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Editorial: Has Hulu Failed Anime?

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The anime landscape has changed so much since the early 2010s that is might surprise people to realize how integral Hulu was to the growth of anime during that time period. For that matter, Hulu itself has changed into something unrecognizable from the free streaming service that launched in 2007. In its early years, Hulu was a convenient free platform, and the most high profile free platform, for watching anime. When Toonami was cancelled in 2007, releasing subtitled episodes of Naruto Shippuden soon after the Japanese airing made them a big deal to the anime world. Being able to watch Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood for free instead of waiting until past your bedtime to watch it was another perk. Them streaming Soul Eater while Adult Swim aired Kekkaishi seemed to be a hint that they were the new top top in the anime world as Adult Swim was floundering in the early 2010s and Crunchyroll was in its infancy.

Fast forward to now, and they are definitely nowhere near as dominant in the anime streaming wars as they were in the early years. They have switched there focus from hosting Funimation and Viz’s content to directly streaming anime, and they have been nowhere near as successful in this regard. There is talk of the so called Hulu curse where a show licensed by them is destined to become substantially less popular than those streamed by Hulu’s competitors. The question is, how did they fall from grace and to what extent did they really fall from grace.

Granted, becoming a subscription only service in 2016 with no free tier was what ruined their main initial appeal of being free, but people still flock to Netflix to get their exclusive anime. As the 2010s progressed, Funimation put more focus on their own streaming service rather than relying on licensing them to Hulu. There were still major draws and exclusive content like the Viz license of Sailor Moon and Sailor Moon Crystal and the dub of Naruto Shippuden. The great paywall of 2016 was the beginning of their decline in popularity among anime fans, but not the end.

What cemented the Hulu curse and their poor reputation started when they began as a direct licensor of anime and Summertime Rendering was the first botched title. Netflix has its infamous Netflix Jail, where anime does not simulcast and streams significantly after its Japanese broadcast. Hulu decided to put Summertime Rendering in a similar jail, debuting in Japan in April 2022 and America in January 2023. Fans were infuriated about the wait and this was there first major bridge burning. Another major fumble was their licensing of Heavenly Delusion, er, Tengoko Daimakyo as Hulu chose to list the series under its untranslated and harder for Anglophones to remember title. This buried the series terribly.

Really, there poor promotion has been burying anime left and right. Tokyo Revengers went from one of Crunchyroll’s top performing anime to getting an undubbed third season as the series switched platforms. Normally, anything with the Shonen Jump logo on it is destined to be a massive hit in the US, unless Hulu licenses it. Summertime Rendering, Undead Unluck, and Sand Land: The Series probably would have been massive hits on Crunchyroll, but the Hulu curse struck them. Those aforementioned shows were beloved by those who did watch them, but significantly fewer people were watching them than Crunchyroll’s better promoted shows.

We’ve got to the nothingburger (or maybe not nothingburger based on very recent breaking news) that was the Animayhem brand Hulu launched in July 2023. It was a brand for anime and adult comedy cartoons, which seemed like a streaming version of Adult Swim. The video ads on Youtube look to focus exclusively on American adult comedy animation while the text ads featured anime. It seemed like this branding fizzled out quickly until June 18, 2024, when suddenly Hulu announced an Animayhem panel for 2024 at Anime Expo. Maybe Animayhem will eventually revive Hulu’s status.

There is the the elephant in the room of their one big success, albeit curtesy of Viz. Bleach: The Thousand Year Blood War has been a major success as Viz knows how to hype and promote. My thoughts are that reviving the Animayhem initiative and heavy promotion is the key to bringing themselves back to the forefront of the anime streaming wars. With so many anime titles available, it’s hard for casual fans to keep track and promotion is necessary as Hulu’s competitors are much better at promotion and are kicking their butts in the streaming wars. Please y’all, watch their titles. They license some of the best anime available, just underpromote them. We’ll report on their stuff if they won’t. I’m just hoping the revival of the Animayhem brand leads to the end of the Hulu curse and people actually watch the usually great stuff they license.

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