Every anime fan knows that there are a number of ways to watch anime online at no cost. Most of us (I hope), realize that the majority of these sites are unofficial and illegal. There are, however, a few places online where you can get a free anime fix with no guilt at all. Sadly, most of these sites still leave much to be desired. The state of legitimate online anime in North America is still pretty sad, but there are some options if you don’t expect much.
FUNimation is leading the way on digital distribution in North America. I’m quite glad to see them moving forward with download-to-own offerings on their own site as well as on the PlayStation Network and iTunes. But if you don’t want to cough up the cash, you can still watch a good number of anime episodes for free on the company’s official website. They have episodes for some great series like Mushi Shi, Aquarion, Gunslinger Girl, Kiddy Grade, and a bunch of others. What’s the catch? Well, you can only see one or two episodes of each show; they don’t put the entire series online. Still, if you just want to get a feel for a lot of the great series FUNimation offers, it’s a great option. Just click on the Free Episodes tab on the FUNimation Videos page
Hulu is a video streaming site that is the result of a partnership between the US television networks NBC and FOX. Most of their content is U.S. movies and TV shows, but they do have things that might interest anime fans: Speed Racer, Mushi Shi, Death Note, Naruto, Ikki Tousen, Naruto, and Astro Boy. Hulu offers a stream of almost every episode of the classic original Speed Racer and the first season of the 2004 Astro Boy series, and all of Mushi Shi for free. All you have to do is deal with some ads, just like watching TV. One can hope that FOX will eventually offer all their anime properties on the site at some point, though that would be a mixed blessing since 4Kids did most of their dubs and butchered the hell out of them.
The Anime Network
The Anime Network isn’t just an on-demand channel on digital cable, they also have a website where they stream episodes. They’ve got a decent variety of shows to offer, but once again they don’t offer full series. The other major disappointment with this site is they have IP filters to ensure that only residents of the US or Canada can view the episodes. The problem is that their filters DON’T WORK! I myself have have trouble viewing shows in the player. Even though I’m in Los Angeles, the site insists I’m not in the U.S. This has been a problem for months, if not years, and they haven’t fixed it. That’s not to mention a number of other technical problems they’ve had. It’s a good idea, but very bad execution, as I mentioned back in March when I first reviewed the site. But, if you can get it working, you’ll be able to watch some decent stuff.
Unlike the other offerings on this list, Joost is a media streaming network that uses an application, not a website. Once you download their free viewer app, you get access to a number of online on-demand, ad supported channels. They offer a few options for animated content, including a dedicated Transformers channel. Their anime selection is pretty limited, though. They offer a channel called GONG!, a limited selection of anime from Adult Swim, a limited Astro Boy channel (the 2004 series again), and some content from Toonami. If you poke around in those channels you can find full episodes from Ghost in the Shell 2nd Gig, Naruto, Paranoia Agent, and Eureka Seven. But you won’t find a complete anime series on any channel, they only give a few episodes at a time.
So, that’s the list. What’s that? Why isn’t CrunchyRoll on there? Wellll, I thought long and hard about that one. Although CrunchyRoll has recently taken a lot of positive steps towards legitimizing their anime streaming business (partnering with anime companies, getting $4 million in funding, etc.), many people in the industry still consider the site to be a haven for illegal uploads. At best they are “semi-legal”. I’d love to see them be totally legit one day, but they aren’t right now.If my well-informed readers have some other sites to add to the list, please tell us about them in the comments!
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