From the second to last episode, hopefully not providing any spoilers.
I had fun with Zvezda, but it’s a bit of a kooky show with an approach that is probably as off putting as it is appealing. Essentially, the show simply doesn’t give a damn about providing the audience with any kind of actual context in regards to the world in which it’s set. It’s a experience not entirely unlike watching a spin-off series without having seen the original work, or perhaps watching a slightly more coherent Tomino production.
This is to say, the show has a certain internal consistency to it, and there’s never really any indication that the characters are ever experiencing anything that doesn’t make sense to them outside of some sporadic bouts of confusion from our protagonist early on. It’s a weirdly naturalistic approach to writing for a show as conceptually out-there are Zvezda, in so much as the characters don’t really feel the need to stand around and explain things that they should already know to each other simply for the benefit of the audience.
The show does, eventually, find itself with the need to throw the viewer a narrative life-ring, lest they drown in the shows closing arc, but it’s little more than is necessary. The show still expects you to make your own assumptions and draw your own connections between things, though – it’s a curiously intelligent for a show is actually kind of dumb, even if it does end up making it easy to reach too far and make conclusions about what the show is actually about that are shortly proven completely wrong.
Also Renge-chan da best.
To shoot off on a tangent, particularly since the start of the new anime season turns the mind to streaming outlets, Zvezda was streamed in the UK on Animax. Animax, part of a wider global brand (and part of Sony, I gather) rose from the ashes of AnimeonDemand a couple of seasons back, and primarily sources it’s catalogue material from Viz Europe licenses (read “Kaze”, for all intents and purposes).
Animax pretty much work on the opposite business model to Crunchyroll, in so much as new episodes of “simulcast” shows are available for around two weeks to everyone, and what the subscribing user is paying for access to is catalogue content. I do have to give them props for at least having some catalogue content beyond things which they have previously streamed – they have a couple of historic “heavy hitters” like Code Geass and Death Note in their back catalogue.
Although the problem with Animax is really more with the new stuff. One of the best things about Crunchyroll is that, despite the recent bouts of (mostly Aniplex-related) delays, you generally know exactly when, to the second, a new episode of a show is going to be available. It’s the one thing that I wish every streaming service would adopt. Shows on Animax don’t generally have the same scheduling consistency, and more annoyingly, tend to go up days later than the rest of the world – the most recent episode of Nisekoi, a Saturday show on the multitude of US-facing services upon which it is available, was only made available here this evening (it’s literally just gone up as I’ve been amending this to make it less obvious I wrote it a week ago). Pretty sure the first episode of Soul Eater Not has only just gone up now as well.
This is, admittedly, better than the end-days of AnimeonDemand, where episodes were sometimes weeks or, in extreme cases, months late, but it’s not ideal. Even forgetting such metrics as “participating in the discussion” or “spoilers”, the fact that the show is available promptly, and subtitled, elsewhere in the world just leads to the immediate availability of, err, “free” alternatives for those folks of fewer scruples, or those who simply don’t know better. Even if it was just a days delay, that’d be one thing, but four or five days is simply going to try people’s patience, particularly when other people are going to be talking about it.
The other thing about Animax is, much like Hulu in the US, you are going to have to get used to adverts. I have to admit, I’ve yet to find a good reason to actually pay for Animax access, but then, that’s mostly because I gather that even paid customers don’t get any respite from commercial breaks at all. Every episode you watch will see you subjected to 4-6 commercials, and usually the same ones, and semi-frequently plopped mid-scene as opposed to at a natural break in the content.
Animax have, at least, solved a few usability issues since they first launched. They recently, for example, actually put the series name against episodes listed on the shows front page, instead of just episode titles. This means that you are no longer just squinting at a thumbnail image, hoping that it makes it obvious what the show actually is.
I’m not sure what video player technology they are using, not really being an expert on such things. It’s Flash-based, so it’s not much use on devices which don’t support it. It has three varying quality levels, going from “ass” to “pretty watchable” (if never as good as a Crunchy 720 feed – even if the resolution is there, the bitrate isn’t quite), but will automatically drop your quality setting should your player continue to have issues buffering the stream. I’m not really a fan of such things, honestly – whilst it prevents the occasional issues with Crunchy, where the player can just freeze when provided with too little data, or just randomly provide a staccato experience on occasion, they always tend to be a little overzealous, particularly if you start scrubbing through things.
I’m in the slightly advantageous position that I have a PC hooked up permanently to my TV, so I don’t really have to worry too much about how I get my cartoons onto the big screen, but for those of you who don’t have that option, Animax did recently release a PS3 app. This is actually a somewhat contentious issue, as the rumour-mongering (which I don’t know the original source for, but since it’s been repeated on a UK-Anime podcast, I’m assuming isn’t entirely inaccurate) suggests that Animax have an exclusivity deal with Sony Europe for streaming anime content. What this means is that the more robust, more content-rich and generally more useful Crunchyroll console apps on PS3, PS4 or the Vita are only available to folks over here if they’re willing to spoof a US account. Which is a pain in the arse on a Vita, frankly.
The Animax PS3 app works, I guess. Saying that, when I checked a few days ago, they still had some of the usability issues that the website used to have – they don’t label show names on the applications landing page. Otherwise is seems pretty workable.
On the plus side, well, I guess these shows are available here in Blighty when they otherwise may not have been – it’s hard to know if these shows would have been available here on Crunchy or Daisuki here or not if Animax hadn’t stepped in, as the varying suppliers have been a little scattershot in those regards previously. Generally though, the problem is simply that Crunchyroll exists. Whilst it may be unfair to expect a new offering to come straight onto the market with service-parity, you’d expect later entrants to the arena to have at least learnt a few lessons, and ultimately they are in competition. Crunchy simply provides a more robust, more mature and more widely available service, and it’s unfortunate for the consumer that, instead of competing on quality of service, the market simply competes by signing up content exclusively. Presently speaking, a show which pops up on Animax in the UK is simply a less pleasant experience than one on Crunchyroll.
(Also mumble grumble Ping-Pong isn’t streaming anywhere in the UK mumble grumble)