Reprinted Interview: 30-Something Questions with Gen Fukunaga
This interview first appeared on September 9th, 1999 at Steve Harmon's site, "The Vault." Unfortunately his site's now closed and no longer being updated but you can still see it at http://web.archive.org/web/. Just go there and then punch the name of the site in (http://members.xoom.com/dbinterviews/main.html) and, voila. Web.archive also has Planet Namek and some other old sites. It's a great place to check out if you missed out on certain sites while they were still up or are just feeling nostalgic.
Anyway, I can't tell you how ecstatic I was to find this rare gem. It was just sheer brilliant luck that I even came across this particular piece. While reading some interviews on pojo.com I happened to look at Steve Harmon's. The moment he mentioned his interview with Gen Fukunaga I was a bit surprised since I've read pretty much everything Fukunaga's ever said that's on the internet but had never seen this interview before. One thing led to another and I got to the interview from web.archive. To whoever runs web.archive, thank you very much and please keep up the great work! But above all, thank you Steve Harmon for doing this excellent interview and thank you Chris Psaros for giving us permission to put it up.
--The Great Saiyaman
I know you're probably wondering about the format of this interview, as opposed to the others, but the explanation is a simple one: it was just too damn big. It's over thirty questions, and Gen's answers can get a little long at times, so I just decided to present it like this. Anyhow, on with the interview!
Steve: I'd like to ask you about the fansubs, first of all. Why exactly did FUNimation wait until now to pursue some course of action? Why didn't you begin closing them down when you brought the series over?
Gen: Well, at the time, it wasn't quite as proliferent as it is now. We just didn't have the kind of resources neccesary to go after such a small group of people. We felt the damages were minor. But as the show became more popular, we decided to at least investigate the people who weren't just fans, but who were selling Dragon Ball tapes solely for profit and not for any fan-oriented reasons or use.
Steve: But what about the fansubbers and traders? You shut a couple of them down.
Gen: We tended to go after the larger operations, that were, you know, just cranking out tapes and starting there own video business of selling our property for personal profit...margins and all. As far as the trading operations, I don't think that we're going after fans that are just trading amongst themselves, because, theoretically (sic), they are just people exchanging their own property. Now, if someone is illegally importing lots of goods from, lets say overseas, or black markets, and trying to making a business of this trading, with the intention of making a large profit by importing lots and lots of stuff, or even creating their own stuff here, that would be an infringement of our trademark.
Steve: Have you been forced to take any actual legal action, or have most of the groups you've contacted willfully cooperated?
Gen: Well, many people have cooperated. We also tell people selling DB stuff who are lincencess are. So if you want to get any DB product, you can get it legally, you know? We have taken legal action against many importers, that are trying to, as I said, import lots of stuff.
Steve: So you've actually pressed charges against these people?
Gen: Yes, there have been several court cases. I believe that we've won in at least three or four of them. I believe that one of the companies we brought charges against was also sued by Warner Brothers, because they had been illegally selling a lot of Warner Brothers merchandise as well as DB products. We mostly go after the bootleggers. You just can't go after everybody, I mean, no one has enough money to pay for that.
Steve: Are you aiming to completely shut down the fansub, um, community with this drive?
Gen: No, our main intentions are to keep the mega operations who are there only to make a profit, and are thus cutting into our market share. I'm not sure if you're aware are not, but there are people out there selling "Dragoon Ball" action figures. That hurts the whole liscense, because then, some mother of a younger fan unwittingly buys one, an arm breaks off, her kid eats it or something, and all of a sudden we've got a law suit on our hands. We simply can't have cheap crud out there that doesn't represent the property.
Steve: Moving to the series itself, let's talk about the first two seasons. For starters, why were they censored to such an extreme degree?
Gen: That was a requirement of our distributer, Saban. We had a lot of arguments with them, saying they were going way to far with the censorship, but they would refuse to air it unless it was cut to their liking. In fact, I recall one show that we censored a little less than usual, and they just refused to air it.
Steve: Was that the infamous "orphans" episode?
Gen: Yes, that's it.
Steve: Was that the only instance in which you felt they went overboard?
Gen: That was the only actual episode that didn't make it to the airwaves, but there were a lot of other instances in which we felt they crossed the line.
Steve: What about some of the more glaringly obvious edits? Like a dialogue insert in which, upon the destruction of a press helicopter, one of the characters is heard to say, "It's okay, I can see their parachutes!" Of course, there are obviously no survivors of the explosion.
Gen: That was one of many instances where Saban said, "Cut it, cut that whole scene." So we suggested that alternative, the insert as you call it, and they eventually accepted our proposal.
Steve: Was the replacement of the soundtrack in the first two seasons a Saban decision?
Gen: The replacing of the music, was a FUNimation desicsion. With our own soundtrack, we could charge royalties for every second it's heard.
Steve: But the music itself? Who's responsible?
Gen: Oh, that was Saban. After we opted to go with our own music, we left the decision of how it was done to them.
Steve: Speaking of the soundtrack, why did you replace the Japanese opening with "Rock the Dragon?"
Gen: Well, one thing is, it's way too long. There are specific standards out there, and the simple fact is is that it just runs too long. When we chopped it up, it was very hard to get it into a fast paced opening that would catch the target audience's attention. The people we're trying to reach, American children, have a very short attention span. They flip through the channels pretty quick, and if you're show isn't flashy enough, then he's not going to stop and watch it. We felt we had to do something there to catch people's attention, so they'd watch the whole thing (the show), and see how good it is.
Steve: Is that the same reason the background music was replaced?
Gen: For the most part. In the US, audiences tend to like a more continuous BGM on animated series. It's kind of a rule of thumb to fill in gaps in the action with constant music to pace the action a little better. A big complaint a lot of people had with the Japanese music was that it took too many pauses. We used the judgement of our consultants, to make the show conform better to American music.
Steve: Were you pleased with the way Saban handled the BGM?
Gen: Well, as I said, we were strategically pleased with the replacement, but we had to change the "composer." We were not very pleased with the music for the first two seasons.
Steve: About the old voice actors (VAs), why did you decide to use the Ocean Group?
Gen: Well, we talked to various studios all over the place. I don't remember the actual selection process, but it was mainly a mixture of cost, talent, and relationships. There are a lot of variables in a decision like that, and Ocean was where we eventually ended up.
Steve: It's interesting to me the way the voices were handled. Some, like Piccolo and Bulma, were kept fairly faithful to the Japanese voices, but some, like Goku and Vegeta, were changed dramatically. Why?
Gen: Well, we had to change Goku's voice because test audiences thought his Japanese voice was wayy to high. They thought he was too...not macho enough. We had to conform to our cultural biases there. What happened with Vegeta was we started running into a problem: audiences couldn't distinguish one male fighting voice from another male fighting voice, and you get so many male fighting voices at one time, so people get confused. So we had to give him a little accent, you know, a way to distinguish him from the others.
Steve: Moving along to the new season, why did FUNimation decide to offer "uncut" videos along with the episodes that air on TV? Was it some sort of concession to the hard-core fans?
Gen: Yes, we wanted the fans to get the uncut version. We really feel that there's a good market there, so, it was always a part of our plan that whenever we got control of the home video release from Pioneer, that we would release the uncuts along with the uncuts. And it looks like the strategy's working.
Steve: But why weren't the original (Japanese) music and dialogue left in? Isn't that what the hard-core niche wants?
Gen: Well, I mean, the niche breaks into many, smaller niches. The niche that wants the pure, unaltered show is so small that there would be virtually no market for completely Japanese tapes. There's no way that retailers on a mass basis would take something like that. So, we had to come up with a sort of happy medium where we at least get the visuals in there, but we just leave the music from the cut alone. Plans at least for now, but not solidified, are that the DVD version will have a pure Japanese, subtitled version.
Steve: What kind of feed-back has season three gotten so far?
Gen: It's been pretty positive. I think people like the music better, which is good. With the voices, we tried the best we could to match them with the voices from seasons one and two, because we liked those. We tried the best we could with the best actors we could find, and the only one we just could not match was Krillin. I'm really disappointed that we couldn't get a decent match with the talent pool we have here, even after many, many auditions. Of course, we could have got people that couldn't act, but that's not good enough for us.
Steve: Why exactly was there a music change, from the first two seasons to the third?
Gen: We're much happier with this new composer, we just feel that the newer music is much better. The second reason is that we wanted to have more control over the music. Previously, we had almost no control. Saban wouldn't deliver the music on time, and we couldn't have it adjusted the way we wanted. Now, with it being done locally, we've been given a lot more control.
Steve: Now, about the voice actors... Why the change for season three?
Gen: Again, we moved all our studios here, and that required a change of actors, since all the old ones were in Vancouver; we needed a local talent pool. That's the only way we could record as many shows as we're doing. Without the locals, we'd have a real scheduling nightmare on our hands.
Steve: Were the new actors selected through open auditions?
Gen: Mostly. We also took references, you know, friends of friends and every other way we could get a body in here.
Steve: Are the new VAs professional voice actors, as the previous ones were?
Gen: Yes, I believe so. I'm not really sure of there backgrounds, but I think they are. At least, from an acting point of view, we're quite happy with their performances thus far. I don't think the VAs have caused an issue for us, with the fans that is, yet.
Steve: Would you compare the new VAs favorably to the last set?
Gen: Oh yeah, absolutely, I think the acting is really good. I wish we could have a better match for a few of the characters, but the acting is sound.
Steve: Now, onto your relationship with Cartoon Network. First of all, how did you guys get hooked up?
Gen: Well, Bob Brennen had started a relationship with them a few years ago, so, when it looked like the show was going to be available again for broadcast, we immediatly contacted them, indicating it's availability. One thing led to another, and we eventually settled on our current arrangement.
Steve: Was the transition of your property from Saban to a cable network good?
Gen: Absolutely, it was great. One is that the syndication market has sort of fallen apart, as you might know, and we couldn't get good timeslots in all markets, in addition to the fact that some markets wouldn't show it at all. On Cartoon Network, we have better coverage, more airing, better timeslots, better promotion (as done by Cartoon Network.) It's just a much better market, from the distribution side of things.
Steve: Did Cartoon Network buy the show with intentions of airing season three, when it came out?
Gen: Originally, they bought the first set with no real long term commitment. In other words, even though the show had already been somehwhat proven, they wanted to test it out a little. So they only picked up the first set, and they would try to approach us later on if everything went well.
Steve: How does the future look for DBZ at Cartoon Network?
Gen: I'm almost certain that it's one, if not the top rated show on CN right now. We're both very happy with the way things are going, and I hope the relationship will continue long into the future.
Steve: Have there been any signs at this point in time that CN will pick up the next batch of episodes you do?
Gen: Yes, they've already optioned the entire rest of the series?
Steve: Do you know if it'll stay in it's current time slot?
Gen: That's a totally...Cartoon Network doesn't even know exactly how they're gonna program from year to year. Um, I'm sure, however, that if it stays successful, Cartoon Network probably won't mess with it too much. At least, I certainly hope it stays there, because that's the best place for it. Well, that or prime-time.
Steve: How would you compare your relationship with CN to your relationship to Saban?
Gen: The relationship with CN is much better. They understand the product a lot better than Saban did, and treat it in a much more professional manor than Saban as well.
Steve: Now, on to some general questions about the series. About the rewrites, how do you do decide on what and what not to include?
Gen: I don't know if there's a real strategy, per se, other than that we tell our writers to stick to the original story by Akira Toriyama, I mean, you can't deviate from that. Besides that, though, we just want it to get "hipped up" a little bit, you know, keep it from getting stale. But that's just sort of a subjective creativity thing that we leave up to our writers. We pretty much cut them loose on that sort of thing.
Steve: Let's talk about the future, now. Commercially sub-titled DBZ is probably the most widely held hope the dedicated-fanbase community. Did you originally intend to market it in a subbed form in the US?
Gen: We have been debating that issue since the very beginning, but when DVD started to arise that we saw the great oppurtunity to do it there. It's primarily a big business descision because the cost of putting out another VHS just with the sub-titles compared with the possible sales makes for a tough call. But with DVD, we could put both versions on one disc. This works because some of the people that want to buy it in English will never watch the Japanese version, but it's there for the hard-core. Plus, Toei wouldn't allow us to do a VHS version so we got them to concede to the DVD plan.
Steve: So there's no chance of seeing commercially subbed DBZ on VHS?
Gen: I would say that it's...highly unlikely.
Steve: What about the possibility of a video-game release here in the US? Would FUNimation liscence the property to game developer/publisher?
Gen: Yes, we've already had several offers, and we're currently trying to decide which one to go with. Nobody was really interested until the show reached it's current level of popularity, but now they're really jumping at the oppurtunity.
Steve: So, would it be a translation of a Japanese game, or something totally original?
Gen: Totally new.
Steve: Any idea what platform the game would be on?
Gen: We're looking at all the majors, Nintendo and Sony certainly, as well as possibly Sega.
Steve: Are you guys trying to get DBGT and the rest of DB?
Gen: Yes, we are discussing these things. The biggest issue is, of course, "How many Dragonballs can you have at one time?" We gotta handle it carefully, because in the US Market espescially, things can begin to oversaturate and tend to lose popularity very quickly.
Steve: So you're aiming for perpetuity?
Gen: Well, yeah, because it's such a great series, so it's how carefully we treat both DB and DBGT and how we time their respective releases that's going to be crucial. But we are talking with some people about how to get it on TV, and maybe just going direct to video with it.
Steve: Can we expect anymore movies to be released?
Gen: We are desperatly trying to get those out of Japan. We have the exclusive use of the Dragonball TM in this territory, but the contract says that we have to negotiated them one at a time. There are a lot of issues that are starting to arise, stemming from the sheer amount of financial backers that all the movies after three had. Lots of other parties were involved, so it creates a real rights nightmare. Trying to get everyone's consent has thus far been a very slow process, but rest assured that efforts are being made.
Steve: The next thing I'd like to cover is DB/Z's sizable presensce on the internet. How aware are you of the series' proliference?
Gen: Oh yeah, we're quite aware. I believe that in the top fifty topics searched for by the Lycos search engine, we (meaning DBZ) were the fourth most searched for topic, behind Hurrican Floyd, Pokemon, and Britney [editor's note: ha! I spelled her name right!] Spears. We realize that we're very hot on the web. We've been doing everything possible to beef up our web-site, and have our web store try to get as much DB stuff as possible. In October, we've got two people joining the staff that are going to help with creating a better fan-base for the website, streamlining the email a little bit, and updating our page more frequently than we are currently able to do. But the web is definetly a high priority for us, although it's still a ways behind our TV and video business. The former only generates a fraction of the revenue that the latter brings in.
Steve: What about the multitude of non-official/commercial fansites out there?
Gen: I have checked out a few of the many sites out there, and I've even used some to find out what happens later in the series, because I sometimes need a little refresher...in that area.
Steve: Finally, does FUNimation care about the hard-core fans? Our are we just a negligible group.
Gen: We care, but our primary objective is to meet the mass market, or else this'll all fizzle. Without the mass market, we'd never be able to get all the episodes into the US. But that [editor's note: I'm not sure who he's referring to here, so I apologize ahead for any confusion.] just serves as the fuel for the fire, and then we can satisfy all the hardcore guys, you know, because now we have the fuel for the engine. So we can use the cash from the mass market on the DVD version, which will satisfy the really dedicated guys.
Comments added by The Great Saiyaman:
Man, I can't believe Gen Fukunaga let loose like that. Despite any disagreements I may have with anything he says, it is quite refreshing to see Funimation give out honest answers to questions without dancing around them or making up an excuse for not answering them ("Although I work at Funimation and know everybody there, that's not my specific field so I don't know the answer to that question so please don't ever ask me about it again. The only people on this whole planet who know the answer to your question are you people on this show who work at that particular field, etc.").
Steve: "Why exactly did FUNimation wait until now to persue some course of action? Why didn't you begin closing them down when you brought the series over? "
Gen: "... as the show became more popular, we decided to at least investigate the people who weren't just fans, but who were selling Dragon Ball tapes solely for profit and not for any fan-oriented reasons or use."
Gen Fukunaga is right, there are many dishonest fansubbers who lie about the quality (or, for that matter, the existence) of their episodes and movies simply to extract money from trustworthy people who aren't expecting to be scammed. However, on the other end of the spectrum there are lots of hardworking fansubbers who LOVE Dragon Ball and are simply trying to make a living (or a bit of side cash) by giving fans of Dragon Ball an opportunity to see uncensored episodes and movies that Funi won't be getting to for years.
Steve: "Are you aiming to completely shut down the fansub, um, community with this drive?"
Gen: "No, our main intentions are to keep the mega operations who are there only to make a profit, and are thus cutting into our market share. I'm not sure if you're aware are not, but there are people out there selling "Dragoon Ball" action figures. That hurts the whole liscense, because then, some mother of a younger fan unwittingly buys one, an arm breaks off, her kid eats it or something, and all of a sudden we've got a law suit on our hands. We simply can't have cheap crud out there that doesn't represent the property. "
Hmm...at first Gen Fukunaga expresses worry that a child might injure oneself off of a crappy bootleg figure but then he quickly adds "and all of a sudden we've got a law suit on our hands." Speaking of law suits, Fukunaga, you guys could (and should) be sued for all of your products you advertise as being "uncut" which really aren't (thinks back to the Bardock TV Special). Also, it make little sense that he's afraid that his company would be sued because some bootlegger makes a crappy Gogeta figure that a little kid decapitates then chokes on. I guess someone could be like that ex-convict who sued a prison for not capturing him in time after his escape to prevent him from freezing his toes, but that's just borderline-paranoia fearing a lawsuit for something like that.
As for "Dragoon Ball" figures, I'm not too sure but I think that the "Goten with a sword" figure I mentioned in my "Interview with a Mexican Dub Otaku" is a part of their "collection." These figures are all cheap, hollow, plastic and butt-ugly but...they are good for a few cheap laughs. Heh, hell, I'm actually kind of sorry I didn't get one just to make fun of it and to show it off. Pretty much any decent-sized China town should have em if you'd like to see em or even buy one for yourself.
Steve: "What about some of the more glaringly obvious edits? Like a dialogue insert in which, upon the destruction of a press helicopter, one of the characters is heard to say, 'It's okay, I can see their parachutes!' Of course, there are obviously no survivors of the explosion. "
Gen: "That was one of many instances where Saban said, 'Cut it, cut that whole scene.' So we suggested that alternative, the insert as you call it, and they eventually accepted our proposal."
Hmm...I guess that' s why Funimation made up that infamous line. Saban truly did make them censor a lot and it sounds like Gen Fukunaga's actually being completely honest here for a change. However, leaving Saban didn't quite make everything perfect. Check DBZUncensored's Season 3 and beyond and you'll know what I mean. Any faults with those episodes or any of the tv specials and movies after movie 3, (when Funi took over dubbing from Pioneer) are attributable solely to Funimation.
Steve: "Was the replacement of the soundtrack in the first two seasons a Saban decision?
Gen: "The replacing of the music, was a FUNimation decision. With our own soundtrack, we could charge royalties for every second it's heard."
So...after all this time the truth finally emerges. I always suspected that there was more to it than that "6-11 year old American male children can only tolerate listening to rock and techno music cause they all hate anything that's different to them" "explanation" that Funimation has insisted upon for so long despite countless complaints about their horrible music. I also suspected that not even Funimation could be stupid enough to seriously believe that Mr. "Goku is like this rock guy. Trunks is from the future so he's techno" Faulconer's rehashed, re-mixed, over-used nonstop guitar and synthesizer wailing could ever hold up a candle to the original music.
But first, let's look back a little on the lies about this subject Funi's cover themselves with over the years. Fukunaga at one point tried to buy sympathy from fans (who have for years and years been demanding and begging Funi to put in, I mean, LEAVE IN the original music) by complaining that Toei wanted too much money for the rights to the original music. That was an extremely dubious answer since almost ALL anime dubs keep the original music in. A month later Fukunaga contradicted himself when he said "We have more money than we know what to do with. I'd rather not say how much." Too bad what he said in this particular interview didn't snowball in the DBZ web community or Fukunaga never would have been able to get away with offering up such feeble deceptions as the truth.
Fukunaga: "The original music is amazing...astounding. So unique, so different....it goes so phenomenally well with the action that's happening and it's so....different from everything that is heard in America....But seriously guys, who gives a flying **** about that music? If we use their music we won't be able to squeeze as much moola out of this potential golden calf. But if make our own music....we can make loads and loads of money for EVERY SINGLE DAMN SECOND it is ever played anywhere! Yes, we shall tell fans that we're just 'Americanizing' it for their tastes so they should just be grateful to us for being such nice guys, and nobody will ever be the wiser....and profits shall rise!"
This....is the reason why....Fukunaga has completely butchered all the music from the 291 episodes of DBZ and is now probably already giving the exact same mistreatment to the 64 episodes of GT? This is why he has disgraced Akira Toriyama's masterpiece and spit in the faces of all the people who poured their hearts and souls into composing the music for Dragon Ball? What a fool, what a ****ing asshole! As much as I despise the Funi DBZ dub I'd actually watch it recreationally (meaning not just to tape it or review it) just to enjoy the music, if they ever put real music in. I imagine that many other hardcore fans feel the same way would watch it as well and also not complain about it as much if not this one mindblowingly incompetent, foolish mistake.
Whatever money Funi milks off of dubbed DBZ American music cd's completely pales in comparison large and by far to how many more fans would have watched it in the past and be watching it now (not to mention would be spending millions of dollars on DBZ Funi-licensed items) IF Fukunaga hadn't made such an idiotic decision. I'm sorry, there's lots of more good info in this interview but I'm just too sickened to write anything else right now. And Fukunaga, if you're reading this....do NOT butcher DBGT as horrendously as you've butchered DBZ. In fact, just don't butcher it all. Enough is enough, Gen.