Japanese anime is a visual art style that has become increasingly popular in western culture over the past five decades. The recent explosion of anime shows has caused concern by American parents over the violence and sexual content that is occasionally exhibited in episodes that are loosely edited. Mainstream anime that is heavily edited has also caused pandemonium, mainly by the anime otaku (fan base) in America who are accustomed to viewing anime in its full and unedited form. Even though it is good that parents are concerned about what their children are viewing, I personally believe that anime should have the same right as any other American program to be shown on television, or at least be sold in stores, as an unedited art form. The main reason for the debate over anime content stems from the differences between Japanese and American culture.
The Japanese are a bit more lenient as far as censorship goes. The Japanese government adopted most of its constitutional basis ironically from the United States after World War II and strongly exercises a right similar to the First Amendment. Much of the content seen in Japanese media has been lightly, if at all, censored. Only recently has the Japanese government attempted to make laws and obscenity codes concerning child pornography and depiction of pubic hair and genitals (Reyes).
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The American government, however, has had no clear definition of obscenity. In spite of this, any material that contains objectionable material is usually subject to be censored to some degree.
Anime is considered to be a serious art form in Japan, and a good percentage of shows and manga (comic books) are of visual artistry. Many Americans who know little about anime view these shows as strictly cartoons for children, and a lot of the time they are treated as such. For example, the anime and manga (comic book) series Sailor Moon, created by Na oko Takeuchi, was originally targeted as a show for teenage girls in Japan. Sometimes the show would contain innocent scenes of nudity, such as the main character taking a bath. When Sailor Moon was brought to the United States, the show was marketed mainly to children. Parents most certainly would not allow children to view nudity of any kind, so the production company of the American version was forced to edit these scenes out, along with other scenes as well.
Japanese anime is generally “created for college students and adults, and most of the anime that is for kids is created in a culture where kids are not limited to G-rated programs,” (Jedi Master Thrash’s Anime Page).
When an anime series is syndicated to American television, a great bit of the mature content is cut, and as a result, the show is drastically altered. Japanese anime goes through two types of basic editing before it is shown on American television. The first type of editing is for censorship of the questionable material.
Sailor Moon went through many drastic censorship cuts in the first two seasons. The most notable edit that the show’s producers made was the theme of homosexuality. In the first season, the relationship of male villains Zoicite and Malachite was altered, and the producers changed Zoicite’s gender to make the relationship seem more acceptable to American viewers. Another production company picked up the series for seasons three and four, and even though the censoring was not as severe as the other producers, it was still noticeable.
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Fish Eye, another male homosexual villain in season four, was not as drastically butchered as the previous characters in season one. His character was still basically the same as the original Japanese version, but his comments made about his attraction to other male characters on the show are not heard on the American version. Season five of Sailor Moon has yet to be dubbed because some of the characters on the show change gender in their transformations. I think it is ironic that a country that preaches individuality and non-discrimination would go to such lengths to edit out scenes that educate young children about different lifestyles. Some production companies also go as far as to edit out or alter scenes concerning Japanese culture. On the show Card captors (Card Captor Sakura in Japan), the main character says she is eating hamburgers but she is clearly eating sushi.
Some people might say that “in order for a series to sell and be successful in the United States, the viewers must be able to understand the programs,” and since the main audience is children, “the networks will cater the series to the children’s ability to understand the shows,” (Anime in America).
In my opinion, this type of editing is unnecessary and actually confuses young viewers. Anime should be shown so people can “learn about another culture, and experience foreign thoughts, not to change them to match domestic culture,” (Jedi Master Thrash’s Anime Page).
The second type of editing that all anime series go through is arguably the most unnecessary. Typically, an anime shown in Japan takes up the full time it is allotted. However, American shows are usually about 18-24 minutes long on average in a 30-minute time slot.
Because of commercial time, the whole Japanese series cannot be shown on American television. As a result, bits of scenes are cut out to fit the time constraints. Some production companies cut entire episodes because they want the series to begin or end on a certain day (preferably on Friday so the audience will be in suspense until the following week).
In Dragonball Z, a very popular anime around the world and currently in the United States, the first two Japanese episodes were edited as just one episode on American television. Another anime show Robotech lost an entire season in American television syndication. The problem with this type of editing is that when future episodes flashback or rely on a past episode for the storyline, a lot of American viewers are confused and do not understand what is going on.
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Anime “isn’t episodic like American cartoons [; ] it has a continuous story line, tightly linked, and any loss in that chain disrupts the entire series,” (Jedi Master Thrash’s Anime Page).
Many parents are concerned and upset with the content in Japanese anime. There was even a court case against a production company called Media Blasters in 1998 concerning an angry father who claimed he bought a “mislabeled” product because it contained an objectionably obscene trailer of an anime (Reyes).
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund brought another case concerning obscenity charges to court. They claim that on two separate occasions, a copy of the adult manga “Legend of the Over fiend” was sold to an undercover cop and a member of the PTA (Reyes).
Even though both of these people were adults over the age of 18, the sitting judge of the case denied the motion to dismiss the case.
The truth is most parents are not around during the afternoon hours when anime is shown on television. But some parents that are monitoring what their children are watching seem to be offended particularly more so with Japanese anime than other programs, which contain considerably more violence and sexual situations than anime. It all stems from the fact that older generations of American society are not informed about anime and assume it is meant to be strictly children’s cartoons. Producers have added to this confusion by marketing to children, selling action figures and school supplies that the parents are buying. So the parents ultimately expect a wholesome show that their children can watch without being traumatized and corrupted.
Honestly, there are rarely any shows on the air that children want to watch that are free of questionable content. As long as our society remains corrupt, a reflection of that will be shown on the airwaves as long as it receives ratings. On the other side of the spectrum are the members of the anime otaku, who are completely offended at producers’ attempts to edit shows. The members of the anime otaku have found a common ground for bonding on the Internet and have formed several groups and started petitions against censorship of their favorite shows. Most even threaten to boycott the show if serious changes are not made. These groups know what the original Japanese version of the show looks like because most of them were fans before the recent anime explosion in the United States started.
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They went through much trouble trying to obtain imported videos and other apparel from Japan. Now that anime apparel is so accessible in the United States, they are angry at the quality of some of the products. Most groups feel that the censorship is “the equivalent of plagiarism,” and claim that producers alter the works to fit “our own culture and needs,” (Jedi Master Thrash’s Anime Page).
The anime otaku do have a reason to be angry, but because they can be so harsh with their demands, their pleas often fall upon deaf ears. There are three types of Japanese anime currently available for purchase in the United States: dubbed, uncut, and subtitled. Dubbed anime is usually the cheapest to purchase but contains the least amount of unedited footage.
Uncut anime usually indicates that a producer has left in most or all of the scenes of the original, but there is still some editing involved. These are more expensive than dubbed items but not as expensive as subtitles. Subtitles contain the original scenes and dialogue translated into English. These can be costly at times, however, the most costly anime item would most likely be an import. There is also a great difference in content whether you buy a VHS or a DVD.
DVDs tend to contain more content, such as both dubbed and subtitled storylines, and have gained a good reputation even from producers who are generally heavy on the editing. Even though the DVDs are expensive, they are a great deal because they essentially contain two videos in one. For the serious anime collector, I recommend either imports or DVDs that preserve the original Japanese content. For mature children that are not quite used to the content or a first time buyer of anime, I recommend the uncut version on VHS. And of course for small children I recommend the dubbed versions of the anime. Even though I don’t really like dubbed versions of anime, they seem to appeal better to American children than other audiences.
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The only solution that would satisfy both parents and the anime otaku would be the implementation of a rating system. Currently, most anime movies have mild warnings or do not have a rating at all. Dubbed and some uncut amines made for children should be rated PG so that parents know that there is some questionable content they should be aware of. Subtitles, depending on the original Japanese target audience, should be rated PG-13 for the milder animes and NC-17 for the more controversial types of anime. Hentai, or Japanese anime porn, would mostly likely fit under the NC-17 rating. Wit the implementation of a rating system, there should be more access to subtitles.
It is very difficult to find a store that sells subtitles unless it is on the Internet, so to make it easier for the fans that can see mature anime, local video stores should volunteer to sell all types of anime. It is possible that producers could lose some revenue for dubbed anime from this method, but there should be an increase in anime content purchased because the consumer is finally getting what they want. Japanese anime has certainly come a long way from the days of Speed Racer when the English words never matched the mouth movements. Without a doubt, there is a long journey ahead for anime if it wants to gain the full respect of Americans. Until the people of America can embrace anime as if it were like one of its own shows, profit-driven producers will continue to ruin its legacy and make a mockery out of a widely renowned and respected art form.
Sources: “Anime in America.” web > “Censorship of Anime on Syndicate TV.” web > Reyes, Luis. “Walking on Eggshells: Anime and Censorship.” web.