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Teaching America through Cartoons By: Laura Wang

Abstract

This paper is meant to outline the methods in which the ideals of “America” were presented by an entertainment company and the apparent consequences these actions had on the consumers. The main focus of this paper is 4Kids and the anime they were in charge of releasing for US consumers. These titles include the ever popular One Piece, Sonic X, and Pokemon. For this paper, the focus will be Pokemon and the methods in which 4Kids edited and clipped the show in the first season in order to change the characters and their cultural affiliations.

How did 4kids changing of japanese originating animations show how they performed "america"

4Kids logo from the late 1990s to 2005

As a child, I was one of the many who woke up early to watch Pokémon as it aired in the morning. However, looking back on it, many details popped out as odd and questionable. When I was watching the show, it was first edited and released by a company called 4KIDS that also released other Japanese animations for the enjoyment of children in the US. As it turns out, the details I remembered as questionable resulted from the erasure of traditional Japanese elements from the show as it was being released in the US. The animes, Japanese animations, that 4KIDS released in the US were originally released in Japan with Japanese voice actors. When they were to be released in the US, 4KIDS dubbed the anime with English voice acting in order to make it easier to understand for their intended audience, children. To clarify, dubbing is just when the original audio is re-done by voice actors of another language in order to make the media more accessible and enjoyable to people who don’t understand the original language. It wasn’t the dubbing itself that resulted in the erasure of Japanese elements in the anime, but the changes to the actual lines being said. One example in particular that I remember and one that made quite a few ripples on social media was in episode 5 of the anime, in which one of the main character’s companions, Brock, offers his friends what appears to be an onigiri, or rice ball. However, in the English dubbed version, with the image of the rice still on the screen, the food was described as a jelly doughnut. In this instance, it is clear that the script had been changed on purpose. To answer and analyze my question, I will be looking at other instances in which 4KIDS changed Pokémon and other anime they had been in charge of releasing in order to show how they performed “America” in doing so.

A shot from the 5th episode with the "doughnut" rice ball
Left: a jelly doughnut ~ Right: an onigiri (rice ball)

Essay

Anime is the genre of animated shows or films that are produced in Japan. It is noteworthy not only for its unique art style but also for the fact that it is popular among adults and children alike. Some of the most popular and notable anime are Pokemon, One Piece, and Dragonball. Pokemon was first introduced to the United States in 1997 and quickly became a big hit among children of the time. At the time, the company in charge of releasing this big hit was 4Kids, which was a part of the 4Licensing corporation before 4Kids shut down in 2008. However, in its run, 4Kids released approximately 8 seasons of the anime for the U.S.A. During this time, 4Kids became notorious for changing elements of the anime, as they thought, better suit their audience, namely young children. Most of what they changed in this anime were foods and specific items that were culturally important to Japan that weren’t relevant to “white” America. In doing so, they promoted assimilation and displayed their feelings of discrimination towards foreign cultures. The America 4Kids performs is an antiquated America that relies on erasure and assimilation in order to create the illusion of importance for white Americans and their culture. While this seems like an insignificant action of the past that only applies to those who watch Pokemon and other old shows, it should concern everyone who cares about the environment in which children are raised in as well as eliminating cultural discrimination in the U.S.

It is no secret that the United States has had a history of blatant racism and cultural discrimination, which is exemplified by the treatment of the Native Americans, the African Americans, the Asians, and those who were not considered “white.” These people were, in order to live comfortably in America, forced to cast away their old cultures and live like they were “white.” In the case of the Native Americans, much of their forced cultural assimilation came from the kidnapping and forced re-education of children in an attempt to curb the passing on of the Native American culture onto the next generations. According to an article by History, “As part of this federal push for assimilation, boarding schools forbid Native American children from using their own languages and names, as well as from practicing their religion and culture. They were given new Anglo-American names, clothes, and haircuts, and told they must abandon their way of life because it was inferior to white people’s"(History). The main focus of this power play was to make whiteness seem much better than all other races, increasing the power of said white men. While not on the same scale and without intentions as malicious as the settlers, 4Kids creates the same kind of culture-erasing environment using their edits.

4Kids made quite a lot of glaringly obvious and absurd edits many of the anime under their jurisdiction. These include, but are not limited to, simply taking off Japanese text on signs, replacing Japanese food items with more Americanized ones, and changing the races of some of the background characters (refer to the pictures at the bottom). One of the first ones I had noticed as a child and one that really struck me as odd due to how absurdly obvious it was was the instance of the jelly doughnut. In the fifth episode of the first season of Pokemon, there was an instance in which the main characters had settled down to eat some food in the middle of the travels. Brock, one of the companions at the time and the one responsible for cooking, offered the main character what appeared to be a rice ball. It was a triangular white clump with a bit of seaweed wrapped around the bottom. However, in the English dub, they referred to it as a jelly filled doughnut (for the actual visual, see the video below). To clarify, dubbing, for any kind of media, be it a TV show or a movie, is where the original audio is replaced by voice acting in another language to make it more accessible to people of other countries. At the time, I didn’t know that it wasn’t a doughnut but I knew for sure that the entire sequence of events was odd. They would later go on to cover and redraw much of the Japanese food and make them into things such as sandwiches, crackers, and foods that just didn’t look like they were ethnic in origin at all. In doing this, 4Kids erased a critical part of the Japanese culture and part of what identified this show as Japanese, which was the food. Instead, they covered it with what they felt Americans should eat and what American food should look like. It wouldn’t look like rice or rice balls but sandwiches, crackers, doughnuts, corndogs and the likes. Children watching the show wouldn’t wonder what the characters were eating, they wouldn’t wonder about where the show was from because it looked like America, or what they believed America to be. Another glaringly obvious change, and one that changes more than just the food, is episode 19 of the first season of the Pokemon anime.

The premise of episode 19 is that the characters go to visit an island which is said to be haunted by the ghost of a maiden. At the same time, there happens to be a festival happening on that island to celebrate the end of the season, which also marks when the ghost will “steals the spirit of a young man"(The Ghost of Maiden's Peak). For this particular episode, 4Kids changed actual elements of the episode regarding the festival that the characters visited to make it resemble an American-styled fair rather than a traditional festival. In a fan created website for the show, the analysis for the episode points out many of the differences between the Japanese release and the American release. I will not restate every single one and rather just focus on the festival and the o-fuda (spirit talismans). The festival in the American release is drastically different compared to the Japanese release. Many of the signs on the food stalls are changed from Japanese festival foods, such as takoyaki, to signs that say “cold drinks” instead. Also, the dub includes elements to the fair that normally wouldn’t exist in a festival. For example, according to the article the characters “adds all this dialogue about Brock and the others wanting to ride a ferris wheel and eat corndogs and cotton candy, making the whole Bon Festival seem like a state fair"(Dogasu). This episode is a clear example of how 4Kids attempted to abolish any idea that the show could be Japanese. They erased foreign text and replaced it with inaccurate translations or blank space, changed the dialogue to make the festival resemble an American styled one, and even changed an image of a yen coin into a penny (see images below). 4Kids establishes the fact that they do not care for the show’s original elements and that the American audience, in 4Kid’s opinion, doesn’t need them either. This is upsetting due to the fact that something that many Asian children could have related to was purposefully edited to cater to the “white” audience instead. Perhaps the representation problem that the modern entertainment industry is experiencing could have been alleviated a bit if they hadn’t edited the show so much. However, what’s done has been done and the damage to the Japanese image of Pokemon cannot be undone.

The penny from the American Release
The yen coin from the Japanese release

The characters of the show, by no fault of their own, were forced to assimilate into American culture and adopt American customs, practices, and foods, all as a result of 4Kids changing the source material. Unknowingly, while crossing the sea to reach the American audience, they cast away their old identities and became “American.” The characters became American and taught “America” rather than “Japan” to the children who watched the show, thereby limiting any kind of exposure to foreign culture that they may have gotten by watching the show. And, seemingly as a result of all of these edits, Pokemon later stopped including the cultural elements of the show and make it a more generic kind of show, giving in to the assimilation that America desired.

A side by side showing the difference between the Japanese release and the American release

A video just showing more of the blatant erasure of Japanese elements from the anime.

In the dubbed version, the o-fuda (evil spirit talismans) were simply called "anti-ghost stickers" (another instance in which the Japanese culture was erased from the American release)
Side by side photo of Sonic X edits. Right=American release (this is not pokemon, but 4Kids edited this too)
One Piece: the 4KIDS team decided to change the skin tone of one of the side characters (this is also not Pokemon, but 4Kids edited this and also, One Piece is the bestselling manga in Japan).

Bibliography

"How Boarding Schools Tried to 'Kill the Indian' Through ...." 16 Aug. 2017, https://www.history.com/news/how-boarding-schools-tried-to-kill-the-indian-through-assimilation. Accessed 15 Nov. 2019.

"The Ghost of Maiden's Peak | Pokémon TV - Pokemon.com." https://www.pokemon.com/uk/pokemon-episodes/01_19-the-ghost-of-maidens-peak/. Accessed 15 Nov. 2019.

"Japanese Episode 020 - Dogasu's Backpack." 2 Oct. 1998, http://dogasu.bulbagarden.net/comparisons/kanto/ep020.html. Accessed 15 Nov. 2019.