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Thursday, May 14, 2020

Disney Deluxe - The Japan Exclusive Streaming Service...with Rentals

by Danny Bivens
Disney has offered a streaming service in Japan since March 2019…well, Disney JAPAN at least. Dubbed Disney Deluxe, the service offers movies, TV shows, RENTALS and other perks to Disney fans in Japan for a reasonable price. With the recent announcement that Disney Plus is coming to Japan in June, it’s going to be interesting to see what is going to happen with the Japan only service.

First, just to give you a little bit of background on Disney Deluxe here in Japan - The service kicked off on March 26, 2019 and was made possible by Disney Japan working with telecommunications juggernaut NTT Docomo. Like Disney+ in the West, the barrier of entry price-wise is pretty low. For just ¥700 per month plus tax (around $7 USD), users can have access to around 6,000 different movies and TV shows. I’ve been a member since the start of the service, and while it was definitely a slow burn, pretty much all of the big names in Disney are there now - Marvel, Pixar, Star Wars and other Disney Classics. That doesn’t mean that the exclusives from Disney Plus have been brought to Japan in a timely fashion or even at all in some cases. With The Mandalorian, for example, fans in Japan had to wait until late December 2019 (around the time the show ended in the west) before they had a chance to check it out. The scripts and Japanese dubs were already finished, with the dubbed version being available in the US Disney Plus app…and yet, there was a wait. There is no clear parity between the services. 
It should be noted (unless things have changed recently), Disney Deluxe is REGION LOCKED to Japan. You also need a Japanese credit card to be able to pay for the service. Not only that, but you also need to create what is called a d-account in order to sign up. This is a special account/service ran by NTT Docomo which can be used to accrue and spend points at various physical and online shops all over Japan. You also need a Japanese Disney account. Keep in mind, that although this is a NTT Docomo venture (who are also one of the biggest mobile carriers in Japan), users are not restricted by their mobile carrier to access the service, thankfully. 

There’s a little bit more to the service, though. Disney Deluxe isn’t just limited to streaming movies. Being a member also gets you access to other services and discounts on other Japan exclusive (probably) Disney goods and in some cases discounts on shopping at Disney stores. You can even get discounts for lodging at Tokyo Disney Resort. There are four different apps that can be downloaded, too, all of which are free - Disney Theater (what you need to watch content), Disney DX (for trivia, news updates), Star Wars DX and Marvel DX, the latter of which are portals to specific content, trivia and more for the respective topics. Just to be clear, you DON’T NEED any of the other apps. Theater is the only one you need to watch movies and TV shows. 
There are some odd limitations and other quirks with the Theater section of the service. Users are limited to five devices for one account but are able to use the service on four devices at once. The app is available on Android, iOS, Amazon’s line of products and on PC/browsers. For an additional ¥500 a pop, you can have access to a latest releases via a rental service. These have to be paid for by using d-points, and one major oversight here is the fact that you can’t make this “purchase” in the apps directly. You have to go to a computer to initiate the rental from which you have 30 days to watch it (48 hours after you start the program). In the past, there have even been campaigns where you could essentially get a rental for “free”…only after adding some cash do your d-account, from which you would then get bonus cash/points added there. Honestly, I’ve never made use of this service. With things like iTunes and Amazon already having rentals available with almost no levels of bull shit, there really is no point in using it in Theater. 

Performance of the Theater app is also hit or miss. While it runs pretty decently and smoothly on iOS, I also have it installed on my Fire TV Stick. Sure, I know the device isn’t a technical powerhouse or anything, but the UI is extremely sluggish. It's a similar experience in a browser. Once the videos get going, everything is fine, though. English voice is available on pretty much everything I checked here, with options to change to Japanese dubs, or add in Japanese subtitles. This was kind of surprising since over the years, finding English dubbed animation in theaters etc. were hard to come by. It’s definitely nice to have this option. I should note that all of the Star Wars titles use the Japanese versions as a base. What does that mean? Well, the title scroll is all in Japanese as are (usually) other alien languages. It makes sense given that this is a service geared toward Japan. Also, unlike Disney Plus, there is no 4K HDR support here.  
Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve been using Disney Deluxe for about a year and am relatively satisfied with the service. The apps themselves can be a little bit sluggish, but there is a decent amount of content here to make it worth the relatively low price. Does it have everything that Disney Plus has in the West? Of course not. With worldwide licensing being a nightmare on several properties, things get complicated. It’s easy to pick the service apart on the basis of things like rentals, the two accounts needed to sign up, XYZ isn’t here, etc. Still, the Theater section has gained a good amount of content since its initial launch. With Disney Plus on the horizon, it’s difficult to say what’s going to happen with Deluxe. The discounts on goods and hotels are a pretty nice addition and definitely worth it for die hard Disney fans. Whether or not the services will live together side-by-side or Plus will just absorb Deluxe is something that we’ll just have to wait and see on. 

What do you think? Are rentals a good idea for services that you’re already paying for? (lol) Do you think Deluxe will just simply go away after Plus is introduced to Japan? Sound off in the comments below.

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