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Anime Boston 2009
Funimation Entertainment

by Mikhail Koulikov,

FUNimation Entertainment was one of only two American anime licensing and distribution companies that made appearances at this year's Anime Boston - but its Saturday afternoon panel was packed with details of new and upcoming releases, with almost no room left for audience questions. The most important items revealed at the panel were held towards its later segment, but for the purposes of this article, it is worth highlighting them first.

As reported earlier today, Spice and Wolf, the 13-episode animated adaptation of Isuna Hasekura's light novels, will be released in the U.S. sometime towards the end of this year or early in 2010.

The fall, more precisely, September 22, will see the release of the first part of Season 1 of Sgt. Frog. A particular feature of this comedy sci-fi mix about a group of frog-size aliens and their in-progress invasion of the Earth is its wealth of references to other classic anime, such as Gundam and Macross. After considering several different ways of handling these references in the U.S. release, Funimation has decided to leave them unchanged, though at this point, it has not yet been revealed whether the references will be explained by liner notes or on-DVD subtitles. Last November, Funimation streamed a "test episode" of the show on YouTube in order to gauge fans' reactions to one potential dub cast. Based on these reactions, some of the voices have been left unchanged, while other parts were recast.

And before either of those, the late summer will be marked by the DVD release of Evangelion: 1.0 You Are [Not] Alone, the first of an eventual four movie-length remakes of the iconic mid-1990's television series. The dubbed version of this, directed by Mike McFarland, will premiere during the July 2-July 5 Anime Expo, in Los Angeles, CA. As Funimation's Adam Sheehan made this announcement, he invited McFarland, already in the audience, on stage, and the next fifteen or so minutes of the panel were taken up by a discussion of the cast of the film. In putting together the cast list, Funimation fully acknowledged the work that has already been done by the actors who lent their voices to ADV Films release of the original Evangelion television series. As the cast list was assembled, efforts were made to contact them, and if they were still available and interested, invite them to participate in the new project. Shinji Ikari and Misato Katsuragi will once again be voiced by Spike Spencer and Allison Keith, while Monica Rial, the voice of Maya Ibuki in Evangelion's director's cut, will be the voice of Pen-Pen. The other cast members include:

Ritsuko Akagi: Colleen Clinkenbeard
Rei Ayanami: Brina Palencia
Gendo Ikari: John Swasey (he had the same role in the Director's Cut)
Kouzou Fuyutsuki: Kent Williams
Kensuke Aida: Greg Ayres
Toji Suzuhara: Justin Cook

In addition to directing the movie, McFarland himself will voice secondary character Hyuga Makoto.

More specific plans for the release, as well as the details on any extras that will be included, potential digital distribution or a Blu-Ray release are still up in the air. At this point, Funimation is simply focusing on putting the dub into customers' hands, but is certainly planning to explore these additional options.

Beyond these new announcements, Sheehan actually opened the panel by noting that Funimation has largely escaped being affected negatively by the current economic recession. He thanked the attendees for supporting Funimation's products, whether those actually released to DVD, others that are available on video-on-demand, and the ever-increasing number of episodes that Funimation is streaming online through various services. One clear effect of this level of support has been that the overall number of DVDs Funimation plans to release this year will be essentially unchanged from 2008's figures, while the number of new titles, rather than re-packages or box sets, will actually increase about 17%. And while it is continuing to pay the most attention to those shows that are likely to appeal to a wider audience, Funimation also remains cognizant of the potential that titles that are more obscure, but have built-in fanbases have, especially if sold through specialist retailers such as Right Stuf.

Another hallmark of Funimation's distribution strategy is a wholehearted embrace of digital distribution, including both streaming and download-to-own, using both third-party sites and the proprietary Funimation Video Player. Of course, with any title that is first made available online, the hope is that watching it may entice the viewer to then purchase the actual physical DVD product. Two specific series that he talked about include One Piece, which, starting May 30, will have new episodes available online exactly one hour after they air in Japan, and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, with the goal of online availability within four days after they air. For that show, Funimation is also very much aware of the length of time it is taking viewers to buffer the episodes that are available. The general reason for these delays, Sheehan noted, was simply that "tens of thosands" of viewers are attempting to watch the episodes. And beyond their Internet efforts, Funimation is also continuing to pursue an active strategy for on-demand cable availability of its shows, and the goal Sheehan described is of full nationwide coverage within the next one to two years.

The company's slate of new and immediately upcoming shows is fairly extensive. Those that were specifically highlighted include Kenichi, the first part of which apparently sold significantly above expectations, with part 2 scheduled for June 16; Shigurui, D.Gray-man (here, Sheehan apologized for the confusion that Funimation's marketing department caused regarding its release date), Heroic Age, Murder Princess, Romeo X Juliet, Kaze no Stigma, and the second part of season two of Crayon Shin-chan. Also in the near future are the re-releases of Last Exile and Samurai Champloo, both previously available in English from Geneon Entertainment. Other series box sets on the calendar include Fruits Basket, Beck, Ikki Tousen, Gad Guard, and Season 9 of Dragon Ball Z. And possibly by mid-July, definitely by August, Funimation will bring out the Premium OVA of Fullmetal Alchemist.

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