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Censorship in anime: The most baffling and infamous moments in anime from Naruto, Sailor Moon, Yu-Gi-Oh, more

We see that donut and it is just a rice ball, Brock.

Jotaro's face obscured as he smokes in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure
Image credit: David Production

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Despite being one of the most popular forms of media in the world, anime hasn’t always had a sterling reception in the West. Before streaming, any anime shows that we got either needed to be imported from Japan at an extortionate rate or had to survive the brutal censorship that often came from television networks. While some of that included toning down the violence or nudity in anime, often it amounted to petty, bizarre, or just silly changes to iconic anime.

Whether it was an attempt to hyper-localize a show for the West or networks trying to erase any trace of gay people from an anime, here are some of the most baffling acts of censorship in anime history.

Pokémon can’t show Japanese food to kids

Brock eating a rice ball in Pokemon
Image credit: OLM Team Ota

While the spirit of Pokémon was still present when it first came on the air in the US back in 1998, it was missing something important. Specifically, it was missing any references to Japanese food the characters made. Sometimes this meant editing a sushi roll falling down a hill into a hamburger, but sometimes it meant just changing the dialogue and hoping that kids didn’t notice. This led to the now infamous line from Brock about loving jelly donuts while eating what is clearly a rice ball, but it was part of a wider belief in the 90s that American kids weren’t ready for the dangers of Japanese food.

Yu-Gi-Oh! trades out guns for aggressive pointing

Goons pointing fingers at Kaiba
Image credit: 4Kids!

The original broadcast of Yu-Gi-Oh! makes for some rough watching, partially because of how blatant some of the edits were. Like Steven Spielberg when he recut E.T., 4Kids decided that guns were too scary for young audiences to handle. What this meant was a scene where goons point so aggressively at Seito Kaiba that he is forced to leap from a nearby window or a disgruntled dualist trying to change Pegasus’ mind by poking him in the temple. Some of these moments lose their impact when the guns are removed post-production.

Sailor Moon goes to great lengths to hide a lesbian couple

Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus holding hands
Image credit: Toei Animation

This isn’t the first time we’ve talked about how bad the original Sailor Moon broadcast was in the US, but it remains worth mentioning how the localizers were forced to remove any hint of gay people from the show, which was a feat considering two members of the Sailor Scouts were in a relationship. Simply changing the dialogue to emphatically state they were cousins didn’t help when their body language clearly showed them as a couple. It just added an extra layer of wrong to this bout of censorship, which is why we’re glad to be getting the much-improved Viz dub as part of Toonami Rewind.

Dragon Ball Z is a fighting anime that won’t mention death

Hall For Infinite Losers Ogre in DBZ
Image credit: Toei Animation

We can kind of understand toning down some of the blood in Dragon Ball Z considering the show's early fights include characters being impaled by energy beams or having their arms ripped off. However, it became difficult to ignore an early dub’s rampant censorship when characters were unable to mention the concept of death. Hell, which is a real place in this universe, is changed to the Hall For Infinite Losers (HFIL) and characters being killed are instead “sent to the next dimension.” It stands out even more in a show where characters die and are brought back to life constantly.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure constantly has to hide Jotaro’s face

Jotaro's face obscured in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure
Image credit: David Production

Stardust Crusaders is one of the best arcs in the long and winding story of the Joestar family, but it is also the arc that caused the most problems for censors. Aside from continuing the brutal violence that JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure has always had, Stardust Crusaders also forced the localizers to shroud Jotaro’s face in shadow to avoid depicting the teenager smoking. Unlike most entries on this list, this version of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is still one of the most common ones to see as it is the one readily available on Netflix.

Naruto didn’t kiss Sasuke (except in flashbacks)

Naruto Kissing Sasuke
Image credit: Pierrot

This one is probably the most ridiculous simply because of how pointless it is. In Episode 3 of Naruto, Naruto and Sasuke share an accidental kiss in front of most of their friends. They’re rightly horrified by this, but not as horrified as fans who watched the original Toonami broadcast, which removed the scene completely. They even had to edit a flashback scene to this moment in Episode 16 of the anime to keep fans from ever suspecting that boys could kiss.


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