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The history of anime censorship largely involves the early anime releases and the question of their place in the larger media model.
Early Anime were subjected to the same restrictions as any other film screened in theaters. The first documented case of anime censorship was over a cartoon deemed unsuitable for adults, when Hakusan Kimura's Cool Ship (Suzumi-bune) was seized by the authorities partway through production. Since anime before the 1960s were largely for children anyway, this resulted in very few local problems, although anime would encounter many more hurdles when exported abroad. Different cultural expectations have led to many conflicts over TV anime. Osamu Tezuka is largely to blame, not for any malicious intent, but for his perennial insistence that cartoons should be permitted to deal with themes beyond fairy-tale cliché. Six episodes of Tezuka's Astro Boy were deemed unfit for American consumption for reasons such as pictures of nude women in a bachelor's apartment, or a story line that featured animal vivisection, regarded as too hard hitting for a young audience. Most controversially, the episode "Christ's Eyeball" featured a doomed priest leaving a secret message to investigators while being held hostage by criminals in his church. A plot concerning words scratched into the eyes of a statue of Christ was considered too difficult to sell to an American audience, although it had passed without comment in Japan.
Although Tezuka worked directly with the American network NBC on Kimba the White Lion, corporate interference continued, altering both the name of his lead character and Tezuka's wish for fatal consequences to deadly actions. Part of the story's contemporary charm lies in the number of times a character is plainly killed, only for an American voice-over to assure us they are "only resting." The character of Leo/Kimba also had to deal with a confusion verging on a Jekyll and Hyde standoff between his heroic duties and his carnivorous, bestial nature. Little of this survives in the American soundtrack, although Kimba can be seen onscreen barely keeping himself from tearing his opponents apart. In a nod to the directives for liberal awareness at NBC, Tezuka was also obliged to make all of Kimba's evil opponents white, despite the African setting. Compare to other racially motivated alterations in the later Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs, which in the American version replaced the original Asian lead with his angry white sidekick, or Gigantor, which lost its pre-war subplot and gory deaths in its American incarnation. Three episodes were dropped from Marine Boy's American broadcast, and yet it was still decried by the National Association for Better Broadcasting as a glaring example of unacceptable violence.
Many of the complaints leveled against anime in the 1970s were reflected within the Japanese industry itself-it was, after all, no less a figure than Hayao Miyazaki who despaired of the formulaic combats and conflicts of children's entertainment in the 1970s. The rise of cross-promotion also made television anime even more commercial. The phrase "my father gave me a robot" was no longer a concise description of many serials' plotlines; it was also a litany designed to pester parents into buying tie-in toys for their children. Robots, meanwhile, became a handy device in anime for children, as did laser guns and other non-existent weapons-robots and faceless minions are more disposable and less subject to complaints than real humans in jeopardy, while non-imitable weaponry gets past a censor more swiftly than something that a child can pick up and use from its everyday life. Hence, in cartoons all over the world, the conversion of real-world firearms into "laser guns"-even seen today in some episodes of Gundam Seed. Alcohol was also forbidden- Star Blazers featured a hard-drinking doctor whose sake was unconvincingly relabeled "spring water" in the English dub.
Outside Japan, cartoons in general were the subject of increased scrutiny, under revised MPAA guidelines not only in America, but also in other countries. It was, it seemed, no longer enough to remove the gorier moments from Battle of the Planets-many foreign commentators had realized that television was playing an increasing role as a babysitter, and that its message could prove damaging to young minds. In France, after Go Nagai's giant robot show Grandizer became a hit in the late 1970s, the academic Liliane Lurçat published the stinging Five Years Old and Left Alone with Goldorak: The Young Child and TV (Cinq Ans, Seul Avec Goldorak: Le Jeun Enfant et la Télévision, 1981). Her study, based on interviews with 110 children, was followed by that of would-be presidential candidate Ségolène Royal, whose Discontent of the Baby Zappers (Ras-le-bol des Bébé Zappeurs, 1989) was a polemic against television in general, citing Japanese animation among the most negative influences.
It was not lost on some critics that many cartoons were conceived as glorified commercials for toys and, perhaps worse for struggling economies, that these cheap imports had a foreign origin. Some elements of the animation industry began to take on a nationalist tone, with Filmation's Bravestarr (1987) ending with the legend: "Made in America by Americans!" Similar attitudes began to persuade broadcasters in other countries. Government affiliate networks in Britain and Scandinavia imposed restrictions on commercially oriented cartoons-not merely anime, but any children's entertainment designed to sell to young consumers. However, the stance of the national channels was not necessarily mirrored in their commercial rivals. With some toy companies virtually giving away their tie-in cartoon series as loss-leaders, the temptation was great for some commercial channels. In France, for example, by fall 1988, two channels were running 30 French-dubbed Japanese cartoon series every week, while the other three national channels made it a matter of honor to focus on "European" material. In practice, however, the lines of division were not so clear: many of these works were either American imports via Britain or coproductions made with the Japanese. In fact, French producers had been working directly with the Japanese for the entire decade, ever since Jean Chalopin's Ulysses 31 (1981), followed by The Mysterious Cities of Gold (1982). Similar deals led to Spain's Dogtanian and the Three Muskehounds (1981) and in Italy, the co-production Sherlock Hound (1984) and specially commissioned extra episodes of Dirty Pair. Meanwhile, the German coproduction Maya the Bee (1975) had been translated and exported north to Scandinavia, so that by the time of the European furor over supposed imports, many were unaware that it was not a local product.
It was only with the arrival of video-based anime in the 1990s that anime truly ran into censorship difficulties. Ironically, many of the most controversial titles had been conceived in Japan in order to circumvent local censorship problems. The Lolita Anime and Cream Lemon serials made children the objects of sexualized stories, which was a contradiction in terms under Japanese legislation, and hence a loophole that could be exploited. This also neatly avoided a legal prohibition against pubic hair (in force until 1991). Similarly, since Japanese law specified that genitalia (and not other forms or organs) were off limits, Urotsukidoji's cunning use of the tentacle ensured many graphic scenes, albeit ones that needed to find an excuse for tentacles, and thereby drifted toward tales of alien invasion and demonic possessions. Since sexualized bondage does not necessarily involve concentration on genitals, this too was easier to get past the Japanese censor. The result, seen from the American end of distribution, was an avalanche of bizarre fetishes and practices, often committed by or against characters that appeared demonstrably underage.
The very absence of censorship in American pornography led to misunderstandings of its own. Japanese porn often obscures its characters' genitals with blurring or black dots, leading many animators to simply not bother drawing genitals in detail. When the digitized dots were removed for the "uncut" American edition, the organs revealed could often appear unformed, hairless, or incomplete, leading to further accusations of child pornography.
In Britain, anime became the subject of a press smear campaign, engineered to some degree by anime distributors themselves, who were able to benefit from rebellious teens' decision to find out what the newspapers did not want them to see. A brief boom in risqué anime followed, only to trail off when distributors exhausted the mother lode of titles-chiefly gothic horror like Wicked City from the Madhouse studio and a few of the tamer Pink Pineapple erotica releases, such as Rei Rei. Ironically, many anime in Britain were made to seem more objectionable than they really were, through the process of "fifteening," whereby excess swearing would be added to a dub in order to gain a higher, more controversial-seeming rating.
The last decade in Europe has seen a liberalization of censorship laws that has largely removed limitations on much pornography-in England as in Germany, legalizing it has permitted the government to license and tax it. However, some anime pornography still remains problematic, since it depicts non-consensual sex (i.e. rape), "imitable violence," or, by its very nature, sexual practices that are difficult (read: distasteful) for live-action performers. In other words, it is an inherent tendency in anime pornography to search for places that live-action pornography cannot go (be they locations, situations, acts, or angles), because otherwise live-action pornography will have already been there, and, quite literally, done that.
Such problems are less critical in the American market, where distributors can circumvent MPAA issues simply by not submitting their titles for certification. However, a considerable amount of American anime has still been subjected to alteration in a U.S. release. Most notable are the large numbers of translations that claim sailor-suited schoolgirls are at "college" (a term that means different things in different countries), or otherwise manipulate age declarations toward safer ground. The most noticeable example is Minnie May in Gunsmith Cats-a former child prostitute and statutory rape victim in the original, whose age is advanced a few years in the American release of both manga and anime. Nor are American anime releases completely censorship-free. Scenes of underage sex were excised from the original release of Kite, and several pornographic anime are known to have had episodes dropped-e.g., Family of Debauchery and Countdown.
Anime in Japan in the late 1990s and beyond came to rely more on television as a distribution medium. Many of the short "TV series" sold to the American market began as late-night programs airing long past midnight, and can have content designed to match. Primetime television in Japan has become increasingly censorious since the mid-1990s, when controversial episodes of Evangelion were broadcast without prior executive approval. The resultant timidity on the part of broadcasters has played into the hands of the late-night shows and cable networks, with shows such as Gantz enjoying two distinct existences: one in a widely available but edited form and another in a more graphic version requiring cable subscription or DVD rental. In the case of Cowboy Bebop, the main story arc was only seen on WOWOW and DVDs-the version seen on terrestrial TV was missing 14 episodes.
Pokémon and its successors heralded a resurgence of children's anime on foreign television and a return to some of the localization problems that troubled anime in the 1960s. There have also been new issues, such as the (logical) decision not to broadcast the infamous epilepsy-inducing episode of Pokémon. After a decade of largely adhering to original names (and indeed language) in anime for teenagers, character names in anime for the children's market are often localized. As the American edit is often the portal through which other language territories gain their anime, issues in localization can be passed on. Religious references remain as sensitive as they once were during the "Christ's Eyeball" incident-demonic imagery is airbrushed out and misused Bibles turned into non-specific grimoires. Both Dragon Ball and Yugi-oh have featured trips to Hell, the precise identity and location of which was left vague in the American release. Nudity has also been an issue in American localization, with digitally added underpants, swimsuits, or strategically placed foreground items used to preserve the supposed blushes of the American audience. In localizing Pokémon, this has included the removal of scenes in which a major character chases girls, and also any references to the fact that women might have breasts-a bikini competition, for example, or the use of fake boobs as a disguise. Some characters can be controversial abroad-the spoon-bending Pokémon creature Yungera ( Kadabra in English) was the subject of an unsuccessful law suit by Uri Geller, and the Pokémon Jynx was dropped from some American episodes for being an unpleasant "Negro" racial stereotype until her skin color was changed to a respectable purple. The possibility of copyright infringement can still affect broadcasts-a Peter Pan pastiche episode of the new Astro Boy (2003) has never been released in America, for fear of attracting legal reprisals from Disney.
References to alcohol and tobacco are still regularly removed, such as from the Cartoon Network broadcasts of Tenchi Muyo! and Blue Submarine No. Six, although recently this restriction appears to have tapered off, with the regular appearance of a pipe-smoking character in Naruto. The sight of blood or of the death of main characters continues to be cut or altered. In cases where the cost of removing potentially offensive material becomes too prohibitive, an episode can be simply dropped, which sometimes leads to continuity issues further along in a series.
Anime in the 21st century is much easier to obtain in its unadulterated form, and even if viewers object to a dub, dual language tracks on the DVD release make it possible to hear the original Japanese. But for some in fandom, localization has become the new censorship, since it can alter a creator's original intent, and give new fans an inaccurate introduction to the shows they see. However, such issues in translation are endemic to the medium, and have been debated since the first days anime left Japanese shores.