Hamtaro and Piracy

Hamtaro is currently available to stream nowhere.

I find it strange how little I remember about Hamtaro; it’s one of those shows that I recall as absolutely being present and merchandised in my middle school years, with its lighthearted and comedic adventure-of-the-week being a kind of stealth precursor to the lighter, fluffier slice-of-life genre that’s currently so prevalent in anime.

So, being a millennial, as soon as I some old images of the series crossed my path, I went to see if I could stream a few episodes somewhere to jog my memory.

As per the blurb at the head of this article, I had no such luck.

It’s hard to know if anyone even still holds the rights to distribute it in my country – presumably nobody, as VIZ Media was the most recent distributor I could find any evidence for, but the series is no longer listed on their website.

Yo-ho, yo-ho.

So, unless I want to hunt down secondhand market DVDs of the series loaded with a grab bag of three episodes apiece, I’m just out of luck and Hamtaro just isn’t available to me at the moment. Even then, as far as I can tell a good three-quarters of it just doesn’t exist as a Western release any more.

Legally, anyway.

Yes, I came across about a dozen different ways that I could actually watch the series if I were so inclined, primarily through advertisement-heavy sites who very definitely did not go through the correct channels to be showing the movie. It’s at best a morally-grey area for someone to use such sites, and at worst just flat-out illegal.

It’s also the only option right now.

There’s a very famous statement made by Gabe Newell in an interview with The Cambridge Student:

“Piracy is almost always a service problem and not a pricing problem.”

It’s a loaded claim, to be sure – as a college student, I definitely couldn’t afford to throw market price at every new game that my friend group latched onto or that piqued my interest. But now, as an adult? I’ll absolutely always choose the officially-sanctioned option when it’s available.

I’ll leave out all the actual ethical discussion here – and there is a lot to be said about the morality of piracy. The landscape is especially bumpy now in the wake of the shutdown of most prominent hosting sites for video game ROMs and even the high-profile case where Nintendo issued a DMCA takedown request against a fan-made remake of one of their own classic titles. (“Does AM2R constitute piracy?” is another very provoking question, I feel.)

Rather, I’m only really equipped with the consumer’s standpoint.

And honestly? Piracy is kind of garbage.

From my perspective, there are two main advantages to it, neither being particularly great.

One, pirated material is free of (or is bundled with a method to break) inbuilt advertisements and DRM and copyright-protecting software, so I can throw it on my phone or laptop and watch or play it anywhere regardless of my internet connection. But that’s not a problem for me most of the time in today’s society, and it’s not even always the case (see the counterexamples of streaming sites and Netflix’s download-to-device options).

Two, pirated material is generally free, from a pricing perspective. Great for a student or someone who’s still finding their feet financially. But so are library materials, which are plentiful in any system with cross-branch lending (which, anecdotally, is most of them nowadays). And now, with a bit of ground beneath me and runway in front, the $8 I pay to this service or the other isn’t a make-or-break amount.

Sell, sell, sell! (Oops, wait, they won’t, which is why we’re in this situation.)

So what’s left seem to chiefly be marks against piracy as a viable option to get at the audiovisual media and cars that I might want for.

Storage space can be a bit of a concern in here, as well – one of the more common practices is to just download the whole thing to your hard drive. Granted, there is a false sense of ownership there that can be a mixed bag, and while digital space is incredibly cheap, it still adds up quickly. Then you’ve got to concern yourself with keeping track of a bunch of little files that it’ll be a pain to hunt down again (even if they’re still hosted in the same place, which is a whole problem of its own), whereas legal streaming options nowadays are usually around sixty seconds from desire to consumption.

In fact, just a few months ago, I effectively deleted all of the assorted music on my own devices because it wasn’t worth it to recreate playlists and tame the thousand files or so that were there. Spotify isn’t just legal, it’s also way easier to manage, especially across multiple devices.

Which segues into the more nebulous aspect of “usability”. To be blunt, most pirate sites for – especially for shows and movies – are terrible at this. They rely on aggressive advertisement to stay afloat, which slows down the entire experience, looks atrocious, and feels invasive in ways that even Hulu’s advertisements don’t. Plus, in-line streaming is almost always in some low-grade player (often in sub-480p image quality) that gets caught by adblockers (or otherwise refuses to run if one is active) as opposed to the hearty, custom-built web players on most sites that can usually stream at higher bitrates with less fuss and better amenities (such as subtitle and language controls, smoother seeking, and pop-out players).

On some devices, it’s not even an option. I can stream Netflix and Crunchyroll to my PS4 just fine, but there’s no effective browser to get at web-only streaming sites and, even then, they might not run in that limited environment. Downloaded files aren’t much better, requiring a period of very deliberate setup with Plex or some similar home media center, which is about twelve more steps to contend with.

And then there’s the safety of it all, which is ubiquitously accepted to be a risky proposition. Viruses and malware affecting legal streams and downloads are rare and typically made public knowledge when discovered. But on pirated video and games, whether it’s actually common or not, the very real possibility of it makes the whole affair a gamble that personally makes me nervous and paranoid.

So in darned near all respects except for the price, it’s just not a great option.

But if it’s my only way to watch this cute lil’ pet go on adventures, the alternative is to kill my own interest in the series, for better or for worse. Neither way out is a great option, but until somebody picks up the license to a foreign TV series more than a decade old, that’s all there is. So I guess it’s dead to the Western world for now.

I’ll miss you, Hamtaro, even if I hardly knew you.

2 thoughts on “Hamtaro and Piracy

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s