Press Archive

Animerica November 1996 (Volume 4, Number 11)

Take Ten With FUNimation

In Japan, DRAGON BALL has been one of the anime/manga world’s greatest success stories for years, but here in America, it’s only just arrived. In this exclusive mini-interview, ANIMERICA goes behind the scenes at San Jose-based Funimation Productions and talks to Gen and Cindy Fukunaga, the husband and wife team heading DRAGON BALL‘s U.S. production, to get the real story behind DRAGON BALL‘s journey west.

NOTE: [CBF]: Cindy Brennan Fukunaga; [GF]: Gen Fukunaga

1. What made you want to bring the DRAGON BALL shows to America? Were you a fan of the series before you began working on it?
We definitely were familiar with DRAGON BALL, and were fans of it, and knew of its huge popularity. We’d been told, actually, that here was this number-one hit show in Japan, the most popular ever, and that it hadn’t yet come to the U.S. So we actually went in search of it to find out why, and to try and bring it over ourselves. My husband, Gen, is an American, but he’s of Japanese heritage, and he’s very familiar with the Japanese shows. He went back and lived over there in the eighth grade, and just loved the Japanese animation style. It’s gorgeous work. [CBF]
2. So why hasn’t DRAGON BALL been brought to the U.S. before now?
Basically, Toei, which is the show’s anime production company, together with Shueisha, its manga publisher, and Akira Toriyama, the creator, all really wanted to make sure that they found a company who would treat the property properly. Because it is their flagship property, after all, and it’s dear to their hearts, in more ways than one. They wanted to make sure it was treated properly in the U.S. We try really, really hard. Obviously we have to censor it somewhat for the U.S. market, in order to meet broadcast standards, but we’re very careful to try and keep the stuff that really made the series great. So we stay true to the characters and the storylines, because they’re fabulous. [CBF]
3. Why did you decide to skip ahead to DRAGON BALL Z for this fall’s TV season? In other words, why did you decide not to continue producing English episodes of the earlier, first series? Do you ever intend to go back and fill in some of the DRAGON BALL episodes you skipped, perhaps for home video?
It was a combination of factors–it doesn’t mean that we’ll never go back and do DRAGON BALL again–’cause we may go back later and re-introduce DRAGON BALL. But DRAGON BALL Z is much more action-packed, and so in some ways it’s a really good fit for the U.S. market today. Our desire would be not to do the other DRAGON BALL episodes for video release only, but rather have them appear on television. [CBF]
4. What challenges did you face in adapting DRAGON BALL for U.S. television? Did television broadcast rules demand a lot of editing in the story?
Actually, one of the things that the censoring body told us they considered to be really good about the show is that, often, in U.S. television episodes, there may be a suspenseful moment, but twenty minutes later the problem’s solved and everything turns out all right. In DRAGON BALL, however, sometimes you have to wait until the next episode. It’s just like real life–things aren’t always solved in twenty minutes. [LAUGHS] It’s a valuable lesson for kids to learn, even besides the good-vs.-evil values of the show. [CBF]
5. Would you say that DRAGON BALL Z was harder to adapt to U.S. TV than DRAGON BALL, or would you say that it was easier?
That’s probably a question that our producer should answer, but I myself don’t see a great deal of difference in difficulty. [CBF]
6. Can you tell us about the digital effects used for some scenes, such as Goku’s “digital underwear”? Were these effects very expensive? What made you decide to do it this way?
You know, it really is expensive. That work is done in our Texas studios, and basically what it consists of is altering the image, one frame at a time. And so, even though it’s expensive, we had reached the point in a lot of cases where there were things that weren’t acceptable for U.S. children’s television, and it was either edit it, slash it out, or redo it. Most of the time, we just ended up going with the extra expense and effort, and employed people to just sit there and digitally “paint,” frame-by-frame. [CBF]
7. Will the Japanese theme song be included at all in the U.S. broadcast of DRAGON BALL Z? If not, how did you decide what type of music would be used?
No, we composed a new theme. It was done in Los Angeles. It’s a very distinctive sound, and I’m told it’s of the sort that’s very popular among American children right now. [CBF]
8. Since there are literally hundreds of episodes of DRAGON BALL Z, may we ask how many episodes of DRAGON BALL Z you’re planning to produce? Will you be looking for complete “story arcs”? If so, which ones?
We’re producing 26 for the first season, and we intend to continue production; we’ll probably do 26 for next season, as well. I don’t know if we’ve made a firm commitment to next season as yet. Actually, we are producing them in the same order in which the original DRAGON BALL Z aired, since it’s a continuing saga, so… [CBF]

The first “arc” will essentially be the first storyline of the original series, where the basic nemesis of Vegeta is introduced, along with his henchman Nappa, concluding with their big battle. We’ll have improved syndication this time through Saban TV, which means easier clearances, better timeslots, and broader coverage nationwide.1 As of now, we have 88% of the country covered. [GF]

9. How would you say DRAGON BALL and DRAGON BALL Z differ from American animation?
One of the things we really feel is that it’s unique. For most American cartoons, you can look at it, and say that it’s just like five others, but we think that DRAGON BALL is actually unique because the characters and story are so wonderfully drawn and have depth to them. It’s a true epic that goes on and on; you meet Goku in DRAGON BALL and he’s a small boy, but then he grows up and has children of his own. There’s a history and richness that I think you have a hard time finding in American shows. [CBF]
10. Will you be releasing any of the DRAGON BALL movies or TV specials? Any chance of releasing any of them theatrically? How about current merchandise plans?
We’d very much like to, but we don’t know our exact plans right now. It’s certainly a desire of ours. They’re wonderfully done, and we would certainly have an audience for them, based on the television show. We’ve got our first TV videos in the stores right now. We’ve produced a “style guide,” using original DRAGON BALL art done for us by Toei, which gives the manufacturers guidelines for producing merchandise–to know what the characters look like, how they act and move. We’re very particular that our licensees, when making DRAGON BALL products, have to stay true to the original artwork. They can re-draw the character, obviously, but what they come up with has to have a realistic pose and look accurate. A lot of time when people make toys and so forth based on animated shows, they really change the look of the character, and that’s not right, is it? [LAUGHS] [CBF]

For the purposes of merchandising, Nielsen ratings, and advertisements, we’re targeting mainly 6-to-11-year-old boys. But we also found, during our broadcast of the first DRAGON BALL, that it was doing quite well with men, too, all the way up until their mid-20s. The story itself is actually for a higher age group than the basic audience target; in actuality, the characters are fairly deep. It’s comparable to a number of comic books these days that are read by a higher age group than kids. We intend to leave in that depth of story and characters that was present in the Japanese original. [GF]


The following historical notes are included for the benefit of the reader as supplemental information and were not originally published in the book.

1 Indeed, Dragon Ball Z received significant syndication help from Saban versus the original Dragon Ball TV series broadcast a year prior. The show would continue to do so well that it would receive its own one-hour (two episodes) timeslot for its second season after the Saiyan arc wrapped up in 1997.
Transcription & Notes: VegettoEX