Editing of anime in American distribution

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The process of altering anime to prepare it to be distributed in the United States (and sometimes also for Canada) forms part of the process of localization, generally applied only to series intended for broadcast on American television; series released directly to DVD are not subject to such alterations. On top of the translation of dialogue into English, this process commonly includes censoring audio/visual content to adhere to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and television network regulations and standards and editing content to conform to American cultural norms and/or to prepare it for distribution to a younger audience than it was originally intended. This type of editing may involve altering nudity and sexual innuendo, smoking and drugs, homosexuality, violence, profanity, possible racism, and/or religious reference(s), which are found inappropriate for children under 7–12, and teenagers and young adults under 13–18.

This process may also include editing references that might confuse viewers who are unfamiliar with Japanese culture. Edits of this type commonly include the substitution of place names, food, and/or cultural elements not found in the United States. This may also include the changing/removal of titles, character names, and honorifics, the removing of issues such as marriages between cousins, non-pornographic depictions of homosexuality, and/or references to Japan's view of events (such as in the case with World War II). Opening and closing credits or scenes may be shortened to allow more time for advertisements in a television time slot.

This type of censorship is not unique to anime and is also practiced in imports from other countries and even in original American productions; both Batman: The Animated Series and Spider-Man: The Animated Series (especially the latter) were censored for violence by the Fox Broadcasting Company during the production process. The Canadian series ReBoot was censored post-production by the American Broadcasting Company for sexual content and scenes that executives believed would promote incest.[1]


The first few anime series and films to be brought to the United States were all bowdlerized for American audiences, with violence, deaths, sexual references, and other things the intended audience might find offensive completely edited out, since the audience of most anime was assumed to be made up of young children. However, over time, anime has broadened its target audience from young children to also teenagers and young adults as well as middle-aged adults and older people in North America.

These titles included the earliest anime films to be brought to the United States in 1961 (and the first three feature films ever released by Toei Animation):[2]

The first anime series to be translated were not exempt:

Robotech (which was adapted from three separate series, 1, 2, and 3) (1985) and Star Blazers (宇宙戦艦ヤマト Uchū Senkan Yamato?, Space Battleship Yamato) (1979) broke this tradition by leaving in some of those elements and preserving the drama of the original, uncut Japanese versions. However, their plots, at some points, were heavily modified.[citation needed]

Founded in 1987, Streamline Pictures was the first North American company founded primarily for the intention of distributing translated anime uncut and faithful to the original content. Streamline Pictures founder Carl Macek had worked for Harmony Gold USA during the mid-1980s, most notably on Robotech.[citation needed]

In the early 1990s, several American anime companies began to experiment with licensing less children-oriented material. Some, such as A.D. Vision, Central Park Media, and its imprints, achieved fairly substantial commercial success and went on to become major players in the now very lucrative American anime market (although, as of late, companies such as Geneon Entertainment, Central Park Media, and A.D. Vision have since folded). Others, such as AnimEigo, achieved more limited success. Many companies created directly by Japanese parent companies did not do as well, most releasing only one or two titles before folding their American operations, although Pioneer Entertainment (later Geneon Entertainment following its purchase in late 2003 by Dentsu) and Bandai Entertainment) managed to survive well into the later half of the 2000s, although Geneon closed down its North American operations in 2007.[citation needed]

The localization and editing processes were far more heavy in the past, when anime was largely unheard of in the United States. A famous example of this was when Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind was first released outside Japan in the mid-1980s. Renamed as Warriors of the Wind, this release cut more than half an hour out of the original version and attempted to market the film as a children's action film, rather than the heavier environmentalist drama Miyazaki intended it to be. In 2005, Nausicaa was finally released uncut on DVD in the Western world, featuring a brand new dubbed soundtrack by Disney that was faithful to the original and included the original Japanese audio with English subtitles.

However, in recent years, these localization processes have been used less because of the demand for anime in its original form. This "light touch" approach to localization and editing has proven to be popular with fans, as well as viewers formally unfamiliar with anime. The "light touch" approach also applies to DVD and Blu-Ray releases, as they often include both the English-dubbed audio version and the original Japanese audio version with subtitles, are often uncut, and lack commercials. Anime series with edited television versions may have uncut DVD and Blu-ray releases.

In recent years, a change in audience demographics has led to a greater emphasis being placed on releasing (or re-releasing) anime with fewer changes, especially on DVD, on which there are fewer content limitations. Often, these releases (such as the Disney releases of Studio Ghibli productions) include both English-dubbed versions and the original Japanese versions, usually with subtitles.


Direct censorship[edit]

Cultural sensitivity[edit]

Edited version of the second Yu-Gi-Oh! series (left) and the unedited version of Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters containing a hexagram (used in occultism; right).

Due to cultural differences between the United States and Japan, some anime contains images which are publicly acceptable in Japanese society but, in the United States, are thought of as carrying connotations of racism in mass media or ethnic stereotyping.[citation needed]

Religious symbols and dialogue are typically altered if appearing in contexts which won't be considered acceptable in the United States. For example, representations of the Christian cross were airbrushed out of Pokémon and One Piece (4Kids version), while references to Hell were replaced with "HFIL [Home For Infinite Losers]" in Dragon Ball Z, as well as the character 'Mr. Satan' being renamed 'Hercule'. Alleged demonic imagery is also commonly removed or toned down, as are uses of pentagrams, because of their religious meanings and their apparent association with both Satanism and paganism.[3] The word Bible has also been removed from the covers of Bibles; names of certain non-human characters with religious origins are also changed. When 4Kids dubbed Tokyo Mew Mew, Zakuro's weapon had also gotten changed due to resembling the Christian cross, removing its horizontal part.

Other examples include the ancient religious symbol known as the manji, (representing "life, sun, power, strength, and good luck", and sometimes referred to as the “footsteps of the Buddha”), which was airbrushed out of series like Shaman King and Yu Yu Hakusho because of the Nazis using it for their swastikas and Western viewers would mistake it for that.

Recreational drugs, alcoholic beverages, and tobacco products[edit]

Comparison of the same scene from Dragon Ball Z; the edited version (left), without smoking, and the unedited version (right), depicting smoking.

Due to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations and United States social factors, alcoholic beverages and tobacco products are usually taken out of anime in the United States or are replaced with more acceptable "soft" variations. However, the exact level of censorship varies between television networks, often depending on the target audience of the anime and the context in which the product(s) appear. Wine or champagne may be acceptable in banquet or restaurant scenes and might escape censorship, while beer or sake consumed outdoors throughout communities usually won't. In Tenchi Muyo!, references to sake were substituted for tea, and cigarettes were airbrushed out when it screened on Cartoon Network's Toonami but were left in when the series broadcast on KTEH.

Violence, death, and weapons[edit]

Blood is edited and painted out of an episode of Naruto - the man's altered face was not a domestic edit but rather a change made for the Japanese DVD release.

Weapons are also commonly airbrushed out or changed to something more kid-friendly, like toys, or simply recolored to take less threatening form, and blood is either airbrushed out or covered with bandages. Where this is considered impractical or too time consuming, an entire scene might be deleted, leading to fights appearing highly contracted, or series missing details that are referenced later on. For example, the Pokémon episode "The Legend of Dratini" was entirely deleted because of the prolific use of firearms being pointed and shot at characters. This caused much confusion as the missing episode explained how and when Ash Ketchum captured 30 Tauros.

Nudity and sexuality[edit]

A bathing scene from the original and the original English dub versions of Sailor Moon. In the English dub (bottom image), the visibility of Usagi's nudity appears to be opaque.

As nudity is more stigmatized in the United States than it is in Japan, such content is often edited out of locally distributed anime.[4] Due to United States law regarding child pornography, suggested underage nudity is also commonly censored.[5] In the original United States release of Sailor Moon, all of the female leads's transformation sequences were airbrushed to remove the lines tracing their breasts, buttocks, and pubic areas (except for Moon and Chibi Moon; their sequences had little or no lines), even though the characters were shown in silhouette form only. This kind of editing is not limited to anime aimed at younger viewers, either. For example, the anime series Blue Gender contained scenes of sexual content (next to blood and intense violence), which was edited out when shown in the United States on Adult Swim (the series was originally planned to air on Toonami but was considered too graphic and controversial). Meanwhile, in the February of the year 2008, the federal government of Canada banned imports of such hentai series Cool Devices and Words Worth as it cited those series as "obscenity" under federal guidelines.[6]


Views on sexuality and a tradition of celebrating relationships between males or females with a strong element of homoerotic undertones have resulted in more tolerance of homosexuals in fiction, but not necessarily in actuality, in Japan than in the United States.[7][8] This level of social acceptance means that anime, including many series aimed at children, often includes male and/or female homosexuals as recurring characters. However, there is considerable social stigma attached to homosexuality in the U.S., particularly where children's entertainment is concerned, and there is a strong association between homosexuality and sexual acts. Due to this, anime containing homosexual characters is often heavily censored through plot changes, dialog editing, and the deletion of scenes. Where such edits are not possible or practical, the entire anime may be considered unsuitable for broadcast television and never imported, or released only on DVD with a rating higher than G-rated (such as TV-PG or even TV-14).

Examples include the original American version of Sailor Moon in which lesbian characters Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus, were changed to "cousins" to cover up the fact that they were a romantic couple,[9] and some scenes that could not be explained away by their new relationship were cut. However, there were points in the series where some minor hints of "incest" were not cut out, which confused many viewers. The character Zoisite was also changed to a woman to conceal his relationship with the character Malachite. The character Fisheye was also changed to a woman because he would impersonate women to seduce men to obtain the Dream Mirror he and the other villains of Sailor Moon SuperS needed. However, none of these edits are present in the re-dub of the original Sailor Moon anime by Viz Media as Zoisite has been portrayed as a male much like in the original version.

Non-censorship modification[edit]


In the case of Robotech, one part of the three-part series, The Super Dimension Fortress Macross, was originally aired in Japan as a weekly series. Harmony Gold USA, the American company that produced Robotech, decided to combine it with two other weekly series, The Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross and Genesis Climber Mospeada, to make a show that had enough episodes to market it as a daily series on American syndicated television.[10] Voltron would also be another example; in this case, it combined the series GoLion and Dairugger XV.[11]

Cultural streamlining[edit]

Comparison of the anime Pokémon. Ash Ketchum is carrying a submarine sandwich in the U.S. dub edited by 4Kids Entertainment (left) vs. Satoshi carrying an Onigiri, a food item unfamiliar to most Americans, in the Japanese version (right).

To accommodate American viewers, anime dubbed in the United States is usually modified to suggest it occurs within the United States or a fictional country thus resembling it.[citation needed] This is commonly achieved by substituting Japanese elements in a series by elements drawn from American popular culture, modifying food or other products to resemble their American equivalents and by replacing Japanese writing with English writing. Location names that are unfamiliar to American audiences can also be changed or unnamed altogether, such as during the English release of Digimon Adventure, Tokyo Tower was unnamed,[12] and Tokyo Big Sight was simply called the Convention Center, which is what it generally is.[13]

Audience stereotyping[edit]

Some series have been heavily edited to comply to American audience stereotypes, either to add elements that increase the series appeal to a key demographic, or to remove elements that may detract from that demographic. For example, to attract boys aged five to nine years, the United States distributor of Cardcaptor Sakura (a series originally aimed primarily at a female audience) retitled the series Cardcaptors (plural and non-gender specific), and The WB edited the first series to give a male sub-character equal status to the original female lead.[14] It also deleted every episode from the show's continuity that did not sufficiently feature the male character, including the three romance-based subplots. To this end, most elements of romance were also removed from the series. However, all 70 episodes aired in other countries, such as Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom's first run (albeit still titled Cardcaptors and still edited).

In some cases, changes made to fit with audience demographics can be so pronounced that they result in the production of a second unique series. For example, to take advantage of the popularity of space-themed features among six- to nine-year-old boys created by the 1977 movie, Star Wars, footage from 85 of the 105 episodes of Gatchaman was heavily modified to create the new series Battle of the Planets. Whereas Gatchaman was a dark-toned series set on Earth and containing a heavy environmental protection message, its American counterpart was a light-toned space-based series which contained none of the original environmental message and was aimed at a younger audience.


Fifteening, something that happened in the earlier days of anime releases in the United States, is when more mature language (e.g., profanity) is used to get a higher age rating (especially the BBFC rating 15, hence the moniker).[15] Manga Entertainment was known for this in their dubs; an example is Appleseed, which is otherwise a 12-rated anime, had many uses of the word fuck in the dub to get a 15. However, Manga has re-edited Appleseed and other anime to make the dub more true to the original subtitles.[citation needed] The American release of Puella Magi Madoka Magica also had some profanity added in the dub, which critic Zac Bertschy called "unnecessary embellishment".[16]

Renaming, retitling and various disappearing titles[edit]

Sometimes, the titles of shows and names of characters are completely changed.

The decision was made early on to change almost all the names in Star Blazers for marketing purposes. Unlike most other dubbed anime shows of the late 1970s, though, great care was used in choosing names to which English audiences could relate. The original name of the ship (Yamato) was retained; however, it was almost immediately rechristened as the Argo (via dialog) to draw parallels with the Greek myth of Jason and the Argonauts. Character names of both human and aliens alike were also carefully chosen. Some were transliterations of the Japanese originals (Desslar -> Desslok), some emphasized character traits (Susumu Kodai -> Derek Wildstar), and some were subtle wordplays or puns (many alien names). However, this standard did not last. With few exceptions (Robotech, to name one), such regard would not be shown again on anime imports until the mid-1990s, when anime became a mainstream phenomena in the West.

Sometimes, text visible in the anime is erased or altered. An example is in Kirby: Right Back at Ya!. In one episode (Kirby's Pet Peeve), the title "The Crest and the Mark" is erased from the book Tiff is reading. However, a 4Kids employee stated that this, as well as other examples of English text in their anime dubs, are done to make the show easier to market internationally. [1]


On some occasions, the musical score for the original version of an anime film or television series will be modified or dropped altogether when brought to English-speaking audiences. The reasons vary. In some cases with older anime, music may be added or replaced because the separated vocal and musical tracks are not available to the dubbing company. Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis mentioned on one of his Answerman posts that it's also done for technical and "artistic" reasons.[17]

For the technical reason, when the dubbing company receives the master tape from Japan, it contains the Japanese audio, as well as a special track known as the "Music & Effects Track". Whenever the footage gets cut, the audio also gets cut, which can be problematic since the musical score has to be cut in a way to "make sense musically". As a result, it's often much easier to rip out all the audio and start over. For the artistic reason, musical scores in anime aren't composed the same way American television series (especially television series aimed directly at children) are composed.[17] This is solved by changing the musical score in order to both appeal more to American audiences and also due to fears of viewers getting bored and changing the channel.

Other times, music is changed when it would be unfamiliar to English-speaking audiences. In the Funimation dubbed version of Dragon Ball Z: Broly – The Legendary Super Saiyan, some of the music was changed for the movie. It used a Heavy Metal and Punk style soundtrack provided by bands such as Pantera, Slow Roosevelt, Drowning Pool and Haji's Kitchen which were used to make the movie more appealing to Western audiences. Changing an anime's music was very common during the early to late nineties. During this period, it was a popular belief among English anime producers that a show needed to be heavily changed and adapted in order to be marketable. With the success of certain English dubs of anime that used the original music such as Gundam Wing, Fullmetal Alchemist, and Naruto, however, that belief has largely died out. As such, the editing of music still happens on some level, particularly with anime dubbed by 4Kids Entertainment and Nelvana, but is not particularly common anymore, with high profile anime such as Dragon Ball Z Kai having their background music unchanged even in the edited TV broadcast. However, a 4Kids employee on Reddit mentions that music is also sometimes changed due to the cost of licensing the original music, as it is not always packaged with the anime license or can cost extra, and thus producing their own music would be more cost-effective. [2]

Uncut anime releases[edit]

Official releases[edit]

After several years of petitioning, 4Kids Entertainment released a few volumes of uncensored versions of Yu-Gi-Oh! and Shaman King on DVD. In addition to containing scenes originally cut from the features, the new versions contained the original music, Japanese language tracks, and new English language tracks with unlocalized dialogue that more closely matched the original Japanese dialog.[18] These unedited DVDs sold decently, being purchased by a subset of fans within the wider anime market, but ran into copyright issues regarding Shunsuke Kazama, the original Japanese VA for Yugi Moto, who was under contract with Johnny & Associates, a very strict studio who would not allow anyone use their trademarks. Indeed, by the time that the unedited DVDs were released, both Yu-Gi-Oh! and Shaman King had been running on television in their localized forms for several years and had been released in that format for years as well.[19] 4Kids drew the ire of One Piece fans for its heavily edited English dub up until Funimation acquired the rights to produce and distribute One Piece.[20] Recently, 4Kids has begun distributing uncut, Japanese episodes of Yu-Gi-Oh! through YouTube.

One of the first airings of uncut anime on cable television was shown on Cartoon Network's block Toonami entitled, "The Midnight Run". This block aired late at night and featured uncut versions of many of Toonami's anime including, Gundam Wing, Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, Blue Dragon, and Sailor Moon. This block helped launch the popular Adult Swim block which now shows/showed uncut versions of Bleach, Death Note, Fullmetal Alchemist, Inuyasha, Yu Yu Hakusho and also TV-MA-rated anime like Blood+ and Code Geass.

In addition, Funimation Entertainment began releasing uncut versions of Dragon Ball Z to DVD and VHS in 2000, beginning with the third season. The dub was the same, but cut scenes were restored and certain portions were re-dubbed to better fit the original script and to leave no trace of editing. The whole series was released in this format, and, by now, the edited versions are only seen through the old edited VHS releases and a Rock The Dragon Edition limited DVD release.

Current American companies licensing anime[edit]

Main article: Anime industry

Most anime produced for the United States today is left uncut, but usually only released on DVD; many anime series shown on television are still edited to a certain extent. That being said, most major distribution companies leave anime completely uncut, although they may make edited versions for television, as is the case with the shows YuYu Hakusho, Naruto, and One Piece.

Creators' attitudes[edit]

The original creators of the anime that have been edited are usually not directly notified of the editing. It is up to the studios/copyright owners of anime as to whether or not to allow editing in their anime, and the ample number of anime edited for the United States would seem to indicate that the studios/copyright owners normally do not object. However, in some instances, Japanese studios have refused to allow their work to be censored as a precondition of signing a U.S. release contracts.

Hayao Miyazaki's anime film Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind was heavily edited by New World Pictures in the mid-1980s and released as Warriors of the Wind. About one-quarter of the film was cut, its lead character "Nausicaa (Naushika in Japanese)" renamed "Princess Zandra," and its storyline simplified somewhat, distorting the original's ecological and pacifist themes. Additionally, the voice actors and actresses who dubbed the English dialogue were not really informed of the film's plot.[21] Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli were aware of this editing to the film and were extremely unhappy about it. Miyazaki has since suggested that those who have viewed the edited version should "dismiss it from their minds." As a result of this experience, the studio instituted a policy of never allowing a foreign company to edit any of its films prior to release in a new market.[21]

During the late 1990s and 2000s, Studio Ghibli has allowed its catalogue to be dubbed into English by Walt Disney Pictures, on the condition that no frames were removed or airbrushed, and that the English dialogue was not significantly changed from faithful translations of the Japanese versions. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind was re-released in its unedited form by Disney in 2005.

The "no-cuts" policy was highlighted when Miramax co-chairman Harvey Weinstein suggested editing Princess Mononoke to make it more marketable and avoid a PG-13 rating. In response, an unnamed Studio Ghibli producer sent him an authentic katana with a simple message: "No cuts."[22] Although Studio Ghibli has not allowed Disney to cut the films themselves, some minor changes to translated dialogue have been permitted, including the removal of references to testicles in the English dub of Pom Poko, replacing them with the innocuous euphemism "raccoon pouch."

In February 2006, Cartoon Network aired Miyazaki's Spirited Away with a TV-PG-V rating, as the film contained some minor violence and blood. Due to Studio Ghibli's strict "no cuts" policy, Cartoon Network ran the film uncut, and took a risk by showing the film during their Fridays children's block (with an encore the following Sunday evening). Cartoon Network did not receive complaints, and re-aired the film on March 18, 2006, during Toonami's "A Month of Miyazaki", which also included the uncut Princess Mononoke, rated TV-14-LV due to blood, violence, and a few mild uses of profanity.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Van Bakiel, Roger. "Before Toy Story, there was... Reboot." Wired 5.03, March 1997.
  2. ^ a b Patten, Fred. Watching Anime, Reading Manga: 25 Years of Essays and Reviews. 1st. Berkeley, CA: Stone Bridge Press, 2004.
  3. ^ An example from Yu-Gi-Oh! can be seen in the picture in this section of the article.
  4. ^ Poitras 2001, pp. 63–64
  5. ^ Poitras 2001, p. 53
  6. ^ "Canada Bans Imports of Cool Devices, Words Worth". Anime News Network. 2008-02-26. Retrieved 2008-06-08. 
  7. ^ McLelland, Mark (2005). Queer Japan from the Pacific War to the Internet Age. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. ISBN 0-7425-3787-0. 
  8. ^ Watanabe, Tsuneo; Iwata Jun'Ichi (1990). The Love of the Samurai: A Thousand Years of Japanese Homosexuality. Gay Men's Press. ISBN 0-85449-115-5. 
  9. ^ Sebert, Paul (2000-06-28). "Kissing cousins may bring controversy Cartoon Network juggles controversial topics contained in the "Sailor Moon S" series". The Daily Athenaeum Interactive. Retrieved 2007-02-21. 
  10. ^ "Why were these three shows combined to make Robotech?". FAQ — Most Frequently Asked. Robotech.com. 2007. Retrieved 2008-05-23. 
  11. ^ Boctor, Amira; Lipowsky, Joshua (2002-03-14). "Voltron". Anime News Network. Retrieved 2008-05-24. 
  12. ^ Digimon Adventure "Gatomon Comes Calling"
  13. ^ Digimon Adventure "City Under Siege"
  14. ^ Guanche, Chris (2000-07-31). "Hollywood Execs Like Slashing Anime". Mecha Anime HQ. Retrieved 2008-06-07. 
  15. ^ Poitras 2001, p. 85
  16. ^ Bertschy, Zac (Jan 30, 2012). "Puella Magi Madoka Magica Vol. 1 Blu-Ray - Review - Anime News Network". Anime News Network. Retrieved 2013-01-05. 
  17. ^ a b "Answerman - Show Me Your Evil Stick". Anime News Network. November 14, 2014. Retrieved April 29, 2015. 
  18. ^ "Yu-Gi-Oh! and Shaman King Unedited Details". Anime News Network. 2004-08-02. Retrieved 2007-07-30. 
  19. ^ Pennington, Steven (2005-04-24). "Alfred R. Kahn (Interview)". Anime News Network. Retrieved 2007-07-30. 
  20. ^ "Lance Haskell Interview". Anime Online. Internet Archive Wayback Machine. 2007-04-15. Archived from the original on 2007-04-15. 
  21. ^ a b "FAQ". Nausicaa.net. Retrieved 2008-06-30. 
  22. ^ Brooks, Xan (2005-09-14). "A god among animators". The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-05-23. There is a rumor that when Harvey Weinstein was charged with handling the U.S. release of Princess Mononoke, Miyazaki sent him a samurai sword in the post. Attached to the blade was a stark message: "No cuts." / The director chortles, with "actually, my producer did that." 


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