There is no doubt that anime is different, the original source material changed, when it is brought to the West from Japan. The Japanese voices are dubbed over with English voices. Names changed. Sentences altered. Even whole scenes and episodes are omitted. Some have to do with the way the characters speak, while other situations involve censorship. However, there is one factor that some people do not consider: Westernization.
Westernization of anime involves changing something in a scene so that Western audiences can better relate or understand. For many fans who began watching English dubbed anime as children, they can recall at least one instance in which something had been altered in an anime for the sake of being relatable.
One thing that has been ingrained into my childhood memories of anime was of a scene in Pokemon when the characters were clearly making onigiri out of rice, but the characters called it a jelly donut. While I had no idea what an onigiri was, I was fully aware what rice was, so I was at a loss for words when they called it a donut. How can an item made out of rice be a jelly donut? Do you really put jelly inside the rice? It baffled me. It was even more confusing in future episodes when they referred to the food item by another name.
The West is a diverse place than people give it credit for. Many assume the West is full of Caucasian people who do not seem to have knowledge of other cultures, but is that the truth? Do young children, who may just be starting to watch English dubbed anime, lack knowledge on other cultures? This brings into question: Is Westernizing anime still necessary?
As Made By Japan
The most common reason for changing a scene in an anime is just to make an anime more relatable to a Western audience. Anime is a product of Japan, usually entailing the use of Japanese items, companies, and foods, which many companies believe that Western audiences will not understand. How can someone know what DIET is? Do we even have dango in the west? What are those Shinto shrines about?
Anime clearly has a lot of Japanese culture in them that many Western anime fans may not notice at first glance. Characters always visit shrines on New Year’s Day. On Valentine’s Day, girls give boys chocolate. Anime characters love to do haunted houses and tell scary stories. What about on Christmas when characters go out on dates with their better half? Then, at the end of the day, anime characters love to sit back and soak in the bathtub, sento, or onsen. How easy are some of these qualities to miss?
Even when it comes down to food, anime mainly feature foods that are common in Japan. A lot of life seems to revolve around meal times, so food is something that you just cannot miss in anime. We have seen foods such as dango, curry rice, omelet rice, ramen, bento, tamagoyaki, and melon pan. Are these dishes that we might find in the west? Would viewers be able to understand what the dishes are simply by seeing them? Guess not. Aside from the infamous jelly donut scene from Pokemon, there are many other instances in which Japanese foods seem to have been renamed or even edited altogether in the anime to feature more Western foods like sandwiches, because everyone in the West eats sandwiches, right? Well, maybe not now but kids did back in the 90s!
Names are also changed in anime to more Western names that would be easier for Western viewers to pronounce and recognize. Let’s take a look at Sailor Moon. The name of the main cast were changed into more Western names. Usagi became Serena. Mamoru was now Darien. Ami became Amy. The list goes on, but this isn’t even particular to just the anime Sailor Moon. There are other anime where names are changed to suit the Western audiences better.
Another very subtle example of cultural censorship is the anime Mach Go Go Go, better known in the West as Speed Racer. Speed Racer’s opening and closing numbers were altered, taking away any cultural references that were previously in the numbers, so that viewers had absolutely no idea that the anime was actually a Japanese product.
When we want to look at blazing examples of Japanese culture, we can turn to Studio Ghibli’s Spirited Away. Not only is it based in a Japanese onsen, the patrons are all part of Japanese folklore and much of the anime has references to Japanese culture that many may not be able to comprehend. Does this make the anime itself confusing? Disney did a good job altering dialogue to make the anime easier to comprehend for many viewers, but whether or not children understood the anime’s cultural references or not, it is one of the top Miyazaki films in the States.
The West is actually full of many diverse nations unlike some in the East. Japan may have a few foreigners who do live on its islands, but Western countries like the United States of America, Canada, the UK, and France, are undoubtedly melting pots of various cultures. Although large parts of the population are Caucasian, does that mean that Asian references are lost on them? Is cultural censorship truly necessary?
Each country has its own laws and code of ethics, so it may be no surprise to many individuals to see that scenes may be edited in an anime to conform to the sensitivities of the individuals in society that it will be released to.
Yu-Gi-Oh! is another dear anime that many of us may remember fondly from our childhood, but did you ever notice all the changes in the anime? When it was being released in the west, many thought the anime referenced black magic too often to be comfortable to show to children as is. Changes were made. Yugi’s most notable card, Dark Magician, was actually named Black Magician in the Japanese version. Is that a big difference? Well, that’s up to you. Also, there were depictions of hexagrams shown in the anime that had to be altered to take out the dark summoning symbol, making them odd star shapes instead.
We also cannot forget our favorite Westernized anime, Pokemon, which, despite being a children’s show, has received quite a bit of censoring and altering. One episode was outright banned when the anime was brought to the states due to the inexcusable action of constantly pointing a gun in the face of a child. Although Ash is on his own, he is still a child! This did bring about a discrepancy in the episode numbering and confused viewers when Ash suddenly had a herd of Taurus that was unexplained in the Western version of the anime.
There’s also that mishap with poor Jynx, who was labeled as a racist character by people like Carole Boston Weatherford, for its skin color, oversized features, and drag-like dress that was reminiscent of Blackface minstrels. Jynx’s old coloring was changed and old scenes were altered to fit the new style. Now, Jynx’s appearances in the anime was limited altogether. Don’t want to insight another outcry of the character’s racism, right? Well, in a diverse America, where people are quite quick to label something as racist or culturally insensitive, it is understandable why there have been these type of changes in anime.
A rather sensitive subject in the West, as opposed to the East, seems to be homosexuality. We all know yaoi is huge in the female anime domain and many series tend to feature yaoi jokes or insinuate a shounen ai relationship, but have you seen that in the West? Westernized anime tends to edit series to either take out the references, alter the scenes, or change the dialogue so that homosexuality is no longer featured in the series. Card Captor Sakura is just one example of this, where the special relationship between Sakura’s older brother Touya and Yukito are altered to remove hints of a romantic nature between them.
However, we also cannot forget the perplexing relationship between Haruka and Michiru from Sailor Moon that confounded fans with its changes because, rather than insinuate a homosexual relationship between the characters, viewers were given a relationship that still seemed homosexual in nature but also incestuous. Aside from the homosexual relationship, there was also the infamous last season that was not released in the West due to the inclusion of a few genderbending characters: the Sailor Starlights. Yes, nothing says homophobic than watching the westernized Sailor Moon it seems.
Speaking of sexuality, Western releases of ecchi anime tend to be filled with endless censors due to the idea that we shouldn’t release animated material with sexual content for younger viewers. God forbid that there be implied nudity on TV when there is so much more wholesome programming.
Rate that Anime
Let us not neglect the fact that the rating systems are different in the West than in Japan. Many anime that come from Japan have to be edited to fit a certain age range, making it suitable to air on television. The difference in rating systems was so different, at one point, in the U.S., all anime was mislabeled as being rated R-18 at Blockbusters, making it difficult for minors to watch anime.
It is a very different feel when you watch an anime in its native Japanese and when you watch the Western release. An anime designed for children can even be altered in its Western release. If you have ever watched Digimon, did you ever try to rewatch it in its original Japanese? The anime surprisingly has a lot of adult aspects to it including gross amounts of alcohol consumption that were edited out or altered for its Western release. Never thought that would be in a kids anime, huh?
A lot of shounen anime also has to be altered to be shown in the west. Blood and gore are deemed inappropriate for younger viewers so shounen anime like One Piece has to be edited to take out much of the blood.
Disney is notorious for altering plotlines and material so that its films can be more family friendly with a happier ending than its original source. Studio Ghibli had given Disney permission to release an English version of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. In that instance, Disney decided to cut frames, change dialogue as well as the plot so that the English version was simplified to an alarming degree, angering Studio Ghibli. What was once a beautiful work of art was now a nonsensical piece of amusement for the Western world. Studio Ghibli refused to allow any more English adaptations of their movies unless Disney agreed not to cut out any frames. Disney had requested to alter Princess Mononoke so that it could avoid a PG-13 rating, but Studio Ghibli refused.
In the United Kingdom, all entertainment released to be viewed at home has to be passed through the British Board of Film Classification to receive an appropriate rating. Some anime that would otherwise have been suitable for younger viewers, had to have their ratings changed due to the amount of swearing featured in the animation. The anime La Blue Girl was even refused a rating and much of the content of this 4 episode anime had to be edited out for it to even be classified!
A lot can be said about the Western releases of anime from the terrible voice actors to all the censorship. From making a series appropriate for younger viewers to cutting out themes that are not acceptable in society, Westernization has a series of factors to why an anime has to be changed.
Considering today’s diverse society and how desensitized our society is, what do you think about the Westernization of anime? Is it necessary? Does it have a purpose? What do you think would occur if we show anime in its purest form to Western viewers? Would it have a negative effect or, when something negative occurs, will it be evidence to pin a person’s insanity on? The West is a very different place than Japan, but who knows what could happen?