Neon Alley. Viz Media’s new anime initiative that launched for the PS3 in October 2012. Now (as of February 12) it’s also available on the Xbox 360 (if you have a LIVE Gold subscription, of course). For $6.99 a month (and only if you live in the US or Canada) you get access to a 24/7 streaming anime channel, similar to cable channels like the Funimation Channel, and the now On Demand only Anime Network. Right now, it is only available for the PS3 and Xbox 360, and only exists as a live, scheduled stream. Activation is simple. For the Xbox, go to the apps section, then find and download the Neon Alley app. It’s a little over 100 mbs in size (shows up as 118 on my HDD, compared to the Netflix app which is 126). Super easy. Then just go to the app, and Neon Alley loads and begins playing right away. Now, this is a live stream, so although there is a pause button, it really just stops the stream. Then you hit the “live” button to get back. It’s also Kinect supported. Now, their website says you can link up to three devices to one account, so I think that means a single subscription will let you use both your PS3 and Xbox, if you have both, but only one at a time.
I’ve been trying to figure out Neon Alley’s target audience. See if you can help me out here. It does NOT appear to be for: someone with access to Anime Network Video on Demand through their cable provider; someone with access to the Funimation Channel through their cable provider; someone who has internet and browser access; someone with a Crunchyroll account. Essentially, Neon Valley is Viz Media’s Funimation Channel. It’s a 24 hour scheduled stream of Viz’s (primarily from what I’ve seen, but also some from other companies) anime. Except there are no On Demand options, and you can’t record episodes to watch later if your schedule doesn’t match up with the stream’s. It is only available on the Xbox 360 and the PS3 at this time. So, sure, you can stream anime right onto your television! Or you can hook your computer up to your TV and stream it off vizanime.com, funimation.com, hulu.com, or crunchyroll.com. In those cases you get to pick what you want to watch, when you want to watch it. So let’s say you can’t do any of that. And either you just really want to watch anime only on your TV, or you only have internet access through your PS3 or Xbox (and assuming the PS3’s browser doesn’t let you access and stream off those websites; I don’t own one so I don’t know). Neon Alley might be for you.
Neon Alley does have ads. Fortunately, most of them are relevant and include ads for anime series, manga, video games, and related merchandise (like TCGs). Occasionally a commercial for a network television series slips in. They’re also short and you won’t see them too often. During anime episodes, they only appear to air once in the middle of each episode, and then in the time between episodes (I didn’t get a chance to view one of the scheduled films). There do seem to be some sponsor partnerships. GameStop is offering limited free subscriptions to Neon Alley with the purchase of the newest Naruto video game. Funimation advertises upcoming series, and there are ads for websites like Anime Sushi. There are also spots that highlight the top selling manga of the week (through Anime News Network), the week’s manga releases (useful), the top manga downloads (limited to Viz’s vizmanga.com), upcoming show premieres (apparently Fate Zero is coming soon, which is from Aniplex, which means Neon Alley streams more than just Viz’s own titles), and schedule listings. Not so bad really, but for $7 and such limited options? The value’s not there.
As for the shows you’re getting…. Recent enough stuff, some of which you can’t yet find on DVD. For example, you can buy the first twelve episodes of Tiger and Bunny on DVD/BR right now, but Neon Alley is running the series through episode 25, fully dubbed. Everything is dubbed, by the way. So if you’re the sort of person who can’t stand to watch your anime with the English voice over, skip Neon Alley entirely. Also airing currently are Inu Yasha: The Final Act, Blue Exorcist, Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan (which doesn’t even hit DVD until April), La Grange, Naruto, Vampire Knight, Kekkaishi, Buso Renkin, Death Note, Nana, and One Piece. There are movies, too. Live action martial arts movies like House of Fury (films provided by Tai Seng Entertainment), as well as the animated films for Naruto, and even the recent Berserk films.
How does Neon Alley compare to other streaming anime plans? Crunchyroll offers free, ad-based viewing, plus three premium memberships. For $6.95 a month, you can subscribe to the anime or drama membership, which nets you access to all titles of that type, simulcasts, limited advertising (the site mentions no in-video ads specifically), and lets you stream your shows on various devices (like the iPad, Google TV, PS3/Xbox 360, with the 360 version of course requiring a LIVE Gold subscription). For $11.95 a month you get access to both anime and drama content, with all the other perks, plus no ads at all. Hulu Plus is $7.99 a month, with ads, gets you access to everything on the site, and lets you stream off supported devices. Funimation offers a subscription service for $7.95 a month, which gets you commercial free anime, and is available on limited devices like the iPad, Android Tablet, and Roku (and I assume it’s limited to Funimation titles only). Anime Network also offers online viewing subscriptions, at $6.95 a month or $69.95 a year (not entirely sure what that gets you, other than full access to all their content). Oh, and there’s Netflix, of course. $7.99 a month instant streaming from your computer or other devices (including the Wii), ad free, and their anime streaming section isn’t half bad at all (plus tons of live action films and dramas). You can also watch anime for free through Funimation (ad supported), as well as on youtube, and Viz Media’s website.
And there’s what makes Neon Alley seem so entirely pointless. You can go to Viz Media’s website and watch all of those anime there for free (ad supported, through Hulu). Tiger and Bunny? Every episode currently available, subtitled (so if you’re dub only, either wait or subscribe to Neon Alley). Same thing for Inu Yasha: The Final Act, Vampire Knight, Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, etc. Yes, there’s going to be more ads, and they’ll be mostly unrelated, but it’s free, and you can watch the episodes whenever you want without having to work around Neon Alley’s schedule. Right now, Neon Alley just isn’t viable. The options need to be expanded. Maybe let people watch individual episodes on the website without ads if you have a Neon Alley subscription. Let viewers go back in the schedule and watch older episodes or things they might have missed, even if it only goes back 24 hours. Just something more than the 24/7 scheduled streaming. Anything more, really.
A temporary subscription was provided by Viz Media for review purposes.