Rumor Guide

Our Rumor Guide here at Kanzenshuu is an extensive collection of articles with comprehensive, well-researched, well-documented deep-dives into some of the most prevalent rumors in Dragon Ball fandom. There is always more to every story, so be sure to follow along with any additional links provided throughout the articles!

FUNimation Did Not Begin Dubbing
Dragon Ball Z Until 1999

Rumor Status

1994: Early FUNimation & Initial Production Work

As the 1990s began, Dragon Ball was clearly one of the biggest franchises in Japan, and was quickly spreading its wings worldwide. Europe in particular was latching on, and several other companies in America were looking for a piece of the pie, especially as the franchise expanded with “Dragon Ball Z” — a new name given to television series adaptation of the back two-thirds of the original comic.

By the mid-90s, it looked like things were set, with Nippon Shuppan Hanbai / U.S. Renditions thought to be the one bringing it west next. Out of nowhere, however, fans learned that a new startup out of Texas called “FUNimation” would air the series in syndication that fall on American television.

Alongside the company’s founding in 1994 by Gen Fukunaga, Cindy Brennan Fukunaga, and Daniel Cocanougher, FUNimation obtained the license to distribute the Dragon Ball franchise in North America by way of a family connection: Gen Fukunaga’s uncle, Nagafumi Hori, a producer at Toei.

FUNimation produced an English dub of the first theatrical Dragon Ball film under the title “Curse of the Blood Rubie” [sic] that same year in 1994. Though this version did not see wide release, it set the basis for their future production of the franchise, including the usage of the Vancouver cast and Peter Berring for the replacement musical score.

This 1994 version of Curse of the Blood Rubies never saw a wide release, but copies have found their way into the hands of collectors! Some of the stories behind this VHS are wild; we definitely recommend checking out our feature article on the subject: “A Different Missing Link: From Zero to Goku (Again)

1995: The Dragon Ball Television Series

Continuing onward from their 1994 test production, FUNimation teamed with other established players in the field for a debut fall 1995 season of thirteen television series episodes, including:

  • a writing team under Cliff MacGillivray
  • direction by Michael Donovan
  • voice casting headed by Gary Chalk
  • music by Griffiths, Gibson, & Ramsay Productions (later “GGRP Sound”)
  • post-production by BLT Productions
  • final mixing by Dick and Roger’s Sound Studio

While the company had plans to continue into the next season with another 13 episodes (which, from their own episode descriptions would have taken them to the end of the series’ second major story arc), something changed.

Due to a “combination of factors”, the company instead jumped ahead 100+ episodes to the Dragon Ball Z television series.

1996: The Dragon Ball Z Television Series

Moving from BLT Productions and Dick and Roger’s Sound Studio to Ocean Studios-proper, and likewise moving from a syndication partner of SeaGull Entertainment to the Power Rangers powerhouse Saban, FUNimation’s English dub of the Dragon Ball Z television series began its syndicated television broadcast in fall of 1996. After a successful 26-episode first season, and with both the show’s growing success and Saban’s own weight to throw around, FUNimation secured an hour-long, two-episode, second season time block for fall 1997.

A full year before Pokémon made its American television debut, the Japanese cartoon Dragon Ball Z was airing in a prime weekend-morning spot for an entire hour on American broadcast television. It was a massive hit, and FUNimation was at the helm.

1998: Toonami Picks Up Dragon Ball Z

That success halted for a hot minute, however, as FUNimation and Saban parted ways after the second season came to an end in early 1998, with Saban exiting the children’s television syndication business. As FUNimation scrambled to pick up the pieces of production, they knocked out an in-house dub of the second theatrical Dragon Ball film, “Sleeping Princess in Devil’s Castle”, with all-new, local voice talent hired from the surrounding area in Texas.

Meanwhile, Cartoon Network picked up the existing two seasons of Dragon Ball Z for broadcast as part of their growing “Toonami” block that September…

1999: New “Season Three” of Dragon Ball Z Episodes Begins

…which carried the momentum forward for FUNimation to pull everything in-house down in Texas (new voice cast, new replacement music, with a bit of old and new on the script writing side) to dub a third season of Dragon Ball Z for 1999.

And the rest is history. More than two decades after their stumble with the original television series in 1995, FUNimation has dubbed and released the vast majority of content available for the Dragon Ball franchise. From Dragon Ball to Dragon Ball Z to Dragon Ball GT to Dragon Ball Super and back around again with multiple dub revisions and home video re-releases along the way, FUNimation is the house that Dragon Ball built.

Why the Confusion?

With a massive voice cast and musical composer shift there in 1999, it’s easy to understand why the average viewer might think the entire production changed hands — the animation doesn’t change, so when the things they hear do change, that’s a logical assumption.

However, even into “season three” — the actual broadcast season three, and not the arbitrary home video delineation! — there was still holdover from Ocean Studios cast members rewriting the English dub scripts for FUNimation, with Barry Watson still personally overseeing production.

It truly has been FUNimation the entire time. Certain employees have come and gone from FUNimation over the years, but during the heyday of its dubbing, all of the same producers and writers and editors were the ones “making” the show — even when the voices changed, and even when the music changed.

1998: Dragon Ball Z Episode 53 (English Dub) Credits

1999: Dragon Ball Z Episode 54 (English Dub) Credits

Fans have always confused the names of FUNimation’s partners, but it is important to note that FUNimation was the actual, primary licensee, and they were in charge of producing the show from 1994 onward, and have remained so ever since. When people say “the Ocean dub” or “the Pioneer dub” or “the Saban dub”, it was always FUNimation in charge, despite them working with some of these external partners.

An old interview with voice actor Sonny Strait from a predecessor of this very website (which spawned its own separate rumor!) provides a humorous glimpse into the 1999-onward actors’ thoughts on their peers and the rewriting:

FUNimation themselves have coyly distanced themselves from the 1996-1998 syndication dub over the years, and then at times claiming ownership whenever it might benefit them in some way. When FUNimation re-released these episodes as the “Rock the Dragon” DVD set in 2013, this same flip-flopping of ownership takes place, at times referring to “the Ocean dub” and then later stating “the FUNimation dub”, despite both actually being FUNimation productions.

What Do You Expect Me To Call It, Then?!

“The Ocean dub” will likely always exist as a simple descriptor of the 1994-1998 era, but it ultimately fails to identify two key facts: (1) that it was truly FUNimation in charge the entire time, and (2) there is actually an alternate, concurrent English dub of the series that went back and re-hired the old Ocean Studios cast…!