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Studio Ghibli has embraced streaming, and the world is better for it

Netflix and HBO Max will give more people access to deep-cut Ghibli classics.
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The complete works of animation powerhouse Studio Ghibli are expensive. As a teenager, I would save up my woeful Subway paychecks and, every few months, proudly walk into the nearest HMV store to buy another movie by famed director Hayao Miyazaki. It was an agonizingly slow process. But I gradually built up my then-DVD collection and watched the movies I wasn't sure of, and less familiar with, during the occasional Ghibli marathon on TV.

Thank goodness they're all headed to streaming services.

Yesterday, Netflix announced that every Studio Ghibli film bar one will be coming to its platform this spring. They'll roll out in batches starting on February 1st and be available almost everywhere excluding the US, Canada and Japan. HBO Max, an upcoming streaming service by WarnerMedia Entertainment, secured similar streaming rights for the US market last October.

Millions of people already subscribe to Netflix. And plenty inside the US are seriously considering HBO Max for its various originals, such as Ridley Scott's sci-fi series Raised by Wolves, and legacy shows, including Friends, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and The Big Bang Theory. All of these people will soon have access to a near-complete Ghibli library. (The sole exception is Grave of the Fireflies, a bleak World War II story that is likely missing because the rights are held by Shinchosha, the publisher of the book the film is based on, rather than Ghibli's parent company Tokuma Shoten.)

The deals should, therefore, have a few positive knock-on effects.

First, more people will likely experience Ghibli's less popular but equally brilliant films. Growing up, I prioritized the obvious classics -- My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle -- which meant it was years before I watched studio gems like Only Yesterday and Whisper of the Heart. The immediate choice on Netflix and HBO Max should allow more of the viewing public to watch and appreciate the breadth of Ghibli's output. My Neighbors the Yamadas and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, for instance, have unusual but breathtaking art styles. The Wind Rises, meanwhile, is a fictionalized biopic of the World War II aircraft designer Jiro Horikoshi.

My Neighbours the Yamadas

My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999)

Secondly, the availability should inspire more youngsters with a passion for drawing, comics and animation. The beautifully-constructed films are invaluable both as inspiration and reference while learning these art forms.

Finally, streaming could increase Ghibli's short- and long-term revenue. The terms of the Netflix and HBO Max deals haven't been disclosed, but it's safe to assume that at least some money will be trickling into Ghibli's coffers. The Japanese studio has long been opposed to making a quick buck through off-brand licensing deals or heavy commercialization -- it runs a small museum in Mitaka, for instance, rather than dozens of theme parks.

The company announced a "brief pause" in August 2014 after Miyazaki's retirement one year earlier. Miyazaki has since returned to helm How Do You Live?, a film based on the 1937 book that shares the same name. If Ghibli wants to make more feature-length movies following its release, streaming revenue could help. The cash could also support Ghibli staff who wish to start their own companies in the future. Yoshiaki Nishimura, for instance, set up Studio Ponoc with several former Ghibli animators in 2015.

Ponyo

Ponyo (2008)

Neither deal affects Ghibli fans who crave a permanent collection, either. Want a full Blu-ray set at home? Go for it. The entire Ghibli filmography was also made available for digital purchase in the US last month.

The only downside is the increasingly fractured state of streaming. Studio Ghibli's catalog is the latest example of the regional disparity between the US and the rest of the world. Netflix in the UK, for instance, has a vastly different library to its international counterparts. HBO Max and, for now, Disney+ aren't available in Britain, either. The situation can be frustratingly messy if you don't follow the media industry. It could also be infuriating if you're a Netflix subscriber in the US with no plans to get HBO Max.

(And they wonder why so many people still pirate their favorite movies and TV shows.)

Kiki's Delivery Service

Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)

Still, some streaming availability is better than none. I have no plans to ditch my DVD and Blu-ray collection, but it's nice to know I'll soon be able to watch Kiki's Delivery Service, Pom Poko and Arietty wherever I have a stable internet connection.

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