Censorship in Anime: Rice Balls to Sandwiches


Credit – infigeek.com

You may agree that R-rated content is ill suited for content meant for children, such as anime, but is changing rice balls to jelly donuts really necessary? It may seem absurd, but in the beginnings of Pokemon, this very thing happened, as well as other absurd censors, like coloring blood blue.

Some censors seem to make sense, such as excessive gore and violence being toned down in Robotech, an anime that was specifically catered to an adult audience in Japan. The problem is about where to draw the line on censors. Censorship is necessary in some cases pertaining to adult content, but it should be kept to the absolute minimum as to not stain the author’s original vision. 

Some of the most commonly censored concepts and objects when making the switch from Japan to America is violence, guns, and mention of death. Because of the marketing aimed at children, violence, guns, and mentions of death are toned down. In shows like Yu-Gi-Oh or Saint Seiya, any mention of death is removed, and they are replaced with a new “shadow dimension” that characters are banished to. Additionally, anime like Naruto and One Piece removed the usage of any violent weapons like knifes or guns, choosing to either change them into safer objects like squirt guns or remove them altogether. In fact, it is said that a total of 39 episodes were cut in their entirety to avoid such content. In the cases of censorship mentioned, the censorship is unnecessary. Simply removing things like death and guns will not solve the issue, and it would be naive to think that they would not be exposed to them eventually. 

Another way anime was changed was through localization. Obviously, when anime transferred from Japan to America, the Japanese had to be dubbed to English. This includes name changes. For example, in Pokemon, the main protagonist Satoshi’s name is changed to the more recognizable Ash. Most of the time, there were minimal changes to the original anime in terms of the dialogue, but some anime, like Saint Seiya, had distracting and poorly done dubbing. Additionally, other changes were made as well. 4kids, a dubbing company, had a vendetta against rice balls in Pokemon, choosing to omit them in favor of sandwiches. Similarly, in Doraemon another Japanese tv show, signs with Japanese words were changed to English words, and Japanese currency was changed to English currency. 

The last major changes made to most anime were mentions of anything discriminatory. In the past, Japan had minimal contact with people of color, so they were ignorant of any problems that may come up with certain characters. In Pokemon, a pokemon named Jinx was changed to be purple instead of black to avoid accusations of racial stereotypes. Other characters who had dark skin were similarly changed, to varying degrees. On the flip side, many shows were changed drastically because of prejudices against females. In the series Sailor Moon, Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus, two girls, were originally lovers, but they were changed to cousins, which undoubtedly made many manga-readers confused. The main protagonist of Cardcaptor Sakura was changed from being Sakura, a girl, to Syaorin, a boy, who didn’t even appear until a few episodes after the debut, because the executives believed people wouldn’t want to watch an anime with a girl as a main character (despite the popularity of The Powerpuff Girls and Sailor Moon). 

As it has been shown in this piece, censorship is a very case-by-case issue. While there are some overarching pieces of common censorship, what matters is how much the censorship would affect the overall show and its message. Changing rice balls to sandwiches is, ultimately, an insignificant detail that doesn’t serve any detrimental purpose. However, changing the main character of a show, like Cardcaptor Sakura did simply because they thought a female protagonist wouldn’t be appealing, is an example of bad censorship.