For anime buffs around the world, streaming your favorite series can be a bit of a nuisance. Sure there are some reputable places on the internet that offer decent streaming services, but usually they come with the risk of landing a virus on your computer or an outrageous monthly subscription fee. With the exception of Crunchyroll, there’s just not a viable option out there for those wanting to casually watch anime with ease, on their television, with no real strings attached. Worse yet, there are even fewer options to do all that without having to read subtitles. The new anime-streaming-kid on the block, Neon Alley, seems to understand this. Anime and manga bigwigs, Viz Media, released their anime subscription service on the PlayStation 3 just a few months ago, and now it’s arrived on Xbox 360 with all the same benefits and drawbacks as the Sony iteration.
Neon Alley is like other streaming services but with a few variations, the first: unlike NetFlix or Hulu, where TV watchers pick which show they want to watch and when, Neon Alley is run like a cable channel. It has a set schedule of shows and movies, and plays them on the hour or half-hour. In our time checking out the service, we enjoyed this feature because it allowed shows to play in the background, so we could go on with whatever it was we were doing, whether it be eating dinner, doing work on our laptop or chatting with friends. Some will detest the idea that they won’t be able to watch their shows on-demand, but for others, it will feel comforting knowing that there’s no decision making process involved regarding which of the 235978123 anime series they’re going to watch; it’s just there to watch or not watch.
Speaking of series, Neon Alley only has a limited number of shows it broadcasts. They are constantly acquiring new ones, but as it stands now there about roughly 25 series as well as anime and live-action movies to watch. Although the selection may pale in comparison to Crunchyroll’s, they have managed to land a few exclusive deals, so some of what you see on Neon Alley won’t be seen on rival services. NA also manages to play all their series from the beginning, and will show specific episodes multiple times throughout the week. This accommodates people’s schedules in that, if someone can’t make it home at 8pm to catch an episode of Blue Exorcist, they can quickly check out the channel’s guide, find that that same episode is being shown again tomorrow at 4pm, and try to make plans to catch it then. This is the first sign that Neon Alley is all about accessibility and providing the viewer with a concentrated list of shows on an flexible schedule. It would be all the better if there was some kind of DVR feature, but unfortunately that’s not present at this time.
Continuing with the trend of making the entire viewing experience easier on the consumer, Neon Alley employs another unique feature to set itself apart from the rest of its competition: it only offers English-dubbed series and movies. That’s right, for those wanting subbed shows, they won’t find any here. This may be a repulsive decision for anime purists, but for those of us who are aging out of that phase in life where time is aplenty, it’s a welcome change to not have to commit the time and energy to reading a TV show rather than watching it. Yet again, this allows for the option of just putting Neon Alley on in the background and checking in with whatever is on at the time. It’s also important to note that the audio and visual quality is pretty good. It won’t win any awards, and it surely isn’t broadcasted in 1080p, but nearly all shows are in HD, and in our time with it, there were absolutely zero streaming issues which surely made the viewing experience all the more pleasant.
Neon Alley does come with a price, though. It operates from a subscription-based model, so using it will set consumers back $6.99 a month. For those keeping track, that’s the same price as competitor Crunchyroll. Ultimately, that could be Neon Alley’s downfall: they are going up against a larger, more established service that offers on-demand episodes from literally hundreds of shows. Though, all of those options come at a cost, and I don’t just mean a monetary one.
Neon Alley is all about providing an accessible, hassle-free, hands-off viewing experience. It won’t please the elitists out there, with its dubbed-only shows, but some will find comfort in knowing they can watch anime without having to read it. After all, it is growing more common for aging anime fans to not want to commit the time and energy to reading every show they want to watch. Part of television’s luxury is being able to kick back, relax and maybe even multitask while not having to pay strict, 100 percent attention to what’s going on on the TV screen. Neon Alley brings back that concept. Although its list of shows is quite small, what is there are the current staples of the industry. In the end, I see Neon Alley as the anime streaming option for people who aren’t hardcore anime fans. With the English-dubbed audio, limited but mainstream show list, TV channel style presentation and setup and even the incorporation of old-school kung fu movies, the service clearly has a specific audience in mind. It’ll be up to fans to decide if that audience is them, or if they need something with a bit more substance.