Is Disney+ already messing with its licensed anime?

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Back in October 2021, Disney announced a lot of new content for APAC (Asia Pacific Region), and anime fans around the world were intrigued to discover that Disney was entering the anime licensing scene. It didn’t come as such a shock, since a month earlier, the Star Wars: Visions series, an anime anthology series from seven major Japanese studios, debuted on Disney+.

Over the past decade, every major platform has tried its hand at anime with varying success, so it was only a matter of time before Disney threw its hat into the ring. But as the months went by and the news slipped from people’s minds, it was a surprise when some anime mentioned by Disney in this press release was already out. In this spring anime season, Summertime Render and Black Rock Shooter: Dawn Fall were broadcast on Disney+… in Japan… and nowhere else. For those who are not familiar with the troubles of anime on major streaming services, there is such a thing as “Netflix Prison” or, even worse, “Amazon Prison”. This applies to licensed anime that are unavailable for a long period of time or that are prohibited from releasing or duplicating home videos in a timely manner due to the licensor.

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Familiar Sting

For example, Netflix may license a TV anime produced in the winter, but they won’t broadcast it until it’s finished and then wait another month before releasing it. And if there are 24 episodes in the series, then it will be divided into two “seasons” and released separately. This is a process that everyone likes (sarcasm).

The reason people may be annoyed by this is because it has been complained about for a long time. Netflix has only recently fixed this by releasing weekly episodes as they air, albeit only for a few shows like Komi Can’t Communicate. And Disney seems to have already followed this trend when new Marvel and Star Wars shows were released weekly.

Seeing a fairly well-received anime like Summertime Render locked up in what will undoubtedly be called a “Disney Prison” isn’t going to appeal to everyone. The only delay is the potential pleasure of coming up with smarter names (for example, “Mickey’s Prison” or “Anime Prison+”). At the time of writing, there was no official announcement of an international release.

Why would they do that?

Why hasn’t Disney+ released it internationally yet? Perhaps they want to release the whole show at once, but both Summertime Render and Black Rock Shooter are already ready, and there is still no announcement. Perhaps after “Star Wars: Visions” was released with an English dubbing, these other anime may not come out until they can support multiple languages. In this case, overwriting can occur even at this moment.

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Regardless of the answer, the circumstances themselves raise many questions about how Disney will approach anime. In all likelihood, Disney+ will use this list of anime to gauge interest in this medium on its platform. At the time of writing, Summertime Render had 8.00 points in the MyAnimeList, and Black Rock Shooter: Dawn Fall had less favorable results — 5.85.

If anime at Disney+ is going to live or die depending on the performance of such a bizarre assortment of offerings, then it’s incredibly unfortunate, given the promises of some of them. Twisted Wonderland, an adaptation of the popular mobile game, and Yojohan Time Machine Blues, a sequel to The Tatami Galaxy, have yet to be released.

Promising things are on the way

“Tatami Galaxy” is one of the most famous anime and one of the best works of Masaaki Yuasa. It’s a great pleasure for Disney to accept the sequel, perhaps even post the original on its platform, but it won’t mean anything if the bad reception of Black Rock Shooter spoils the prospect of profiting from the anime.

Such a fate will not affect the quality of the art, but it will mean that no more efforts will be made to expand the Disney anime catalog. Jojohan would be just another author’s work trapped by Disney, a vestige of a failed business experiment.

However, perhaps “doom and gloom” is a bit of an overreaction. After all, as long as these shows are released internationally so that people can watch them legally, that’s the most important thing. Ultimately, however, the lessons learned from Netflix, Amazon, and HBO Max will determine whether anime on Disney+ is a win or a loss.