Funimation is the biggest name in Western animation distribution, but in 2019, Netflix will make moves to usurp that title. On top of a series of original programming and remakes (like a live-action Cowboy Bebop), the streaming platform acquired the long out-of-print, cult anime hit Neon Genesis Evangelion for debut next year. But Gen Fukunaga, founder and president of anime distribution company Funimation, said that Netflix isn’t a great place for major anime releases, especially big ones like Evangelion.
“Honestly, Netflix is willing to significantly overpay for something like [Evangelion] and outbid anybody by multiples, no matter what their ROI is,” Fukunaga tells Polygon, shortly after Netflix announced that it will distribute the mid-’90s classic. “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.”
Fukunaga is adamant that the Netflix acquisition is a loss for anime fans. According to the CEO, who has been importing anime through Funimation for nearly 20 years, Netflix just won’t do Evangelion the service it deserves.
Evangelion used to be, in his eyes, an iconic series worldwide. Through its ’90s debut, Evangelion was synonymous with the medium, at least until licenser ADV Films’ clash with the series’ production studio, Gainax, led to tangled rights ownership in 2010. The series remains a pinnacle of anime visuals and storytelling, however, thanks to a unique blend of classic mech action and modern psychological drama.
With DVDs of the original anime unavailable, it’s hard for newcomers to discover the series. The Netflix news was akin to a resurrection, with the chance to watch Evangelion with ease becoming a tantalizing offer for anime fans who might be choosing a primary streaming platform.
The key problem with Netflix as an anime hub, according to Fukunaga, is that Netflix is a hub for everything.
“Take a title like [My Hero Academia],” he says, referencing the hugely popular anime licensed by Funimation. “Had My Hero Academia gone onto Netflix, it would have just dropped on the platform with any number of titles and probably would have died as a brand. It would have just been another brand on the platform.
“Funimation markets it 360 — theatrical marketing, etc. — gets it available on iTunes and Xbox and PlayStation and gets it on other streaming platforms on its own, and really promotes it 360. [...] While if it had gone on Netflix, it would have just gone up there.”
While he has skin in the game, Fukunaga worries that the eventual launch of Evangelion could arrive without fanfare, and the series could get lost in the sea of content. Not to mention that the torrent of titles is bad news for Evangelion, no matter how big its name is.
Beyond the pitch to make the series widely accessible, Netflix hasn’t said if there are bigger plans for Evangelion, although rumors immediately began swirling that a complete, English-language re-dub was in the works. Voice actor Tiffany Grant (Asuka) is currently campaigning to secure the original Western cast’s involvement with Evangelion’s return, while actress, writer and co-director Amanda Winn Lee (Rei) took to Twitter to voice worry. She later tweeted that the a re-dub was far enough along that she had “spoke with the director yesterday — she’s amazing. Whatever happens, Eva is in good hands.”
Grant and Lee declined to further comment upon request. Netflix also told Polygon it doesn’t have “any details to share at this time.”
Shrouded in secrecy, it’s unclear whether Evangelion will launch on Netflix in a significant way or whether Fukunaga’s predictions will come true. But Evangelion — and a giant wave of Netflix-backed anime series — are arriving in the next year, rattling the business dominated by Funimation.
“In that kind of situation, you just kind of have to let that happen, obviously,” Fukunaga says. “It’s unfortunate for Funimation — we really wanted that title.”