Interview With Gen Fukunaga
This interview first appeared in the summer of 1997 on Ed Gorgen's site, the gone-but-not-forgotten "Saiya-jin's Pride Page." I vividly remembered reading it, so I asked Ed if he still had the old HTML file lying around. Lucky for all of us, he did, and I'm really glad I asked before it was lost forever. This was, I believe, the very first among the few direct contacts between the fans and the powers-that-be where they answered our questions directly. (The others being the Adrian Saavedra interviews with "Agent Mai" and my little stint with Peter Kelamis). I find this one extremely interesting for many reasons, and my complete commentary follows at the bottom of the page. Thank you Ed for allowing me to reprint this interview, and Liz for going out and doing it!

(An important note: This interview was conducted after the first season, but before the beginning of the second. You will notice that many of Liz' questions center around the "upcoming" episodes.)

Ed Gorgen: First off, I would like to thank the honorable Liz for conducting this 'exclusive' interview of such a high figure in the NA DBZ project! I want to stress that this interview is indeed authentic, and in no way shape or form, a fake. So without further delay, here's Liz with the interview!

Liz: Hello everyone. Recently I've been able to get into contact with Gen Fukunaga, the Executive Producer for the US Production of DBZ (FUNimation) and was able to find out a lot of worth while information as well as clear up a great deal of misconceptions and rumors. For those of you who don't know me, I'm Chibi Piccolo to the group (DFC Fan Club) and at the anime terratron chat room, my nick name is Puar. So if you have any questions you can email directly or talk to me at the irc. Ok, let's begin:

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. There is a huge DBZ following here in the states as I'm sure your already aware of.
Yes I am and I'm flattered that the fan club would be interested in an interview.
How long have you been the Executive Producer?
A few years ago I started the company and it was my goal to bring anime here to the States, especially DB & DBZ.
So do you own all the rights to DB & DBZ?
No, we own the property broadcast rights to the US dubbed version of DB & DBZ. We work in conjunction with Bandai who makes the toys and with Saban who broadcasts.
Will the Japanese allow you to produce versions in Japanese with English subtitles?
No, they were very adamant on that. BUT they did allow us to take the first 3 movies and produce those in English and Japanese. These will probably be released in the late fall of 97' on home video.
That's great!! Perhaps you can clear up a rumor then. I've heard there was a company that bought the rights to the Japanese version and they would be selling the original version subtitled in the US.
That would have to be a false rumor. In fact, many of the companies who do subtitle DB & DBZ are pirates and do so without permission.
Really? It's a shame though because for persons like me who don't speak Japanese, without subtitles, I would be lost.
Yes, I understand. That's why here at Funimation we are trying to produce a US version of DBZ completely unedited with the original music, only in English.
That sounds great. Will this be on home video?
Yes our goal is to put this directly on home video. Censors won't allow us to put this on the US TV.
So is it Funimation that currently edits what we see on the US DBZ?
No, it is a third party company. Whenever you produce children's shows, you have to allow censors to dictate what exactly gets on the air. We try to keep to the scripts as closely as possible but the censors ultimately dictate what gets on. That's why we want to make an unadulterated [(unedited)] version for true fans.
Will the current voices for the characters be the same?
Yes, probably, but we're not completely happy with all the voices.
You mean Vegita? I don't want to be so forward, but his voice has really been a dissappointment.
Really, go on.
Well, many people including myself feel that Vegita needs a strong male voice as his character becomes very important in the show. People admire him and want to be like him but frankly with the voice chosen I don't see that happening.
Hmm, you know we had a tough time getting a good actor for him and that has been our biggest trial. We were thinking about changing him in the future. I'll talk to the acting studios regarding this.
So you mean you're going to change his voice?
We were thinking about it, but now I'll give it very serious consideration as to when. Hopefully soon.
So is it you that picks who does the voice acting for the characters?
No, actually that's done in Canada. In fact, 35% of all cartoons shown in the US have the voice acting done in Canada. Partially because it's cheaper to do so there and also in order to show our cartoons in Canada a certain amount of work has to be done there.
I see, that's fascinating! Did you have a hard time casting everyone?
For some of the characters, Vegita in particular. We had this other guy in mind who would have been much better but he could not commit to a full time schedule so we picked someone else. We're not too happy with Piccolo's voice either but everyone else we are, especially Gokou and Yamcha.
When can we expect to see any changes in the voices?
Well, not yet. Not in the '97 air schedule anyway. Possibly when Vegita, Kuririn and Gohan go to Namek then we can change Vegita's voice.
That's a relief. So tell me, who's your favorite DBZ character?
Gokou, of course. I especially liked him in the DB series when he was young and spunky. Gokou has inner strength and is the ideal "good guy", so to speak. You have to root for him. Next to him, I like Kuririn.
I like Piccolo myself.
Yes, many people do. Him and Vegita sell well in the toy department. In the fall, Bandai will be releasing never before seen toys in the US including an 18" Gokou, Vegita and Piccolo. Kuririn will even have an energy ring. According to our research, Gokou & Piccolo have always sold the best in Europe, so look for a lot of variations on their characters in the toys.
Will you do a lot of marketing for DBZ come Christmas time?
Yes, in fact, we are thinking of doing a DBZ mall tour around the US.
Oh, that would be great! May I ask how old are you?
I'm 35 years old.
Yes, Cindy Fukunaga is my wife and the other Executive Producer, as well as the Director of Marketing.
Is there a place fans can send fan mail & suggestions?
Yes, Funimation Headquarters' address is:

6851 North East Loop 820, Suite 247
Ft. Worth, TX 76180
Fan Mail Dept.

Are you thinking of putting together an official fan club?
We're thinking about it. We're also thinking about an official web page. We just haven't had the time to do so yet. Do you know of any good DBZ pages?
Yes, there's Ed Gorgen's "Saiya-jin's Pride" and Wuken's personal DB Page. There's many more, I'll e-mail the URLs to you.
Is there any other reason why so much is cut from the US DBZ?
Aside from the censors, the other reason is cost. You see in Japan, it costs $150,000 to air an episode. Here in the US it costs between $300 - 350,000 per episode. I'm sure you can do the math. In order to make it more cost effective we had to cut out a lot of stuff. I think we did a good job though. We made 26 episodes out of the original 36 episodes.
Any other changes we can expect to see for the 98' season?
Well hopefully we will air an hour long block of DBZ for the 98' season which starts in the fall of 97'. This would consist of 2 episodes back to back.
Any chance of moving the time slot like how the Simpsons are aired so you can get less censoring?
No, not a chance. Bandai would not support us if we did that and we need them. You see, to be successful in marketing a cartoon with toys you must appeal to the age range of 2-11 year olds. It's that simple. We have to leave the show on Saturday morning, but remember we do plan on releasing an unadulterated English version on home video.
I can't wait. I have just one more question, but the most important in my opinion. Do you know Akira Toriyama?
(chuckling) No, I'm sorry, I don't. I don't know if you're aware of this, but he is an extreme recluse. Only one man can correspond with him regarding DBZ, and he has to travel a few hours out of Tokyo to do so. Akira doesn't even like his picture being taken. To send him fan mail you have to go through one of the Japanese publishing companies like Shonen Jump Magazine.
Well, thank you very much for this interview! I'm sure I can speak on behalf of my many DBZ friends and say this information is greatly appreciated.
No problem.

You know, I must say, Gen comes off as an extremely friendly, charismatic and likeable guy. I feel more sincerity and honesty behind this interview than I do from the Barry Watson one, or the Take Ten one, in which Cindy sort of took the spotlight and he was barely able to get a word in edgewise. But that notwithstanding, I still have some problems with what he went on record and said here, mainly because the majority of FUNimation's supposed "future plans" either never came to pass, or did so in an unsatisfactory manner. This suggests to me simply more rhetoric, what he thought the fans would want to hear rather than what was true. Alright, so that isn't exactly fair, but I'm just suggesting the possibility, and I have good reason to think so.

First, the "Will you release a subtitled version?" question. His response to this was "No, they were very adamant on that." People have been asking for legitimate, commercially released, subtitled DBZ since before it was even shown on North American airwaves, and, from the time that I first read this interview, I've never been all that gung-ho about fighting for it. This statement from Gen is why.

For a long time, I wasn't sure to what extent I could believe it, but just a few days ago I read somewhere (I think it was on Greg's site) that there may be a very good reason WHY this is the case. It'll probably come as a complete shock to many of you, but, aside from the movies, none of the 3 Dragon Ball TV series have ever been released on video in Japan. It's possible that Toei doesn't want Americans having access to tapes of the TV series with the original Japanese soundtrack when such a thing isn't even available in Japan. The videos, even with English subtitles, would doubtless make their way back across the ocean, and to a lot of buyers, thus crippling the potential Japanese market if Toei ever decided to release them there. The movies are a different story, they were all released to video in Japan, which, by the way, explains why they were able to be released to video here. So everything's neatly and tidily explained right? A subtitled version simply isn't possible, even if FUNimation wanted to do it.

It's not that simple. There have been a few occasions where even Gen himself stated that they were CHOOSING not to release subbed tapes for various reasons: ("We're a dubbing company, not a subtitling company" "The market is too saturated with fansubs, we'd just lose money if we released them ourselves") And the question "Why don't you released subtitled tapes?" must be asked all the time, but it isn't addressed in their FAQ. The fact that they dance around this issue, rather than just simply saying "Toei won't let us" in every case suggests that there's more going on here, that releasing subtitled tapes is indeed an option, but one they're not pursuing, not because they can't, but because they don't want to.

So what's the truth of the matter, then? It's all very confusing and contradictory. First Gen gives us an "adamant" no from Toei themselves, and later on a "FUNimation doesn't want to." The most frustrating part of all this is that the contradictions are coming from the same sources! You see, THIS is why I don't trust these people. All it takes is situation like this, throw in a little inductive reasoning, and we are led to the inescapable conclusion that there are things we're being deceived about. Moving on...

"we are trying to produce a US version of DBZ completely unedited with the original music, only in English."

Well, it took two years from the time of this interview, but you got the "unedited" part down. The music thing didn't work out though, now did it? And, well, the dialogue isn't exactly a direct translation. So we get blood, but little else.

"We try to keep to the scripts as closely as possible"

OK, Gen, don't even... like I said, you seem like a nice enough guy, but.... Oh forget it. I don't even think I need to comment on this one. I'll just look at that quote some more and giggle.

"we're not completely happy with all the voices."

Neither are we.

"You mean Vegita? I don't want to be so forward, but his voice has really been a dissappointment."

OK, now this is really interesting. Some of you newer fans may be asking "Why is she giving him such a hard time about Vegeta? Brian Drummond's Vegeta is cool!" I should explain this. Like I said, the interview was conducted right after the end of the first season. This was before the "Cartoon Network generation," before decent timeslots, before a lot of stuff. Back then, US DBZ's audience was almost entirely composed of Japanese version fans, who woke up at obscene hours to catch the English version in order to critically examine it. And then there were a few here and there who caught on just through FUNimation's version, but since the show wasn't as accessible timewise as it is now, that wasn't common. It's quite the opposite today. Since around the middle of Season 2, and certainly once the CN airings started, the "dubbies" have been in the majority. But before all that, it was a very different world. There simply weren't any Brian Drummond supporters, everyone hated Vegeta's voice! We were all used to Ryo Horikawa, and were just disgusted by this new guy who sounded totally wrong.

My how things have changed. By the middle of Season 2, many of the "hardcore" decided that Brian had gotten much better in the role, and the steadily increasing tide of newbies just loved him because they didn't have to adjust like we did. By the time the Cartoon Network airings, and the mountain of new fans, came around, the anti-Brian Drummond sentiment had pretty much dwindled away. But man, there was a time when everyone hated his voice as much as we all hate Freeza's now.

"We were thinking about changing him in the future. I'll talk to the acting studios regarding this."
"I'll give it very serious consideration"
"Possibly when Vegita, Kuririn and Gohan go to Namek then we can change Vegita's voice."

Never happened. Also, notice that the moment Liz mentions her disapproval with Vegeta, Gen acts surprised, but when she elaborates, he is suddenly in full agreement with her. "Casting him was our biggest trial." "We really want to change him," and all that. Seems a little suspicious to me, like he's just giving her what she wants to hear. Again, they never ended up doing anything different with Vegeta's voice, despite Gen's "serious consideration."

"Yes, in fact, we are thinking of doing a DBZ mall tour around the US."

Neeeeever happened!

"Do you know of any good DBZ pages?"
"Yes, there's Ed Gorgen's "Saiya-jin's Pride" and Wuken's personal DB Page. There's many more"

Hee hee. Liz, you're forgetting one!

"In order to make it more cost effective we had to cut out a lot of stuff."

OK, but why did you cut out so much good stuff and leave in so much filler?

"Well hopefully we will air an hour long block of DBZ for the 98' season"

Wow, that actually happened!

"Remember we do plan on releasing an unadulterated English version on home video."

You try it! Pick one:
A. That Did Happen
B. That Did Not Happen.

OK, OK, I can see that my noble intention of not letting this one degenerate into a smartass fest has failed. But I did better this time, didn't I?? Well, in any case, thank you Ed and Liz, and yes, you too Gen.

Anyway, hope y'all enjoyed this oldie but goodie, and I'll see you next time.