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Anime Central 2009
Funimation Entertainment

by Jason Green,

As packed as the ADV Films panel was, things only got more intense for the Funimation panel, which was greeted with an even longer line that filled the room to capacity, forcing con staff to institute a one-in-one-out policy for the early portions of the panel.

Funimation events manager Adam Sheehan opened the festivities with what would seem to be excitement poison, a series of graphs on “Anime and the Economy.” But despite the series of downer announcements the industry has seen in recent months, it was nothing but sunshine and lollipops as far as Funimation was concerned. As a year-to-year chart proved, the company plans to release only three fewer titles in 2009 than they did in 2008 overall, but with a 17% increase in new products. “Anime is not in trouble,” Sheehan forcefully concluded.

His second bullet point was a big push for Funimation's online presence. “Digital is in mind for everything we do,” Sheehan said, trumpeting the availability of Funi titles on streaming sites (Hulu, YouTube), download-to-own sites (iTunes), and even the free episodes available right here on Anime News Network. He also stressed the video player on Funimation's own site, which boasts sample episodes of shows like Romeo X Juliet that are not yet available on DVD. He then closed the overview portion of the panel with a mention of Funimation's film festival entries, including some recent theatrical screenings of the film Evangelion: 1.0 You Are [Not] Alone.

From there, it was a trailer-filled run through Funimation's recent and impending releases, kicking off with the action-comedy Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple. The series, which “has done really well for us” according to Sheehan, follows “spineless wimp” Kenichi as he trains with a group of elite martial artists in a fanservice-laden quest to become, well, the mightiest disciple.

Next up was Shigurui: Death Frenzy, which Sheehan aptly described as “beyond violent; it makes Basilisk look like Hello Kitty,” followed by D.Grayman, which was greeted with cheers from the crowd. Sheehan took a surprising turn when he began apologizing for the confusing, poorly representative marketing of the series, stating outright that the responsible parties were no longer with the company.

The atmospheric trailer for GONZO's Last Exile followed, a title rescued after the collapse of Geneon and, in Sheehan's words, “An absolute classic you have to have in your collection.” He then followed with Big Windup! (a.k.a. Ookiku Furikabutte), whose first four episodes are online now as a preview for the DVDs due this fall. Sheehan stressed that despite its appearance, the series is not so much a “baseball series” as it is a series about a group of friends who happen to play baseball.

Sheehan then spotlighted several “con exclusives,” titles being sold at Anime Central in advance of their release on Tuesday, May 12th. These titles included Heroic Age (”A true, old school space opera,” said Sheehan), the fifth season of Case Closed, and the sword-and-sorcery adventure tale Murder Princess. For season 2 part 2 of Shin-Chan, Sheehan showed a Western-themed but typically crass trailer, as well as a Scarface-referencing print ad that gave “Say hello to my little friend” a whole new meaning.

Sheehan saved his highest praise for Funi's latest GONZO title, Romeo X Juliet, due in stores June 23rd. “It's just like Romeo and Juliet,” Sheehan joked, “only Juliet is like Zorro and there's flying horses.” This was borne out by an epic trailer that accentuated the series' action, animation, and tear-jerking romance in equal measure. Sheehan gushed about the dub, which mixes in lines from multiple Shakespeare plays and consistent use of iambic pentameter, saying, “This is one of the best dubs I've ever heard, and I don't say that about everything.”

The upcoming action series Kaze No Stigma was spotlighted in an action-oriented trailer that accentuated the show's battles between fire and wind elemental warriors, while the trailer for Funi's impending re-release of the Adult Swim staple Samurai Champloo took a more tongue-in-cheek approach while still heavily featuring the show's swordplay. Also featured was the One Piece Season 2 Part 1 box set (out June 30th), which Sheehan noted is being released in “seasons” based on story arcs, so some may be longer or shorter than others.

Sheehan closed the pre-planned portion of the presentation with all things Fullmetal Alchemist. Starting with the current Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Sheehan stated that the company's release of the series, wherein English-subbed episodes are streamed online a mere four days after Japanese airing, had been wildly successful. He also stressed that the more successful this kind of presentation is, the more titles they will release this way because it shows the Japanese licensors that “there's value in it.” Sheehan then aired a very silly trailer for Fullmetal Alchemist: Premium Collection, the collection of short, comedic OAV spin-off episodes due for release later this year.

Like ADV, Funimation did not have any new licenses to announce, but Sheehan did have a “Special Announcement” to share: the Funimation channel would now be available nationwide as a video-on-demand service from Comcast Cable services. He also promised fans not served by Comcast that the company is committed to expanding the channel to as many other cable and satellite providers as possible.

The large crowd forced the panel to start late and left little time for questions, but Sheehan snuck in a few before the room had to be emptied for the next panel. According to Sheehan, the company has no plans as of yet to license Lupin III vs. Detective Conan, the recent crossover movie that set ratings records when it aired in Japan this past March. He also told one disappointed fan that Sgt. Frog had been pushed back, and should see release in late summer or early fall.

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