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Imagine If . . .

Saban Continued Syndicating Dragon Ball Z

Actual Events: In 1996, Saban Entertainment acquired syndication rights to FUNimation's adaptation of Toei's Dragon Ball Z, insisting that FUNimation pushes this series rather than Dragon Ball, which premiered in syndication a year earlier. For two seasons, Saban syndicated and edited FUNimation's Dragon Ball Z. However, Saban didn't want to distribute the series anymore, especially since they were more involved with the Fox Kids lineup. The series, already edited, would have to had been edited even more for Fox Kids consumption, thus leading FUNimation to find an outlet to air Dragon Ball Z. With limited costs, they essentially had to start over. Fortunately, Cartoon Network acquired the first two American seasons of Dragon Ball Z for its fledgling Toonami block, and the rest is history.

Imagine that FUNimation got purchased by Saban Entertainment. Be scared.Fox Kids is the most popular afternoon block in the United States thanks in part to the tandem of a pair of Saban-distributed shows, Power Rangers and the Saban Funimation-produced Dragon Ball Z. A year after completely buying out the assets of FUNimation Productions, Saban, now Saban Funimation Entertainment (SFE), became the primary programmer for the Fox Kids lineup. With 80% of the entire lineup on weekdays and Saturday mornings, SFE virtually owns Fox Kids. Fox Broadcasting, in turn, buys a minority stake in SFE, while Fox Home Video takes over video distribution rights for all SFE products. 20th Century Fox also picks up theatrical distribution rights for Dragon Ball Z movies, which are essentially kid-oriented, making millions for both Fox and Saban Funimation.

Of course, fans familiar with the original Japanese versions of Dragon Ball Z aren't thrilled with Fox and SFE's plans with the franchise. With no uncut releases in sight, these fans create petitions and on-and-offline campaigns for Fox to release uncut versions of Dragon Ball Z as well as the edited versions familiar with the US. A few ambitious online campaigners dub their efforts S.O.S.: Save Our Saiyans. At the cusp of the 21st century, attitudes changed at Fox and SFE. After getting a few concessions (Fox eventually released unedited releases of Dragon Ball Z with alternate covers to differentiate them from the more availiable commercial releases, and the original Dragon Ball exclusively on video uncut), the S.O.S. campaign disbanded.

Dragon Ball Z continues to be a popular franchise on Fox Kids, eclipsing would-be challengers like Pokemon, Monster Ranchers, and cable competitors like Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, whose Toonami block was cancelled in 2000, replaced with a generic action block. Saban Funimation found continued success after acquiring Detective Conan and The Slayers, renamed The Journeys of Lina Inverse, all popular shows on the Fox Kids lineups.

Back to reality: Saban Entertainment is gone. Haim Saban no longer has his hands in content creation. The company he launched merged with Fox Kids Worldwide, did a few bad investments (most notably their purchase of The Family Channel in the US) and eventually was sold to Disney, who split the entire company into three units, ABC Family/Jetix Worldwide (owners of the cable outlets), Sensational Animation, and BVS Entertainment (in charge of Saban's former live-action properties, including Power Rangers, which has become one of Disney's biggest properties ever [seriously]).

Ironically, after Saban stopped syndicating Dragon Ball Z, FUNimation's fortunes actually improved, finding a kindred spirit in Cartoon Network, while Saban's fortunes dwindled. Even more ironic, two shows that were going to be a part of Fox Kids lineups, Detective Conan and The Slayers, ended up in FUNimation's hands. Detective Conan became Case Closed and Slayers will be relaunched by FUNimation in the near future. Isn't it ironic? Don't you think?

Click on, friends.

Jeff Harris

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