Japanese TV for the most part is pretty bad. Right now the only shows that I am watching with at least some regularity are: Tadano Hitoshi on Friday nights, Kamen Rider Den-O usually downloaded, and Lincoln on Tuesday nights. They are, respectively, a drama about a badass corporate special agent, a kids superhero show, and a variety show with a bunch of famous comedians. The majority of the rest of Japanese TV is either news, bad dramas, or celebrities eating food and/or watching videos (often of other people eating food). This all means that when you need some audio visual entertainment at home, DVDs and the internet are invaluable. I brought over quite a few DVDs, including all of Arrested Development and 4 seasons of News Radio. I don’t want to know how many times I’ve watched those over and over. Anyways, I still watch quite a lot of TV, and also play a somewhat decent amount of video games in my free time. Today I figure I will share with you details on TV Links and Discas, two of the main ways I entertain myself with arguably meaningless visual entertainment.
First up is a recent goldmine of a site introduced to me by Mr. Nicholas Roberts. It is called, simply, TV Links (link). While it is very easy to explain what the site does, it is hard to express how amazingly useful and fun it is as a resource to watch a bunch of TV shows online. This is cool in itself, but when you are an American TV addict living in a country whose broadcast content contains mostly people eating and saying how good it is, cool becomes absolutely pants-wetting wonderful. While the videos are pretty much all hosted on sites like YouTube and DailyMotion, meaning the quality isn’t so great, the selection of shows and episodes makes up for it. TV Links does an excellent job of rounding up entire seasons and series into one handy place. You could watch a bunch of TV shows all the way through with this site. I’ve already watched a lot of Robot Chicken on there, as well as a ton of Seinfeld episodes. It’s a great site to waste a lot of time on. In addition to a great number of TV dramas, sitcoms, and reality shows, they also have a ton of cartoons and even Japanese anime shows. They even have Captain N!
I also started using the Tsutaya Discas service this year (link). It’s an online-to-postal DVD rental service, similar to Netflix in the states. While I’ve been able to get a lot of DVDs for uh…backup purposes, and it’s still a really good service, there are a few things that keep Discas from being as amazingly awesome at Netflix was when I was using it last year. With Netflix, for about 20 bucks a month I was able to get 3 DVDs at a time, automatically sent to me as I returned them. Netflix had a good queue system that automatically sent movies to me as soon as others were returned. Discas works a bit differently. There are two main plans you can choose from, with many other variations of these two. The one I’m on, called the M plan, gives you unlimited movies, 2 at a time, for 2079 yen a month. That’s about the same price as my old Netflix plan, although you get only 2 discs at a time. However, the main complaint I have with this plan is that while you can have a list of DVDs to rent, they don’t automatically send anything. You have to manually select which movies are sent to you via the website every time. Also the other pain is that you don’t have priority over other users to get movies. If a movie is very popular and checked out a lot, for example, then you can’t check it out. You can wait until maybe one comes back and have it sent to you, I suppose, but usually I try to get movies sent as soon as they receive my last ones, meaning I never wait for a certain movie to get in stock. Still though, I have been able to get a lot of movies and am filling up my 100 yen shop plastic storage boxes like never before. The price really isn’t bad either, considering the cost of DVDs in Japan (most movies cost at least 3000 or 4000 yen new), and the slightly expensive cost to rent movies at a regular brick-and-mortar. I wasn’t inclined to buy DVDs in the states, so you can’t expect me to do it in Japan.
The other plan that Discas offers, which is labeled as their most popular, is called the A plan. This one lets you queue movies, gives you priority, and even sends movies to you automatically. All this for 1974 yen; a lot different than the M plan I’m using, right? True, but the catch is that you don’t get unlimited rentals. There is a monthly limit of 8 discs. While this would be good for people who are renting just to watch movies every weekend, or casual renters who would usually stop by the video shop on the way home from work, this doesn’t really cut it for someone who will rent and backup movies with no intention of watching them for months. Oops. Overall, Discas is a good service and I’m definitely getting a lot of movies cheaper and more conveniently than if I would go to the actual video store. Just like Netflix, they send you movies in an envelope that converts into the postage-paid return envelope, thus you pay no shipping. A bit different is that they send you two at a time. Total time for shipping is about a day or two max either way, so I’m usually able to get around 2 or 3 shipments a week. Also, it’s interesting to note that while you send your movies back to Discas via the national postal service, they are actually sent to you by a courier (Sagawa Express, to be exact). I read a while back that it is actually cheaper in Japan now to send letters by one of the many private courier companies rather than by the post office. Interesting indeed.
Discas, being run by Tsutaya, the Japanese equivalent of Blockbuster, has a really good stock of movies, including American/other foreign ones, and their system works pretty well. I don’t like how every day their website seems to be under maintenance for an hour or two around 10AM, since this is the time I am waking up and getting ready to go to work, and is also when I would usually confirm some new movies to be sent to me. They also offer “Spot Rentals,” meaning you can override your monthly plan and limits, priorities, etc to rent a movie on the spot. You have to pay about an extra 500 yen, but it gets sent right to you, and is very comparable to going to a store and renting, especially considering you an get new releases.
If you’re living in Japan and want to give Discas a shot, they offer a free trial. I think you can try the M plan for two weeks, or you can try the A plan for a month.