The act of taking the remote control, turning on your favorite streaming service and deciding which movie you want to watch is commonplace. But it was not always so. Technology has greatly facilitated access for those who can afford it, but certain types of entertainment have taken a more tortuous path in the evolution of technology – anime, for example, is still very “young” in terms of expansion and accessibility. And there is a long way to go.
Watching anime in the past could be a difficult mission. Internet did not exist, at least not widely. Trying to download anything could take days, and streaming services were a distant, very distant reality. So how can we miss this season? Wait, do you remember same of the anime that came on VHS and subtitled by fans?
We will talk more about them, now, now …
It is very common to see nostalgic posts on the Internet, talking about how good the time was when we went to the video store and spent hours choosing the movie for the end of the week, or when we rented a video game to return only on Monday. And … Well, actually, it wasn’t that cool, no. At least not as we imagine. Inopportune details are always lacking, thanks to our affective memory.
The nostalgic feeling can be something that pleases us and gives us some comfort from “simpler times”, but in fact, in those ancient times, many things were more difficult and inaccessible for those who liked Japanese drawings. And that is the perspective that I want to bring to the whole discussion involving “in the past it was better”.
When it was all over here
Talking about these older experiences can take us on a tempting path of just rambling about what our reality was like. But this text also serves to present the reality that animes, no matter how much they are an entertainment market like any other, live their own commercial reality.
Japanese anime and shows in general arrived here in the 1960s, with series like Steel man – not to be confused with a certain superhero in red underwear -, Eighth Man and Ace of SpaceO. Over the years, many hits were shown on TV, in black and white, just like Speed Racer and the live-action series National Kid.
The “big moment” of anime took place only between the 80s and 90s, when the old TV Manchete decided to invest in this type of entertainment in a wide way, bringing some of Japan’s main hits and some illustrious unknowns, which would become hits in Brazil for various reasons.
In the same period, some of the first fan initiatives began to emerge to foster the creation of a community around Japanese designs, even though the term “otaku”, Which in Brazil is the equivalent of a fanatic for Japanese culture, would only be used much later. But I will return to this already.
But, with the rise of Manchete, we had, for example, the debut of The Knights of the Zodiac, in 1994. Along with the defenders of Athena, several other programs premiered or followed the success they already had, increasing the audience and serving to leverage the sale of toys and licensed products. The market looked beautiful and promising. The broadcaster, in time, would define.
With the failure of Rede Manchete in 1999, many viewers were almost orphaned. At that time, the broadcaster was no longer the bastion of anime as it used to be. After that, many others tried to score some successes and even succeeded, but nothing was compared to the huge multimarketing access that the old “channel 6” in Rio de Janeiro obtained.
And we can quote here: Globo and its TV Globinho, BandKids on Bandeirantes, anime on closed TV, in blocks on Cartoon Network or on the old channel Locomotion, which was practically only dedicated to that. However, everything was in the same place: the TV. You had to be at the right time and in the right place to see your favorite show and, in addition, in some cases, overpay for it.
The social side of otaku
It was in the 60s that a young man Sérgio Peixoto, today at 57, he began to have contact with the first anime in Brazil, but without yet knowing what it was about. Years later, after graduating and getting his first job, he would meet people who would change his life and transform his social circles, perhaps forming the first group of otakus in the country.
Those who do not get very involved with this type of media in Brazil certainly did not recognize the name of Peixoto, but his history is confused with the popularization of anime and otaku culture in the country. He was the creator of one of the main specialized publications of the time, the magazine Animax, and then Anime EX – which, incidentally, is currently back in crowdfunding in Catarse, in digital and weekly format.
“I was the creator of the first anime event in Brazil and I can prove it”, he told me, euphoric, in our conversation. And indeed it was. Peixoto maintains a blog with some files, memories and very informative texts about Japanese cartoons. There he also exhibits rare materials, such as original acetates used in the animation of Knights of the Zodiac or a copy of reference documents from the same production, more than 20 years old.
Peixoto studied at a college in the Liberdade neighborhood, in São Paulo, back in 1975. At that time, the Japanese neighborhood was even more Japanese, according to him, with stores displaying posters entirely in Japanese, people speaking fluently in the streets. “It was literally our‘ Japantown ’and I stopped by every day on my way back from school,” he recalled.
After graduating, working as an office boy in the region, he got to know the main commercial spots and started consuming manga, which are Japanese comics, from which many animes are adapted. Around 1985, he had contact with Abrademi, Brazilian Association of Manga Designers and Illustrations, formed two years before and which still exists today.
“At the Abrademi meetings, I suggested making an exhibition of anime videos and that happened in June 86. I organized and selected the drawings to be displayed and we had about 60 people present. It was the first official public exhibition of anime in Brazil and I was the organizer of it ”, he said.
Peixoto’s initiative was well received. He repeated the dose in July of the same year and, after that, only increased his participation within Abrademi and promoted a series of other exhibitions, as the years passed. The first major event, however, came in 1988.
After leaving Abrademi, Peixoto held the First Exhibition of Japanese Cartoons, at Sesc Pompeia, in São Paulo, lasting 30 days. “This was the first major event in Brazil. I had a poster exhibition, I had an exhibition of model kit, all the ingredients you have at an event, ”he said. And of course, among the ingredients, the infamous anime exhibitions.
Public displays: old technology
Like Peixoto, who was better informed or had a little money and a social circle, knew that there were “second ways” to see anime 20 or 30 years ago. The events were some of the main accesses, including. Whoever had access to extra tapes and videocassettes for copies, did the job in the name of the passion for socialization and expansion of the public.
So much so that exhibitions were a great lure to attract audiences for years. From 1999 to 2013, Peixoto and a group of friends held anime exhibitions at the Gibiteca de SP. “I did think that more than 600 exhibitions… 600 is actually a very modest number. At the beginning there were about 20 or 30 people, then I started to publicize them in magazines Animax and Anime EX, then it really filled. We started to have an average of 100 people, in some cases up to 300. We had about 60 thousand visitors, over 13 years ”, he recalled.
People left their homes to enjoy events and meetings and, many times, they sat all day, together with a lot of strangers, to check out that awaited debut or unpublished chapters of an anime that happened in Brazil, but that never arrived at the most advanced stage.
It was also in this way that Peixoto created Animecon, the first major initiative of a truly commercial anime event, also in 1999. Of course, with other objectives and attractions, especially cosplay and product sales contests, including VHS tapes, and later DVDs , with recorded episodes and films.
But at the time, the anime market in Brazil, outside of TVs, simply did not exist. Where did the material come from? Was it subtitled? That’s where fansubbers come in.
Anime via post
“Fansubber”Is the term used for groups of fans who subtitle programs and release to other fans, usually nonprofits. There are fansubbers of series of all types, including North American ones, but the term has always been closely associated with Japanese designs. And in this “golden age” the fansubbers’ work was done with VHS tapes, but they came from different sources.
Gray areas on this type of production aside, they were another means of consumption during the broad pre-internet and “pre-pre-pre-streaming” era. Groups like Shin Seiki, Lums-Club and BaC were some of the most famous and in full activity there in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, gaining strength with each new anime of the moment to be released.
It was a collaborative practice, “from fan to fan”, as common jargon used to say, totally informal. It worked as follows:
- The group had access to the original material from Japan, with media imported or resold in stores (usually in São Paulo, in the Liberdade neighborhood, or directly from different importers);
- The tapes were played, a caption was embedded, translating the content of the material;
- Afterwards, these same tapes were offered in catalogs distributed at events or stores, sold on the spot or sent via mail.
Two important points to note: the “fan to fan” chat was real, in most cases. There was no monetization system. Fansubbers charged only for the material used in the production of the tapes and shipping costs, with no profit on top. In some cases, people sent their own “virgin” tapes to the club or organization to record the anime.
In addition, within the group, in other cases there were well-divided functions: the material hunter, the Japanese translator, the person who created the subtitles, the tape player, the karaoke creator for each opening and closing, and so on. go. In some exceptions, a single person or a smaller group did everything, but the task was always difficult – both access and reproduction.
Sérgio Peixoto did not work directly on a fansubber at the time, but he met many people who did, so he was able to tell some details of what he lived closely in the late 90s and early 2000s. “The golden dream of every fansub was to have a device of Laserdisc. It was the first goal of any fansub, it made the job a lot easier ”, he reported.
Laserdisc, or simply LD, was the first storage format with optical disc for audio and video that was launched to the general public, still in the late 70’s. DVD.
The format was extremely popular in Asia, which caused almost all anime from the 80s or 90s to be released in LD. Thus, due to the quality and a certain ease of access, despite the expensive device, this media was the main option for fansubbers to convert their videos, record them in VHS and then distribute them to the public.
“Once, I went to the home of a friend who worked with fansub. He showed towers of VCRs, but he bought a Laserdisc device and bought LDs from Japan, ”recalled Peixoto. The process, although “simpler”, was at the same time complicated. It was necessary to move from LD to Super VHS, then record / re-record and, after countless details of the process, arrive at the home format, at the fan’s house.
The friend that Peixoto cites is César Ikko, founder of Lums Club, already cited in the article. “At that time, César sold a lot of tape. He even had a catalog with almost 100 anime titles. At Animecon we used to show tapes of him, but there was no commercial gain, it was to give us strength, in the partnership ”, he said.
Demand was high. According to the event organizer’s report, a person could even order four or five tapes a month, to order more in the following month. “The problem is that the citizen could sometimes take up to a month to receive a single tape, since he had to wait for the order and the post office,” added Peixoto.
Of course, the more the technology advances, the more the formats changed. With the popularization of the broadband Internet, VHS tape fansubbers migrated to digital. There were those who preyed on existing works and simply burned DVDs with the existing content and already subtitled by these groups, to later resell at fairs and meetings.
After that came the sites specializing in anime, which were not streamings yet, but which offered downloads of chapters of subtitled series, free of charge. Made by non-profit fans, but always bordering on the gray area of pure and simple piracy. There was a kind of “gentlemen’s agreement”, where digital fansubbers removed an anime from the air, when it was officially licensed to the Brazilian public.
It is true that fansubbers still exist, but over the years we have had the introduction of streaming services. There, platforms that charge monthly fees, or payments on demand, to give a user access to a catalog or a certain video. But how does anime consumption in streaming differ from other media?
The Modern Era
To understand why the anime market differs from other entertainment markets, it is necessary to understand how it works from the beginning, in Japan.
Japanese cartoons gain new seasons and series at the beginning of a new season, that is, every three months. Seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter bring more than 50 animes each, totaling dozens of new premieres every year, for various tastes and audiences. In contrast to Western productions, such as North American or European series, there is a “right number”, or rather, an approximate number of productions that the market there supports. And they release in a cadenced and “fixed” way.
The Brazilian public was accustomed to consuming only a tiny fraction of that, with what came on TV, dubbed and with eternal reruns. Seeing everything else, or at least what mattered, demanded a hunt for fansubbers and digital content that was launched on the Internet after the 2000s and popularization of broadband.
Today, there are easier alternatives and anime arrives via streaming, with transmission simulcast, that is, at the same time that the programs are shown in Japan.
Until about six months ago, many series were still missing and never premiered here, due to complications of negotiations and worldwide licensing. Right now, Brazil has at least three main platforms that have Japanese designs in their catalog: Netflix, Funimation and Crunchyroll. There are others of lesser reach, which pass some older problems or reruns, such as Amazon Prime Video and Pluto TV, but the aforementioned three are more important in this regard.
Netflix releases and produces anime every year, albeit with a delay of months in few cases; Funimation is the largest anime licensing brand in the world, but it recently arrived in the country and still has some holes in its catalog; finally, Crunchyroll has been here for a long time, since 2012, but it has reduced its catalog a little since the arrival of Funi, which keeps some of the main series of the season.
The Crunchyroll effect
THE Crunchyroll was born in 2006, in California, USA. The idea of its founders, a group of university students, was to create an online platform that would host video content, with the aim of profiting from it.
The site specializes in presenting Asian content to its audience, sent by fansubbers and without having the legal rights to display it. Calling the attention of the market, Crunchyroll received a contribution of US $ 4.5 million in 2008 from Venrock, to grow and become something bigger and more comprehensive.
The investment, of course, did not make the rest of the official market very happy. Crunchyroll was the target of criticism from companies that had the rights to several anime that were available there, and thus began to remove any copyrighted content, moving towards becoming the anime giant that it is today.
Today the company is available in eight languages, including Portuguese (from Brazil and Portugal), in addition to publishing digital manga, a game company, events, awards and official partnerships with the main Japanese studios that release anime. Streaming also finances its own animations, the Crunchyroll Originals, since 2020 – and already has 10 productions launched in this regard. With its current format, Crunchyroll collaborates every year with the animation industry in Japan. In 2018 alone, this represented a contribution of more than $ 100 million.
For those who are more curious to know how things work here, I spoke with Yuri Petnys, 33, regional leader of the platform for Brazil and Portugal. He who coordinates everything that happens here and there, always trying to provide the best possible experience to his subscribers – or to free users, that streaming also contemplates.
On average, more than 30 series debut on Crunchyroll each season. Some of them are currently dubbed into Portuguese, but most come with subtitles in our language. The work to translate and launch all this content, according to Yuri, is Herculean.
“Most anime series are produced and aired on a weekly basis, with large teams working on tight deadlines. It is not like a traditional TV series, which usually films and edits an entire season before it airs; it is more like a Brazilian soap opera, which is being written, filmed and edited while the soap opera is already on the air, ”he said.
“Dubbing is even more laborious, involving directors, technicians and dozens of voice actors to dub a single episode. But since October 2020, Crunchyroll has also been investing in Express Dubbing – for series still showing in Japan, in up to five different languages, published just a few weeks after the initial release. As expected, this requires a lot of planning and coordination ”, he added.
Some of the most recent, popular and released dubbed animes there are Jujutsu Kaisen, Yashahime, Bungo Stray Dogs, Mob Psycho 100, Darling in The Franxx, Dr. Stone, Noblesse and Burn the Witch. In total, the site has more than 750 series, including subtitled ones.
The efforts and offers seem to be worth it. The number of Brazilian subscribers to Crunchyroll is not public knowledge, but Yuri Petnys remembers the world numbers. “Brazil represents a significant and important portion of our user and subscriber base. In the world, we have more than 4 million subscribers and 100 million registered users ”, he pointed out. He also recalls that Sensor Tower points out that the platform application is always among the best placed in the entertainment category with the highest revenue.
To expand this reach, Crunchyroll also partners with TV broadcasters, such as Rede Brasil, in the past, and Loading, at the moment, where he exhibits some of his dubbed animes. Although it is a path in the opposite direction of the natural advance that the media has suffered, it seems to serve more as indirect marketing.
However, even so, with all this access, there is not 100% of Japanese offers available to the Brazilian public!
What still needs to improve?
In a conversation I had on Twitter with Laura Gassert, editor in chief of the site Jbox, I noticed that only five of the 57 Japanese premieres are not planned for Brazil. It is not perfect, but it is almost everything.
What the platforms do not cover here, however, is the premiere of films, which are also part of the releases with each new season. “The biggest problem in the market from now on is probably going to be with movies, which hardly get to streaming so fast,” commented Laura, which is very true. Animated feature films are also part of the catalog every season of the year, but are subject to other commercial agreements and, when it happens, they arrive in Brazil up to a year after their original debut and through cinema, not directly in streaming.
It is possible to reinforce this statement by Gassert remembering the film Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train, which was not expected to open in the country until last month, when the Cinemark cinema chain confirmed its arrival soon. Gassert, by the way, is the author of a very complete article on this niche of debut, or lack of debut, of anime in the Jbox itself, where you can learn even more about it.
Other problems are more inherent to the Internet structure that Brazil has, of course. In a study published in May 2020 by Agência Brasil, 26% of Brazilians remain disconnected, which is still a very high number. And, once connected, services are not always cheap, quality and with a wide range of connectivity.
There are availability problems on some platforms, such as Funimation, which does not yet have applications on all devices, such as abroad, and communication, such as Prime Video, which does not inform about animes that arrive in the catalog – when they arrive.
However, the advance over a decade is dizzying. Despite the impediments and barriers, the market has grown a lot and anime has “awakened” in Brazil, becoming an increasingly strong cultural expression.
Today, sitting on the couch and turning on the Crunchyroll app on the video game or Chromecast gives you access to just about any of your anime, even if you’re not a paid subscriber.
We miss the time to wait a month to see a new chapter of Evangelion on the VHS tape of fansub or wait a week on TV for the unpublished episode? I had a sense of fun, it reminds me of a more innocent childhood, but the technology is there, working on behalf of anime – and now more than ever.