I haven’t watched anime for years, but there’s one particular streaming service that is getting me back into it at a rapid pace.
First of all, it’s free. You can sign up via Facebook or directly through your email, and you don’t have to associate a credit card or enter any payment info. That may come in the future with pay-to-own, downloads or other premium streaming services, but for anyone signing up at the moment it’s going to cost you a grand total of zero bucks. Your method of contribution is this: open up an episode in your Web browser and you get a quick pre-roll advertisement — for Madman’s own DVD and Blu-ray releases, which if you’re an AnimeLab subscriber you’ll probably be interested in anyway — and then you can watch all the anime you can eat.
It’s made for Australia, too. The AnimeLab service is run by the guys at Madman Entertainment — Australia’s biggest anime distributor — and so has the entire weight of one of the country’s biggest entertainment companies and definitely its largest anime advocate behind it. While there are plenty of reasons to skip geographic borders online to watch streaming movies and TV shows from the US and UK, when it comes to animated video AnimeLab really means there’s no reason to look outside of home.
The website is simply laid out, but it has just the right number of search filters and categories to make it easy to either find a show you’re looking for or to explore and discover something completely new. Hover over an episode or show and you’re presented with a small but detailed description as well as a link to the full series listing and the option to add it to a curated list of your own choosing. AnimeLab has a pretty fair mix of subbed and subbed/dubbed shows, although the new Simulcast category of literally-brand-new shows are only subbed — anything archival or with a local disc or TV release should have a dubbed English audio track if that’s what you’re interested in.
The range of shows on offer is diverse, too. Attack On Titan was the show that originally drew me in, but with 21 genres (including the rather eclectic yuri and moe and reverse harem, whatever that is) there’s actually a hell of a lot to choose from. If you’re the kind of casual or lapsed fan that might want to catch up on a series or two from your past, or the kind of viewer that wants to dip their toes into some different series, you’re well catered for.
If streaming from a PC isn’t really your jam, that’s fine. There’s an Android app. It works on almost any device, too — of the last 24 devices associated to my Google Play account (yes, I’ve been through a few) only one is not supported — the Hisense Vision TV. I watched an episode of Attack On Titan on my new Galaxy Note 4 this morning An iOS version is in the works too, apparently, if you have an iPhone or iPad fit for purpose.
Everything streams to Chromecast, too. If you’re looking for a streaming service rather than buying DVDs you’re probably interested in getting value for money, and what device is better value for money than a Chromecast? And since Chromecast connects directly to the ‘net rather than through a PC or low-powered mobile device, the streaming works seamlessly on a good connection and there is an absolutely minimal amount of buffering to slow down your viewing.
Video quality is great, too — 720p video (at a surprisingly clean and detailed 5.5Mbps) is the maximum quality available, and whether you’re on a smartphone or a small- to medium-sized PC display it looks really quite nice. Anime is a video genre that handles compression well — simple edges and large blocks of colour can be quite harshly compressed without losing significant quality — and that definitely works in AnimeLab’s favour.
There’s not really any solid reason for me to not recommend AnimeLab. It streams quickly, in good quality, for free, on different devices. It’s everything that I want Foxtel Go and Netflix and Quickflix and Australia’s catch-up TV services to be. I’m still not a huge anime fanboy, but AnimeLab is definitely helping me get there.