Crunchyroll Unveils Updated Streaming Features

Anime streaming service Crunchyroll is unveiling a new beta experience for Crunchyroll Premium users in the United States.

Crunchyroll Beta includes the launch of the new Crunchylists feature alongside an updated home page, redesigned browse and watch pages, new search capabilities and a mobile responsive experience.

Within Crunchyroll Beta, the Crunchyroll home page has a new user interface, allowing users access to personalized recommendations and the ability to navigate easily to their watchlist or to specific show or episode pages, which have all been redesigned. Crunchyroll Beta also offers users improved search and filtering so that they can more easily access simulcasts, new and popular anime, and explore different genres, while filtering between subtitled or dubbed anime series. In addition to the new search bar, Crunchyroll will continue to offer curated collections, handpicked by Crunchyroll’s anime experts.

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Users also now have the ability to create unique user names and select from a curated library of avatars and header images featuring different series.

The Crunchylists feature allows users to create a curated collection of their own. Users can add a title to their unique Crunchylist creations, add any series or select episodes from Crunchyroll’s extensive collection of more than 1,000 series, and organize their Crunchylist however they choose.

To experience Crunchyroll Beta, eligible Crunchyroll Premium users can opt-in through the header images or pop ups that appear across the Crunchyroll website. Currently, Crunchyroll Beta is only available to 20% of premium users, but it will eventually become available to all premium subscribers and all free users in the United States. Users can opt in and out of the beta experience to Crunchyroll Classic as they would like and can share feedback in the “Leave Feedback” function under their profile header.

Crunchyroll is available in more than 200 countries and territories, with translation in eight languages. Users can watch anime for free with ads or can choose from three different subscription memberships that allow for ad-free viewing, access to popular simulcast titles day and date with premiere in Japan, offline viewing, and a mix of additional benefits.

‘The Legend of Hei’ to Get Digital Release April 20, Disc Debut May 11

Shout! Factory has announced the April 20 release of The Legend of Hei, an animated fantasy adventure movie from filmmaker Ping Zhang that was derived from a popular flash animation series he created in 2011.

The film will first be available digitally on April 20 and can subsequently be purchased, on May 11, on DVD or in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack.

The Legend of Hei follows the story of cat spirit Luo-Xiao Hei on his journey of self-discovery after his home is deforested by humans. He embarks on a search for a new home and runs into a group of other spirit creatures who take him under their wing, with dreams of reconquering the land they say is rightfully theirs. When the group runs into a human known as Wuxian, Hei is separated from the other spirits and goes on a journey that teaches him to control his abilities and allows him to form his own opinion of whether he should ally with the spirits or the humans.

Following successful openings in China and Japan, The Legend of Hei screened at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival and the Japan Media Arts Festival. The film features an English voice cast of Chinese-American talent that includes Emi Lo (Bofuri, Valentine), Aleks Le (Funan, Ne Zha), Howard Wang (Dragon Ball Z, Marvel Avengers Academy), Kaiji Tang (Justice League, Grantz-O), Caleb Yen (Black Clover, Scott & Crowley), and Suzie Yeung (Kemono Friends).

Sony Looking to Further Bridge Anime, Movie, Video Game Markets

Sony is seeking to further meld anime, motion picture and video game markets through SVOD subsidiary Crunchyroll; a minority stake in Epic Games, publisher of the Fortnite game franchise; the PlayStation 5 game system; and other ventures.

Speaking on the Feb. 3 third-quarter fiscal call, CFO Hiroki Totoki said consumer interest in anime throughout Japan has increased 150% over the past five years, in addition to 19% worldwide year-over-year. Crunchyroll recently topped 90 million registered users and 4 million paid subscribers across more than 200 countries.

Indeed, anime movie sequel Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train, entered 2021 as Japan’s biggest box office hit, with more than $346 million in ticket sales through Jan. 5.

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“When the markets are growing, we try to enter such market to create our growth,” Totoki said. “But according to our internal investigation, those game players, the users that enjoy games and animation, it seems that there’s high level of affinity between these two groups.”

Totoki expects to see increased cross-selling opportunities in anime and gaming going forward. Sony’s recent $250 million investment in Epic includes development of movies and music. Epic is set to release its first animated feature film, Gilgamesh, directed by Tomas Lipgot, whose Spanish-language film, The Adopters, was recently acquired by Sony Pictures Television.

“That’s a new kind of entertainment in music and motion pictures for gaming,” Totoki said. “Consumer interest in Japanese anime is increasing rapidly, particularly outside of Japan. And as a company that currently owns both content and DTC streaming service, we have positioned anime as a focus area.”

Separately, Sony said it remains on track to meet a fiscal-year sales goal of more than 7.6 million PS5 units (4.5 million cumulative units sold through December) — despite ongoing console shortages due to a lack of semiconductors. Sony is projecting 14.8 million PS5 unit sales through the next fiscal year.

Total PlayStation user game play in December was about 30% higher than the same month of the previous fiscal year, according to Sony. At the end of December, 87% of PS5 users were subscribers to PlayStation Plus, the subscription platform affording users free access to games, multiplayer gaming, PlayStation Store store, and 100GB of cloud storage, among other features.

First-party PS5 title Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, recorded sales of 4.1 million units through December.

“We had more game software titles at the launch of the PS5 than at any previous PlayStation console launch in our history, and those titles have sold well,” Totoki said.

 

Crunchyroll Reaches 4M Subs, Inks Deal With Elbas for New Series

Anime SVOD distributor Crunchyroll Feb. 2 announced it reached the 4 million subscriber mark in January, just six months after hitting 3 million, and has inked a deal with Idris and Sabrina Elba to develop a dark fantasy animated series.

Idris and Sabrina Elba will serve as executive producers on “Dantai” (working title).

“For more than a decade, through anime and anime-inspired Originals, Crunchyroll has been leading the charge for the popularization of adult dramatic animation and we are fast becoming the epicenter for the next generation of animation fans, as is evidenced by our incredible growth in registered users and subscribers,” Crunchyroll GM Joanne Waage said in a statement. “Gens Y and Z have experienced superhero fatigue and are hungry for the new stories and ideas that our creators tell. This development deal with Sabrina and Idris Elba is another example of how we’re working with best-in-class partners to bring in new audiences and tell fresh and compelling stories through a medium that transcends genres and generations.”

Currently in development, the Afro-futuristic science-fiction series will be set in a city where the rise of biotechnology has created an ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots. Two rising stars from either side of this divide are pitted against each other in a story that will ultimately explore equality and kinship within a corrupt society.

“We’re thrilled to be collaborating with Idris and Sabrina to develop this anime-inspired sci-fi epic,” Sarah Victor, head of development, Crunchyroll, said in a statement. “It is a privilege to work with such talented, creative partners and we look forward to bringing this exciting project to life.”

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“We’re really excited to be announcing this deal on our first anime,” the Elbas said in a statement. “We’re both fans of the genre and see a huge opportunity to create something unique for a powerhouse like Crunchyroll. The story of ‘Dantai’ is our first collaboration as producers together and is one that is close to our hearts.”

Crunchyroll, a WarnerMedia company, has a library of more than 1,000 titles and 30,000 episodes, available to fans in more than 200 countries and territories. Crunchyroll currently has more than 100 million registered users and more than 50 million followers across social media. Fans have access to licensed anime through Crunchyroll, Anime Digital Network (in partnership with Citel, a subsidiary of Média-Participations), and Anime on Demand video streaming services, translated in multiple languages for viewers worldwide. Viewers can also access simulcasts — series available immediately after Japanese broadcast. Crunchyroll’s services also extend to licensing of theatrical, TV, home video, consumer product and video game rights.

‘Earwig and the Witch’ Bows on Digital in March, Blu-ray Disc and DVD in April

Studio Ghibli has announced the March 23 release of Earwig and the Witch, a Japanese 3DCGG animated feature directed by Goro Miyazaki (From Up on Poppy Hill, Tales from Earthsea) and produced by studio co-founder Toshio Suzuki.

The film will first be available on digital platforms. On April 6 consumers can buy the film in a limited edition Steelbook and a Blu-ray + DVD combo pack from from GKIDS, with distribution from Shout! Factory.

Based on the children’s novel Earwig and the Witch by Diana Wynne Jones, the film follows the story of a little girl named Earwig who is growing up in an orphanage in the British countryside. Her life is changed dramatically when a strange couple takes her in, and she is forced to live with a selfish witch. Having no idea her birth mother had magical powers, she sets out to uncover the secrets of her new guardians and, in the process, discovers a world of spells, potions, and a mysterious song that may be the key to finding the family she has always wanted.

Bonus features include feature-length storyboards, a documentary on the creating the film, interviews with the Japanese voice cast, teasers and trailers.

An official selection for the 2020 Cannes Film Festival, Earwig and the Witch saw its premier in Japan on December 30, 2020 and is scheduled for release in theaters beginning Feb. 3.

Shout! Factory, GKIDS to Release ‘On-Gaku’ in March On Disc, Digital

GKIDS and Shout! Factory have announced a March 9 home release date for On-Gaku: Our Sound, an anime film animated and directed by Japanese filmmaker Kenji Iwaisawa.

The film will be available on Blu-ray Disc, DVD, and digital platforms.

Based on the comics by Hiroyuki Ohashi, the film follows the story of a feared trio of high school delinquents who, having no skills, money, or even a full set of drums, decide they are destined for musical glory. They embark on the quest to impress their only friend Aya, avoid a rival gang, and — most importantly — jam out.

Featuring a lead performance by Japanese alt-rock legend Shintaro Sakamato, On-Gaku: Our Sound was an official selection at the 2020 Annecy Film Festival, and winner of the Nelvana Grand Prize at the 2019 Ottawa International Animation Festival.

In addition to a feature-length “making of” documentary, bonus features (exclusive to the Blu-ray and DVD release) include a live musical performance, “On-Gaku” (demo); “Our Movie: Behind the Scenes”; a rock festival pencil test; three short films by Kenji Iwaisawa, Mountain, Mourning Ice Pop, Nicky, and Taro Wanted to be Water; a gallery of storyboards; and trailers.

AT&T Sells Crunchyroll to Sony’s Funimation

AT&T has agreed to sell its Crunchyroll anime streaming service to Funimation Global Group for $1.175 billion.

Funimation is a joint venture between Sony Pictures Entertainment and Sony Music Entertainment’s (Japan) subsidiary, Aniplex Inc.

Crunchyroll is an anime direct-to-consumer service within AT&T’s WarnerMedia segment with more than 3 million SVOD subscribers. It serves 90 million registered users across more than 200 countries and territories offering AVOD, mobile games, manga, events merchandise and distribution.

The combination of Crunchyroll and Funimation provides the opportunity to broaden distribution for their content partners and expand fan-centric offerings for consumers, according to the AT&T-Sony joint release.

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“The Crunchyroll team has done an extraordinary job of not only growing the Crunchyroll brand but also building a passionate community of anime fans. Crunchyroll’s success is a direct result of the company’s culture and commitment to their fans,” Tony Goncalves, chief revenue officer of WarnerMedia, said in a statement. “By combining with Funimation, they will continue to nurture a global community and bring more anime to more people. I’m incredibly proud of the Crunchyroll team and what they have been able to accomplish in the digital media space in such a short period of time. They’ve created an end-to-end global ecosystem for this incredible art form.”

“We are proud to bring Crunchyroll into the Sony family,” Tony Vinciquerra, chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment, said in a statement. “Through Funimation and our terrific partners at Aniplex and Sony Music Entertainment Japan, we have a deep understanding of this global artform and are well-positioned to deliver outstanding content to audiences around the world. Together with Crunchyroll, we will create the best possible experience for fans and greater opportunity for creators, producers and publishers in Japan and elsewhere. Funimation has been doing this for over 25 years and we look forward to continuing to leverage the power of creativity and technology to succeed in this rapidly growing segment of entertainment.”

“We are excited to embark on this new journey. Crunchyroll has built a world-class brand with a passionate fan-base of over 3 million subscribers, 50 million social followers and 90 million registered users. These amazing fans have helped to propel anime into a global phenomenon,” Joanne Waage, GM of Crunchyroll, said in a statement. “Combining the strength of the Crunchyroll brand and the expertise of our global team with Funimation is an exciting prospect and a win for the incredible art form of anime.”

The transaction is subject to customary closing conditions, including regulatory approvals.

‘The Stand’ Top New, ‘Attack on Titan’ Top Returning Shows on TV Time Anticipated Series Charts for December

CBS All Access’s “The Stand” was the most anticipated new show, while “Attack on Titan” was the top anticipated returning show on the TV Time charts for December.

“The Stand,” a limited series based on the Stephen King novel, is a nine-episode production starring Whoopi Goldberg and Alexander Skarsgard. The series chronicles King’s apocalyptic vision of a world decimated by plague and embroiled in an elemental struggle between good and evil. The fate of mankind rests on the shoulders of the 108-year-old Mother Abagail (Goldberg) and a handful of survivors. Their worst nightmares are embodied in a man with a lethal smile and unspeakable powers: Randall Flagg (Skarsgard), the Dark Man.

The fourth and final season of anime series “Attack on Titan” is streaming on various services around the world beginning Dec. 7. The series based on the manga is set in a world where humanity lives within cities surrounded by enormous walls that protect them from gigantic man-eating humanoids referred to as Titans.

Taking the silver on the anticipated new series chart was Netflix’s “Bridgerton,” hitting screens on Christmas. The romance series is produced by Shonda Rhimes and is based on Julia Quinn’s bestsellers about eight close-knit siblings of the Bridgerton family looking for love and happiness in London high society.

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Coming in at No. 2 on the returning shows chart was the adult animation series “Big Mouth,” season four of which debuted Dec. 4. The series follows a group of kids facing the horrors and delights of puberty.

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Most Anticipated New Shows for December:

  1. “The Stand” (CBS All Access) — Dec. 17
  2. “Bridgerton” (Netflix) — Dec. 25
  3. “Your Honor” (Showtime) — Dec. 6
  4. “The Wilds” (Amazon Prime Video) — Dec. 11
  5. “Tiny Pretty Things” (Netflix) — Dec. 14

 

Most Anticipated Returning Shows for December:

  1. “Attack on Titan” — Dec. 7
  2. “Big Mouth” (Netflix) — Dec. 4
  3. “Shameless” (Showtime) — Dec. 6
  4. “Home for Christmas” (Netflix) — Dec. 18
  5. “The Expanse” (Amazon Prime Video) — Dec. 16

Sony Eyeing AT&T’s Crunchyroll Anime SVOD Service in $957 Million Deal

Sony Corp. is reportedly finalizing a $957 million acquisition of AT&T’s Crunchyroll anime subscription streaming VOD service and IP content. AT&T is looking to sell non-core assets since it acquired Time Warner, including Warner Bros., HBO and Turner, accumulating more than $180 billion in debt in the process.

The deal’s status was first reported by Nikkei Asian Review, which cited sources familiar with the situation. AT&T, which gained Crunchyroll in its 2018 acquisition of Otter Media from The Chernin Group, had been asking $1.5 billion for the anime platform.

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Sony, which acquired Funimation and its one million subs in 2017, is looking to solidify control of the anime market. The Crunchyroll deal would bring in-house streaming, 1,000 anime titles, and an existing subscriber base of 70 million free ad-supported viewers and three million paid users globally.

Talent Talk: ‘Digimon’ Actor Drew Inspiration From ‘Harry Potter’

The popular “Digimon” anime franchise reaches a final chapter of sorts in Digimon Adventure: Last Evolution Kizuna, a new movie that wraps up 20 years of storylines from various series over the years.

Actor Joshua Seth, who voices Tai Kamiya on the English-language versions of the Japanese cartoon, thanks the fans for keeping the show alive for more than two decades.

Joshua Seth

“It’s the fans that stayed engaged, mostly through the Internet, and by watching it on streaming platforms like Hulu, and without their support the producers would never have invested time money or resources to creating new ‘Digimon,’” Seth said. “It’s been such a treat to have been able to play a character for such a long period of time, especially one that has depth and growth and changes over time like Tai.”

Created for a virtual pet game in the mid-1990s, Digimon is short for digital monsters, creatures from a parallel “Digital World” created by Earth’s communication networks.

The concept spawned the anime series “Digimon Adventure,” which debuted in 1999 and was licensed by Saban Entertainment to air in America on Fox Kids Network, where it became one of the channel’s most popular shows.

Produced by Toei Animation, the show focused on a group of children called DigiDestined chosen to protect the Digital World. Each child is paired with their own Digimon and given a device to evolve the creatures into stronger forms. Seth’s character of Tai was partnered with a Digimon named Agumon.

“I think the message of Digimon initially connected because it was ahead of its time,” Seth said. “If you think about season one, episode one of the ‘Digimon’ series, Tai’s sitting in a tree and his friends are all playing at summer camp when these digital devices dropped out of a cloud. And from then on it was a battle to find the balance between the Digital World and the real world. I mean that’s what ‘Digimon’ is really about, and that’s the battle that we’ve all been fighting ever since. But 20 years ago that was a concept that was really ahead of its time, and so I think the message of it resonated with people initially. And then they started to get hooked into the relationships of the characters.”

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Seth, a voiceover veteran of several English-language versions of Japanese productions such as “Honeybee Hutch,” “Mobile Suit Gundam” and “Cowboy Bebop,” recalls not knowing much about the property when he first auditioned for the part of Tai.

“I really did not know anything about it. It was just another audition, and I probably had several auditions that day, just like every day at that time,” Seth said. “I remember going in and being surprised to see some people in the booth who I knew from working on other projects at Saban. So I immediately felt at ease because I worked with these people before and they knew who I was and what I was capable of.”

Seth had provided the voice of robot Alpha 5 at one point on Saban’s “Power Rangers.” But he drew inspiration for Tai’s voice from another source.

“There was very little in the way of text to read,” Seth said. “But there was a picture of Tai in sort of his fighting stance, and so I put my body in that physical position just like I saw in the picture, and because I didn’t have very much to go on I used my own voice. But just pitched it up a little bit to make him sound younger. I did notice however that the character description of Tai sort of mirrored Harry Potter, and the ‘Harry Potter’ novels had just come out, I think maybe only the first book had come out at that point, and I had read it out loud because as a voice actor I like reading out loud. When I teach voice acting to people I recommend reading out loud to get comfortable with their own voice and stretch it and know what it’s capable of. I had been reading ‘Harry Potter’ out loud with an accent, and I just dropped the accent and made him Tai, in my voice, with Harry Potter’s backstory.”

The show’s success led to Digimon: The Movie in 2000. The storyline continued in the “Digimon Adventure tri.” six-part film series first released in 2015 that depicted the characters in high school.

“Ever since ‘tri,’ ‘Digimon’ has dealt with more-adult themes, and at first it was surprising,” Seth said. “But then I soon realized what the producers had in mind was to age the characters and the themes and the whole tone and feel of ‘Digimon’ to reflect the fact that the audience has grown up as well.”

Digimon Adventure: Last Evolution Kizuna takes place five years after the events of “Digimon Adventure tri.” Nearing graduation, Tai and his friends learn that as they grow up, their bonds with their Digimon will eventually disappear.

“It just works because they have remained consistent over these past few movies with the idea that we’re no longer living in the world of Digimon as kids but as adults, and in fact that relates to the message of Kizuna, which is that we all have to grow up someday and nothing lasts forever. Change may be difficult but the best way to handle it is to accept it and not resist it, and that’s really what they’re giving us in that last movie.”

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Digimon Adventure: Last Evolution Kizuna, with both English- and Japanese-language tracks, is available now for digital sellthrough, and arrives on Blu-ray Disc and DVD Oct. 6 from Shout! Factory. Extras include a retrospective featurette with Seth and Tom Fahn, who voices Agumon.

Seth said unlike many of the projects he works on, he became a big fan of “Digimon.”

“A lot of the shows that I voiced I never watched or a didn’t watch until a long time afterwards because I was too busy recording things and auditioning for things to go on watching them, but ‘Digimon’ was an exception because it was on the air every Saturday morning,” Seth said. “I would actually watch it in real time along with everybody else. And that was just thrilling, so yeah, I became a fan right away of ‘Digimon’ and remain so to this day, but now I do it through my kids because my kids are younger and they haven’t watched all of the Digimon catalog, but they’ve watched the first season, and they’ve watched the original movie, and a couple of the ‘tri’s I was able to watch with them in the movie theaters.

“I remember when my daughter first put it together she was about 5, and we’re in the movie theater and the movie’s playing, where I’m on screen at the beginning, that’s the moment where she put it together that it’s me doing the voice, and she stands up in the movie theater points to the screen and goes ‘Dada that’s you!’ She literally didn’t get it until then. But it’s been wonderful as a father to introduce my own kids to the ‘Digimon’ series and be a fan of it through their eyes and through their fandom. Tiger my son actually sleeps with an Agumon plushy every night.”

Seth said he also enjoys meeting other fans and seeing how the show has impacted their lives.

“I’ve gotten so many emails and just fans coming up to me at comic cons over the years and saying that Tai’s courage inspired them to be more courageous in difficult situations in their own lives,” Seth said. “I know for a fact that resonates with people.”

But his most memorable fan interaction was a bit more out of the ordinary.

“I was at a comic con in Australia a few years ago where a fan wanted me to sign her body so she could get a tattoo of my signature,” Seth said. “She actually did get the tattoo, even though I advised her strongly against it, so I was very careful to make the signature look good.”

As for his future with the franchise, Seth said that despite the sense of closure offered by the Kizuna, he would enjoy returning if a new iteration came along (a reboot of the original series has already begun airing in Japan and is available online).

“If the producers reach out for me to play Tai again I would gladly do so,” Seth said.