Funimation’s CEO isn’t Happy About Netflix’s Acquisition of Neon Genesis Evangelion

Neon Genesis Evangelion

There is nary an anime fan on the planet who has not at least heard of Hideaki Anno’s 1995 seminal masterpiece Neon Genesis Evangelion. Adding to this, there are plenty of people out there who would appreciate that any license and release of the beloved show be handled with the utmost care. It should come as no surprise, but one of those people happens to be the president of one of the largest anime publishing companies outside of Japan.

Gen Fukunaga is the president of Funimation, a publishing house responsible for producing the most iconic English-language dub of Dragon Ball Z, which broadcast on the American television channel Cartoon Network from 1998 to 2003 (the original Dragon Ball series wouldn’t even see a successful TV run until 2001), so it’s worth stating that the company knows a thing or two about promoting anime properties to stratospheric heights of popularity. I can understand why he would opt to throw his opinion out there concerning one of the biggest anime franchises of all time, especially when his company handles the licensing, dubbing, and release of the series’ movie remakes.

Neon Genesis Evangelion is a show responsible for getting countless numbers of kids in the 90s into the wider fandom of anime as we know and love it today. It has such staying power and such a huge base of support that it could easily usher in just as many fans today as it could in yesteryear, regaling not only an epic sci-fi adventure featuring loads of mech action but also a narrative rich story in the all-too-common emotions of loneliness and self-doubt. On a surface level, I think that most would be ecstatic to know that a platform as far-reaching as Netflix could run the show; after all, they are a massive service with a gigantic audience 137 million people strong. However, I do get Gen Fukunaga’s concerns with such a classic being potentially lost in a sea of other content.

Fukunaga told Polygon in an exclusive interview that “Honestly, Netflix is willing to significantly overpay for something like [Evangelion] and outbid anybody by multiples, no matter what their ROI is,” stating pretty clearly that he believes Netflix only bid for the show because they could. “I’m 100-percent sure that we’d have done a much better job brand-managing it and turning it back into what it was,” he continued.

I get it — I honestly do. Back in the day, when it came to anime releases in the United States, you really only turned your attention to one of two major players — the now defunct ADV, or Funimation. You could count on both of these companies to provide you with a genuinely stunning physical product, whether it was a stunningly-packaged DVD release of your favorite show or even a massive collector’s edition of something deemed to have high sales probability. You could also bet anything you had that they would spend massive amounts of their cast to promote the release too, whether through electronic mail newsletters, package inserts, and even DVD store displays. And oh boy was Evangelion a recipient of both of those distinctions. ADV released the series not only through the VHS medium, with each 2-episode volume resembling a stunning manga tankoban, but also in multiple DVD releases. The gloriously-shiny and incredibly-sought-after DVD box set known as the “Platinum Edition” is perhaps the most widely-known definitive release of the show, and that has been out of print since shortly after its release in 2005, due to the aforementioned company going defunct. Everyone could tell that a release like this, or anything even similar was something truly special.

Evangelion’s licensing hellscape has been a hot topic ever since, with any of the big players likely ready to offer anything to have the giant robot property under their belt once more.

Enter Netflix in 2018, hot off the heels of such anime successes as Kuromukuro, Violet Evergarden, Aggretsukoand especially Devilman Crybaby. With a seemingly endless vault of cash, it does seem almost unfair that they could just whisk up the license of the legendary property just like that.

We all know how Netflix works at this point. You log on, see a thumbnail of a show that looks interesting, watch an episode, and if it’s particularly neat you have only to perform the simple task of doing absolutely nothing. Yes, the service will simply continue to play whatever you are watching until one of two things happens: your awakening time on this good green earth has expired and you physically demand the player to cease, or the show has run its natural course and finished. This is a repeated process with however much content you want, replicated ad nauseam until everything you have ever consumed becomes merely a blur in the back of your head. Oh, and by the way, Netflix will often cut any sequence of an opening or ending credit roll.

Wait. You want to cut those iconic playbacks of “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis” and “Fly Me to the Moon”? In my Neon Genesis Evangelion? Oh hell no you don’t.

And you see, I believe that really lies at the crux of why many fans, and likely to a bit lesser of an extent Gen Fukunaga, are skeptical of the Netflix acquisition.

There’s a good chance that Evangelion could finally be uploaded to the ‘Flix, ready to be shared with the world, only to be overshadowed by new episodes of F is For Family. At this junction, what will become of all the juicy Twitter discourse? Watching scads of newer anime fans (im)patiently waiting for Shinji to get in the robot; multitudes screaming with delight as Kaworu makes his eventual appearance and all the emotional baggage that comes with the whole experience? How is one to get their kicks in seeing a whole new generation exposed to their own personal experience?

Running through the best case scenarios in my head, it won’t nearly be that dismal.

There’s no doubt that 2018 was the year that Netflix became serious about anime, under grounds both positive and negative. In lesser-appreciated territory there are definitely things that got people talking, namely, saving licenses for audiences until the broadcast runs were finished, and seemingly non-existent marketing strategies. When it was announced that Kyoto Animation’s next big thing was hitting the streaming platform, fans were furious. Netflix’s strategy, of course, to hook people with the allure of binging, while shying away from a weekly simulcast model popularized by the likes of Crunchyroll and Funimation’s own Funimation Now streaming service.

Fans reasoned that by the time the shows were finished, the hype would be nearly gone and that the typical anime fan would have moved on to the newer seasonal shows. Kakegurui was met with a similar reaction, and I witnessed the groanings first-hand on my own social media timelines. When finally released though, it was as if being awash with a tidal wave of content — screenshots, clips, impressions — these created a sort of ripple effect and dragged other curious fans down under with them. Then, you had shows like Aggrestuko and Devilman Crybaby which comparatively came out of nowhere and offered an avalanche of content right off the bat. It was a truly organic spread, and Netflix barely raised a finger to proliferate.

With just the right amount of push not only from Netflix, but also from a few vocal fans on social media, I believe that the Netflix model will serve Evangelion just as well. So please, don’t worry too much Gen.

Netflix has recently set up dedicated Twitter accounts to push the right content to the exactly right audience, such as @NXonNetflix, an account self-described as “Welcome to NX: The @netflix space to live everything super, sci-fi, the fantastic, and beyond.” Heck, with even just the simple announcement, the word spread quickly enough.

In addition to such organic marketing efforts, there do exist a few installations cool and eye-catching enough to keep the social media engagement growing steadily. Gen ends his talk with Polygon with a choice line: “In that kind of situation, you just kind of have to let that happen, obviously. It’s unfortunate for Funimation — we really wanted that title.”

Of course you did. But if only for the future proliferation of the franchise, then I honestly don’t think you have much to worry about Gen. But please know that we are immensely grateful for Funimation’s efforts in releasing quality editions of the Rebuild films, even after the notorious three year delay of 3.33 under the pretense of “making the release as close to the creator’s vision” as possible.

Oh, and I guess that reminds me — Netflix will be re-dubbing the show according to the original track’s very own director. It’s not inconceivable that the drama surrounding that decision alone will be enough to drum up interest, and it would be absolutely wild if the original cast could, in fact, make a return, as per Win Lee’s wishes.

So, a big Congratulations to the future of Evangelion please; things are going to be ok!

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