We've already blurred the line a little bit, but the term "censorship" doesn't exactly apply to every single change made to source material. Yes, 4Kids is pretty god damned terrible sometimes, but you can't blame anyone for ditching a Pokemon episode where guns are routinely pointed at children. It might play differently in Japan, where firearms aren't as prevalent and could more easily be seen as an exaggerated joke -- but in the land of the Second Amendment, guns are a very real threat that kids should probably not be desensitized to in their favorite cartoons.
In instances like these, context is important. Changing the Pokemon anime to better cater to the country it's airing in isn't necessarily "censorship," but most often just "localization." Even so, some of the changes made to the show as it crossed the Pacific are kind of baffling.
The fix here is subtle, but check out the glass Giovanni is holding -- in the Japanese version, the wine glass has a stem, whereas the USA version has G-man sipping from a tumbler. So whereas originally is almost certainly drinking white wine, the localized version makes that yellowy liquid a little more ambiguous. Does the big bad of the Pokemon universe nurse a glass of apple juice while contemplating world domination? Maybe!
And that's not the only time 4Kids came up with a confusing solution to what might otherwise be a real problem.
In a snowy episode (coincidentally coming right after a since-pulled Jynx episode), Meowth and Team Rocket find themselves fighting for survival in an igloo. All they have for warmth are a few piddly matches, which are lit in vain. Except, in the English dub, these matches magically turn into birthday candles when held in Meowth's hand. You can kind of guess that 4Kids didn't want to show their characters "playing with matches" as to not inspire any budding pyros, but it's not like Team Rocket's evil plan involved church arson. They were just trying to make it in a desperate situation. Instead of showing the direness of the characters' plight, 4Kids reminded everyone they were watching a cartoon by making the talking cat pull a birthday candle out of nowhere. Though relatively harmless, it says a lot that it's insulting even to a seven-year-old.
But if you really want to get into "clueless localization," you have to see the way 4Kids treats food.
Though Pokemon's international appeal is undeniable, ultimately it is still a very Japanese product. Even Kanto, the location of the original games, is based on Japan. So it stands to reason that Japanese traditions and customs would eke into the games and especially the anime, which has to pump out tons of story content each year.
But 4Kids decided against "kindergarten-level anthropology" in favor of a tone more fitting of "condescension bordering on contempt." Instead of just allowing the characters in the show to eat rice balls and give their young audience the very smallest glimmer of real culture in a show about magical monsters, the localization team painted over the distinctly-Asian snack with an American-sized sub sandwich. And when it's too much work to do even that, apparently all you have to do is make the characters refer to the rice balls as "donuts" and hope that no one on the internet notices.
Just because some decisions are indescribably stupid, that doesn't mean censorship/localization doesn't have a place.
Above you can see Lenora, a gym leader from the Black/White era. The big change here likely came from Nintendo themselves, as an updated character design removed the apron wrapped around one of the only major black characters in Pokemon history. The problem was that Nintendo ran into yet another racist snafu, what with Lenora's apron implying the "mammy" housekeeper stereotype. You can't make this shit up.
To make matters worse, that "mammy" impression is backed up by Lenora's characteristics in the original Japanese version of Pokemon B/W. Before coming to the states, her Gym Leader title translated to "Natural Born Mama." Yeah. Not only that, but Japanese players entering Lenora's gym were faced with a series of cooking quizzes, which were changed to general Pokemon trivia for the US release. This isn't a coincidence, and it probably doesn't even qualify as an accident. Someone at Nintendo fucked up, again, pure and simple. "Censorship" in this case is just an oblivious company covering its own ass.
Need another example of those involved in Pokemon having absolutely no concept of what could be considered culturally inappropriate like, anywhere else in the world? Look no further:
On the left, you can see an unedited scene of what appears to be Team Rocket's rousing rendition of "Springtime for Hitler." The scene was changed dramatically when it came overseas, mostly because the US is a politically-correct hellscape that doesn't tolerate challenging ideas like a dozen men giving the Nazi salute in a children's program.
This is all pretty heavy stuff, so how about we finish up the anime examination with something lighter. Like say, inflatable boobs, perhaps?
Maybe the most infamous banned episode of the series (you know, besides the one that gave everyone seizures) is probably the one entitled "Beauty and the Beach." As you can probably guess from that confusing/mesmerizing GIF, it involves James of Team Rocket wielding a pair of adjustable synthetic breasts in order to win a female beauty contest. It seems kind of harmless by today's standards, maybe even progressive depending on how you look at it.
While that episode only aired a handful of times before being taken out of circulation, some of the weirder stuff is still lurking just underneath the English dub.
In the Japanese version of this episode, this kid straight-up stares at Misty's boobs and asks if he can drink from them. This is changed in the US, for obvious reasons, to the child asking whether Misty was a person or a Pokemon. Though it seems extremely skeevy for a show to portray a child wanting to nurse from a preteen, it wasn't originally seen that way. In Japan, the whole "kid who doesn't understand sex" trope is seen as a playful indication of innocence; this same sentiment explains why young Goku can be seen slapping Bulma's vagina in an early Dragon Ball episode.
Whew, that's a lot to take in. And we haven't even talked about the games.
Jynx is not a comfortable subject for a variety of reasons. Though there is some debate among fans (more on that in a sec), most of the conversation revolves around the fact that the first-gen Pokemon bears a downright disturbing resemblance to the horrific, centuries-old "darky" stereotype. Whether you believe that Jynx was designed with blackface in mind is kind of irrelevant -- the fact remains that the ink-black skin combined with the beady eyes and giant lips leaves an unmistakably racist impression. It definitely appears as though Jynx was based on a minstrel stereotype. Hell, this is one of the only Pokemon with a humanoid body; the Pokedex even refers to Jynx as a "Human Shape Pokemon."
Now, no one is saying anyone at Game Freak acted with any malice when creating Jynx, but that doesn't mean it didn't introduce an abominable stereotype to children. Pokemon had been a success for some time before someone got through to Nintendo, however. Starting with Carole B. Weatherford's 2000 article "Politically Correct Pokemon," people began to re-examine Jynx and come away with a mortified cringe on their faces.
Nintendo's response? Keep the Pokemon, but paint it purple.
On one hand, you can almost understand why Nintendo didn't want to outright get rid of Jynx. The name of the game is "Gotta Catch 'Em All," and you can't very well do that with Pokemon #124 locked away in the Vault of Pretending This Never Happened along with Disney's Song of the South. Rather than make its failure to recognize cultural history more obvious with the complete absence of the offending pocket monster, Nintendo altogether minimized Jynx's appearances across the transmedia property. Episodes with Jynx were either either trimmed or outright pulled from circulation.
In the cases where Jynx does appear briefly, the whole "wow yeah, that's actually really racist" situation is remedied by changing Jynx's black skin to something closer to a lavender. This status quo is even extended to rereleases of old material, as evidenced by the N64 version of Pokemon Snap versus the Virtual Console iteration. While it's somewhat comforting that Nintendo (tacitly) admitted that one of its character designs was insensitive, doing a quick palette swap doesn't really change the problem, since Jynx remains just an MS Paint Bucket tool away from from its former stereotypical self.
It's important to note that Nintendo came to this decision of their own accord; though pressured by outside groups who didn't want their kids playing with personified racial slurs, it's not like the government stepped in and decreed that Jynx's skin tone should be changed. You might call this self-censorship, but the way it played out is more of a half-assed apology. Sort of like your racist grandma admitting that "I've never met a Scotsman who didn't smell like a damp sack full of rotten haggis, but I assume some of them are good people."
Even though the "censorship" in this case was justified, that hasn't stopped fans from claiming nothing should have been changed in the first place. Since the controversy, some have taken to the belief that Jynx was based on the "ganguro" fashion trend in 90s Japan.
Forget for a minute that "ganguro" in some circumstances literally translates to "black-face" -- the fact is, the claim doesn't really add up. Pokemon was in development for years and years up to its release in 1996, which doesn't really give Game Freak much time to hone in on a then-obscure fad, much less come up with the justification for creating an entire character out of it.
Others have compared Jynx to that of a viking, what with the armor-like clothes and purple "frostbitten" skin coinciding with being an Ice-type Pokemon. These are all really roundabout ways of attempting to defend a character design that really, seriously looks like blackface. The simplest explanation is that the Japanese developers didn't really understand the implications of what they were doing when creating this Pokemon, and had to backtrack when the franchise became a worldwide phenomenon. Fans defending Jynx's design understandably don't want to believe that such an important part of their childhood could be tainted with racism, so they bend over backwards to weave what are essentially anti-discrimination fan theories.
When it comes down to it, you can compare Jynx's trajectory (and subsequent re-colorization) to a certain Dragon Ball Z character.
If you can describe your character as "Mr. Popo in drag," you might want to re-consider showing this character to anyone on the face of the earth.
The Pokemon games and the anime are both the result of hundreds of people working on dozens of different areas to pull together a cohesive product. Manga, on the other hand, is often the work of just one or two people, which lends a bit more singular personality to a franchise that normally keeps on-message across its media empire. And sometimes that extra "personality" doesn't exactly make it through customs.
The Pokemon Adventures manga was infamous for its frank depiction of gory battles and the grisly aftermath (and you know, zombies). But for all the Pokemon-on-Pokemon violence that made it through to the US, one of the stranger things to get altered was a slap on the cheek. The offending blow was excised completely for the American release of the manga, being replaced with a powerful glare that implies some sort of psychic ability.
But no examination of censorship in manga would be complete without oversexualized women. I'll be honest, that's pretty much all we have for the rest of the page.
One of the weirdest examples has to be a trainer named Green (known as Blue in the Japanese version -- I know), who plays a kind of Chaotic Neutral foil between the hero and the villain. In one fight, Green's top is ripped, revealing her sizable bust to be nothing more than a pair of Pokeballs with conspicuously-placed buttons. This reveal is excised completely in the English translation, probably because Google servers can't handle any more entries of "pokemon boobs pokeballs."
The same could probably also be said for the manga The Electric Tale of Pikachu.
This series is infamous for its insane sexualization of almost every human female that appears on-panel. Both Misty and Jesse are drawn with a terrible condition that curses them with gigantic breasts that are constantly being pulled upwards by the gravity of the moon. This condition was fortunately cured in time for the English translation, relieving Misty and Jesse of their mammary hell.
It's a given that the censorship happens on the way across the sea. But once in a while, Japan is too much even for Japan.
This scene depicts Misty -- who is repeatedly noted to be twelve years old -- in the shower, wishing that her "breasts would evolve" like a Pokemon. Suffice it to say, this scene never made it to the US in any official capacity; in fact, it was so lurid that Japan even scaled it back a little. On the left you can see the original unedited version that appeared in a weekly manga magazine (we cropped the bottom of it a little, because Jesus Christ), and on the right you can see how it appeared in the collection, with soap partially covering the offending unmentionables. It's good to know that even Japan has standards. Sort of.
The concept behind Pokemon is genius from a marketing perspective, to the point of being nigh-diabolical. You can transplant the "Gotta Catch 'Em All" motif into nearly any medium that involves collecting material goods by purchasing them at retail, and no where else is this more evident than the trading card game.
Of course, being that there were so many designed, printed and sold, there were bound to be a few that got lost in translation. But it's amazing just how many of these troublesome cards there are, and how little oversight many of them must have had.
Seriously, guys? Again with the Nazis? At this point, everyone knows the defense: "The symbol originally meant peace or good luck, and was only adopted by Hitler later or any other kind of ready-made argument." That may well be true, but perceptions and definitions change over time, and these days that's a god-damned swastika, and it represents a horrific moment in human history. It was thankfully changed for the US version of the card, presumably because the American branch has people with eyes who can look at this sort of stuff before declaring "Nope, no one could possibly see anything wrong with this."
Other changes are just a little more subtle.
In this case, the US version of the Grimer card moves the slimy Pokemon's pupil's closer to center. Why? Uh, because he's apparently looking up that girl's skirt. Though the artist denied this was the case, it's kind of hard to see anything else, especially when Japan has a real (though sometimes overexaggerated) problem with perverts taking upskirt photos. In any case, the simple change does wonders, transforming Grimer from a sewer-dwelling pervert to an adorable gunk monster doing his best Ninja Turtle impression.
Though those cards only needed slight tweaks to pass muster with international audiences, some cards had their art changed entirely.
While it's likely that this card was changed because the appearance of a naked young girl, it wasn't even accurate in the first place. I mean, in what world could a card called "Misty's Tears" be interpreted to be "Misty tenderly holding a giant starfish in the eye of a watery vortex"? This is one case that a Squirtle feeding on the tears of a human makes complete sense.
In some cases however, the image change isn't as significant as the title change.
What was originally a series of slot machines (much like the playable minigames in the Pokemon series) is now hastily cropped with Photoshop. Despite the image clearly depicting a slot machine, the title has been changed to "Arcade Game." This is in an effort to curb any possible encouragement of underage gambling, which has since become a taboo in the virtual world where fantasy dog-fighting is the world's pasttime.
There are inappropriate historical references, partial nudity and promotion of games of chance -- and then there's this.
The idea of drinking milk from a Pokemon is strange, even if millions upon millions of people engage in the real-world equivalent every day. So while a Pokemon suckling on a cow's teat for milk isn't exactly offensive, it is allegedly what got the card changed to a series of jars from Lon Lon Ranch. Really though, what is of possibly more interest is the vessel for said sucklage -- namely, the limbless, headless cow torso that is somehow alive and feeding a young Pokemon. Some suspect it's a bag of milk with built-in rubber nipples and a cow pattern on it, but that's just crazy -- no god-fearing country on Earth drinks milk from a bag.
Cronenberg-esque monstrosities aside, at least there weren't any racism issues with the car--
God dammit, Jynx. Will we never be free of your vacant expression that reminds us of our hideous past?
Though the rest of the Pokemon media empire at least occasionally has good reasons for altering, localizing or altogether censoring content, the same can't be said for the games. For the most part, the games are pretty tame overall, and the graphics are so primitive for the early entries that censorship seems like a vain exercise anyway.
Take this change, for instance.
Does lengthening her dress really do anything here? What child would look at this and suddenly become a sex-crazed maniac? It's especially strange since the somewhat seductive pose doesn't change. Then again, maybe it was mostly in the wink?
Almost nothing changed here. This girl is still in a two-piece bathing suit doing the classic Facebook photo knee-bend. The only significant change is that she's no longer winking. It's so insignificant, so obtuse a difference that it feels like it was implemented just so the censor would have something to do.
Even dudes aren't safe from the Modesty Police.
Part of growing up is that some day, somewhere you'll see a man in a speedo doing simultaneous leg and arm stretches. Yet, Nintendo as deemed it unnecessary to prepare American youngsters for this formative event. Now it just looks like he's wearing boxer-briefs, which is less realistic than someone finding a rat that can generate electricity.
Oh, and the humans aren't the only ones being modified.
Thought we'd go a whole page without mentioning Pokemon's creepy fascination with Nazi Germany, huh? Well, you were laughably, depressingly wrong. In its original incarnation, Registeel was holding his arm aloft in a manner that made it look, well, a lot like a member of Team Rocket. Both arms were lowered when the game hit Stateside, and Nintendo got another stamp on its "Wait, Do People Not Like Us Referencing Nazis in a Children's Game?" punch card.
Likewise, some 3D Pokemon have seen changes in their animations, but the reasoning isn't always clear.
In Pokemon Stadium, you can see a Nidoqueen clearly cupping her bosoms as she prepares for battle. It's kind of strange and unnecessary, so of course they'd change it for the trip overseas. Nidoqueen's new animation should be much less lewd, right?
Huh. Instead of clutching her chest suggestively, Nidoqueen straight up shakes her boobs at her opponent. It's a bewildering change in that it kind of seems more explicit than before. The original animation would probably be preferable to a motion that resembles motorboating a ghost.
Moving on from visuals to text, of the most fascinating examples of translation came in Pokemon XY.
In the English version, this woman proudly proclaims her transformation from a Black Belt into a Person Holding a Baguette. But the original Japanese text reveals a bit more, translating to: "I was a Karate King just half a year ago; the power of medical science is awesome, wouldn't you say?!" The specific mention of medical science in her transformation seems to imply that this is the first transgender person seen in a Pokemon game.
It makes sense, especially because she says she was previously a Karate King, which are called Black Belts in the US. They look like this, by the way.
You can still kind of infer the nature of this NPC's statement from the US translation, but it seems as though it was purposely altered to be a bit more ambiguous.
Be careful when you start reading up on the pre-translated versions of the games. It's a deep, dark hole, and you might not like what you find at the bottom.
A library in Diamond/Pearl holds a ton of interesting lore that was previously unexplored -- like the origins of Pokemon. While the English adaptation claims that Pokemon and humans ate at the same table like the first half of a terrible Thanksgiving-esque morality tale, the Japanese line is much different. Specifically, it simply states that "There were once people who married Pokemon."
I want this to be clear to anyone skimming the article for the pictures up to this point. Original text put out by Nintendo states that people used to marry Pokemon.
You read that right. Tumblr has been right all along. there was a point in the history of the video game canon where humans and Pokemon got together. A man and his Charmeleon consummating their relationship in front of a fireplace is not only my desktop background, it's also a part of official lore.
Nintendo did change that tidbit in time for the English release, but it's too late. You've read the phrase "There were once people who married Pokemon" up to three times now. You'd might as well just register for DeviantArt already.