter 2018 show.

(This is part of the 12 Days of Anime 2018.)

Written on 17 December 2018.
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Last modified: Mon Dec 17 19:43:05 2018
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