1. Diluted violence

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If you had to pick the biggest point of controversy in Steven Universe, well, it would be the treatment of its queer respresentation overseas. We'll get to that in a minute, but first we should talk about people getting punched in the face. Though violence is one of American media's most popular exports, it's usually somewhat muted by foreign censors. Turns out Europeans are more likely to be disturbed by a point-blank execution-style killing on TV than another milk commercial featuring a naked lady. Go figure!

That said, Steven Universe keeps it pretty PG for the most part. But since many episodes contain all-out brawls, censors were bound to make some edits here and there. The episode "Jail Break" has been warped and snipped by numerous countries for all kinds of reasons, one of which includes the brutal showdown between Garnet and Jasper. Check out the US version compared to the episode that aired in the United Kingdom:

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Whereas the original scene features Jasper clocking Garnet's left cheek, the UK version (which is usually sent to the rest of Europe) splices in a white flash to a void depicting the moment of contact. It's a weird choice, especially since the hit in question isn't too severe. 

The technique, commonly called "hitflash,"  is actually pretty popular when it comes to cartoon pugilists -- you've probably already seen something like this in classic shows like Batman: The Animated Series.

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It's one of those things you don't really notice while watching, but it's all you can see once you start looking for it. In the end, it's probably not a huge deal since it doesn't distract much from the storytelling. But that's just the thing -- it's such a miniscule and seemingly arbitrary change that it seems unnecessary to implement in the first place. We all know that Joker and Batman are beating the shit out of each other -- does a split-second flash really protect children from the evils of animated fisticuffs?

Hitflash was put to further use in the aforementioned Steven Universe fight, most notably when Garnet uses her fists to make Jasper's face the meat in an idiot sandwich. The flash wasn't enough for Australia and New Zealand, however, so the moment the visor breaks is replaced with a burst of stars. 

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This would be about on par with any normal hitflash, but since it takes place during Garnet's epic song "Stronger Than You," slicing out a full second ruins the flow of the music. The Aussie version just skips ahead, cutting lyrics and all, like someone's shaking a Discman. You can make a case that hitflash isn't terribly disruptive, but this censorship "solution" has made a great episode demonstrably worse. 

But sometimes flashes and stars won't cut it. That's when shots are removed entirely. Case in point: The episode "The Return," in which Garnet is hit with a gem destabilizer, causing her to "poof" back into gem form(s). 

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Even for a grown adult, it's a pretty rough moment. It's not just the part where Garnet gets split down the middle, her limbs disintegrating -- it's the painful, pitiful look on her face right before she explodes. Garnet is the rock of the group, an unflappable bruiser that can always be counted on to keep even the hairiest situations under control. To see her visibly shaken, afraid evenis a lot to take in for the audience. That's to say nothing of Steven himself. 

So you can almost see why an overprotective censor might alter this scene, until you see what it looks like without the most traumatic parts:

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What should have been a shocking, gut-wrenching scene really ends up as a quick surprise with no weight whatsoever. Granted, the moment as originally intended might disturb very young viewers, but Steven Universe isn't directed at the same age-range as Caillou. 

Sometimes localizers decide that they're better off treating their audience like delicate baby flowers made of nitroglycerin. Another example: If you've seen the episode "Watermelon Steven," you might remember when Garnet smashes up some uh, Watermelon Stevens. 

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Apparently this brand of violence was too much for Australia, New Zealand and Latin America, because this bit was removed for broadcast in those regions. Suffice it to say, the comedian Gallagher has long been banned in those countries for his crimes against fruit. Now, in later episodes we do see that these Steven-melons are actually sentient beings with their own culture, but it's doubtful that anyone responsible for cutting up this scene had that in mind when they got out the scissors. They were probably more preoccupied about beating meat. 

2. Subtracted signage

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As fans may know, the production team behind Steven Universe has managed to sneak in plenty of dirty jokes into dialogue and even background gags. One such gag is a focal point of the episode "Arcade Mania," in which Garnet becomes addicted to a music game called "Meat Beat Mania." The game itself is a pretty tame Dance Dance Revolution/Samba de Amigo situation, but the name definitely implies bopping the baloney, spanking the salami and/or crankin' it.

This was apparently too explicit a reference for Europe, who Photoshopped the "Meat" out of the logo to make sure kids were extra confused about the drumstick maracas attached to the cabinet. They're usually a little more cavalier about sex on TV across the Atlantic, but apparently not when it comes to innuendo in arcade machines. 

More baffling still is the episode titles that have gotten scrubbed out in translation. 

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In Russia, Bulgaria and the Middle East, the episode known as "An Indirect Kiss" everywhere else was changed to a variant of "Steven's Power." The original title in question refers to a moment in which Steven improves Connies vision by kissing her on the forehead, which is about as squeaky-clean as it gets. But somehow just the word "Kiss" on an episode of a kids show proved to be objectionable. It sort of makes you wonder if these countries change everything with "Kiss" in the title. Like, is the song "Kiss From a Rose" known in Russia as "Seal's Extremely Catchy Ballad For Yelling Alone in Car"? 

The background jokes may have gotten out of hand even for Cartoon Network. Check out the difference between Funland during Watermelon Steven, compared to the same place in a later episode. 

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The big difference here is the hot dog stand. There was a time when the tubesteak dispensary was known as "Wiener in Hand," but years later that fine establishment has gone generic. The stand remains as-is in old episodes, but going forward it looks as though we'll be dealing with new management.


3. Different dialogue

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Localization can be a bit tricky sometimes. There are certain cultural touchstones that might seem like common knowledge in one country, but wouldn't translate well in another language. But with the exception of words like "biscuits" and "fanny," I'm pretty sure most words mean the same thing in the US as they do in the UK. Which means there's not much of an excuse to cut "Farty Marty" down to just "Marty," as seen above in the episode "Onion Friend." It's an especially strange choice considering that the United Kingdom is known as the birthplace of three things: James Bond, colonization and toilet humor. 

It's not always simply a case of cutting out a word and making it work for a foreign release. Sometimes voice actors lay down entirely new tracks for broadcast in other countries. 

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In "Story for Steven," Greg Universe recalls his early days courting Rose Quartz. At the time, Farty Marty is pretty dismissive of Greg's new infatuation. The line as written revealed Marty as a unlikable womanizer, and it reinforces our positive impression of Greg when he replies "Women are people, Marty." The production team may have been aware of the possibility that this line might get the axe, so they also recorded another replacement line. In this version, Marty takes a decidedly less-repulsive "There are plenty of fish in the sea" approach, which softens his character. If that weren't enough, the line where Greg reminds Marty about the personhood of half of humanity was cut, even though it would have worked just fine. 

Those instances aren't nearly as egregious as what happened in Sweden.

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"Hit the Diamond" is one of the most altered episodes of Steven Universe worldwide, mostly because a large part of it revolves around the romantic relationship of two female-presenting gems, Ruby and Sapphire. Nobody really cares most of the time, because they're fused into one being (Garnet), but when they separate and *gasp* flirt with each other, socially-conservative countries kind of short circuit. For instance, when Ruby tries to get her partner to focus on the game and score the winning run, Sapphire explains that she's a little distracted by the person she loves about three feet away. It's a little mushy for sure (even Lapis thinks so), but it's tamer than a pug on morphine. 

The Swedish version of the episode changed the dialogue to erase any reference to Ruby and Sapphire's relationship. Instead of love of Ruby giving her weak knees, Sapphire is sort of spacey for no real reason. Likewise, there's nothing behind Ruby's squeegeed reassurance after the dialogue was rewritten.

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The whole ordeal pissed off a lot of fans, to the point where the uproar made it to the local papers. But maybe Swedish fans should be glad the episode aired at all.


4. Episodes excised

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We've talked a lot about episodes that were heavily edited in key spots, but the truth is there are plenty of episodes that didn't see broadcast at all in certain regions. Most of the time episodes aren't aired because of the depiction of same-sex relationships. The aforementioned Hit the Diamond was a big one, but Ruby and Sapphire's origin story "The Answer" has not been broadcast in Russia, presumably due to the big scary bear-riding KGB agent President being afraid of gay people. The now-infamous "We Need to Talk" wasn't shown in Turkey for similar reasons that we'll get into soon. The Middle-East in particular has been pretty ban-happy, declining to air episodes like "So Many Birthdays" and "Lars and the Cool Kids," perhaps because of some of the darker themes and elements in those stories. 

Even if you don't agree with the politics of those regions, at least they had (bad) reasons to not air those episodes. Other times, it's a little less clear as to why a scene gets removed. 


5. Strangely snipped scenes

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When the episode "Fusion Cuisine" first aired in Poland, something was missing. Namely, the moment depicted above in which Amethyst plunges her finger into her nostril and proceeds to pull out a string of mucus about half as tall as Pearl. Is it gross? Uh, yeah. That's Amethyst for you. But is it really inappropriate in a show rated TV-PG? Come on, now. Kids are already experimenting with boogers before even fully grasp their own motor skills. Someone responsible for Polish Steven Universe evidently agreed, because later on the episode was re-aired with nose goblins intact. 

The same can't be said for "Joking Victim" -- several countries have cut this specific moment out of the episode, and haven't looked back. 

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Like most any 4 second clip of Steven Universe, it's kind of bewildering out of context, but what you're seeing is Steven employing the Heimlich Maneuver to save Lars from choking on a donut laced with powerful Fire Salt. Okay, maybe that doesn't make any more sense, but the key problem here seems to have been with the Heimlich Maneuver itself. While it has saved lives in the past, it's not always catch-all solution for victims. Most of Europe seems to agree that it's not the best thing to teach kids, and for that reason a few offending seconds were snipped from the episode. I don't want to tell anyone how to raise their kids, but I do think it's important that children learn the dangers of consuming flaming donuts.

Even more scandalous than abdominal thrusts? The raging hormones erupting from the pores of young adults. You can almost hear the biological urges throbbing in the episode "Island Adventure," in which Sadie and Lars are stuck together in paradise. With Steven. 

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Let's ignore that Sadie is maybe sort of stranding everyone on the island so she can have some more time being Lars' little spoon -- the courtship montage itself is equal parts adorable and innocent. The Latin American censors disagreed, cutting the sequence significantly.

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At first you might think they just trimmed down the episode to fit in more commercials, but the same cut also removes a few seconds from Sadie and Lars' brief but passionate makeout session.

And that's how censors treat heterosexual couples.


6. Pretending homosexuality doesn't exist

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If you've ever allowed a diehard Steven Universe fan to pitch you on the show, well first, I'm sorry for the two hours of your life you'll never get back. But during that gush marathon you will no doubt have heard about the fantastic and frankly groundbreaking way SU handles queer representation. As in, there is queer representation, featured in lovable characters on a high-quality, hugely popular kids cartoon. The show succeeds here partly because same-sex relationships aren't treated as exotic or extraordinary -- they're simply a part of the fabric of the Steven Universe... universe.

What is extraordinary, however, is that young kids (and young adults) watching the show might finally see part of themselves on on a show that accepts everyone. More than the punch-flashes, more than the silly dick jokes and Heimlich Maneuvers, censoring and otherwise diluting this particularly powerful message is a god damned travesty. But we continue to see it in various localized versions of Steven Universe. Check out what happened to "Hit the Diamond" in Malaysia:

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As you can see, the Malaysian version was so keen to keep out Ruby and Sapphire's smoochfest that they spliced in duplicate shots of the celebratory toss and Steven's reaction. Fans have noted that they didn't bother changing the audio track, so you can still hear copious amounts of lip-smacking while Steven looks away.

Maybe the biggest fan uproar came after the UK broadcast of "We Need to Talk," another flashback episode centering on the relationship between Greg Universe and Rose Quartz. One of the better moments in the episode comes when Pearl finally acts on her grudge against Greg, who she sees as a rival for Rose's romantic affections. While the band is playing, Pearl and Rose spontaneously launch into a fusion dance, which is the most intimate act gems are capable of. The dance itself was suggestive but not explicit, but even that was too much for Cartoon Network UK. 

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Similar to the Malaysian version of Hit the Diamond, the UK edit of We Need to Talk replaces offending footage with looped shots of Greg's face and a strumming guitar. It solves the audio skipping problem present in that Garnet/Jasper fight, but at the same time robs the scene of captivating subtext. That vengeful smile on Pearl's face just before fusing says so much more than another shot of Greg's dopey expression.

Fans were rightly pissed off about the censoring, and when Cartoon Network UK decided to respond to the backlash, they made it even worse. 

The US broadcast system requires that shows are marked with a rating -in this case PG (parental guidance necessary). In the UK we have to ensure everything on air is suitable for kids of any age at any time.

We do feel that the slightly edited version is more comfortable for local kids and their parents.

(...)

Be assured that as a channel and network we celebrate diversity - evident across many of our shows and characters.

This is Biff Tannen-grade horse shit. "In the UK we have to ensure everything on air is suitable for kids of any age at any time" is basically the equivalent of saying "I don't know about you wankers across the pond, but here in Grand Ol' England we protect our young ones from the corrupting influence of randy gay hooligans. Crumpets." Just say it like you mean it: You edited a sensual dance between two female-presenting aliens because you're skeeved out by homosexuality. Quit projecting your hang-ups onto kids, who would only be uncomfortable watching this scene if an adult started freaking out about it. 

Rant aside, there's probably no reasoning with these censors. These are the same dickbags that edited out the smooch in Lil' Butler just because it was male-male. 

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Censors can take away fart jokes and masturbation references all they want, but anyone who has a problem with Lil' Butler has a problem with me. 

Tristan Cooper protects servant babies on Twitter.