Gurren Lagann Streamed with English Subtitles for Free (Updated)
posted on by Egan Loo
Anime Network, A.D. Vision's television channel in the United States, has begun streaming Gainax's hit Gurren Lagann series online for free with English subtitles. Gurren Lagann's streaming is part of the official opening of Anime Network's broadband service today. The streaming also launches Anime Network's First Look effort, which presents new series that have yet to be released on North American home video. As one new episode of Gurren Lagann is added each week, at least two archived episodes will remain online for people who missed a week.
Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is the latest giant robot series from the studio that created Aim for the Top! Gunbuster and Neon Genesis Evangelion. The anime tells the story of a teenaged boy named Simon who lives underground with most of humanity. Simons dares to venture to Earth's surface, where he learns that some humans have been piloting giant robots to fight creatures known as Beastmen. In two broad story arcs, the series recounts Simon's fight against Beastmen and another shadowy enemy of humanity. The 27-episode series premiered in Japan in April, and it just ended in September.
ADV President and CEO John Ledford tells ANN, "We're constantly looking at ways to improve the way we engage fans online, whether it's through Anime Network Online, the ADV Films site, or third party sites like Anime News Network. Our First Look program grew out of that."
Ledford adds that his company's streaming of Gurren Lagann is unique because it is being offered for free for the entire series, well before the home video release. "We've debuted episodes of new series all over, such as on the Newtype USA discs, on our own sites, and on other websites like IGN.com.
But with First Look we're broadcasting the entire series, and beginning more than two months prior to the home video release.*" Viz Media has been offering Death Note with English subtitles online before its North American home video release on two paid download services.
The service requires Adobe Flash Player 9 for American residents, but has no other restrictions. Ads play before, during, and after an episode to support the service, but otherwise the users can jump to any point in an episode. The service offered twelve earlier series online during a "soft launch" in November, and those remain available to watch with more titles to come. Those earlier series have English dubbing, while First Look programming such as Gurren Lagann have English subtitles. Ledford says, "Of course we're going to be watching the reaction to First Look very closely. The success of this program will no doubt guide our future programming."
Ledford notes that classic series such as RahXephon had more viewers than his company expected, even when compared to new, ongoing series such as Ah! My Goddess: Flights of Fancy. "I guess that just goes to show what we've always suspected: Anime fandom is growing every day, and the Internet is a great way to discover series that are 'new to you' — even if they've been out for a while."
The streaming of Gurren Lagann is one of the ongoing efforts in the American anime industry to deal with declining DVD sales and the rise of online anime distribution. ANN New Media Director Justin Sevakis helped raise the dialogue on the topic with his "Open Letter to the Industry" editorial, and responses have come from Bandai Visual USA and GDH International (the sister company of the Gonzo anime studio).
When asked about the reaction from Japanese licensers to the venture, Ledford emphasizes their cooperation. "…Let me make this absolutely clear — our partners in Japan are well aware of the power of the Internet. They're very forward-looking in this regard, and any notion that Japanese producers don't understand or don't care about the Internet is mistaken.
"The question, as always, is how to present anime over the Internet in a way that's fair to the creators. Consumers want things for free. The people who make this all have families to feed. It's our job to strike the right balance, to generate the largest possible audience while maintaining a good deal for our partners and ourselves. First Look is just the latest step in this ongoing process."
Update: On 2007-12-24, ADV Films clarified that not all programs would be broadcast in their entirety in subtitled form. For example, at this time only three episodes of Gurren Lagann are scheduled for subtitled broadcast. Other series in the pipeline will receive longer runs through First Look. ADV regrets the misunderstanding.
* ADV Films has requested that this statement be revised to read, "But with First Look we're broadcasting as much as the entire series, and beginning more than two months prior to the home video release."