I’ll Kill You—I Mean, I’ll Send You to the Shadow Realm
When you watch anime on America television, do you ever laugh at any repetitive or awkward dialogue? Try this one: “Believe it!” That’s right, it’s a catchphrase made by the iconic orange jumpsuit-wearing ninja in Naruto. But you may be surprised if you knew that in fact he never said that in the original Japanese dubs — indeed, most of the time Naruto is swearing (“Damn you!”) or spouting his nonsensical phrase “dattebayo!” So yes; they overdubbed it.
Censorship in anime introduced to the United States has never gone away. From violence to drug and sex references to religious connotations, companies like Funimation Entertainment and 4Kids Entertainment routinely censor anime in order to meet their guidelines for their chosen demographic—children and teenagers usually from 5 to 18 years old.
America has not yet grown out of its view of animated material; in the US, cartoons are for the kids, while sitcoms and dramas with real actors are for the adults. But it isn’t something that I can truly blame the US anime distributors. After all, they are corporations, not activists, and their job is to make money, not statements.
That being said, I despise censorship vehemently. It’s not just a plot-hole generator; it’s almost disrespectful for the artists that created the show in the first place. Why change the material just for the sake of making sure they comply with what people in the United States are used to seeing? The companies probably already realize this by now—anime isn’t just for kids.
Most anime are not what the average American mother would deem suitable for her 8-year-old son; past Naruto, Pokemon and Yugioh, the content of anime actually requires the viewers to think. Are we really too naive to represent the anime fan community correctly and bring them the unedited content (which on closer inspection are not inappropriate)?
I’m not over-exaggerating. Pokemon and Yugioh themselves contain marvelous examples of censorship. For Pokemon, it’s blatant erasure of Japanese cultural references. Remember our adventurer Ash Ketchum and his trusty storage of rice balls to eat whenever hungry? Those rice balls—onigiri in Japanese—show too much Japanese culture for 4Kids Entertainment. They must go.
So what did the dub do? Simple: it renamed the onigiri to outrageous substitutes like “ice cream sandwiches” or “donuts”. Seriously? You call that a donut?!
Yugioh on the other hand deals with a lot of Egyptian mythology as well as a strong hold on the theme of death and reincarnation. As the mythology is rooted too well into the anime, 4Kids could not remove this “objectionable religious content”. But of course, they could prevent anyone from actually dying—thus the concept of the “Shadow Realm” was born.
A typical example is the scene where Yugi is in danger of being sliced by a death saw. He says, “That saw will kill me if it gets to me!” —except that instead of a saw, it’s a “dark energy disc”. 4Kids redrew the saw as a glowing purple disc. And instead of killing Yugi, it will “send me to the Shadow Realm”. (Just Google “Yugioh dark energy disc”.) Does anyone not see how ridiculous this whole censorship thing is becoming?
Sexuality is a more controversial aspect of anime, and I can understand why some may view it as inappropriate. Sexuality in America is regarded almost negatively, as if discussing sex was the same thing as mediating murder. For Funimation and 4Kids, anything suggestive of sex is dealt with extreme prejudice. Typical methods are mysterious dark splotches covering huge chunks of the screen, blocking bras, panties, any half-dressed girls. In shower or hot springs scenes you will typically see mysterious steam conveniently covering up the chest and hip areas. In One Piece, many scenes with Nami showing off her body are either cut or redrawn, destroying her role and personality as a pirate who will use her body to get what she wants.
Now I have mixed feelings about this, but I would prefer that they do away with censoring nudity. Censoring nudity can and does affect the plot directly (just take Nami for example). Audiences may be captivated and immersed in a story only to see some obvious attempt to censor a magical girl transformation sequence (these typically end up as having the girl’s entire body light up in another mysterious bright neon glow instead of seeing the clothes disappear and be replaced as they do in the original versions).
Sexuality between teenagers is also heavily edited. Entire character developments can be sabotaged by turning strong, romantic devotion into superficial infatuation. That’s really where censorship visibly crosses the line.
To be fair, anime distributors in America do try to release the DVD versions of anime without the censoring done in the television release, but that simply forces viewers who would like the watch the director’s cut version of their favorite shows. Most audiences are completely ignorant of the blatant amount of censorship encompassing the entire catalog of North American anime releases. But the number of more hardcore fans is growing, and many of them are reacting with either anger or annoyance.
The anime industry in the US is still quite shaky (even anime studios in Japan are fearing that the industry is in its decline), so we still have a long way to go. Maybe one day, blood, bras, and beer will actually exist in anime sold to US television. Then maybe Sanji from One Piece can take a drag on a cigarette—instead of a lollipop.
Naruto’s “Believe It” Video: