Who Dominated Dubs Before Funimation?
by Justin Sevakis,
Before Funimation was founded, what was the big-time, English-dubbing company and is it still in existence?
Maybe it's because I've been in the anime business so long (20 years!!), but until I got this question I didn't really realize just how long it's been since Funimation has dominated the anime dub scene. While definitely not the only dub studio around, and definitely not unimpeachable, the level of quality and the sheer volume of anime dubs they've managed to pump out over the years has been really quite extraordinary.
Funimation started in the mid 90s specifically to bring the Dragon Ball franchise to the US, and it took the endeavor a few years to bear fruit. After the show eventually found success on Toonami, Funimation started releasing collections of episodes on VHS. By the end 2001, Funimation was putting out other anime, like Blue Gender, Fruits Basket and a few others. While they had some major other hits over the next few years, such as the original Fullmetal Alchemist series, they didn't really truly become dominant until the rest of the major anime publsihers face-planted around 2007. Just by surviving when the other publishers didn't, Funimation was able to expand to cover a huge percentage of the anime market. While Crunchyroll eventually came around and beat them in the streaming business, nobody has yet been able to touch Funimation's market dominance, or the amount of dubs they've been able to make.
Prior to the crash, however, it's a lot harder to say there was, point blank, anyone who was outright dominant, particularly in the dub scene. Out of anyone, fellow Texans ADV Films came the closest. Through their two dub studios -- the in-house Industrial Smoke and Mirrors (later rebranded ADV Studios) and Austin-based Monster Island, the company dubbed an insane amount of shows, including some very popular ones. Today, as the rebooted group of companies comprising of Sentai Filmworks, Section 23, Maiden Japan and others, they come the closest to competing with Funimation in terms of volume of output.
But aside from ADV, no other pre-crash anime publisher dubbed their shows in-house. The others would outsource to a handful of specialized post-production companies dotting the US, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
Of these companies, probably Ocean Studios got the most work. Being based in Vancouver, they were able for many years to take advantage of the weaker Canadian dollar to drive down production costs compared to American studios. Having had years of experience doing pre-lay and dub work for the kid's television market, Ocean got their start for proper anime releases doing Viz's first handful of VHS tapes, most notably Ranma 1/2 back in 1993. (As Viz was releasing 2-3 episodes at a time, it took them about 10 years to finish the show.) The relationship continued all the way into the late 2000s with Death Note. In addition to Viz, Ocean Studios (which later added Bluewater Studios to its roster) did a lot of work for Bandai Entertainment (including Gundam Wing and Escaflowne), Geneon (Elemental Gelade, Black Lagoon), and even Central Park Media (Project A-ko 2-4, The Humanoid).
Behind Ocean was probably Animaze..inC. The Los Angeles company only produced dubs; they used several actual recording studios such as Magnitude 8 Post. While they didn't do as much volume as Ocean, many of their dubs are better remembered today: shows like Ghost in the Shell, Cowboy Bebop, the redub of Akira, Outlaw Star, Trigun, Wolf's Rain and a whole host of others still top lists of the most iconic anime dubs ever made. Clients included Bandai Entertainment, Pioneer/Geneon, Manga Video, Media Blasters, Viz, Central Park Media and Sony Pictures.
Also in Los Angeles is Bang Zoom Studios. Initially doing work for Media Blasters (Rayearth was their biggest early title), the company went on to produce dubs for just about everybody: Bandai Entertainment (Eureka Seven, Planetes), Pioneer/Geneon (Gankutsuou, Samurai Champloo), Central Park Media (Nightwalker, later Black Jack OVAs), and later Aniplex (Sword Art Online, Magi), Viz Media (One Punch Man, Hunter x Hunter 2011) and NIS America (Toradora, A Lull in the Sea). (Full disclosure: I have worked with Bang Zoom on DVD and Blu-ray authoring.)
There were a lot of studios producing anime dubs back in the day, and most of them are no longer with us. The post-produciton world has been a difficult place in the last decade or so, and many studios have closed down. However, ADV Studios lives on today as Sentai Studios, while Ocean and Bang Zoom keep on truckin', with the latter still producing a ton of anime work.
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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.
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