Ima, kore ga hoshiin da! - Special - A Piece of Controversy

by Allen Divers,
There's nothing like a bit of controversy to stir things up near the end of the year. Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you've probably heard the news that FUNimation does not have the One Piece license. And, according to them, they never announced it the first place. FUNimation tells us that what Gen Fukunaga had said at Anime Expo New York (other wise known as Big Apple Anime Fest 2002) was actually a general statement of what could be expected from anime companies in the future and not a statment that FUNimation had licensed One Piece.

Also around this time, came the news that a dub had been created as a sampler being shopped around to several TV and cable outlets. This is not an uncommon practice for companies in North America and even many Japanese companies when looking to move a particular property into an English speaking market. In fact, Toei, through their agent Cloverway, created an English dub for One Piece specifically for this purpose. Word broke out about a dub being shopped around thanks to someone involved with the dub mentioning outside of a convention panel that casting had begun for the series.

As FUNimation moved through 2003, there were plenty of surprises, such as Kiddy Grade, Detective Conan and the move towards collectible boxes with the first DVD of new releases. There was even a nice shiny box set for Blue Gender that made me giggle like a school girl. Ok, maybe I'm sharing too much there. FUNimation also managed to make the headlines by snagging a few guest voice actors for a few of their shows. Vic Mignogna and Monica Rial made the commute between Houston and Dallas to lend their voices to FUNimation's leading series. And as the year comes to an end, fans were given the chance to salivate at the news of the upcoming Kiddy Grade and Tenchi Muyo! GXP releases. But during this whole time, not a single word was said of One Piece.

This really isn't all that surprising. Often a series is announced, but due to production limits, the series spends a bit of time on the shelf. But with the misunderstood message coming out of New York, fans would bring up the topic of One Piece every now and then. It hit me around the summer convention season that maybe; just maybe, FUNimation had spoken a bit too early in the negotiation process and was still completing the deal. It's often in the best interest of a company to not discuss a license as it often makes the licensor nervous. So I filed away One Piece as not quite ready for primetime. Fans of course, let the whole thing go, some satisfied with the manga appearing in Shonen Jump. Surely with the manga on display, the anime would surely follow.

So, what caused the current uproar? Members of the forum on Anime News Network began discussing the One Piece license after one member had stumbled across a July review of the One Piece series. In that review, it was mentioned that the show had yet to be licensed. So the discussion began, fingers pointed at the New York announcements and Anime News Network went to the source for confirmation. So now we're back where we started. FUNimation does not have the license, nor does anyone else at this time. They are working to acquire it, but there is no other news as of yet.

What's the big deal anyway? Well, if you haven't seen the show, One Piece is a great series. Sure, it's a simple adventure story, but the characters and action set it apart from other similar stories. I talked about this series before, and with the manga out you can find out just how fun of a series this is. At that time, I mentioned that this series would be right up FUNimation's alley, as they've made their bread and butter on a long running series already. With Dragonball running down in all its incarnations, FUNimation will be on the look out for a replacement series of that magnitude. One Piece fits right into that description. Both the anime and manga are still running in Japan and excitement for this series is at an all time high.

FUNimation is also one of those companies that likes to have as much of a property as possible. While they've shied away from the manga, they love the merchandising. In the words of Yogurt, "merchandising is where the real money is made." Dragonball has given them everything from action figures to video games and even had a few bags of chips thrown in. While GXP and Kiddy Grade are high profile series, neither will have the mass market appeal that Dragonball managed to pull in. And with each series being made up of only one season, it's harder to pull out those merchandising gems that a long series like Dragonball and even Yu Yu Hakusho can create. FUNimation does have another long term series in the works with Detective Conan, but I just don't see this having the same impact an action series like Dragonball can produce.

FUNimation does face some major competition for the license though. Viz has a habit of grabbing up the license for both the manga and the anime. While a company often has to deal with two different companies to license the manga and the anime, Viz already has a piece of the puzzle and is doing quite well by including One Piece as a part of the monthly Shonen Jump. Sales for the graphic novels of One Piece are moving briskly, so Viz is definitely interested in getting the whole pie.

And back to Dragonball winding down, Cartoon Network will be in the market for another long term series with the action and excitement that made Dragonball a strong draw to their Toonami block. While it's a bit of a long shot for Cartoon Network to get involved with direct licensing of the series, they will definitely be looking in One Piece's direction as a solid anchor for their Toonami block. Of course, with their recent success of the Big O sequel, it's possible that they may just be considering a direct licensing deal. Okay, that's all very speculative, but consider this. One Piece is a hot property, if the price is right there's not a single major company, such as Viz, ADV, Pioneer, Media Blasters or Pioneer, that wouldn't want it. It's easy to see that more than just FUNimation would be interested in this series.

With the success of the manga, One Piece is growing to be a strong property in North America. We can expect to hear something about it in the next year. And if you think this is a hot topic, wait till people start really looking at Naruto. Being another hot action series, Naruto has already been generating a lot of buzz at conventions. Don't believe me? At your next con, take a look around at all the folks wearing head bands with shiny metal plates. Yeah, I think that series is going to stir up a bit of excitement in the next year as well. And again, look to either FUNimation or Viz to be in the running for that one as well. Viz has the manga and Naruto has that Dragonball feel to attract FUNimation.

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