On A Roll: Crunchyroll Takes Anime Fandom Worldwide

On A Roll: Crunchyroll Takes Anime Fandom Worldwide

Anime is more popular than ever before, with a market topping over $25 billion by 2022 globally. This number is expected to double in 10 years, mainly due to growth in the US, fueled by merchandising, streaming and events held here. The Japanese animated art form, as seen in movies, games, events and collectibles, has almost as many fans in North America as it does in Japan. Los Angeles in particular has played a significant role in this growth thanks to Crunchyroll, the popular anime streaming network based here, which was acquired by Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc., in 2020.

Crunchyroll has been a major player in anime and manga (Japanese cartoon) culture since it was created back in 2006 by a team of Berkeley graduates who launched the online channel and helped it grow to over 100 million registered users and 5 million paying subscribers on time it was purchased. Since the Sony merger, it has approached 10 million paying subscribers globally, with availability in over 200 countries. The quarterly seasons have doubled over the past three years, with 40-50 new and returning titles. And the crunch is getting stronger, especially after the success of this summer Dragon Ball Super: Super Heroits first ever global release (outside of Japan). Played in 100 countries, with 13 dubbed and 29 subtitled languages, the film did extremely well at the US box office, earning $21 million in its opening weekend alone.

(Courtesy of Crunchyroll)

Japanese animation is clearly no longer a geeky niche form of entertainment. It has permeated every facet of pop culture and all indications are that it is only the beginning. L.A. Weekly caught up with the Crunchy Roll team to learn about their latest phases of promoting, expanding and redefining anime with a focus on satisfying longtime fans and engaging newcomers.

“It is important to acknowledge that [it] has decades of convention, culture, influence and extremely dedicated fans under its belt,” says Crunchyroll host Lauren Moore. “But it’s definitely more on the mainstream surface in the West than it’s ever been. People who never understood my job or the things I worked on are now saying, ‘Oh, I recognize that!'” when they pass a movie poster or see piece of merchandise, and that’s really cool to me. It makes me excited to see what new stories and characters we’re going to fall in love with, and what new ideas we can come up with to create cool experiences for other fans.”

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For non-fans and very casual, the recognition usually goes no further Sailor Moon and Pokémon; Naruto and Dragon Ball has also broken something through. There are hundreds and hundreds more titles with avid followings to match. Conventions—from SD Comic Con to LA Comic Con to the recent Anime Expo at the Downtown Convention Center to its own Crunchy Roll Expo—have helped these fandoms take hold, as like-minded followers connect, collect and cosplay their favorite titles, characters and stories. Anime has officially transcended the comic book world and become a very real way of life. Although the majority of anime fans are millennial males, the consumer profile is changing with more women and more ages getting into the art, fantasy, dress-up and storytelling aspects.

(Courtesy of Crunchyroll)

“It’s common for hip-hop artists to make anime references, anime art to appear in the latest fashions, or to see athletes impersonate their favorite character on the field. One way Crunchyroll has leaned in is by partnering with icons like Lady Gaga and Megan Thee Stallion on exclusive product collaborations, says Travis Page, CFO of Crunchyroll. “What we’re most excited about is our ability to bring so many things together for anime fans. We need to deliver a great streaming product, but we also want to be great in commerce, mobile games and theater. We believe that the best way to operating the tab on is to tie them together and create more of a sense of membership, not just a streaming subscription.”

As with most successful subcultures, community is key. “Anime has played a very big role in my life,” adds Moore. “Participating in conventions led to friendships and good networking opportunities. It was almost a decade ago when I was working in the game industry that I was first approached about applying for an anime marketing and hosting job. There was no way I was going to miss that chance. I went from attending my local cons religiously, to hosting panels on some of the biggest stages in the industry and being a part of some of the biggest events in the US. And this job is getting bigger and bigger.”

Chainsawman (©Tatsuki Fujimoto/SHUEISHA, MAPPA)

Being based in LA keeps Crunchyroll close to the heart of entertainment, allowing them to host anime film premieres at venues like The Academy Museum and LA Live, and to cultivate a large presence at conventions. Page says it also keeps them close to their parent company, Sony Pictures, which will become more important as they expand cinematically in the coming years.

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Beyond conventions and social media, “there’s nothing like the experience of being in a dark theater, watching your favorite movies with friends on the big screen,” says Mitchel Berger, SVP of Global Commerce at Crunchyroll.It’s a big part of why Crunchyroll brings anime to theaters globally.”

Chainsaw Man cosplay (Courtesy Crunchyroll)

Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero became the fourth highest-grossing anime film of all time in the US and Crunchyroll has distributed 10 of the top 20 anime films in US box office history. Next, the company is pleased to release award-winning director Makoto Shinkai’s latest film, Suzume, due in April 2023. “Theatrical is just one of the ways we connect the anime community,” adds Berger. “Anime fans are collectors and want to wear their fandom on their sleeve as a badge of honor, literally. We’re excited to continue to meet fans where they are, and attract new fans into the colorful world of anime.”

(Courtesy of Crunchyroll)

Until the next major theatrical release, Crunchy Roll’s focus remains online. The Crunchyroll app is available on over 15 platforms, including all game consoles and digital devices, with different pricing and platform options. The free version is ad-supported, and has limited programming (basically a sampler of the most popular anime for a limited time, including the first three episodes of new content, as well as a limited selection of manga titles to read). Crunchyroll’s premium plan gives you new episodes one hour after they air in Japan and offers unlimited ad-free anime content, plus hundreds of manga titles.

Sony’s acquisition of another anime company, Funimation Global Group in 2021, and its unification under the Crunchyroll banner, only added to the volume of anime and manga. The combined catalogs increased the offering from 30,000 to 40,000 episodes, which equates to more than 16,000 hours of content. Current statistics indicate that Crunchyroll now has the largest anime library in the world: 18,000 hours, 44,000 episodes of series and movies, and new series added daily in different languages ​​subtitles and dubbing: including English, Spanish (Latin America and Spain) , Portuguese, French, Russian, German, Arabic, Italian and of course Japanese. This year they also launched dubs in Hindi, Italian and Castilian Spanish.

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Right now includes popular titles chainsawman, follow the adventures of a “devil hunter” named Denji; and SPY X FAMILY, about a spy, a telepath and an assassin who pose as a family to fight evil. Crunchyroll is also home to favorites, including My Hero Academia. Demon Slayer, Attack on Titan, and JUJUTSU WHARF.

(© Tatsuya Endo/Shueisha, SPY x FAMILY Project)

In addition to competing with other streaming services, Crunchyroll, which has a social footprint of 150 million fans worldwide, takes an experiential approach to promotion. Now that society is resigned to living with covid-19, the next step is to move the fandom beyond the computer, phone and TV screens to facilitate interactions. Theatrical releases are a big part of that, but so are games (popular titles include My Hero Academia: The Strongest Hero and anime RPGs Princess Connect Re: Dive!) and events. From musical experiences such as the Second Sky festival, which took place in Northern California in October, to the celebrated annual Anime Awards show, which will take place next March in Tokyo, the profile of Crunchyroll and anime continues to expand, evolve and engage.

“It’s been quite extraordinary to see the industry flourish in such a massive and fruitful way,” says Ryan Colt Levy, lead voice actor on Chainsawman. “For far too long it wasn’t the popular or ‘cool’ thing to enjoy or be able to celebrate among friends or peers without getting confused responses or worse. And now we see anime being celebrated everywhere from art to music to clothing culture, and now whole families are sharing these experiences together. It’s really a beautiful thing. I’d love to see it continue to grow into a place where more people can see themselves in these stories and feel more connected to the real world and the people around them.”

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