Netflix has streamed anime on its platform for much of its online existence, with Knights of Sidonia, released in 2014, marketed as the first Netflix "Original" Anime. From there, plenty more anime have been released on the service that have also been marketed the same way, due, in part, to the platform either helping finance the series or films, or acquiring the exclusive broadcasting rights for them.
This fall, Knights of Sidonia will release the final film in the series -- on Funimation, not Netflix, funnily enough. This is perhaps reflective of the mixed legacy the company has had when it comes to anime, with some high highs and low lows. So, with seven years having passed since the first Netflix Original Anime, now is a good time to look back on how the medium has developed on the streaming giant.
The Highs of Netflix Original Anime
Knights of Sidonia was succeeded by a number of original anime in those first few years. The Seven Deadly Sins was one of the biggest mainstream hits on Netflix for some time in this early period. Others included Violet Evergarden, Kakegurui and Little Witch Academia, all of which garnered high levels of praise. However, the Netflix Original Anime didn't establish it as a brand worthy of consistent 'hardcore' hype until Devilman Crybaby and Aggretsuko, two anime that further confirmed that Netflix was capable of producing consistently high-quality anime on its platform.
From there, several more incredible titles hit the streaming platform. Baki, Beastars, Carole & Tuesday, Great Pretender and Dorohedoro, to name a few, all proved to be huge hits with fans thanks to their high production values, mature plots and unforgettable characters. These anime often prove to be what many associate with the name Netflix Original Anime.
Netflix's American & International Anime Productions
One interesting component to Netflix Original Anime is how many of these anime are non-Japanese-produced or international productions. Castlevania is often regarded as a Netflix Original Anime, despite being an American production, and several other anime have American and Canadian creatives collaborating with animation studios across the planet.
Pacific Rim: The Black, Cannon Busters and Dota: Dragon's Blood are all international productions, based on pre-existing properties and animated by Japanese and Korean animation studios. As a result, these anime exist as almost an ideal integration of cross-cultural storytelling, and these titles embody the potential that Netflix Original Anime can offer.
Unfortunately, these anime are the exception and not the rule for Netflix Original Anime. This is especially true considering that Netflix is not nearly as popular in Japan as it is in North America. To date, only 13-percent of Japanese broadband-equipped households have Netflix.
Netflix's Acquisition of Popular Anime Franchises
Netflix made waves when the company acquired the international streaming rights for the Ghibli library. While HBO Max would distribute Ghibli media in America, this set precedence for Netflix to acquire previously established properties. In some cases, it would even make these IPs part of its "originals" library, or at least market them as such.
This became further established conceptually when Netflix acquired the international streaming rights for Neon Genesis Evangelion, redubbing the classic anime to give it a new sheen for its service. This trend would continue when it acquired the rights to Sailor Moon Eternal and Sailor Moon Crystal. Soon, the company would add the remake of Shaman King to its list of original anime, which has just begun streaming internationally.
While this seems like a sure-fire way for success, the truth is Netflix had been doing this for some time -- and with worse results. Glitter Force and its follow-ups are marketed as Netflix Originals, but the series is actually a re-edit of Pretty Cure. Glitter Force in many ways harkens back to the DiC re-edit of Sailor Moon, where the various elements are re-edited to become more appealing to what the studio perceives to be a mainstream audience. This establishes that Netflix isn't always kind to the properties it acquires as originals. Even the redub of Evangelion came with controversial changes, including changing the dub cast and eliminating any queer subtext.
Netflix's Most Disappointing Original Anime
For every Carole & Tuesday, there are other Netflix anime that fail to leave a positive impression. Several anime in Netflix's Original Anime collection tend to have underwhelming animation. There are also numerous follow-up series to classic properties that have launched on Netflix that have left fans disappointed.
Knights of the Zodiac: Saint Seiya, Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045, Dragon's Dogma and the anime Godzilla films left many fans cold. The commonalities, aside from being Netflix Originals, are fairly obvious. All sport unimpressive CG animation, all lack the creative luster from previous entries in its sagas, and some even feel, more cynically, little more than cash grabs for established IPs.
There are, of course, numerous disappointing anime from just this year, too. The Way of the Househusband and The Record of Ragnarok are highly popular manga that have ultimately spawned underwhelming adaptations due to the stiff animation. Titles like these leave a somewhat disappointing stigma attached to the Netflix Original Anime library.
The Legacy of Netflix Original Anime (So Far)
On one hand, Netflix's anime collection sports some downright fun bangers. These anime are certainly going to outshine the more forgettable entries for some fans; however, others may look at the Originals that proved disappointing and simply ask, 'Why?'
Obviously, there are many contributing factors to why certain anime fail, and there are other studios involved with animation committees beyond Netflix. However, because Netflix puts its brand more prominently on these subpar productions, it becomes associated with disappointing anime. Therefore, Netflix Original Anime has become a hodgepodge. With no distinct brand recognition, the only thing fans can really do is take every new anime on its own.