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.
Violence is an inescapable part of anime, and sometimes censors have no choice but to acknowledge that fact. Dragon Ball Z is about buff dudes yelling and punching each other a lot, and that will invariably lead to injuries. Sometimes, those injuries cause a rupture in the skin that results in plasma and red blood cells escaping the body -- otherwise known as "bleeding." And that's a problem.
Censors are more than willing to show brutal beatings, bones breaking and organs being eviscerated, but only as long as it stays inside the body. Internal bleeding is fine, even preferred, as long as it doesn't result in coughing up blood. The censors in charge of Detective Conan had no problem with showing a corpse, but the bodily fluids were apparently a little problematic. The censored scrubbing makes it look less of a grisly crime scene and more like a guy who just got caught taking a nap on the floor.
Along with curse words and nudity, blood has to be one of the easiest things a censor can target. It doesn't matter that erasing blood makes action toothless and lowers the stakes from "Battle to the Death" to somewhere around "Toddler/Pug Snuggle Fight" -- removing blood is a simple way to lure in advertisers that are presumably prone to bouts of the vapors at the sight of the substance that runs through every human being on the planet.
Over the years, anime has seen a number of creative ways of blood removal. In the case of One Piece, 4Kids put a literal band-aid on the issue.
This is bordering on parody. 4Kids has clearly shown that they have editors capable of altering scenes -- so why even bother with the band-aid? Why not just wipe his arm clean and be done with it? It almost reads as an insult to whiny fans, or a tacit admission of 4Kids' awful adaptation of One Piece. Maybe both.
Among the most common methods of blood censoring is one of the most bizarre: Painting the blood black.
In this scene from [anime so messed up that to say its name would be a spoiler], this girl has just stabbed a boy to death. It's more or less what you'd expect a boy-stabbing to look like. But in the censored version, the boy-blood changes color from crimson to jet black. It's a bizarre and discomforting change to an already shocking scene, almost as if we're finding out just now that this kid was a robot with crude oil coursing through his veins. Also of note are the little details, like how the censors blacked out the injury on the right arm, or that the girl is no longer holding the stabbing knife she just used.
The hemophobia has continued through to the present day, where fan favorite animes like Tokyo Ghoul find new ways to show blood without showing blood.
This could be the simplest, most effective blood censorship yet. Inverting the colors of a gory scene could potentially make a moment of ultraviolence that much more intense, and all it takes is a few clicks in Photoshop.
It's a power that should not be abused.
When it comes down to it, some things are acceptable in Japan that just won't fly in Western countries, and vice versa. Japanese tourists are admonished for not tipping their waiter in the US, and Americans visiting Japan are considered rude when they complain loudly in public about the lack of panty vending machines. Similarly, it seems perfectly understandable as to why smoking is a big no-no on kids' TV in the US, but on the other side of the Pacific, it's not such a big deal.
That was the situation 4Kids found themselves in when adapting One Piece for the Western market; in the original anime, the character Sanji is nothing short of a chainsmoker. Their solution, as with pretty much every creative decision that 4Kids made localizing One Piece, was both hilarious and shitbrain stupid. And so, for every scene in which he appeared, Sanji's cigarette became a lollipop.
This seems like... a lot of effort. It was probably some poor intern's job to scrub through every episode, frame-by-frame, in order to add a candy topper in order to slightly alter Sanji's oral fixation. In many cases, like the one seen above, 4Kids completely redrew the "lollipop," stem included.
If the localization team was putting so much work into doctoring each episode, they probably would have been better off removing the cigarette altogether instead of replacing it with an Everlasting Gobstopper. That's actually the direction later, non-ass dubs took, and it's probably the most reasonable compromise you could make here. Other than, you know, not marketing a violent cartoon to third graders.
If it wasn't obvious by now, 4Kids has something of a reputation for their uh, lackluster anime localizations.
In this episode of Yu-Gi-Oh, two men bust through a door and point their guns at Kaiba, who promptly jumps through a plate glass window because it's in the Top 5 Most Stylish Ways to Exit a Room. Again, it's not hard to see why loaded pistols might not have a place in a cartoon specifically designed to sell trading cards to children -- but there had to be a better way than replacing lethal guns with middle-management-tier fingerguns. In the original version, you could at grasp the anime logic of why someone would leap out a window when confronted with firearms. But in the 4Kids adaptation, Kaiba looks like he'd rather commit suicide than get a stern lecture from his two dads.
It's not just about removing danger, though -- as Sailor Moon showed us, it's also about enforcing safety.
Not content to merely shield innocent virgin eyes from The Gays, our good friends at DiC also wanted to make sure everyone knew about their dedication to vehicular security. The scene you see here just lasts a couple seconds, but that was apparently enough for DiC to paste a seatbelt over Ami's lap. Look closely and you can even see her Star Power Stick has just been lazily drawn over; it's almost as ridiculous as calling something a Star Power Stick.
As egregious as some of these examples may be, they're nothing compared to what Germany did to Naruto.
Germany has a pretty strict policy when it comes to violence in media, mostly because they're a touch embarrassed about the whole "spending the first half of the 20th Century trying to murder everyone" thing. But even that doesn't excuse what the German channel RTL2 did to Naruto. To better target kids for the youth-focused Pokito block, massive edits were made, including rubbing out Zabuza's sword entirely. Leave it to Germany to make 4Kids look good.
Here's where the term "censorship" gets a little sticky. When bringing over a Japanese-produced anime to the West, there's more than just racy content to consider -- there's also a language barrier. The target demographic for something like Sonic X just isn't old enough to read kanji, and thanks to the American public school system, they never will be. So when crucial Japanese text is changed into English, that's not censorship -- it's localization.
But don't that doesn't explain Sonic's vapid expression; he's probably just as confused as you as to why (what are clearly English) words on a billboard had to be wiped out in favor of a nondescript squiggle. At first, you'd assume that there might be some sort of copyright issue. The idea that some American dickbag with a GoDaddy account is probably squatting on the "Ice Express International Logistics" trademark is more than believable, it's almost certainly true.
But if rights issues were to blame, we wouldn't be seeing this:
We'll be taking a short intermission just now, in order to give everyone time to pick up the charred remnants of their frontal lobes. The logic centers of just about every brain tend to explode when attempting to comprehend why in the great blue fuck someone would erase a storefront as generic as "BOOK STORE." Don't get me wrong, American kids are dumber than the dead skin tucked between their fat rolls, but it's hard to believe that the localization team had this low of an opinion of their audience.
It shouldn't surprise you by now to hear that this is the work of none other than the slack-jawed yokels at 4Kids. But this time around, their baffling decisions aren't the work of contempt for their viewers, but instead out of pure laziness. Okay, there's probably a little contempt in there, too.
In the Japanese version of Sonic X, at one point our hedgehog holds up a Wile E. Coyote-esque sign that roughly translates to "Kids, don't try this at home." In the English dub? The sign is completely blank. Despite spending years making a mockery of animation with their overprotective edits, 4Kids just erased the text on the sign because that was just the easiest thing to do.
Why not write English text on it? Well, that would take effort. And if the English adaptation gets their sign customized, 4Kids would have to make similar fixes for episodes sold to Germany, France and probably some of the more rural parts of Scotland. It's much simpler (and cheaper) to just wipe out the sign and sell the same garbage to every country. It doesn't matter that the blank sign makes no god damned sense whatsoever, as long as 4Kids gets a sweet distribution deal. That's why remedial Kindergarten-level words like "BOOK STORE" are excised from the show, even for English-speaking audiences.
So yeah, it's not censorship. It's just the shittiest localization network syndication money can buy.
There's a funny thing about anime that airs on Western television -- the studios who adapt the anime often don't want you to know it's anime. Everything from the huge expressive eyes on the characters to the unmistakable animation make it pretty obvious to anyone old enough to say "Gotta catch 'em all," but the powers that be would prefer to destroy any possible evidence that some of their shows come from Japan.
That's how classic internet memes like "Brock loves donuts" are born. 4Kids really thought they could fool kids into thinking Brock was enjoying "jelly-filled donuts" that look nothing like any pastry they've ever seen in their lives. Sure, rice balls aren't super common in the States, but that's no cause to lie to children.
In later episodes, 4Kids took it one step further, replacing rice balls with the most American of foods: the sub sandwich.
This is so ludicrous, it seems like a supervillain plot to make American children dumber. The disrespect for culture -- on both sides -- is so intense you can almost smell the rancid tonsil stones no doubt lurking in the back of the censor's throat. Yeah, kids are dumb, but they're not morons. They can comprehend the idea that people live in other countries, and eat different things, and celebrate different holidays. Trash like this not only demeans either side of the Pacific, but it also deprives growing kids of the means of inspiration to explore an entirely different people on the other side of the world. Worst of all, it's endearing kids to Subway.
If you're going to adapt an anime, for crying out loud make peace with the fact that you're adapting an anime. Don't do crap like this:
To a newcomer, the idiosyncrasies of anime can seem very strange. Why does everyone produce giant sweat drops when they're embarrassed? Can't they hurt their head by falling straight back with their legs in the air all the time? Shouldn't Master Roshi get that double-geyser nosebleed looked at by a doctor? There isn't a firm answer to any of these questions, other than "It's anime." You've got to roll with it, and that means not removing silly speech bubbles from Sailor Moon.
The most messed up part of this loony localization? The country of Japan is totally in on it.
Doraemon is among the most popular franchises in Japan that just never caught on in North America. That's not to say it was for lack of trying; Disney recently made a deal to bring over a the most recent series to the West. Usually it'd be easy to blame the Big D for sullying the good name of Japan's most famous cat robot from the future. But judging by the press release detailing the many localization changes for the series' English iteration, it looks as though it was the original animation studio's idea to give this clearly Japanese family a set of forks instead of chopsticks.
A change like this seems especially strange when all of the structures are patently Japanese, characters in the show still kneel on the floor when eating and drive cars with steering wheels on the "wrong side." The only way the show could be more Japanese is if Godzilla showed up to fight a tentacle monster with a samurai sword. Despite this, Japan itself is pretty okay with the localization tweaks, especially since their government has a totally real not-made-up-you-guys program "Cool Japan," whose goal is to promote the spread of its culture around the globe. So maybe some condescending flatware is a small price to pay for exposing kids to new types of storytelling.
Either way, I think we can all agree that 4Kids and their sub sandwiches can still go to hell. Maybe they can bring an extra turkey club for when Jared Fogle inevitably joins them.
More than drug use, more than violence, more than just about anything, censors want to protect you from the human form. In this case, a collection of lines that form a two-diemsional image that represent the human form. But coping with the reality of the body that belongs to literally everyone watching TV is apparently too much, so even the the most harmless, incidental nakedness gets heavily edited. That means anything up to and including solidifying Sailor Moon's scented bath from a transparent rose to a deep crimson. What was once a girl relaxing in the tub now resembles a vampire bathing in virgin blood to retain her youth.
Even when Usagi soaked in non-bodily fluids, DiC still found a way to protect children from the terrors of extremely mild cleavage.
The no-nudity mandate even stretches to young children at bathtime.
At this point in Dragon Ball, Goku is about five years old. This is not to mention that his dingaling is just a couple of squiggles -- essentially a lowercase letter "c" inside of a capital letter "C" -- but it was enough for some producer out there to hire a living person to color in some water around his wee weewee. Oddly enough, it does make more sense now that the bathtub Goku is bathing in is actually filled with water. Sometimes localization... works? Who would have thought?
But when we're talking obnoxious censorship tools in this day and age, they don't get much more common than the White Shaft of Light.
Maybe the animators of alien high school sex comedy To Love Ru Darkness thought the piercing beam of nothingness was a little classier than the bog-standard black box. And hey, that light does look to be coming from a window, after all. But like that shot of the needle injection in Severing Crime Edge, it's just a little too convienent (or inconvienent, depending on your tastes) to be anything other than extremely distracting.
But maybe that's the point. As mentioned earlier, these anime studios are more than willing to squeeze every last cent out of their fans. If that means squirreling away uncensored alien boobs on expensive physical Blu-Rays, so be it. Hell, the show was probably designed to be censored like this, just so fans would fork out the cash for the real deal. It might sound a bit like a conspiracy theory, but then again, there's a good reason legal streaming sites like CrunchyRoll only provide the censored version -- it's basically just an advertisement for the $50 box set.
To be fair, that doesn't explain what the hell happened to Nisekoi.
At first, this hot springs scene seems to be line with all of the other anime edits we've seen. Yes, the white steam covering half the screen is especially hilarious in the censored version, but there's something else going on here. What if I told you that the left version is what everyone saw on TV, and the right version was the home release? Because that's exactly what happened here. Nisekoi is even more censored on the Blu-Ray than the original version. There's absolutely no explaining it. It might sound redundant, but this anime makes no sense.
Though many of these shows are designed for older audiences, that doesn't mean kids' programming doesn't see a bit of tinkering here and there. Take the Pokemon-ish show Yo-Kai Watch, which features an episode where a bunch of kids stay up late to watch racy programs.
That quick shot of bikini catgirls is from the original Japanese broadcast. All in all, it's pretty tame -- you'd see worse at a college Halloween party. But that wasn't good enough for the Western release, which replaced those bikinis with one-piece bathing suits, towels and uh, just regular clothes.
It sort of changes the whole premise of the episode when three rascally kids are sneaking out to watch late-night TV featuring... fully-clothed girls. In this context, it's baffling that the kids can't find scantily-clad babes on YouTube; all they'd have to type in is "Any music video ever made" and they'd be set.
But the extra weird part about the American version of this episode involves buff, sweaty men. See, just when the kids' catgirl show is getting good, a Yo-Kai (basically a mischevious spirit) changes the channel to a workout program full of muscley males.
These kids in particular were not looking for "Macho macho men!" and were subsequently disappointed when said beefcakes bulged their way onto the screen. It's supposed to be a silly moment, giving the kids the polar opposite of what they thought they wanted.
But for whatever reason, in the American adaptation, those Macho Macho Men are gone. In their place? A cooking show.
It's a bizarre and unnecessary tweak that doesn't make much sense. Did the localization team think that the bit with the buff dudes could be considered homophobic? Or perhaps more likely, did they not want to expose young children to the glistening adonises wielding banana hammocks? The world will never know.
When it comes to anime, censorship is just a fact of life. It's happening whether fans like it or not. Some shows, like Rosario to Vampire, have at least chosen to acknowledge the inevitability of edits with a dash of humor.
Especially in the second season of the show, Rosario's TV broadcast was often marred with cutesy "FactBats," who would pop up to obscure a panty shot or any other manner of fan service. As censorship gags go, it's pretty funny. At the same time, these FactBats don't cover everything; according to some reports of people who have watched entire episodes and are definitely not myself, the bats only show up about half the time there's something questionable onscreen. Meaning that the censorship, clever as it may be, is likely unnecessary. If we're being honest, it's probably yet another reason to upsell uncut Blu-Rays.
Animation studios have fans over a barrel. Some experts say the tide might turn, however, if someone figures out how to illegally access massive amounts of pirated anime any time they wish. But who knows if that day will ever come?
Tristan Cooper complains about anime he doesn't watch on Twitter.