With the US version of the service launching eminent, here’s what I took away as a casual user of the JP version of the service Aniuta. The short of it is, the library is second. The ease of access and marketing are the top reasons why I pay for it.
So Aniuta started on iOS and Android when it launched about a year and a bit ago. In Japan, the streaming music scene is war, as domestic services never really crowned a winner while big oversea players (Google Music, Apple Music, and Spotify) started to invade with momentum and oversea success. That is more the background than any real reason. (BTW, a PC version is in the works for Japan.)
The great use case for Aniuta is leveraging that it is indeed a niche music app. Anime music always has been, even in Japan, a niche thing. When you highlight and expose that niche to a streaming service all to itself, it becomes this pretty awesome portal for the purpose of marketing and discovery. I mean don’t expect Aniuta to replace your typical streaming music service, but if you are into anisong then this is a gold mine.
First of all, it has a lot of old songs. In terms of the strength of its library, to me, this is Aniuta’s strongest suit. There is stuff from 30+ years ago. And it’s streaming at you at 320kbps (or 196 if you choose). Did people rip music at 320 in the ’90s? What are all this 90s anisong doing in here? I guess being a long-time anisong nerd I like my 320kbps Tenchi Muyo TV OP, but your mileage will vary.
Second, it has a lot of obscure stuff you probably have never heard of. That means someone out there has heard of them, and are now excited to see it there. Like, this is how I listen to some of the more obscure mobile game music so many seiyuu I follow now produce. Aniuta covers anime and anime-y game music, so much of that “idol hell” junk is included thus. Especially the unpopular stuff that are on the service for exposure and to pad licensing revenue. A lot of this music is a pain to even pirate, so this is a time saver.
In terms of the library, it has some glaring omissions, namely some core King Records stuff and Sony stuff. It’s also missing some Colombia stuff but that’s not as core. The other issue in terms of library is that a lot of songs don’t show up until they are no longer hot off the press. But that’s fine for most use cases. Also, I think even now they are still bringing on more artists, so I expect the catalog to grow not only with time, but also in selection.
I guess there’s also the fact that it costs $5 US bux (600 JPY for the Japan side, although the US price is pegged on that 600 JPY number). Without the paying subscription, Aniuta only provides 30s of each song it has, and no 320. The EN site doesn’t seem to say this, so who knows if they’ll do the same.
Ultimately, Aniuta is a portal where the anisong industry pile up their marketing material. The labels stock the service with music they want you to hear. For the domestic crowd, it’s just yet another venue of marketing assaults its customer base. For Americans, this is the strand where oversea consumers connect with the record labels and music publishers, without piracy or region locking to get in the way. They will feed us marketing. They will shower us with promotional stuff to tell us “buy so-and-so’s CDs” or whatever. (Or so I hope.) Is this good? Maybe, maybe not, but it’s something we don’t really get. It provides a context to music consumption that people overseas don’t get to see.
To put it into concrete terms, we will see the Aniuta charts, so we know who and what are popular. We will get highlights from Aniuta for specific artists being pushed, so that’s recognition. We will get some cute things, like playlists from different artists (I like the WUG ones from last year, where each member of the seiyuu unit would make an Aniuta play list and you can listen to it with a narrated intro). This also means, when I am curious about Revue Starlight, I just need to open the app, scroll down, and hit that “hey we know Revue Starlight is hype, here’s all the music we have on it” button and listen to those Position Zero tunes.
As someone who’s been using it since the JP launch, I can say that Aniuta had a rough start. The app (all uses were via my Android phones) used to crash a lot and is not very responsive. But now the app runs mostly just fine and everything works. If there are complaints from me, it’s that the playlist management is clunky and there’s a big latency while waiting tracks to prebuffer after skipping around. The latter is more likely due to that the servers are in Japan. The former…well, it is servicable and it’s not what I use Aniuta for normally.
Which is to say, of the ~15 months now I have been using the app, I barely used it. Most of my listening nowadays are from music on my PC or in my phone, and I don’t really use streaming much. Aniuta serves as an easy-to-use library when I need to look up things or brush up for a live I’m going to. Well, it also doesn’t have much in terms of IDOLM@STER, so there’s that.
I still think it’s worth the money just because I’m too close to the bill of its ideal customer, which is someone who has been into anisong for a long time and care a lot about anisong (or rather anime music generally, including the growing pile of mobile game-related things). If you don’t care enough, then the marketing and guided playlists have to work, as a discovery and informational feature. Short of either of that, I guess Aniuta is a pretty hardcore app!
PS. One of the major value prop in Japan for Aniuta is that subscribers can do event lottery with the app, and sometimes they have giveaways. I took advantage of this last year at Anisama–they had a kuji game for people with the app. If you were a paid subscriber you can draw 3 times where as free users only drew once. Not that I won anything notable. But there is an Aniuta live every year now, which obviously let you ticket with the app. A few artists will do the occasional lottery tie-in. Anisama always does something with Aniuta too. None of this probably will translate to the US version of the app but it would be nice to see something like that.