LAS VEGAS — One of the exciting things about the advent of Internet culture that niche content is no longer niche. Consider anime, which went from shoddy Saturday morning dubs, to cable networks, to DVD racks, to dedicated streaming services, all within about a decade.
Funimation, one of the West's most popular anime importers, is giving its streaming service a complete overhaul into FunimationNow, aiming to transform the modest streaming service into a comprehensive entertainment platform, available on every streaming device.
FunimationNow's new design comes courtesy of a newfound partnership with Sony. By working together, the two companies hope to provide a powerful anime streaming platform to compete with the likes of Crunchyroll. For those who aren't familiar with it, Funimation is the studio behind the localization of hit shows such as Attack on Titan, One Piece, Fairy Tail and, of course, Dragon Ball Z.
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These titles are currently available on Funimation's streaming service, and will continue to provide the backbone for the experience when FunimationNow starts to roll out in February. (The process will be ongoing, but February through May will be when the big changes happen.)
At present, streaming Funimation content costs between $5 and $8 per month. These prices will stay the same for the foreseeable future, although once the FunimationNow redesign is complete, the company plans to adjust its pricing structure. (Funimation representatives didn't specify whether it would be cheaper or more expensive, but did explain that they hope to provide a wide variety of tiers rather than a one-size-fits-all plan.)
One key feature of FunimationNow will be its widespread availability. The app will roll out on iOS, Android, Amazon Fire, Android TV, Chromecast, Apple TV, Roku, Windows 10, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Wii U devices before the end of the year. Naturally, the Funimation apps have been redesigned from the ground up in order to provide a more cohesive experience, allowing users to browse by genre, see the latest shows or keep track of their favorites in personalized viewing lists. The platform is also 4K-ready, although there is not much anime being produced in UHD resolutions just yet.
The app isn't simply about streaming large quantities of anime. As the company representatives explained, you can already do that perfectly well on services like Netflix and Hulu (indeed, Funimation licenses out its content to other providers already for that purpose). Where it sets itself apart is in its ability to get programs almost as soon as they air in Japan.
Fans can watch subtitled programs within hours — or sometimes minutes — of their Japanese debuts, and dubbed versions within a month. This is because Funimation is not only a distributor, but an entire studio, complete with translators and voice actors on staff. For hardcore anime fans, FunimationNow might be the fastest way to watch new shows short of actually traveling to the Land of the Rising Sun.
Funimation also hinted that it wants its new service to be more than just a way to watch videos, although the representatives did not give exact details on how the platform could foster interactivity and commerce. Still, a service like FunimationNow would have been almost unthinkable back when anime fans had to get up early on Saturdays to watch Dragon Ball and Sailor Moon in their pajamas.