The dubbing of anime for kids, most popular frim the mid-90’s to the early 2000’s, was a very strange phenomenon. Companies knew these Japanese cartoons would appeal to children, yet they also contained so many Japanese things. The poor kidlets couldn’t handle being exposed to foreign cultures! On top of that there was stuff like guns and death, as well as the occasional dirty joke. And the biggest horror of them all- gay people.
So when it came time to censor the anime, the companies would go to ludicrous extremes to hide any traces of Japanese culture and bend over backwards to hide any trace of mortality or any lack of straightness.
The practice has largely died down in modern times since most anime is dubbed for the older crowd these days, but it does still pop up occasionally. Netflix recently renamed the magical girl show Smile Precure “Glitter Force” and gave all the characters safely “American” names. Episodes that dealt to heavily with Japanese culture or even something as simple as missing a long deceased parent were removed.
Let’s take a look at some of the hilarious- and sometimes laughably unsuccessful- ways companies would censor certain anime.
The Sailor Moon dub has so many things censored and so many arbitrary changes I’d go so far to say it’s a completely different show from the original. Not only is so much cut out, the characters personalities and relationships and sometimes even the basic plot are radically different.
The most fascinating thing about the censorship and Americanization in the English Sailor Moon dub would have to be its inconsistency. The dub often flip-flopped on whether it took place in Tokyo or not. The name of every girl was changed to sound acceptably American, even if it was simply a matter of changing the spelling. “Ami” became “Amy” and “Rei” became “Raye”. Japanese writing was erased whenever possible. The most ridiculous (and fairly offensive) example of this had the girls hold up a letter written in Japanese and call the writing “funny symbols”.
Yet at the same time, the future utopian version of Sailor Moon’s city was kept it’s name of “Crystal Tokyo” and a few times the characters made reference to being in Tokyo. It was like for a few brief moments the façade would all drop and the characters would cry out for help into the uncaring void- “please let us admit we’re Japanese!”
The inconsistency was not limited to the localization either. For the first few seasons of the show, the company added a little “Sailor Says” segment at the end of each episode in an attempt to market itself as educational. Each segment would teach a “moral” to the kids and show clips of the episode- “Sailor Moon Says: brush your teeth!” However, since the original show was largely not morally didactic, the moral often had little to do with the episode.
The absolute strangest thing about these segments was that sometimes they would show clips that the dub had cut from the show. For instance, a scene of Sailor Moon being slapped was cut from one episode, but you could see it clear as day in the “Sailor Says”.
Another hilarious inconsistency was the attempt to cover up the lesbian relationship between Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune by declaring them “cousins”. It got to the point where even villians somehow knew these two were DEFINITELY NOT GAY and TOTALLY COUSINS, despite not knowing their secret identities. We had Sailor Neptune declaring that her “first kiss was with a guy named Brad” (while looking slyly at her “cousin)”.
Yet the dub completely failed to get rid of scenes of obvious flirtations between the two characters. A scene where the two girl clung to each other as romantic music swelled in the background, breathily declaring “I like your hands”, was kept completely in- making it look there was some incest going down.
You can see this scene, among others in a video about the dub’s censorship I did for a gender studies class in college here:
In addition to all this, the dub pretended gay men were appropriately heterosexual women and cut many episodes wholesale for being violent. A huge example of this was the two-part season finale which features all the main characters dying (temporarily)- the dub combined this into one episode and had the characters get awkwardly kidnapped offscreen rather than die.
The company did this all with the intention to make it more “appropriate for children”- but also for no reason made the characters much nastier to each other. While the dub shied away from sexuality in every other sense, it would add scenes of the girls calling each other sexually charged insults like “tramp” and “bimbo”.
The dub also kept in scenes like a villain kidnapping Sailor Moon and attempting to force himself on her. Lesbians are bad, but sexual assault is totally child-appropriate! And no, the Sailor Says segment did not use this opportunity to educate kids on sexual predators- instead it warned them not to play too many video games. You know, the real issues.
Recently Viz Media has released as series and included a version of the dub more accuarate to the original series with no censorship
You’d expect Cardcaptor Sakura not be subjected too much censorship. Sure, we had to accept that the characters would get American names- but this cartoon about magical children solving problems in their city was very gentle, sweet and not very violent.
However, there were a couple things about Cardcaptor Sakura Nelvana dubbing just couldn’t abide. It had the audacity to be about a female lead and it included romance. Even gay romance. The dubbing company thought boys wouldn’t watch the show for fear of cooties if they let it be known that a girl was the hero (and apparently didn't care whether girls watched), so they renamed the show “Cardcaptors” and cut out any episodes that focused too much on, y’know, the main character.
So the version of the dub that aired in America was cut down from 70 episodes to 39, with the episode where Sakura’s male rival joined the show aired as the first one so it could look like they were co-leads. Even more bizarrely, the episodes were reordered, seemingly for no reason.
After Sailor Moon it comes as no surprise that the numerous gay relationships in this show were cut out. The relationship between Sakura’s brother and his friend, Tomoyo’s crush on Sakura, Syaorans’s crush on an older boy, Sakura’s crush on her female teacher and Tomoyo’s mother’s crush on Sakura’s mother were all nixed. More understandably, various student-teacher relationships were cut out as well.
But oddly enough, the excising of romance didn’t stop there- even non-controversial guy-girl relationships weren’t safe. The budding puppy love between Sakura and her aforementioned male rival, Syaoran, was toned way down as was Sakura’s unrequited crush on her older brother’s friend. In fact, entire episodes were rewritten to avoid bringing up these crushes. The reason for this was the same reason the network tried to hide the fact the show had a girl hero- they were trying desperately to court boys by getting rid of all that icky dumb girl stuff like love and relationships. America is truly the land of enlightenment! You can see this essay for futher analysis on the gender politics of various dubbing decisions.
In a nice bit of schadenfreude, it turned out the uncut subtitled DVDs outsold the de-gayified, de-girlified dub quite handily.
An unedited English dub for Cardcaptor Sakura was eventually released on DVD by NIS America in 2014.
The 4kids! company's edits of various anime series are infamous in their hilarity. Thanks to the Yu-Gi-Oh! Abridged Series, the many sloppy coverups 4Kids! did to hide “violent” parts of the original Yu-Gi-Oh! anime have been thoroughly mocked.
One such edit would be the erasure of guns. Famously, rather than omit scenes where the characters were threatened with firearms, 4kids! would just remove the guns from the scene, making it look like the bad guys were trying to intimidate the characters by awkwardly pointing at them. “We’ll shoot you with our invisible guns!” as the Abridged series put it.
Another fun edit was a scene where our tiny protagonist was faced with buzzsaws that threatened to cut off his feet and make him even shorter! The dub painted them yellow and pretended they were “spinning energy disks” that were going to suck out his soul through his feet or something. Much less violent!
The dub went even further than this when it came to avoiding death- even the incomplete version of the word wasn’t allowed to be used. A scene where a villain tried to spelled out “death” (he only got so far as “deat”) in English was changed to him attempting to spell out “final” or “fina”. In fact, all instances where characters were threatened with death were changed to them being almost sent to the “Shadow Realm”, an alternate dimension where unlucky card game players are destined to spend eternity.
Unlike every other dub on the list, Yu-Gi-Oh was never redubbed.