Previously, I wrote about the history of the Dragon Ball franchise in Japan. This post will take a look at the franchise’s history in the United States.
While the Dragon Ball anime was an instant hit in Japan, the story was very different in the United States. It ended up taking several attempts before the Dragon Ball franchise became a success in America.
The first attempt to import the anime happened in 1989. Harmony Gold tried to market a dubbed version of the Dragon Ball episodes, as well as edited versions of the first and third films. Harmony Gold test marketed the property in several markets. Unfortunately, this version did not fare well, and it was withdrawn from the marketplace without a full season ever being produced. This version of Dragon Ball has become known as the “Lost Dub.”
FUNimation acquired the rights for all the U.S. releases of the Dragon Ball series in 1996. The company didn’t have enough capital at the time to handle the show by themselves, so FUNimation teamed up with KidMark Entertainment for distribution. FUNimation also hired voice actors from the Ocean Group to provide the voices for the English dub of the episodes and the first movie. Dragon Ball ended up having poor ratings on television and was canceled after 13 out of the 28 episodes in the first season had aired.
FUNimation dissolved their distribution partnership with KidMark and switched to Saban. They created a dub of Dragon Ball Z, using voice actors from the Ocean Group again. Since this series was being aimed at young children and being shown on broadcast network television, quite a few edits were made to the series (the removal of all blood, language, nudity, and references to character death). This cutting came out to be the equivalent of 14 episodes being cut from the first 67 episodes. Dragon Ball Z made its debut on the WB network in September 1996. However, it was only a modest success, and it was canceled in May 1998.
In August 1998, Dragon Ball Z was added to Cartoon Network’s Toonami programming block. The exposure on Cartoon Network gave the series a new life, and Dragon Ball Z achieved new heights in popularity. FUNimation then dissolved their partnership with Saban and continued dubbing the series on their own with their own in-house voice actors. At the same time, FUNimation also eased up on their content restrictions a bit, with the major change being that there was now some small inclusions of blood included in the episodes. The success of Dragon Ball Z also allowed FUNimation to go back and make a new dub of the original Dragon Ball anime. These new dubs began airing on Cartoon Network’s Toonami block.
In 2003, FUNimation began the process of dubbing Dragon Ball GT. However, since the company was afraid of the series experiencing the same kind of viewer drop-off that the Japanese version did, the decision was made to cut the lighter episodes that started the series originally, and jump right into the first major villain of the series. A special episode was produced that explained what happened in the episodes that had been cut.
After Dragon Ball GT, FUNimation decided to re-dub the first 53 episodes and three movies of Dragon Ball Z that had been heavily edited for the original dub. These versions were released on DVD under the title Ultimate Uncut Special Edition. Cartoon Network began airing these new dub versions of Dragon Ball Z in 2005.
FUNimation also licensed Dragon Ball Kai (which was re-titled Dragon Ball Z Kai for the English dub), a re-worked version of 194 episodes of the original Dragon Ball Z anime series. The series was aired on Nicktoons from May 24, 2010 to January 1, 2012. It also aired on The CW’s Saturday morning block, Toonzai, as well as on its successor, Vortexx. Both the Nicktoons and CW airings were edited for content. The series then began airing uncut on Adult Swim’s Toonami block on November 8, 2014. When Dragon Ball Z Kai was originally produced, it ended right before the Majin Buu arc. A continuation of the series was later produced, and the English dub of this continuation began airing on Adult Swim’s Toonami block on January 7, 2017.
In 2015, a new anime series, Dragon Ball Super, began airing on Japanese television on July 5, 2015. On November 4, 2016, FUNimation announced that the company had acquired the rights to the series and would be producing an English dub. It was also announced that FUNimation would begin simulcasting the series on their streaming platform, FunimationNow. Crunchyroll and Daisuki also offered English-subtitled simulcasts for Dragon Ball Super. The English dub began airing on Adult Swim’s Toonami block on January 7, 2017.
It’s amazing that after having such a rough time getting going in the United States, that the Dragon Ball franchise became such a hit with the Dragon Ball Z anime.
Additional posts about Dragon Ball: