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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Obligatory "4Kids Being Sued" Post

I know this is one topic that is going to have mostly a mixed reaction judging from the message boards over at Anime News Network on this topic.  But since it’s gotten 8 pages worth of mentions over there I thought I would put my thoughts about this down to blogosphere.

4Kids Entertainment is currently facing a lawsuit in regards to possible business infractions when it came time to paying those who own the Japanese rights to the Yu-Gi-Oh! franchise.  The lawsuit accuses 4Kids of hiding profits as “service fees” when making hidden deals with companies such as Funimation in regards to distributing the show on DVD and in developing video games.

For those who aren’t familiar with 4Kids Entertainment (all 3 of you), the company started in the 1970s, but didn’t start television distribution until 1990.  It was around that time that they acquired what would become one of the many anime properties under their wing – “Pokemon.”  Most notably, the first 8 seasons of the show.  In that time, they added such titles as “Yu-Gi-Oh!,” “Sonic X,” “Shaman King,” and “One Piece.”

However, when acquiring these properties, 4Kids also earned the ire of anime fans by editing the shows to make them more “Americanized.”  Not simply making minor edits to make them more American kid friendly, 4Kids has made some very, very weird choices when it comes to their edits on the show.

As prime examples:

“Pokemon” – food for some reason seemed to be a victim of the “Americanization” treatment.  Because most Americans wouldn’t be familiar with what “rice balls” were, early dubs called them “donuts” (while clearly showing rice balls on a plate), while others replaced the rice balls with either a sub sandwich or a cracker or some other “American” food.

“Yu-Gi-Oh!” – Instead of focusing on the original story, 4Kids decided to shoehorn into the dubbed version messages about friendship. So a whole plot about a character’s amnesia is abandoned so that Yugi can talk about how his friends helped him out in yet another tight situation.  No wonder true fans complained about the show being repetitive.

No One Dies On Our Watch! – 4Kids seemed to think that kids couldn’t handle the topic of death.  There are numerous examples in the licenses that they acquired where they would replace someone’s death with either saying they were “taken away,” “imprisoned,” or just simply “disappeared.” Guns wer forbidden in 4Kids edits, as well.  They were either replaced with water pistols, something that didn’t look like a gun, or just simply disappeared.  Thankfully they didn’t seem to resort to the Steven Spielberg/”E.T.” re-edit treatment of turning any of them into walkie talkies.

The most infamous of their license edits was that of “One Piece.”  Some anime fans blame 4Kids specifically on why the show never became more popular here in the U.S.  Along with editing out blood, guns, and generally anything that they deemed inappropriate for American kids, they also changed the opening theme song to something more “rap styled,” and re-edit episodes in ridiculous ways, changing the order of how some things happened in the show.  Funimation managed to get the license back from them, and is now releasing new dubs of “One Piece” in its original broadcast edit.

What’s sad about this is that many of today’s generation get interested in anime because of shows like “Yu-Gi-Oh!” and “Pokemon,” edited by 4Kids.  I’m a little older, so my interest was sparked by a show that I didn’t realize how badly it was edited and dubbed until years later – what was formerly released in Japan as “Gatchaman,” but was known here in its heavily edited form as “Battle of the Planets.”  I can understand some edits – in “Battle of the Planets,” one of the characters was a cross-dresser, but they turned him into 2 characters in order to avoid the topic altogether.  I was re-sparked when I was doing my undergraduate studies and my father had Anime Network on Video on Demand, and bored I would check out what was there and got hooked on a few shows.

But back to the topic at hand.

4Kids, to the chagrin of anime fans, has been losing money over the past couple of years.  They were delisted from the New York Stock Exchange last year. And now with this lawsuit and the loss of Yu-Gi-Oh! From their licensing, it’s possible that now 4Kids will go under because no Japanese company will want to work with them to license work in the United States. So it’s possibly the end for them as far as anime licensing goes.

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