Why did kids anime dubs have to be more dumbed down than western cartoons?

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Oct 23, 2014
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#1
Back in the 2000s anime boom, Anime imported from Japan by US distributors had to be heavily modified for American children, sometimes to the point of insult. Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon, Cardcaptors, nearly anything from 4kids, all had overly hammy voice acting, erasing of Japanese culture, removal of any death, blood, violence, or mature subject matter, and writing and plots that were heavily dumbed down for kids. Yet, compare that to Western cartoons at the time. Batman the Animated series, and Batman Beyond, X-men Evolution, Samurai Jack, Powerpuff Girls, Johnny Bravo, TMNT 2003, and others. Death was a frequent theme, guns could be used on occasion, plots could be complex, themes could be dark, and writing could be snappy and mature, even slipping in some more mature humor that goes over the heads of the grade school set.

So why were American kids shows allowed to get away with stuff that had to be removed from anime when brought over? It was already proven that kids could handle most of this stuff, which aren't even that controversial. You'd think the executives importing these shows would've caught on.
 
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TheVileOne

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#2
First of all you are being very selective here.

For one thing, Samurai Jack debuted in 2001, and it debuted on Cartoon Network. It wasn't syndicated for network or early morning or afternoon TV.

Second of all, Samurai Jack was very much censored for its time. Case in point, Jack always had to fight robots to get around the censor issues. Jack was a swordsman, and instead of tearing living things to shreds, he often did it to robots. It wasn't until the Adult Swim/Toonami miniseries that he could finally fight some humans and shed some human blood.

I'm sure if you go back and look at X-Men Evolution some of those earlier episodes were very cheesy and dumbed down. It wasn't until the later seasons the show got a little more serious. Even the "Deaths" that happened in that show were far from final. Also, that show came on TV in 2000 as well.

All those shows probably had to answer to network censors or standards and practices at some point. What 4Kids, I'm not defending how dumbed down the shows were, but they were probably trying to cater to as young of a demographic as possible. Wrongly or not, the American editors/re-version producers probably thought it was safer to change the Japanese cultural references to young audiences who they thought wouldn't understand them. I'm not saying that's correct, I'm saying that's why those decisions were made.

Anime shows don't take a break to explain weird cultural tropes or customs that would not be familiar to American audiences.

Also, Johnny Bravo? The show was about as edgy as a spoon other than Johnny perving on girls and his mom telling kids not to do drugs.
 

Red Arrow

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#3
I agree with TheVileOne, but there is also something else going on IMO.

When I look at Flemish dubs, they seem to get better over time. They started making them around 2000 and back then they were pretty bad, but now they are pretty good. All they needed was practice and experience. Nowadays they get lots of help from Dutch studios, since both Nickelodeon and Disney are now interested in mixed dubs.

This might sound stupid, but I don't think American dubbing studios had enough experience in the 00s. When I listen to the English version of Death Note, it just sounds stupid. It's almost a joke. First I thought it was because I grew up with the Japanese version as a kid, but I do consider the German and French versions to be very, very good.

Same with the Digimon dub. That part where Ken and his parents start crying XD How are we supposed to take that seriously...

Dubbing a foreign series is very different from doing the voices of an American cartoon. This time the director doesn't get help from the (now Japanese) creators. They're on their own.
 

SpaceCowboy

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#4
Back in the 2000s anime boom, Anime imported from Japan by US distributors had to be heavily modified for American children, sometimes to the point of insult. Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon, Cardcaptors, nearly anything from 4kids, all had overly hammy voice acting, erasing of Japanese culture, removal of any death, blood, violence, or mature subject matter, and writing and plots that were heavily dumbed down for kids. (snip)

So why were American kids shows allowed to get away with stuff that had to be removed from anime when brought over? It was already proven that kids could handle most of this stuff, which aren't even that controversial. You'd think the executives importing these shows would've caught on.
Anime dubs like the ones mentioned were intended to reach the broadest possible audience, which would not necessarily have been familar with anime. Back then, it was a lot easier to get long series on TV than on home video or other platforms which was why they had to be "dumbed down" for broadcast standards. The first TV dub to break this might have been Dragon Ball Z, where Funimation found it marketable to also produce an uncut dub for home video. Unlike 4Kids or Saban, Funimation knew something about the market for anime on home video.

I agree with TheVileOne, but there is also something else going on IMO.

When I look at Flemish dubs, they seem to get better over time. They started making them around 2000 and back then they were pretty bad, but now they are pretty good. All they needed was practice and experience. Nowadays they get lots of help from Dutch studios, since both Nickelodeon and Disney are now interested in mixed dubs.

This might sound stupid, but I don't think American dubbing studios had enough experience in the 00s. When I listen to the English version of Death Note, it just sounds stupid. It's almost a joke. First I thought it was because I grew up with the Japanese version as a kid, but I do consider the German and French versions to be very, very good.

Same with the Digimon dub. That part where Ken and his parents start crying XD How are we supposed to take that seriously...

Dubbing a foreign series is very different from doing the voices of an American cartoon. This time the director doesn't get help from the (now Japanese) creators. They're on their own.
It's not a fair comparison to judge the dubbing industry of a whole country based on a few select dubs. In my opinion, most American dubs varied in quality before Cowboy Bebop which pretty much set the standard for how anime gets dubbed nowadays. 4Kids' style of dumbing down content for broadcast TV was already passé by the 2000's, thanks to internet sites made by fans of the Japanese version. The cut dubs of Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon spread that awareness.
 
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wonderfly

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#5
Batman Beyond also fought a lot of robots, or sent people to jail. Batman in "Batman The Animated Series" was sending people to jail, no blowing them up (aka sending them to another dimension) like in DBZ.

Once upon a time, it was fine for people to enjoy both types of cartoons (anime and American action cartoons).
 

Red Arrow

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#6
Terry actually killed people.

That reminds me... The Dutch Cartoon Network aired Batman Beyond (in English) and DBZ (Ocean dub) back to back in 2001. People complained about how stupid the DBZ censors were whereas "Batman of the Future" had no censors at all.
 
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SpaceCowboy

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#7
Terry actually killed people.

That reminds me... The Dutch Cartoon Network aired Batman Beyond (in English) and DBZ (Ocean dub) back to back in 2001. People complained about how stupid the DBZ censors were when "Batman of the Future" had no censors at all.
It was the opposite in the US, where later sagas of DBZ became less censored on CN compared to other shows airing in the afternoon. The American broadcasts of the Buu saga left in carnage that normally would have been edited on an afternoon block (like Buu turning Chichi into an egg and smashing her to bits). I heard the Ocean dub of the later episodes airing in Europe and Canada were still censoring references to death and some of the violence that the US broadcast was leaving in.
 
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Golden Geek

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#9
I think people are sometimes too hard on how anime was edited in the United States. Sailor Moon and Cardcaptors got hacked up, I'll give you that. One Piece's editing was inconsistent and got away with a few surprising things for Saturday morning that people tend to forget in favor of the bad.

Dragon Ball Z was able to get away with a lot of violence and death on Toonami - to the point that Jason DeMarco said that it and Batman/Superman series were specifically excluded from S&P standards on the word "kill"/"die".

The 4kids dubs of Shaman King and Ultimate Muscle were largely intact, and in some places even added adult humor where it wasn't present in the original.
 

Violt

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#10
Death was a frequent theme, guns could be used on occasion, plots could be complex, themes could be dark, and writing could be snappy and mature, even slipping in some more mature humor that goes over the heads of the grade school set.
There were American cartoons that had characters shooting their victims with lasers. I guess that could be a form of censorship.

I don't think they do this with Anime.
 

PicardMan

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#12
Censorship itself seems super inconsistent. Are you allowed to show a punch land or does the blow have to be covered by a hit flash? That inconsistency seems to vary in Western cartoons and anime airing on US TV. Toonami allowed DBZ to show the punches, NIcktoons had heavy doses of the hit flash.
 

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