Flower Mound-based Funimation Entertainment is a leader in providing Japanese animation known as anime to a U.S. audience, one with a history that is more than 20 years old, but whose legacy continues to grow.
The company announced in August that it had acquired the new anime show Monster Hunter Stories Ride On, which is based on the game Monster Hunter Stories from Capcom.
“We’re thrilled to be distributing this eagerly anticipated series based on Capcom’s new ‘Monster Hunter Stories’ game,” CEO and founder Gen Fukunuga said in August. “With both the game and anime series debuting in October in Japan, we expect ‘Monster Hunter Stories Ride On’ to be an instant hit on day one with fans of all age …”
In fact, Americans have been fascinated with Japanese animation ever since Astroboy first aired on NBC in the early 1960s.
Every generation since then has had a handful of favorite anime series that helped define their childhoods, from Speed Racer to Sailor Moon to Dragon Ball Z and beyond.
Over the years, dozens of western companies have tried to make a business of importing Japanese anime for American audiences, and for the last 20 years, few companies have been more successful at this than Dallas-Fort Worth’s own Funimation Productions Ltd.
Originally founded in 1994 by Fukunaga, who lived in Silicon Valley at the time, Funimation has had close ties to North Texas since the beginning.
Fukunaga’s uncle was a producer for Toei Animation Co. Ltd., a legendary anime studio that created some of the genre’s most influential shows and films.
When Fukunaga learned from his uncle that Toei would be willing to sell him the license to its popular action anime, Dragon Ball Z — if he started his own company and raised enough money — Fukunaga convinced co-worker Daniel Cocanougher and his family to sell their feed mill in Decatur and become principal investors in the new company.
Within a few months of its creation, Funimation acquired the license to Dragon Ball Z, and a shot time later, the company opened a small dubbing studio in North Richland Hills to record English voice tracks for its shows.
Despite becoming one of the best-known anime series in the West, Dragon Ball Z struggled during its first run on Fox and was cancelled after less than two seasons.
Fortunately, the series found new life on Cartoon Network’s Toonami programming block in 1998, and the reruns were so successful that they allowed Funimation to resume production on Dragon Ball Z, eventually dubbing a staggering 291 episodes, 13 movies, and two specials.
Thanks to the success of Dragon Ball Z, Funimation quickly grew into one of the biggest names in anime outside of Japan, and in 2007, the company moved from its North Richland Hills location to a new office more than twice its size in Flower Mound, which is now the company’s headquarters.
BRINGING ANIME TO THE MASSES
When Funimation first burst onto the scene in the early 1990s, anime fans had to wait years for shows to make their way to the West, and often these shows arrived on bootleg VHS tapes with translated subtitles that were created by other fans (aka “fansubs”). Funimation, and companies like it, helped change the landscape of anime outside of Japan, officially licensing and translating thousands of shows and movies for western audiences.
Over the years, Funimation’s catalog of anime has expanded to monstrous proportions. Today, it has hundreds of TV series and movies, so many in fact that earlier this year, the company launched its own standalone streaming service, FunimationNow.
Funimation partnered with Sony DADC New Media Solutions to launch FunimationNow.
“Our partnership with Sony, the very best in this space, will help power the launch of FunimationNow, our next generation of innovation for anime fans,” Funimation Chief Operating Officer Mike DuBoise said earlier this year in a news release announcing the service. “We’re now uniquely positioned to deliver new and compelling experiences that will be integrated across multiple screens, platforms, and channels, making it easier for fans to discover, share, and experience extraordinary anime.”
FunimationNow offers a few different tiers membership, from a limited selection of free, ad-supported shows to a premium “All Access Pass” that unlocks Funimation’s full anime library, including all of the shows that the company has dubbed using English-speaking voice actors.
Many of the shows offered through FunimationNow are also available for streaming on Hulu, but there is one big advantage to subscribing to Funimation’s service: simulcasts. Simulcasts are a relatively recent trend in the anime world where anime episodes that are currently airing in Japan are rapidly translated and made available for streaming in the West. Gone are the days of waiting months or even years for shows to be translated, and now western anime fans can keep up with new shows almost as quickly as Japanese audiences.
A few other streaming services, most notably FunimationNow-rival Crunchyroll, also offer simulcasts, but Funimation takes things a step further by offering what it calls “Broadcast Dubs,” which are fully dubbed episodes of new shows that appear within weeks of their original air date. Much of that dubbing is done out of Funimation’s Flower Mound office, which has recording studios working nonstop to keep up with the demand for English-dubbed anime.
While many western anime companies have come and gone over the years, including Houston’s ADV Films, Funimation is still going strong in North Texas after more than 20 years. The company helped pave the way for anime to hit the mainstream, and thanks to services like FunimationNow, it is now easier than ever for fans to follow all of the latest anime. Texas may be long way from Japan – around 6,500 miles to be exact – but Funimation helps bring the two just a little bit closer together.
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