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RetroCrush: The underdog of anime streaming

RetroCrush

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RetroCrush: The underdog of anime streaming

It seems as though every anime streaming service comes under fire for all sorts of reasons and not all of them are easy to forgive. Even for its huge library, the money Crunchyroll makes for the anime industry could undoubtedly be allocated better to support the animators themselves rather than just the production committees.

Funimation, in addition to having its own streaming service, has the largest grip on the anime home-video market as well as the dubbing industry. However, Funi cranks out these dubs so quickly that sometimes quality control gets brushed aside, whereas the dubs that they take the time to script and cast for end up being far more memorable.

Amazon completely fumbled with its attempt to enter the streaming market but still occasionally get exclusivity deals for notable shows every few seasons. The sad part is that they barely market them. However, I will give them credit that when they license an anime, they have the good sense to release the episodes week-by-week, as they did with Psycho-Pass 3.

Netflix has continued to prove that they have no idea how the hype-train of the anime community operates. If Japan gets to watch new episodes week-by-week, you bet your ass the western audience wants to as well. Instead, they keep shows in “Netflix jail” until after the season has ended (plus three or four months) and then releases it in full. Unless, of course, there are 24 episodes because then they’d have to chop it into two halves even if the story wasn’t intended to be split in half like that. To add insult to injury, Netflix doesn’t market anime particularly well either.

At a time where streaming services seem to be competing to offer the same content, but with different exclusives, it’s hard to decide where to put your attention and – more importantly – your money. In light of that, a relatively new streaming service is making a name for itself by cornering a specific part of the medium. It isn’t competing for the newest and hottest shows. Instead, it offers a library of overlooked gems, hidden oddities, and classics from the 80s, 90s, and 2000s. On top of all of that, it’s completely free. I’m talking about RetroCrush.

What is it?

As a part of the Digital Media Rights family, RetroCrush contains classic and obscure anime, including content carried over from services like AsianCrush and Midnight Pulp. A lot of DMR’s services corner niches that make them the ideal go-to for particular content. AsianCrush deals in Asian film, Korean and Japanese dramas, and even a few anime. Midnight Pulp has broader international content focused on darker cult classics. RetroCrush is essentially a service specifically designed for many of the shows that both of the aforementioned services carry.

It is a service that aims specifically to provide films and shows that may not be on people’s radar as much as other, more recent productions. This is something I respect greatly, as I love reviewing and analyzing occasionally older anime that have caught my eye and that I don’t see a lot of discussion about. One might assert that such a niche focus might be limiting, but the marketing corners that allure to a degree that it is the main draw to the service. And I think committing to that is the smartest thing they could do.

Here are just a few of the shows available on RetroCrush:

Kazuya Tsurumaki’s Aim For The Top 2: Diebuster! (2004)

Rintaro’s Galaxy Express 999 (1979), based on the work by Leiji Matsumoto

Memories (1995), the animated anthology by Katsuhiro Otomo, Tensai Okamura, Koji Morimoto, and Satoshi Kon

Bubblegum Crisis (1987)

Rie Matsumoto’s Kyousougiga (2011)

Jin Roh: Wolf Brigade (2000)

Appleseed (1988)

How does RetroCrush match up to its peers?

I don’t intend for this editorial to simply be a big PSA saying: “Hey this is cool and it exists.” Considering I started this with a humbling call-out to the major players in the streaming market, it would be unwise not to assess the quality of the service beyond its premise. And for what it’s worth, I’m impressed with RetroCrush, though, there is a “Beta” on the logo at the top left for a reason. What the service borrows from its peers is most prominent in the skeleton of its interface, which borrows greatly from Netflix in particular.

Netflix has essentially created the most appealing template for navigation when it comes to a large library of streaming content. Scrollable rows organized by genre. RC’s library covers just enough genres to make such a layout effective and necessary. I will give them credit, you can specifically filter by genre at the top using the “Browse” drop-down menu, something not even Netflix does super effectively. For instance, I can type “anime” into Netflix’s search bar, but that isn’t going to guarantee me a list of all the anime on the service and they’ll often throw in random shows that are not anime. RC allows me to filter the content a lot more specifically.

I should note: When I went to one of the genre pages, I experienced a strobe glitch when scrolling over the specific tag in my search. This is one of a few glitches present in the current browser version of the service.

Given the appeal of the service, having a “random” button is a good choice, especially given how many of the films are on the obscure side. However, since the pages containing films have information about the film right below the player, the films will autoplay, creating a similar problem to Netflix’s autoplay issue. So hitting random might be fun, but it can also be a little bit annoying if you are looking to browse more before watching. TV shows or pages with multiple videos don’t have this issue as you have to pick an episode to watch first. Despite the flaws, I think the “random” button is a feature that the target audience for this service will appreciate.

One other major feature of streaming services is that of bookmarking features, allowing users to save shows and films for later viewing, something RetroCrush does, if a bit in an odd way. On the website, there is an “Add to My List” feature when scrolling over shows or browsing the details page, but the connotation of the button differs from how it is labeled on the main page. On the main page, it is referred to as a Favorites list.

Granted, I like the idea of having a list for one’s favorite content, but typically if I’m putting a show on a list, it’s because I want to find it easier later when I have the time to watch it. Realistically, I just want more streaming services to have multiple lists for the sake of more organization options. The funny thing is that they technically have that feature, but only on the app.

On the mobile app for iOS, there is a Favorites list and below it, a list for shows that were recently viewed, similar to a “continue watching” list. But then, bafflingly, there is a section for playlists. Now, this is an exciting feature, but one whose implementation ended up being a bit flawed.

Say you are compiling a list of especially good, classic sci-films. You could add a few films to a playlist that you can create and title however you please. This has some great potential, especially as the service’s library grows. With the service being free, imagine being able to share your playlists of the best vintage anime sci-fi with your friends.

Now, unfortunately, it isn’t quite at that level yet. An odd choice was to lend this feature to every video, not just the series. That means that if you were to add an entire show to a playlist, you’d have to add each episode instead of adding an entire show in bulk. The playlist system should be worked on more to treat films and shows differently. However, I do think being able to add specific episodes is cool. For instance, if I wanted to make a playlist specifically for “Excellent Season Finales,” such a feature would be awesome.

The disparity between the list features on the app and the website bugs me. Here’s hoping they refine these features and unify the experience across all versions of the service in the future. One unfortunate commonality between both is that the list isn’t easily found through a drop-down menu. It is only found on the front page of the site/app. The navigation menu on the mobile app is very limited as is, so the lack of an easy path to a favorites list or other playlist feels like an oversight.

Another advantage the mobile app has over the website is the load times. The app loads pretty quickly, but frequently the browser site loads thumbnails and titles slowly. Despite that, I can’t say the streaming performance has left me wanting on either version of the service. I’ve had practically no issues with buffering or streaming performance. I want to say it’s because they just have a good handle on the most important part of streaming… the streaming. However, it might have to do with the video quality of most of the service’s library.

There is no premium version of RetroCrush (it’s kinda the biggest marketing draw of this experience), but most of what I’ve seen on the service is capped at around 480p. There isn’t a lot of high-def content, but while that may strike some as a negative, I’m oddly okay with it. For one thing, many of the anime in RC’s library is on the older side, so it makes sense not all of them will have HD remaster quality. For another, I find that the lower video quality oddly fits the aesthetic of the RetroCrush experience.

I’ve had friends tell me that I should watch older shows like Serial Experiments Lain in as low a quality as possible, be it through older DVD or VHS copies, on an older TV. Not because its wrong to watch it in HD (because obviously, it isn’t) but because the experience of watching the show in such a way can be oddly nostalgic. Hell, Midnight Pulp and RetroCrush both capitalize on that retro aesthetic in their marketing. Maybe its because I’m the target audience for this service, but that kind of thing is just plain cool to me.

Given that the service is free, they have to make money somehow, so there are ads but for the most part, they are unobtrusive. From my experience, ads will come up before a video and will play if you resume watching after closing the tab. There was an instance where an ad played in the middle, but it could have played at that point because I resumed watching after reopening a closed tab.

The biggest issue is that sometimes the service will play multiple ads instead of just one. Upon resuming a viewing, I got not one, not two, but three ads before returning to the show. There is a lack of consistency. With a bit of cleaning up, hopefully, the ad experience will be even less obtrusive. I know many people use AdBlock, but I thought it was worth whitelisting the site to see just how they implemented ads.

For the record, because I genuinely want to see this site grow and get more popular, I would encourage whitelisting the site as well when partaking. It’s not as though it would be easy to circumvent it through the mobile/TV app either, so if the service sounds like something you’d like to check out and maybe support continually, consider turning off AdBlock for it.

All in all, what RetroCrush lacks in the interface or a selection current anime, it makes up for in its varied and fascinating selection of obscure gems and classics. I would like to see what anime they get the rights to next. If I could throw out some suggestions, I would say the original Gunbuster so that Diebuster doesn’t have to be alone, as well as stuff like Mezzo Forte or other films by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, such as Ninja Scroll and Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust.

In the meantime, though, RetroCrush gets a thumbs up from me. Though only in its beta phase, it offers a selection and attitude wholly unique from its competitors, and with some fine-tuning, could find itself an audience all its own, with a selection unparalleled.

RetroCrush is available on the App Store, Google Play, Apple TV, Android TV, Roku, and Amazon Fire TV. You can also find their content at RetroCrush.tv. The service is currently only available in the United States and Canada.

I hope you enjoyed this thorough look at RetroCrush.

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