by Mikhail Koulikov,
Representative: Adam Sheehan
Concluding a six-month stretch that was by all means eventful for his company, FUNimation Entertainment's Adam Sheehan stepped up to the plate for their Otakon 2008 panel. Although billed as a question-and-answer session, almost the entirety of the hour was filled with a summary of Funimation's recent releases and future plans. The room was filled to capacity, and pretty much every new thing Sheehan said - even simply a passing mention of Ouran Host Club - drew loud cheers and applause.
Recently, much has been made about the difficulties the American anime industry is facing. Funimation feels that this what is actually going on is no different from the ebb and flow that all industries experience from time to time. A "perfect storm" of the state of the economy as a whole, the difficult debut of the Blu-ray format, and changes in how DVDs in general are sold did combine to force a shake-out among American anime distributors, but Funimation actually views it as an opportunity to explore newer, more effective and efficient ways of bringing Japanese animation to American fans.
Among the new strategies Funimation is looking into are new pricing models for DVD releases, "unique and innovative" packaging, and looking beyond the usual market of anime fans for trends and opportunities. Funimation is continuing to move further into distributing its anime digitally in addition to the usual DVD format. The full runs of Aquarion and Witchblade are now available on iTunes, while full episodes of both older and more recent shows like Blue Gender, Slayers, Mushi-Shi and Peach Girl are being uploaded to YouTube, with new ones coming every week. Mobile phones are another channel Funimation is embracing. All video-capable AT&T and Spring cell phones now have access to a $4.95-a-month package of either Gunslinger Girl of Moon Phase, delivered in five-minute clips optimized for viewing on cell phones. Either package also includes the full season of Galaxy Railways. Additional information about the offerings is available at jumpinmobile.tv/funimation. And in a continuing drive to keep fans informed about new Funimation releases, the company has also launched an update weekly podcast, the Funimation Quickie
After talking about Funimation's more general plans, Sheehan started the segment of the panel that most of the attendees had clearly been waiting for eagerly: a run-down of release dates for some of the dozens of anime series now in Funimation's queue. Some of these were shows that Funimation licensed directly, while many others had originally been acquired by either ADV Films or Geneon Entertainment, but then passed on to Funimation as both of those companies ran into financial difficulties.
After bringing out five volumes of Shuffle!, Funimation is now ready to put out the sixth, and final, DVD of the series. While typically, anime series are brought out with collector's boxes coming alongside the first volume, for Shuffle!, the box will actually be packaged together with the last one as an "ender set." A thoroughly unique collectible with that package will be a set of 'God' panties, as worn by Shuffle!'s main character.
Following the first twenty-six episodes of Tsubasa, Funimation is ready to launch into the second half of the series. August 19 will be the release date of Season 2's first volume. The same day will see the launch of a vastly different kind of series - Black Lagoon: The Second Raid. To dispel any rumors, Sheehan made it a particular point to note that the voice actors who acted in Geneon's release of the first Black Lagoon series will be retained. The three volumes of the original anime are coming out on that date as well.
On Funimation's calendar for the next month are the Season 6 "Cell Games Saga" Dragon Ball Z box. Sheehan described it as "seven minutes of uncut action" - then quickly corrected himself; of course, he meant to say "seven hundred." September 16 will be the release date. A new volume of another major Funimation series, One Piece is set to debut a week later, on September 23. Billed as One Piece Season 1, Episode 1, "Second Voyage", it will contain the uncut episodes 14 through 26 of the pirate adventure series.
The same date is set for another release that fans have been eager for, the fourth volume of the Hellsing Ultimate OAV. At the same time, the first three episodes are scheduled as well. Each of those will have a standard edition and a limited version with a collector's item such as a character bust and an exclusive 200-page artbook.
Through the fall months, Funimation will also begin putting out the shows that it has rescued after Geneon Entertainment USA shut down its distribution and marketing. Every one of the announcements of these that Sheehan made was followed by a Hollywood-style trailer. October 7 is the date for the first thirteen episodes of Ghost Hunt, in Sheehan's words, a story of "some kids being in the wrong place at the wrong time...on a regular basis." On the same date, all 11 episodes of Jyu-Oh-Sei: Planet of the Beat King are due out too. Other releases also scheduled for the September-October time-frame include Karin, Devil May Cry, Kyo kara Maoh!'s second season, box sets for Shakugan no Shana, Rozen Maiden, Kamichu, Paradise Kiss, Elemental Gelade and Ergo Proxy and the first two DVD's of Rozen Maiden - Träumend.
At the same time, Funimation's belief is that while season boxes are the appropriate way to bring out some series, there are others that still yield themselves best to more typical single-volume DVDs. The "Berserk with hot chicks" Claymore will see its first volume released this way on October 14, and Darker than Black's volume one is scheduled for November 25. In both cases, a collector's pack with a box for the subsequent volumes is also being created. In Claymore, Stephanie Young and Todd Haberkorn have been cast to voice the two main characters.
For months, Funimation has been trickling out bits of information on Ouran High School Host Club. After announcing the cast list earlier in the summer, Funimation is finally able to say that the American release of the first thirteen episodes of Ouran is set for October 28. The second thirteen, coming on January 6, will be Funimation's first release of 2009. Both sets will be priced at $59.98, and in addition to the episodes themselves, will include actors voice actors' commentaries, production outtakes, and pages from the Ouran manga.
Another 2009 release that Sheehan premiered will be Afro Samurai: Resurrection, just announced earlier this month at the San Diego Comic-Con. The title of the movie refers to the main character, Afro's father, whose death was depicted in the opening minutes of the first Afro Samurai.
In addition to their standard DVDs, Funimation is making first tentative steps in bring out out anime on Blu-Ray. Afro Samurai (August 26), Robotech: Shadow Chronicles (September 2), the Dragon Ball Z: Cooler's Revenge and Return of Cooler double feature (September 16) and Vexille (November 11) are all now scheduled.
Sheehan's flood of new release dates left almost no time for the actual question-and-answer portion of the panel. In the five or so minutes that were left for Q&A, he only had time to note that although Funimation is certainly interested in Production I.G's three-episode Tsubasa OVA, there are no plans to announce it yet. Funimation also is not able to talk about any new plans for television broadcasts, but in general, every time a major new license is acquired, it aims to explore opportunities for television broadcasts.
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