There's a lot of baggage when it comes to same-sex couples in anime. For the most part, outside of specific genres like yaoi, gay protagonists are hard to come by. That's not to say Western animation is exactly a bastion of sexual diversity, but the point remains that mainstream anime has a strange lack of healthy same-sex relationships.
One great exception came in the 90s with Sailor Moon. Two of the Sailor Scouts, Uranus and Neptune, were introduced in the series as a couple. They're kind of awesome.
Upon discovering that Uranus and Neptune are together, their fellow scouts are surprised, but quickly accept and welcome their comrades, then move on. There's not much time for bigotry when there are pressing matters at hand, like punishing monsters in the name of the moon. But things play out very differently in the US, where the English localization was handled by DiC. Names were changed, violence was censored and the Sailor Moon transformation segments were altered because some mom somewhere might complain that a small curved line kind of resembles a boob.
So it was in the purposeful ignorance era of Don't Ask Don't Tell that Uranus and Neptune's relationship was altered dramatically. They weren't together anymore, at least, not like that.
In the English dub, reference to Uranus and Neptune made it clear that they weren't lovers, but in fact "cousins." This is despite the fact that these "cousins" would spend all of their time with each other, occassionally seen in passionate embraces typically reserved for models on the cover of romance novels. As a result, instead of two lesbians in a normal relationship, Uranus and Neptune became blood relatives that also happened to look like they were currently fucking each other.
See, DiC had a control over editing and English voiceover, but they weren't reanimating the show. So they managed to warp the context of certain scenes with sweeping dialogue changes -- but the animation itself betrays the censors and makes the original intent very clear.
For instance, there's this scene in which Uranus and Neptune are talking about their first kiss. We definitely, for-sure know they're actually talking about the first time they made out with each other, but the English dub tries to play it differently.
"Brad," you say? Let's see this "Brad," preferably in a dreamy silhoutted flashback.
How strange -- this "Brad" looks a hell of a lot like your "cousin," Uranus! I'm sure that's just a coincidence, right?
Really though, it's a testament to fragile American sensibilities that same-sex couples are somehow less acceptable than incestuous cousins. As we've learned in the decades following, including the inevitable release of the uncut Sailor Moon, people are more than capable of grasping the simple concept of "two adults loving each other." The only problem is dicks like DiC worship their advertisers, which results in them playing it safe.
Uranus and Neptune weren't even the only ones to get a radical revamp.
In the original anime, villains Zoisite and Kunzite were a male homosexual couple. DiC could not let this stand. While they couldn't exactly ignore their blooming relationship because of wonderful scenes such as the one depicted above, DiC just hired a female voice actor to dub Kunzite and called it a day, making them a pair of god-fearing heteros.
It's ironic that a censor's solution to a "problem" in Sailor Moon would be to change the gender of a villain, considering that later censors would avoid trans characters altogether.
You'd be forgiven for not remembering the Sailor Starlights. Though Cartoon Network picked up Sailor Moon after DiC dropped it, they didn't air the season that prominently featured a boy band The Three Lights. By day, they rule stages around the world disguised as pop stars; by night, they physically transform from males into the female Sailor Starlights to dole out galactic justice.
We don't know that Cartoon Network decided against bringing over more episodes of Sailor Moon specifically because of the Sailor Starlights arc, though that's a likely scenario. It's technically not censorship to just not buy rights to a show based on its "controversial" content, but that doesn't make it any less cowardly.
Those "little black bars" are one of the oldest, most recognizable forms of censorship. Are Adam and Eve's modesty leaves not covering enough skin? Just toss up a couple dark rectangles over their naughty parts and suddenly you're clear to air on TV. Lately though, televised anime in Japan has been taking that concept to another level. In an ultraviolent sci-fi show like Terra Formars, this means obscuring headless corpses with black circles using MS Paint.
That hulking humanoid cockroach (long story) just decaptiated a gunner and is currently holding her head in its sweaty, glistening hands -- but that's almost impossible to figure out because of the giant floating censorship circles obscuring the relevant visual information. If a show blurs out someone flipping the bird, you can at least make a guess at what's happening based on your previous experience with middle fingers. But the censorship here is actually detrimental to the clarity of the storytelling. If censorship gets in the way of moment-to-moment action and it becomes hard to follow, there is something seriously wrong. Not only that, but you come to something like Terra Formars for the creepy bug people murdering stupid humans. There's no G-D point if all that ultraviolence isn't even visible.
So what happens if that ultraviolence is taking up most of the screen? Well, you gotta make another trip to Costco for a bulk jar of Sharpie ink. Here's the immediate aftermath of that Terra Formars scene, in its original and neutered forms.
Yep, they just straight up black out half the screen. You get a dollop of blood squirting off to the right in the censored version, but otherwise it's almost impossible to tell what's going on. Anything could be happening in the darkness -- that gunner could very well be falling over while attempting to eat a giant blood-filled Fruit Gusher, and we'd never know.
But alright, let's say for sake of argument that the animators had to stay true to the manga, and maintaining that accuracy meant rendering violence that would not abide by Japan's broadcast laws. If we agree that's a price we have to pay, we also have to accept this:
Funny how the same blackout censorship technique can be maddeningly effective in one case and utterly useless in another. We know that Jotaro Kujo smokes cigarettes in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure -- we can see the smoke and the ember it's emnating from. Hell, in profile we can still see the offending tobacco product itself in all its lung-destroying glory. So why go to the trouble of something as ugly and distracting? Is there some sort of law against smoking on TV in Japan?
Well, not exactly. Though he might not look it, Jotaro is 17 in the scene depicted above, and the legal age of tobacco use in Japan is 20. Which means that older characters in the show have no problem being shown smoking without a black blob to be seen, but Jotaro will always have that dark cloud following him until he comes of age. But it doesn't have to be that way; previous seasons of the series had no problem showing teenagers smoking in full view of the audience.
There's something a bit strange happening here. It's easy to get the feeling that animation studios don't have to censor all of this stuff. There was likely no need for Severing Crime Edge to cover up this needle with a sudden beam of white light.
Many fans have suggested that censoring television broadcasts is an easy way to boost anime home video sales. It might sound a bit conspiratorial, but anyone who paid Babbages $30 for a Dragon Ball Z VHS in 1997 knows that anime has always been sold at something of a premium. This is the same industry that puts out one season on four separate disc releases that contain a measley three episodes each. Studios might just be seeking to mitigate anime's godawful piracy problem by offering the "true" experience on spendy Blu-rays.
Then again, that doesn't explain this sort of thing happening to 80s movies.
When the robots/aliens/schoolgirls OVA Iczer One was recently re-aired on Japanese television in celebration of its 30th anniversary, something was a little bit... off. Okay yeah, it's the huge black bar covering the entirety of the naked girl bathing in the shower. This same broadcast featured a scene in which a girl gets Creepy Anime Tentacles? shoved down her throat with no censorship at all. One can't help but wonder if this wasn't merely a ploy to promote the special edition Blu-ray.
Then again, it's hard to make a purchasing decision when 80% of the prospective product is being covered up.
At this point you'd might as well turn your TV off and imagine the anime you really want to watch. Then again, I'm pretty sure that's exactly how fanfiction was born.