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– by Brendan Hughes

Anime in America has a long and complicated history dating back to 1963 when Astro Boy went across the NBC airwaves. Though the foreign medium dates back to the 60s, anime didn’t get widespread attention until the 90s when anime like Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon swept across America. Dubbing made anime widespread but as many know that taking anime and trimming it to the American market had many bumps along the way. Often the bulk of this criticism is directed towards 4Kids Entertainment, with justifiable reason, but they are far from the only company to corrupt the source material with translating it for the American market. By exploring the anime near the turn of the century it enlightens us on how the genre is the way we currently see it.

If it were to end with 4kids, this would be a very short article. Unfortunately, the list of errors is present in most production companies in the early days of anime. The multitude of issues stems from technology creating a divide between regions causing delays in dubbing from studios which often resulted in fandubs. Creating dubs with analog technology detailed slogging through time markers with the inability for ease of rewinding. These fandubs were sometimes more aligned with the source material that when localization was announced some studios didn’t condemn their use. With the production companies that gained rights to a certain material, editing the content was a needed task in some cases to distribute in retail and video rental stores. A good example is when Blockbuster essentially blacklisted all anime for children due to backlash about VHS covers not having consistent age ratings. The choice of some companies was to censor heavily to bring their product to a bigger market though this often came at the price of keeping with the source material.

Of course, when discussing editing issues with anime we are prompted to think of 4Kids Entertainment and shudder from the resulting cringe factor. Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! rose to prominence monopolizing the market but there were countless issues with editing to try to appeal to American viewers. Censorship was a high prioritization with 4Kids, which resulted in a debased version that included the removal of weapons, any type of drugs, and foreign food. In one famous instance in Pokémon, Brock referred to a bunch of rice balls as jelly donuts (those aren’t jelly donuts, damn it). Other issues involve terrible scripts that include Pokémon’s Brock having the fake name of Cesar Salad and One Piece’s Crocodile (a no-nonsense-type villain) uttering the phrase “desert doo doo.” Yu-Gi-Oh! has the well-known edit where Seto Kaiba is caught at gunpoint as he makes his escape. All of these are just a few examples as to why the anime community has a distaste for the former studio known as 4Kids.

The anime that has inspired many to enter the animesphere, Dragon Ball, also finds itself marred with localization problems. The biggest issue of the franchise is that the early dubs had inconsistent tone creating a jarring relationship between each series. Funimation at the time was on the level of 4Kids, outsourcing work to Ocean Group, which produced the show out of order attributing to the inconsistent tone. Problems with the script are also noted in the earlier seasons as is the case with most series. However, voice actor Chris Sabat revealed that this may be attributed to working with the Spanish version of the series due to the inability to receive the footage in time (this interview has been removed from YouTube at this point in time, unfortunately). The extent of what was derived from this is still to be seen but it could be that they used the translation of the translation. Also in the Harmony Gold dub of the series Goku’s name was Zero, which is yet another issue with the early dubs of the series. Despite these issues, the series was able to become what it is today, with the help of Toonami, greatly promoting the presence of anime in America.

The other 90s anime juggernaut Sailor Moon had countless edits which were spurred from Broadcast Standards and Practices on what passed as the acceptable material for anime. This forced DiC removed many of the mature themes of the show which is unfortunate as it took away some of the importance of the show. The show brought up a lot of material that at the time the censors assumed that the American market and many others weren’t ready for. The most glaring censorship was changing Sailor Neptune’s and Sailor Uranus’ relationship status from in a relationship to cousins which created many cringe-worthy moments. While covering Connecticon last month the voice actress for Sailor Jupiter, Susan Roman, remarked that she wasn’t sure how changing it to incest made it better and “no one has a cousin like that.” There are many more edits that seem pointless such as the dreaded name change (Sailor Scouts to Sailor Soldiers), removal of blood, and episode cuts. The worst of the edits may be the gender swapping of characters which caused many qualms with the fanbase.

Luckily, the dubbing process has significantly changed in the present day as dubbing has become more faithful to the source material. The Japanese references are usually kept in especially when it comes to food as Japanese cuisine has become increasingly popular. There are moments where localization still has a few issues such as some festivals removing their purpose, but these are rarer than they previously were. With the transition of anime to digital platforms, this has led to the series being more in line with their Japanese counterpart. With simulcasting becoming more prevalent in recent years there is less time to add needless edits which makes the production companies focus on the important localization changes.

The effects of poor dubbing remain in the minds of fans growing up in the era and the mountain of memes created thanks to 4Kids. Today Funimation is one of the largest production companies of localized anime can be seen as the paradigm of the state of the American anime industry. With the increased technological boom anime has become more akin to the original source material which is welcomed site to all anime fans.

Let us know your thoughts. What’s the worst localization edit in anime history?

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