Censorship in anime is nothing new. It began when some the earliest anime films and series were being imported to the United States in the 1960’s. In those early years, it was assumed that the audience for these films and series would be young children. So, edits were made to conform these productions to broadcast regulations, standards, and cultural norms for the United States.
The kinds of edits that are usually made include removing shots featuring nudity, innuendo, violence, foul language, political correctness in relation to race or religion, and references to Japanese culture. Other edits include removal of marriages between cousins and Japan’s views of the events of World War II.
Shots featuring nudity of underage girls are usually censored. A lot of controversy was created in the anime community when FUNimation Entertainment licensed the series, Dance in the Vampire Bund, and it was announced that some shots from the series would be cut for this very reason. In the series, a vampire named Mina (who is really very old but appears in the guise of a nine-year-old girl) is seen in some shots without clothing.
A lot of editing is made to anime in the United States due to violence. Many times, this is done by removing the exact moment when a physical attack makes contact with an opponent. Weapons are also commonly airbrushed out or changed to something more “kid friendly” (such as toys). Blood is usually airbrushed out or covered with bandages. In some instances, entire scenes may be cut due to violence. In other cases, the tone of an episode can be changed to tone down the violence. In Vehicle Voltron, an episode depicts a couple of Drules launching a coup attempt against Hazar; however, in the original Dairugger XV episode, they are actually launching an assassination attempt. In extreme cases, a whole episode may be removed from a series. In Pokemon, the episode “The Legend of Dratini” was removed completely due to the prolific use of guns being pointed and shot at characters. Unfortunately, this causes confusion for viewers, because losing this episode means that the audience does not learn how Ash acquires 30 Tauros.
Downplaying death is another form of censorship. When it comes to dialogue, a show like Mobile Suit Gundam would replace the word “kill” with “destroy.” In Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs, the enemy foot soldiers were teleported to their own dimension instead of being killed. In shows like Battle of the Planets and Voltron, a voice-over or one of the characters would declare that cities were safely evacuated prior to their destruction. Also, those two series would claim that enemy combatants were robot soldiers. In the first two Star Blazers series, the death of Captain Avatar was acknowledged, but in the dub, the writers tried not to make too big of a deal about it. On the other hand, Robotech was much more “in your face” with the death of characters; this is especially true for the death of Roy Fokker in the Macross portion of the series.
If religious symbols appear in contexts that are not acceptable, many U.S. distributors will have them airbrushed out. The word “Bible” is usually airbrushed from the covers of Bibles that appear in anime. Religious terminology is usually also removed from the dialogue in the English dub. Alleged demonic imagery and the uses of pentagrams are also subject to censorship in the United States. Monsters with religious origins also tend to be changed.
Alcohol and tobacco products are also airbrushed out or replaced with a “soft” variation. A prime example is Dr. Sane’s “spring water” in Star Blazers; in the original Japanese series, this was actually sake. Cigarettes are sometimes left in, but they are airbrushed so they are unlit. An example of this would be in Naruto, where the character of Asuma is seen frequently with an unlit cigarette in his mouth. And we can’t forget the 4Kids dub of One Piece, where Sanji’s cigarettes were changed into lollipops.
Censorship of relationships between members of the same gender was prevalent in the original English dub of Sailor Moon. Two characters in this kind of a relationship became “cousins,” and scenes that conflicted with this revised relationship were removed entirely.
Localization is another major form of censoring that has occurred in English dubs of anime. Many early anime series that were brought over to the U.S. saw characters’ names Americanized (examples include Star Blazers, Battle of the Planets, Voltron, and Robotech). In recent years, the series Detective Conan had to be changed to Case Closed due to legal issues. Also, most of the characters names were Americanized, and Japanese locales and landmarks were also Americanized. Cultural references are also changed. In early episodes of Pokemon, rice balls would be called doughnuts. In Dragon Ball, Japanese currency was changed to American dollars.
One of the most notorious cases of localization occurred in 1984, when Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind was originally brought over to the U.S. More than half an hour of the original film was removed, it was retitled as Warriors of the Wind, and was marketed as a children’s action film.
In 1987, Streamline Pictures was founded with the intent of distributing translated anime that was uncut and faithful to the original source material. In the early 1990’s, companies such as ADV and Central Park Media began licensing less children-oriented anime. In the past decade or so, localization has become less common due to demand for anime in its original form. The change in audience demographics has led to more emphasis on releasing and re-releasing anime with fewer changes. One of the few studios that did not follow this trend was 4Kids Entertainment, which made quite a few edits to the properties that the company imported from Japan.
Additional posts about anime: