Funimation having a community/streaming site has been a long time in the making. Some may remember the scrapped ShoDojo they were touting at conventions for a while. Even this beta has taken a while to come to fruition as it was being advertised last year in a number of convention guide books. Since they have already had streaming video on their normal site, this new Funi creation adds the seemingly endless foray into social media all companies are launching alongside with the ability to watch anime.
Funimation is without a doubt the king of the American anime distribution companies. There are other anime licensors left in the U.S. like Bandai Entertainment and Sentai Filmworks but their output is nowhere near that of Funimation. And so as the top dog you need to have the most up to date website to reflect your position. With all their recent streaming initiatives Funimation has started a beta test for their new website that showcases their streaming initiatives while at the same time building an online community around it. This week we will give you our opinions on how the site is shaping up, what they are doing right, and what improvements we would make to cater to a fickle audience of otaku as well as casual fans.
For many of us in the anime community, knowing that anime is streaming on Funimation is second nature. But there are hundreds of casual fans that are less aware. A Google search reveals the Funimation site practically nowhere to be seen when searching for “streaming anime.” Crunchyroll is 4th on the list and is the highest ranking legitimate one. Funimation shows up on page 5, which as I said is almost the same as not showing up at all. This seems to be the ultimate hurdle for legal streaming.
I wonder if part of this reboot of the streaming side of the website is in part an attempt to get the higher on those searches. While there are multiple factors in determining where you place in a search engine’s results the overall number of hits per day certainly can boost your position on the list. Sites with a community get people who will check in several times a day to see what their friends are doing thereby increasing the traffic over a site that just has news and videos. Plus I think it helps them compete a bit more with what Crunchyroll is offering considering they are their biggest rival in the world of streaming anime.
The site layout is functional, rather than refined or sleek, and tends to the blocky side boldly advertising each piece. Navigating is easy with the top bar as is searching. Good search for videos because that is what this is first and foremost. Would suggest being able to search by “full seasons/completed” streaming titles. Once you go into something like “shows” you have some nice sidebar functions like a simulcast listing and a few ways to share whatever you are looking at. The videos for the most part are using the Hulu player, the exceptions seem to be trailers and some other extra content. The site layout gets the job done, so you can’t really complain but it also doesn’t have any personality; it is a very off-the-rack design.
The overall design of the site is a bit simplified and utilitarian. I myself prefer an uninteresting but efficient design over a slick but over-designed layout that is impossible to navigate. Then again that just might be the computer science major in me talking. There is a navigation bar at the top and a complete site map at the bottom of the page which makes is very easy to find anything on the site. I did notice clicking around the page that on certain parts of the site especially with and video content there were Google Ads for things other than anime. The ads were unobtrusive so while they were prominent they were designed well enough that they were never in the way of what I was looking for. As much of all of us sometimes feel overwhelmed by commercialization I am glad to see them being able to add a bit profitability to the site. Considering how much the industry is struggling am I more than willing to see some ads in order for the anime companies to stay in the black.
What with all the community aspects to the site, I was surprised to not see a comment section on the videos; we all know people love to throw in their two-cents from YouTube. Bring able to tag videos with various things might also be a great interactive piece to add. But I do like the “Add to Favorites” and especially the “Recommend” option which you can easily shoot over to another member. Other ideas that come to mind is adding a tracker for what episode you are on in a series or getting reminders or notices when a show you want to watch has a new episode/has been added to the site. As with many other sites you get your own profile (add us as friends! “reversethieves”) which has a “mustache” background option, awesome. You’ll also see on the main page a quick list of new users, recent forum posts, and some featured cosplay.
There is a distinct emphasis on promoting user-generated content a community on the site as well. There is a forum which is the faithful standard of any site like this. The forums for the beta video site is pretty lively considering that it is a separate forum from the already established and active forum on Funimation’s main website. The forums also seem to be keenly monitored as I saw threads moved to their proper locations frequently. I would be interested to see how much the forums on the streaming site and the main site differ in their community after a year or two. They also have pages were you can share fan art and cosplay. As with any user submitted content the quality is variable but that which stands out can be spectacular. I think a rating system would help separate the wheat from the chaff and tags would make finding art or cosplay from your favorite show a bit easier especially if the site keeps growing. I do have to wonder with established sites like deviantART and Cosplay.com make such additions superfluous as there is an already established and specialized community for that content. On the company generated content they have wallpapers and icons from various shows on the site. I do appreciate having a source for well made icons for use on things like web chat services and forums. Biggest complaint is there was no search feature to help you find other members of the site. If you want to grow a community you should let people find each other as easily as possible.
No official word on what the features for “Elite Membership” will be on the Funimation site, speculation was going on in the “Suggestion Box” part of the forum so certainly other people have it on their minds (thanks Antz for the correction). I think the biggest question for the Funimation site is whether it is too late and I think the answer is no. They can easily come alongside a place like Crunchyroll without overcrowding the market. In a way it seems like there are a million sites doing just this and how many can you really participate in? But since their video library is a mammoth they have the ability to actually create a destination that where the users will naturally grow.
Overall more than site design I feel that content is king on any streaming anime destination. If you have the shows that I want in a legitimate format I will brave most any interface. If your site is well designed then I will come back more often and am more likely to see what else you have on your site besides what I specially came for. Every season so far Funimation has picked up at least one Noitamina show since April 2010. Noitamina shows are always something worth checking out so that is a strong draw. The rest of their simulcasts are hit or miss. This season Toriko is lots of fun and a great companion piece to One Piece but Aria the Scarlet Ammo is positively dreadful. But as the biggest anime licensor they have a huge back catalog which they are slowly placing online for streaming. Their collection of older shows online is already quite impressive and they have a whole separate schedule of shows from the back catalog they are putting up online. I already watched some great shows including Slayers Revolution, Spice and Wolf, and Baccano! thanks to that initiative. As long as the have such a good selection of shows to watch I will continue to come back.