As much as you may immediately associate it with specific tropes, anime is a really broad label. No matter what a show or movie is about, as long as it’s a cartoon from Japan, it counts. Like any art form, anime has changed over time. Different eras of anime history sport different creative vibes that have gone on to influence later generations. While plenty of new shows become massively popular in the West these days, for a certain veteran American anime fan, there’s nothing like the classic shows from the 1990s and even further back. It’s probably because those are the shows they pirated as kids. RetroCrush is a new video streaming service dedicated to these cool old favorites. Plus, it’s totally free and legal!
What Can You Watch on RetroCrush
RetroCrush is an anime streaming service with a curated collection of classic shows and movies. Think of it as the Criterion Channel for weebs. Curators Will Chao and Mary Gibson scour anime from the 70s, 80s, and 90s (along with a handful of newer shows that fit the style) looking for new selections. Even if you can’t name an exact show from these eras, there’s a distinct groove to this older content that’s missing in more contemporary fare. There’s a reason why modern hipster music phenomena like vaporwave pull most of their aesthetic from this kind of material.
RetroCrush’s focus on vintage anime means you won’t find much of its library anywhere else, especially in America. There are no original shows, but it’s tough to care with this many exclusives. Movies and shows include 1998’s Devil Lady, 1979’s Galaxy Express 999, 1983’s Golgo 13, 1982’s Space Cobra Adventure, and 1984’s Urusei Yatsura. Either you’ve never heard of these or you’re incredibly passionate about them. There’s no middle ground. You can feel the tasteful human touch that went into deciding which particular shows to include. As with free streaming service Crackle, I appreciate the healthy number of films since I personally prefer watching one movie over committing to an eight-hour binge session. During a cursory search, the only movie I found that was on a competing service is 1994’s Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie, which is also available on Crunchyroll.
However, even with its high percentage of exclusives, RetroCrush’s library is small compared to other anime streaming services. At launch, RetroCrush claims to have 100 series and 40 features. That includes a mix of subtitled and dubbed content. Compare that to Funimation’s 600 dubs or Crunchyroll’s 1,200 subs. VRV, our Editors’ Choice for anime streaming, bundles all of Crunchyroll’s library alongside multiple other channels, including Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and more. General streaming services boast anime collections as well. Cowboy Bebop and Neon Genesis Evangelion are two crown jewels of 90s anime available to stream on Hulu and Netflix, respectively.
Value and Platforms
The main difference between RetroCrush and its rivals is that it’s completely free. That’s pretty rare among anime-specific services. The closest thing I could think of is Toei’s recent YouTube channel for its classic Tokusatsu shows. Other services offer free tiers with interrupting ads and limited libraries. To get the most out of Crunchyroll ($6.99), Funimation ($5.99), or VRV ($9.99) you’ll want to pay for a subscription.
Amazon Prime Video ($8.99), DC Universe ($7.99), Disney+ ($6.99), Hulu ($5.99), and Netflix ($8.99) don’t even have a free tier, just free trials for their paid subscriptions. RetroCrush never makes you subscribe. You don’t even need to make an account to start watching its entire catalog.
RetroCrush is ad-supported, but during my testing, I found those ads to be surprisingly and thankfully infrequent. Typically, I saw one minute of catchy K-pop commercials at the beginning of a show. After that, I could watch an entire half-hour episode of a show, such as Bubblegum Crisis, without a single interruption. Compare that to fellow free streaming service Xumo, which makes viewers sit through constant ads to enjoy its limited on-demand library.
Unfortunately, I did notice the limitations of RetroCrush’s free model in other areas, most immediately with platform support. For example, RetroCrush only supports Android, iOS, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku devices. At the time of this writing, RetroCrush doesn’t offer a web version (it’s allegedly on the way), a basic feature available in other free streaming services such as Pluto TV and Tubi. Sadly, you can’t watch RetroCrush on your video game console either, even though there’s probably a lot of overlap in those audiences.
RetroCrush on Mobile
RetroCrush’s mobile app is the service’s flagship product. Fortunately, it’s strong enough to carry that burden. The interface is clean and puts the content front and center. A banner of highlighted shows scrolls by at the top and you browse through a list of everything else below. Search from shows in different genres like Comedy, Historical, Horror, and Mecha. If you create an account you can also add favorite shows to your custom playlists. Instead of being on a different screen, your playlists becomes a part of your home screen alongside lists for New Arrivals, Trending Now, and the whole library in alphabetical order.
There’s no option to adjust video quality and many free streaming services cap off resolution at 720p. I couldn’t confirm if that’s happening here, but considering RetroCrush deals with vintage material, there’s an inherently grainier texture to much of the shows regardless of the resolution. It’s part of the retro appeal and shows look great on the crisp screen of the iPhone 11 I used for testing. Playback quality was smooth over my home Wi-Fi network (60Mbps download). The player itself lets you skip forward and backward 15 seconds. When watching a show, you can immediately skip to the next episode. There’s even a shuffle button for watching something completely random, a delightful exploration feature I praised in Crunchyroll and am glad to see here, too.
RetroCrush’s mobile app lets you search for and watch shows, and that’s about it. As it’s a free service, you can simultaneously stream on as many devices as you want. Other features, however, are nowhere to be found. Some of these omissions are expected. Even if they have free options, competing services reserve perks like offline downloads for premium members. There’s also little need for a store (unlike in CBS All Access or DC Universe) when the whole pitch of your service is not having to pay any money. Still, I would’ve liked to see some community features other services use to cater to the very passionate anime fandom. Let us leave some nostalgic reviews telling curious kids why these old shows meant so much to us.
Accessibility and Parental Controls
RetroCrush displays age ratings for all of its content alongside details like episode summaries and cast lists. However, most of what I saw was listed as “unrated,” which makes sense considering how many teenage boys in the 1990s had their minds absolutely blown by what they could see in anime. Since anyone can watch anything just by downloading the app, there’s no way parents can stop that salacious cycle from repeating itself aside from just taking the phone. Even if parents do make an optional account, there’s no way to set parental controls.
RetroCrush’s accessibility options are similarly sparse. If a show is available subbed and dubbed, you can’t switch between them on the fly. The two versions are treated as two separate listings. You can turn on English closed captioning when watching dubs. However, there’s no way to adjust the font size or color when watching subs. My guess is because RetroCrush is using the same subtitles baked into the original releases, and that they’re nobly trying to leave this older content relatively untouched for preservation’s sake.
RetroCrush and VPN
Protecting yourself with a VPN is a no-brainer when going online. However, you always take a risk when mixing a VPN with a streaming service because they often don’t work with each other. Streaming service companies seek to block VPNs that spoof your geographic location in order to preserve international licensing deals. Again, old-school anime fans should be used to battling these legal challenges.
RetroCrush is only available in the United States. When I used ProtonVPN’s mobile app to connect to a US-based server, I could stream. When I connected to a server outside the country, I couldn’t. That’s about the best I could’ve hoped for. Be aware that using a VPN in the future could lock you out of all streaming as companies become savvier and more aggressive about blocking traffic.
Old School Cool
Anime streaming services are niche by nature, and as far as niches go, specializing in incredibly cool classics is about the best niche RetroCrush could’ve carved out for itself. Instead of diminishing our enjoyment of this free version, the limitations make us want a paid premium option. RetroCrush’s parent company DMR already offers premium tiers with its other streaming services such as AsianCrush, Midnight Pulp, and YuyuTV. So it’s possible.
That said, VRV is still our Editors’ Choice for anime streaming services thanks to its massive library across multiple channels and genres that offers the broadest selection to animation enthusiasts. For more general streaming needs, Editors’ Choice Netflix has the best original shows at the moment. Hulu and YouTube TV earn an Editor’s Choice as well with great prices and lots of channels for live TV streaming.