Sony to Funimation: We Like You Just the Way You Are

The Flower Mound studio Funimation, the animation powerhouse behind such series as One Piece, Dragon Ball Z and Attack on Titan, is under new ownership.
The Flower Mound studio Funimation, the animation powerhouse behind such series as One Piece, Dragon Ball Z and Attack on Titan, is under new ownership.
Courtesy of Funimation
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The television wing of the Sony Pictures corporation now owns the largest stake in the Flower Mound animated film studio Funimation, but there's no indication so far that Sony plans to change how Funimation makes, dubs or distributes its cartoons and merchandise to fans.

Sony Pictures Television announced Tuesday that it made a deal with Funimation Productions "to acquire a majority stake" in the Japanese film distribution company for approximately $150 million, according to a statement.

The deal puts all of Funimation's operations under the Sony umbrella, including its licenses for such popular Japanese anime programming as Dragon Ball Z, Cowboy Bebop, One Piece and Attack on Titan. The deal also gives Sony ownership of Funimation's streaming service, FunimationNOW, which is available online and through digital delivery services such as Google Play, iTunes and Amazon.

Funimation also published a press release Tuesday, with an extensive FAQ section that addressed concerns about its deal with Sony.

"Currently, our plan is for Funimation to operate as it has to date," the statement reads. "[Funimation chief executive officer] Gen Fukunaga will remain CEO and the team will continue to deliver the best anime experience we can to you."

The statement also said its deal with Sony will not "change pricing and placement of our physical or digital product. FunimationNOW will remain the same price and will be available in all of its current territories."

Anthony Bowling, a voice actor who has worked with Funimation since 2004 on anime productions such as The Devil is a Part Timer and One Piece, and directed the new series Knights and Magic, says he learned about the Sony deal at the same time as the public.

During a conference call with Sony, Bowling says, it was reiterated to him and other Funimation employees that the Flower Mound production office would be allowed to continue its work.

"I don't think Funimation would have made this deal if it was counterintuitive to what we do," Bowling says. "When we went in there, that was our first question, and they said, 'No, this is the next step, and we're all going to keep doing what we've all been doing.'"

Bowling says Sony expressed a great deal of confidence in Funimation's operations.

"Sony said, 'We see that you're pretty much the number one distribution of anime here and you get great reviews, so we're going to leave you alone,'" Bowling says. "We're not going to invest in you and then try and reinvent the wheel."

In Sony's press statement, Fukunaga was quoted saying that between Funimation's stronghold in the anime market and Sony's "direct access to the creative pipeline in Japan, it will be a great partnership to take Funimation to the next level."

This also isn't the first time Funimation has found itself under a new company umbrella. Fukunaga founded Funimation Productions in 1994 in Silicon Valley, California, before moving the operation to Fort Worth.

After that, Fukunaga initiated a four-year process to introduce American audiences to Dragon Ball Z, which found a massive audience on Cartoon Network's Toonami showcase and became Funimation's flagship series. Its success generated enough capital for the company to acquire and distribute other anime series in the U.S.

The Navarre Corp. bought Funimation in 2005 for just over $100 million, demoting Fukunaga from president to CEO. Fukunaga, with the help of a group of investors, purchased the company back from Navarre in 2011 for $24 million, according to reports filed by the Anime News Network.

Bowling says that despite these changes in ownership, he's never seen the company alter its creative strategy.

"We're all excited for it," Bowling says. "Sony has Marvel properties and we have our own anime stuff, so it's exciting to see what we can branch out into."

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