North American anime distributor Funimation launched the tablet solution to the home video empire's online streaming portal at the beginning on this month. Sporting a shocking (by app store standards) price tag of $10, the iOS and Android player promises to “Unlock thousands of hours of anime including complete series.” So… That sounds good, but what does it mean and how does it stack up against Funimation’s online streaming portal or the free version of their app?
Funimation’s mobile app doesn’t make a great first impression. Titles are presented in a giant, scrolling list of stylized banners. While genre filtering is available via an easily overlooked funnel icon, there is no filter available for content type. This is especially annoying since some titles, such as Dragonball, feature nothing more than trailers. The process of scrolling through the Funimation’s considerable catalog was fairly painless, if time consuming, on newer A5 iOS machines connected via Wi-Fi, but was a choppy feeling chore on other devices. During high traffic hours, loading a show’s detail page became unresponsive.
While the app does provide a search option, we found it to be entirely useless. All of our queries displayed the same, unrelated assortment of trailers. Whether we searched for Baccano, Fairy Tail, or One Piece, Funimation decided we must be trying to find Hetalia and Vandread trailers. Same list. Every time. Delightful.
Even after sifting through Funimation’s catalog to find the title of choice and tapping “Load more videos” option to see more than the first three entries, the episode listing defaults to a somewhat scatterbrained “Recent” sorting. Fortunately, a quick tap on the “All” sort at the top puts content into episodic order. Many of Funimation’s shows are offered in both a subtitled and dubbed format. Adding to the already chaotic experience of finding something, these two formats are thrown together in the same list, sometimes with a DVD-like commentary version thrown in for good measure. It can take quite a bit of squinting at the descriptions before finally finding your episode of choice.
Adding a series to your personal “My shows” listing saves the pain of relocating content for repeated viewings.
The free version adds a small banner ad to the bottom of the screen but is functional identical to its big brother. The banner was hardly even noticeable in an app that displays it’s content in the form of banners anyway. The only time we became aware of the ad banner was when accidentally touching it. There is no ad banner in the paid version.
Video Playback was smooth and looked great on all devices with both the free and paid versions of the app. We initially had some crashing issues with the iOS version, but these were cleared up with a reboot. Twitter, Facebook, and email are all supported if you absolutely need the world to know every time you fire up an episode. We were extremely pleased to see the inclusion of Apple’s Airplay on the iOS version. Beaming our favorite ‘toons to the big screen via Apple TV worked flawlessly. Picture quality is very good compared other mobile streaming service (i.e. great on a 3-10 inch screen and ‘good enough’ when mirrored to a television). We experienced no hitches or pixilation on any of the videos tested.
Playback via both the free and paid versions of Funimation’s app are listed to feature commercials. In actuality, we were only served commercials on the Android version. The iOS app played its selections commercial free. We suspect that this is a bug or technical limitation that will soon be ‘fixed’.
On all versions of Funimation, you will need to create and log-in with an account from Funimation’s web site to access any videos that are classified as age restricted. Account creation is free and your credentials are saved between sessions making this a painless process, but haters of multiple accounts have been warned.
Content is where you’ll find the biggest differences between the free and paid versions. The free app offers up the first two or three episodes of a couple dozen shows, usually in both dubbed and subbed formats. Of course, trailers for nearly everything Funi offers is on display for your perusal. Due to the horrible navigation within the app, figuring out which is what is a painful affair. Still, for the low cost of nada you gain access to many hours of free anime. As a bonus, the episodes on display are the first ones of a series so you’re able to see the beginning of a show you may be curious about. The first hit, after all, is free.
The titles available via the paid app are a similar grab bag but with the odds weighted much more in your favor. Some big name titles such as Dragonball still feature nothing more a trailer or interview. Newer shows like Fairy Tail feature all episodes in subbed and dubbed format except for the most recent season which is only available subtitled. Pretty much everything released under Funimation’s SAVE line of budget box sets is yours for the streaming in their entirety and in your choice of languages.
In order to fully evaluate what this app has to offer, we need to reach out beyond the app-centric mobile world and take a look at Funimation’s free online video streaming portal, Funimation.com. The library of free offerings on Funi’s web site actually surpasses what is available to the $10 app. Due to licensing issues and a partnership with HULU, a handful of titles including classics such as Fist of the North Star and the Dragonball shows, have full series served up freely on the web while being limited to trailers and making-of clips on the app. Of course if you absolutely need to use a tablet or smartphone for your viewing, the web portal is not an option. Videos are streamed in a Flash format and mobile OSs are locked out.
Funimation also offers an “Elite Video” subscription service. For $8 a month you gain access to the company’s new releases the same day as the retail disk releases. This is where you gain access to some of the missing content in the paid app, such as the dubbed edition of the most recent series (i.e. the 4th season of Fair Tail we’ve been using as an example). In addition, commercials are removed from all streaming options.
What we have here is a huge morass of options with no clear winner. If you want everything Funimation has to offer in video streaming your only choice is a PC and a $8 monthly bill. On the other side of the spectrum, if you just want to catch a quick vid on your phone once in a while, you really can’t go wrong with the price of Funi’s free app. As for a value proposition, Funimation.com’s free access via HULU wins hands-down.
So, what of the question we asked in the title: Is Funimation’s $10 iOS/Android Anime Video App Worth It? Content discovery and catalog gaps aside, this app truly fulfills Funi’s promise of delivering you thousands of hours of programming, many in your choice of languages. You may not get everything you want, but you sure as heck are getting a lot. Moreover, you’re getting it anywhere you and your portable computer happen to be. For a one time charge that’s less than half the price of a premium anime DVD, Funimation’s paid app is a bargain. If you have a choice of platforms, the smoother browsing performance and Airplay feature of the iOS app makes it the clear winner. I just hope they fix the search.