By now, if you’re a fan of Kamen Rider and Super Sentai and don’t live in Japan, you might have heard that Toei appears to be cracking down on the dedicated fansub groups who bring both series to audiences around the world.
We can only guess and assume “Why now?!” The best-case scenario would be Toei and Bandai will be making both Kamen Rider and Super Sentai available worldwide within 24-hours of their original Sunday morning #nitiasa Super Hero Time airing on TV Asahi.
A Japanese television show being made available with English (and other) subtitles worldwide within 24 hours of their original TV airing? Well, that would certainly be a groundbreaking idea, if that’s the case!
Worst-case scenario, Toei and Bandai (as kids these days would say) just “woke up and chose violence” and actually have no plan to make either show available outside of Japan.
When Power Rangers ended 11 years ago, I managed to fill the void by finally checking out Super Sentai. I’d long been pretty cold toward the Japanese franchise from which Power Rangers was born, mainly because in the past, I would never even imagine watching something with subtitles.
After having gotten swept up in the Korean Wave and becoming used to watching subtitled television shows, the idea of watching Super Sentai didn’t seem so daunting as it once did. So I watched Samurai Sentai Shinkenger and then Tensou Sentai Goseiger. And the natural progression led me to start watching Kamen Rider OOO and Kamen Rider Fourze.
And at that point, I found myself caught up in the Kamen Rider and Super Sentai Wave. I’ve been happily swimming in those waters ever since.
But how was I able to consume such content when it wasn’t airing on any television network here in the United States? And definitely not on any of the not-yet-existing streaming services.
Dedicated fans of both Kamen Rider and Super Sentai who work in their own time to translate episodes for non-Japanese speakers to watch and enjoy both series. They make no profit off these homemade subtitled episodes. They do it because they are fans like us, the international audience. They enjoy these shows and want to share the experience of watching them.
Without any official, legal way to watch even non-subtitled episodes of these series outside of Japan (and one or two other countries), new and existing fans can only turn to fansub groups.
And now they’re being told to stop or else.
No one would question the fact that this would be considered a form of piracy. But as has been pointed out many times in the years since I’ve started watching Kamen Rider and Super Sentai, fansubs seem to be a sort of open secret and practice. That is, TPTB are certainly aware of it and seemingly had no problem with it until now. So much so that American producers Saban Brands and Hasbro would actually use video footage from fansubbed episodes in their official promotional and trade videos for Power Rangers. Video files they actually had to download, likely from a torrent, to use for themselves.
Obviously, the argument that fansub groups don’t profit from what they’re doing doesn’t excuse any possible piracy concerns. But the interesting thing is the ones making money off of fansubs are Toei and Bandai themselves.
On the same day as this news was really setting in, I was excitedly waiting for a package that contained my handsome, brand new Kamen Rider Jin Burning Falcon S.H.Figuarts.
I’m a 30-year-old Filipino-American living in California. Obviously, I’m not turning my TV on to TV Asahi on Sunday mornings to watch Kamen Rider and Super Sentai. (Because I can’t.) Yet, I’ve excitedly and willingly shelled out a pretty penny for everything from, but not limited to a Go-Busters Ressha to a ToQ Changer to a Kamen Rider Wizard Infinity Style figure to a Red Buster S.H.Figuarts to a Kyuranger Saiko Kyutama.
Toei and Bandai are getting my U.S. dollars because I’m a fan of Kamen Rider and Super Sentai. And I’m a fan of Kamen Rider and Super Sentai because I am able to watch both shows (and understand them!) thanks to fansub groups.
Would I be buying a $100 “toy” from a show I didn’t watch? Nope. And that’s just me who isn’t a huge collector or even follows toy catalog news. I know there are many fans out there around the world who spend maybe 10x as much as I do on Kamen Rider and Super Sentai.
And they do so not because of any sincerely concerted effort from Toei or Bandai. Which again is funny because, for example, there’s an American Premium Bandai site. (There’s also Team Kamen Rider who have been bringing products over for purchase too.) An official online store selling Kamen Rider items to Americans who have very few (if any) legal options to watch the show.
They want to make it as hard as possible to watch their shows, but they still want you to buy their stuff. Okay.
Accessible and Available
I certainly don’t know the ins and outs of the business. But I do have a simple question for TPTB. What is so wrong with making your content accessible and available to as wide an audience as possible?
You don’t want your content pirated? That’s perfectly understandable. So then why not offer official and legal opportunities for your content to be consumed by audiences outside of your home country?
International franchises of The Amazing Race in the Philippines, Australia, Canada and Asia all actively try to prevent fans of the show around the world from watching them. One can only assume that they believe their show stepping outside their country’s borders will somehow hurt it or their bottomline.
Which is complete nonsense because if anything, making your show accessible outside your home country is nothing but beneficial for you.
You should want more people to consume your content. With The Amazing Race specifically, most local franchises struggle to get big audiences in their home countries. But TAR has a loyal, international fanbase who actively seek out these local franchises to watch and consume. And not only that, but they engage with the show. In the age of social media, engagement like that where fans are tweeting about the show and sharing clips, et al. are positives. Fueling buzz, getting more people to watch. Thus, making your show more valuable for advertisers who will be more willing to help fill your bank accounts.
With The Amazing Race Philippines for example, I wondered why they couldn’t upload episodes to the network’s official YouTube channel. Those videos of course can be monetized. And instead of Filipino TV pirates actually making money by posting low quality screen recorded episodes on malware and ad-infested blogsites, network TV5 could get all the views and thus, all the possible moneys instead.
With Kamen Rider and Super Sentai, it’s a lot different. Aside from posting full episodes on YouTube (more than just one or two episodes from an old season), creating their own streaming service or selling rights to an existing streaming service, Toei and Bandai’s main revenue stream from these franchises are the physical products. Toei and Bandai are selling toys and merchandise. The TV show and all its own commercial ad revenue is a commercial in and of itself.
And it obviously works because in addition to Japanese kids (young and old) buying the toys, you have kids (young and old) around the world doing the same.
There’s something about watching a TV show or movie, becoming invested and engrossed in it and then being compelled to throw money at it. Everyone has their own unique reasons for doing so of course. But I know I wasn’t compelled to buy a Kamen Rider Jin Burning Falcon S.H.Figuarts because I saw a picture of it posted on the Zero-One Twitter account. I bought it because I love Jin and I love Kamen Rider Zero-One. And I love Jin and love Zero-One because I was able to watch the show.
So what can and should Toei and Bandai do?
Well, the simplest thing is go back to the status quo. That is, for Toei and Bandai to leave the fansub groups alone and continue to sell toys. All while the fansub groups do what should be Toei and Bandai’s work for free. (Though actually, fansub groups spend a lot of their own money and that of generous fans to maintain their efforts. Not to mention their time of course.)
Otherwise, provide a legal and official way to consume the shows. And I mean not just past seasons on demand. But making currently airing, on-going seasons available as soon as 24-hours after their original Japanese airing. Fans will pay to watch both shows on official channels if available.
It was recently announced that Shout Factory acquired streaming and physical media rights to Kamen Rider Zero-One. While this is good news, by the time all that will be made available to the American public, Saber will have wrapped up its run and the 32nd Kamen Rider season would be revving up.
I just double checked the calendar and it’s 2021. There’s really no logical reason why Toei and Bandai refuse to exert any effort in making Kamen Rider and Super Sentai episodes available within hours worldwide.
The world can watch the latest episode of Attack on Titan with English (and other language) subtitles, for example, 24 hours after it first airs in Japan and go crazy on social media discussing the show. Why wouldn’t Toei and Bandai want even ¼ of that engagement and interest in Kamen Rider and Super Sentai?
Now, South Korea has aired Sentai seasons after the fact. And Kyoryuger was so popular that the local license holder produced a sequel series in partnership with Toei. See what happens when your show is accessible to a wide audience?
If you don’t want fansubbers to distribute your shows on unofficial channels, then what’s stopping you from offering up an official alternative? Do a Crunchyroll. Do a Netflix. Heck, do YouTube. All come with a revenue stream that fuels your other revenue streams.
Even better, why not have your own subscription streaming service. Put your entire library of Kamen Rider, Super Sentai, Metal Heroes and other Toei properties on it. That includes currently airing shows being made available as soon as they air on TV. You could even have content exclusive to this service like short films or original movies.
You could call it Toei Tokusatsu Fan Club. TTFC for short. That could be a great idea for a premium subscription service. It’s only just an idea though. But of course, you should open subscriptions to everyone worldwide. Not just in Japan.
Anyway. I just want to first thank all the fansub groups out there that take time out of their own lives to help share the wonderful world of Kamen Rider and Super Sentai with fans around the world. And I definitely thank them for having helped get me sucked into this crazy world of Sunday morning toku.
My hope is just that this is all one late, horrible April Fool’s joke. I know it’s not, but I still hope that at the very least, things can go back to the way they were.
If not, I hope Toei and Bandai give fans around the world an easy, legal and official way to watch the shows that they’ve grown to love. Denying and blocking fans outside of Japan from enjoying Kamen Rider and Super Sentai makes no sense. And it is definitely in their best financial interest to make both shows as available and accessible as possible.
There is only upside and positives to doing so. And I hope that we’ll be getting positive news very soon.