Funimation, an entertainment company that specializes in localizing anime for Western audiences, found itself trending on Twitter for all of the wrong reasons recently as alleged recordings of some of its most popular voice talent making homophobic slurs and other inappropriate remarks surfaced. To make matters worse, all of the audio was recorded in character, including some of the world’s most iconic anime characters such as Goku of Dragon Ball fame, voiced by Sean Schemmel, and Piccolo, voiced by Christopher Sabat. The recordings sound authentic, and bizarrely, were produced well enough to include official sound effects and soundtrack. None of the voice actors involved have denied involvement so far.
The audio clips were so unsettling that they even caught the attention of Japanese actor Yuki Matsuzaki, who pointed out that the fallout from the audio leaks could be devastating to the Dragon Ball franchise’s English voice cast. The actor also assured concerned fans that he would alert TOEI Animation, the owner of the Dragon Ball franchise.
Funimation does not own Dragon Ball or any of its characters. The company merely licenses the rights to localize and distribute it to many Western markets, such as the United States and Canada. Dragon Ball has been a lucrative source of income for the company – the most recent theatrical installment in the franchise grossed over $20 million at the US box office in its first week alone, and went on to become one of the highest-grossing anime films of all time. Video game adaptations of the series, which often include the English voice cast, have also proven to be a vital stream of revenue for the company in an increasingly competitive market, with a major Dragon Ball game already slated for release in early 2020. The series’ protagonist is also set to represent Japan as an ambassador in next year’s Olympic games, so the timing of the controversy couldn’t be worse.
With a franchise that has built up a reputation for itself globally for over 30 years, spawning everything from a theme park to a trading card game, TOEI Animation is right to be protective of the brand. Indeed, the company would be well within its rights to revoke Funimation‘s license from its biggest cash cow.
Domestically, Funimation has also been reeling from an ongoing defamation lawsuit with a voice actor they severed ties with earlier this year over alleged incidents of inappropriate behavior. Many have questioned Funimation‘s wisdom to go public with its reasons for terminating that actor’s contract, which looks even more bizarre in light of recent developments as now the company must make similar decisions about the fate of its biggest stars regarding arguably worse allegations.
TOEI Animation, and the public at large, will be watching Funimation‘s reactions closely as it comes under more scrutiny.