FUNimationNow Launch Review (incl. site and app)
Date: 2016 April 13th Wednesday [15:31] | Posted By: Eeeper
Well, it was a long time coming but US anime video and streaming label FUNimation arrived on the 7th of April in the UK and Ireland after hiccups and false starts. Was it worth the wait? Is it worth it?
Something like five or six years ago, FUNimation had a break in on one of their servers and anime episodes that were supposed to stream in the coming days were illegally downloaded and streamed on video player sites and torrent sites. Needless to say, the licensor hit the roof and FUNimation had to take down all their shows and shut down the service to beef up security. When the service restarted Irish and British viewers who could watch some of the streams beforehand found themselves staring at the dreaded "Weíre sorry but licensing restrictions mean we canít stream this, blah, blah, blah" message on the FUNimation video pages. The video labelís reps promised that the restriction would only be temporary, that some of the content would be restricted and that fans should be patient.
Well, itís been over half a decade so Iíd say weíre in line for some sort of Nobel Peace Prize for fan loyalty. I know I was livid when it happened. Not a day went by when I wasnít badmouthing FUNi on Twitter or Facebook. Iím sure my Twitter followers were sick of me talking about. I even created a widget on my site counting the days since the service had been cut off from Ireland and the UK. Howís that for pretentious? But time heals all wounds and in the end, I just let it go and got on with things. A lot of the shows I was buying through Manga UK turned out to be sub-licensed from FUNimation. How angry could I be with them if they were supplying me with anime? Anyway, with a lot of buzz around FUNimation and Manga UK no longer working together, the odds were that FUNimation was going to form their own UK home video label. Then they surprised us by announcing that they were launching a streaming video service. So what would it look like, how much would it cost and what would it have by way of content? After a failed launch date of March came and went, FUNimation announced that all the hurdles to the launch had been cleared and the site and service would launch on April the 7th. So it did and here we are.
The first thing Iíve got to say about the service is that it truly lives up to the label BETA in the top left-hand corner of the homepage. The Android app launched the same day as the site but it is hit and miss as to what works and what doesnít. I wonít bore you with all the details but a lot of my problems with the app stem from backend stuff related to the file and fetching system for the file. While playing a file, if you backed out of the video and went back in you got this:
Force stopping the app, restarting it just gave you the same screen. On the other side of the screen, other people were having problems with the web player:
On top of that, while the Twitter and Facebook reps for the service have to very proactive in getting info to and from the users, the tech team hasnít been very good at following up. Myself, Iím still waiting since this afternoon for a reply to the app problem but for others....
So with that in mind, is the service worth it? Well, if youíre a big fan of Dragonball, One Piece or Toriko, youíre in for a disappointment because they are not there. Rights restrictions and so on (Toei hates UK and Irish fans, if you ask me). No matter, because the selection is good but it depends on what youíre going for. FunimationNow has two options after their thirty days free option is used: subtitled-only content for £3.99/Ä4.99 per month or subtitled and dubbed content for £6.99/Ä7.99 per month. Now, when you compare it to Crunchyroll with roughly £4.80/Ä6.00 itís good and against Animax UKís £4.99 per month, itís even better. Coupled with the fact that FunimationUKís intention to have as many of their US officeís licenses on their roster as well and their plans seem more solid than most. So what does the service run like?
Upon signing up for the service (I would recommend using IE or the newer Edge browser as people have reported signup issues with Chrome), you are left with this main splash page:
From there, you can choose Watch or Community & News. Right now, thereís only a new section for upcoming shows as the forums are not up yet. So head into Watch and youíll get Shows, Simulcasts, Episodes and Movies, Genres and Apps. Apps only give you an active link to the Android version (both Google Play and Amazon Market versions) as the iOS/iPad and Windows Phone versions are not ready yet. Shows gives you a fairly open, clean page:
From there, you can search via audio track, genre and year. There also a search Omnibox on the top right if you know, roughly in some cases, what title you want to look for. I found the only thing that didnít work is that the page refreshes every time you changed the option you were searching for. So if I wanted to pick action AND cyberpunk, I have to pick action, wait for the page to reload and then pick cyberpunk and then wait for that page to reload. Itís a bit much and Iím sure Iím not the only to notice. Strangely, it doesnít happen on the android app or at least not that I noticed.
In the end, the service can only grow. FUNimation, whether you agree with every business decision they or not, is the home video and streaming label to beat. So they wouldnít have spent this kind of money coming to the UK/ROI or negotiated extensions on their licenses with the owners if they didnít have a long-term plan. Ideally, FunimationNow should grow organically like Netflix but with Viewsterís recent misstep with their OMAKASE service, even the best services will have their off days. The good thing here is that FunimationNowís customer service know their service could be better and eagerly answer and shoot down problems as they come up and they know that some parts of the service (Chromecast support, Paypal subscriptions) are wanted but from their perspective, the service was supposed to launch in late February, then March before finally coming online in early April. While they should have had both of the above problems solved before the launch, solving them before it launched would have meant viewers having to wait longer.
What is up for use is a healthy mixture of older titles, simulcasts that have been archived that UK/ROI had no access to before and a growing list of simulcasts for this season. For obvious reasons, FUNimation is pushing their simulcast of My Hero Academia and I wouldnít be surprised if they were buttering us up for a home video release down the line. With Crunchyroll announcing a bursting line-up this season and their new strategic agreement with Kadokawa, FUNimation needs to keep their wits about them. But I like companies that take risks and trust their users to find them and have a bit of give and take with their expectations. Even if they take half a decade to get here.