When it comes to preparing a TV program for broadcast, the most highly scrutinized are the shows intended for kids. You can mentally scar as many adults as you want, but if you do it to a child then you can expect lawsuits to follow. It is because of this that kids shows face stricter content guidelines than any other kind of TV program. Things like realistic violence, realistic guns, cigarettes, alcohol consumption, and sexual acts will be cut out straight away.
For some shows that are originally created for kids, this poses no problem. The issue comes when a popular property (like a comic book) is adapted into a cartoon, or a Japanese anime is brought over to America. It is here where the source material will face the scissors and be left on the cutting room floor.
We are here today to look at some of the most egregious examples of censorship happening in beloved cartoon series. From the team who shall remain nameless to the vampire who drinks with his hands.
Here are the 15 Classic Cartoons That Were Censored In America!
15. Justice League Unlimited – Censoring The Suicide Squad
In the Justice League Unlimited episode, “Dark Heart”, an ever-growing army of spider robots is threatening to wipe out humanity. In order to contain the threat, the Justice League are forced to use an orbital satellite laser that they have on their base. The problem is, they never informed the governments of the world that they possessed a weapon of mass destruction. A few episodes later, Project Cadmus are given the task of assembling a team to infiltrate the Justice League’s satellite and sabotage the weapon.
Colonel Rick Flagg is given several supervillains to help him accomplish this task. They have all been bribed into cooperating with the promise of amnesty (and the threat of being blown up by the bombs planted within their bodies if they refuse). As you have probably guessed from the setup, this is the Suicide Squad episode of Justice League Unlimited.
This episode does a far better job of telling a Suicide Squad story than the movie did. The cast is kept small (Rick Flagg, Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, Plastique, and Clock King) and the story is an espionage mission that is within the group’s capabilities.
The only real problem with the episode is the fact that they weren’t actually called the Suicide Squad. The creators of the show weren’t allowed to use the word “suicide”, as Justice League Unlimited was still intended for kids (despite the darker content of some of the episodes). As such, both the team and the episode are referred to as “Task Force X“.
14. Kirby: Right Back At Ya! – The Laser Chainsaw
With the notable exception of Pokémon, Nintendo has been gun-shy about using their first party characters in a cartoon series. While shows like Captain N, The Super Mario Bros. Super Show! and The Legend of Zelda are all fondly remembered, their quality left something to be desired. One of the few Nintendo properties to get an animated adaptation in recent years is Kirby, with the show called Kirby: Right Back At Ya!
Kirby is an odd choice for a TV show adaptation. The Kirby video games don’t have much in the way of story or character. What does anyone know about Kirby other than the fact that he eats his enemies? The show kept Kirby a mute but gave some of the other characters bizarre accents. Meta Knight sounded like Zorro, King DeDeDe had a thick Texan accent and DeDeDe’s snail sidekick sounded like Paul Lynde.
In the episode “Beware: Whispy Woods!”, King DeDeDe threatens to cut down Whispy the giant tree with a chainsaw. In the American dub of this episode, this chainsaw was changed into a laser chainsaw. This was considered more appropriate than a regular chainsaw, despite the fact that they wanted to use it for its intended purpose (and not use it on Kirby while he’s chained up in a bathtub like in Scarface).
13. Battle Of The Planets – Dude Looks Like His Sister
One of the first Japanese anime to ever receive an English dub was Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, which was renamed Battle of the Planets when it was released in the West. Battle of the Planets was first released in 1978. The reason it was brought out of Japan in the first place was due to the recent success of Star Wars: A New Hope. The show shared superficial similarities with Star Wars, which is the main reason why it was dubbed in the first place.
Science Ninja Team Gatchaman was a very violent show, with some scenes of female nudity. These were all cut out of the English dub and replaced with more of the science fiction scenes. Some of the episodes ran so short (due to the editing) that a new robot character was added into the show. The robot was called 7-Zark-7 (voiced by Alan Young) and his role in the show was to fill the time created by the edits.
One of the most notable changes in Battle of the Planets happened to the main villain, Zoltar. In Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, Zoltar was created by fusing a set of male and female twins while they were still in the womb. This meant that Zoltar could change gender at will. This reveal was changed in Battle of the Planets so that Zoltar’s female side was actually a separate character, who was Zoltar’s sister.
12. Naruto – Underage Elixir Drinking
In the original manga version of Naruto, the character of Rock Lee escapes from hospital in order to help his friends who are on a dangerous mission. He takes a bottle of liquid with him, that he believes to be medicine. What he doesn’t realisze is that the liquid is actually sake (rice wine). Lee catches up with his friends and is forced to battle a powerful opponent named Kimimaro in hand-to-hand combat. Lee drinks the medicine and accidentally gets drunk. What neither Lee nor his opponent realizes is that Lee is actually a master of the Drunken Fist style of Kung Fu. By drinking the sake, he gains a massive boost to his fighting ability, due to his now unpredictable movements.
This was always going to cause a major problem when both the manga and anime were brought to the West. Rock Lee is around fourteen years of age during his battle against Kimimaro. Showing underage drinking was a huge issue, even for the English version of the manga (which is usually pretty liberal about its content). As such, changes had to be made.
In the English version of the manga, the alcohol that Lee drinks is referred to as a Potion. In the English version of the anime that was broadcast on Cartoon Network, the drink was changed into an Elixir. When Lee drank the Potion/Elixir, he became the master of the Loopy Fist. It’s pretty obvious what is really going on with Lee in the episodes where he is drunk on Potion. The changes feel more tongue in cheek than any real attempt to cover up the drinking.
11. Shaman King – The Bony Yard Sorcerer
In 2003, 4Kids Entertainment bought the rights to create an English language dub of a show called Shaman King. Unlike the rest of their shows (some of which appear on this list), the Shaman King dub had very little censorship. It pretty much had to be, as the show was filled with references to death. The premise of Shaman King is that there are real life Shamans in the world, who can commune with the spirits of the dead. As it is an anime series, they can also use the ghosts to receive power ups (like energy swords, lasers and giant robots).
One of the Shamans in the series is called Faust the Eighth (written as Faust VIII). He is a descendant of the Faust of legend, but he shunned the study of the supernatural to become a doctor. When his wife is killed by a burglar, Faust goes mad with despair. He turns to the arts of necromancy, like his ancestor before him. His necromancy allows him to animate the bodies of the undead, as well as conjure the ghost of his dead wife.
The main character of Shaman King, Yoh, has to battle Faust VIII in a graveyard. For whatever reason, the 4Kids dub was not allowed to call Faust a Necromancer. Instead, they give him the ridiculous sounding name of “Bone Yard Sorcerer“.
10. X-Men – Phoenix Rising
One of the most famous X-Men storylines of all time is called The Dark Phoenix Saga. Jean Grey bonds with a benevolent spirit known as the Phoenix, who protects the universe from destruction. Due to the Phoenix being mentally connected with a human, it starts to develop negative emotions that it never felt before. After being manipulated into becoming evil by the Hellfire Club, the Phoenix transforms into Dark Phoenix. After wiping out a solar system full of alien life, the X-Men manage to restore Jean Grey’s control over the Dark Phoenix. The X-Men must then fight a trial by combat against the Imperial Guard of the Shi’ar Empire, in order to save Jean Grey’s life. The X-Men are overwhelmed, which brings out the Dark Phoenix once more. Jean Grey manages to wrest control over her body once more and allows herself to be killed by the Shi’ar, in order to save the universe from the Dark Phoenix’s wrath.
The X-Men cartoon series actually did a pretty faithful adaptation of this storyline. They had to accommodate the different team lineups in the story (as the cartoon X-Men had different members than the X-Men comic at the time). The Dark Phoenix also never killed anyone in the show. She did blow up a solar system, but it was explained that it had no lifeforms (with the threat being that there could have been life on those planets). Jean Grey is actually killed at the end of the arc… but she is quickly revived by the Phoenix. The Phoenix brings her back by taking a piece of the life force of all of the members of the X-Men and assembling them within Jean.
9. Sailor Moon – Kissing Cousins
When it comes to mainstream anime shows that are intended for girls, the first name that usually comes up is Sailor Moon. While an English-language version of the anime was released in 1995, there were attempts at creating an American version of the show back in 1993. The intention was to create a fusion of live action and animation, with the show being recreated in a Disney style. This was determined to be too expensive compared to just dubbing the anime. The English version of Sailor Moon was first broadcast in 1995, but it failed to find an audience. The show was re-run in 1998, where it finally found success.
Sailor Moon had numerous cases of censorship imposed upon the English dub. The biggest of which was changing the relationship between Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus. In the Japanese manga & anime versions of Sailor Moon, both Neptune and Uranus are openly gay and are in a romantic relationship with each other.
As we will see with other entries on this list ( like #5), the creators of kids shows do not like to admit when characters are gay. When it came to the Sailor Moon dub, it was established that Sailor Neptune & Uranus were actually cousins, who just happened to be very close. This change seems to have been one that the localizers rallied against, as a lot of the romantic subtext between the two characters was kept. This means that the characters went from being lesbians to incestuous lesbians. They both should have changed their name to Sailor Bluth.
8. Silver Surfer – Don’t Fear The Lady Chaos
Thanos has been making cameo appearances during the credits sequence of many Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. At this point, we wish he would just show up already. How many times are we gonna have to stare at his stupid purple face as he winks knowingly towards the camera?
One of the reasons that Marvel may be holding back on Thanos is because they are eventually going to have to reveal his big secret. In the comics, Thanos is in love with Death. We don’t mean that he just really likes killing things. Thanos has a big purple boner for the physical manifestation of Death. Be it the Grim Reaper or the Goth chick from Sandman, Thanos wants to get it pregnant and have purple skeleton babies.
Thanos was one of the foes in the Silver Surfer cartoon from the ’90s. Much like how Justice League Unlimited couldn’t use the word suicide for the Suicide Squad, the Silver Surfer cartoon couldn’t use the word death. As such, Thanos now lusted after “Lady Chaos”. In order to wake Lady Chaos from stone, Thanos had to cause lots of chaos. This was about as good a job as the show could do when it comes to using Thanos.
7. X-Men: Evolution – Magneto’s Saviour
In both the X-Men comic books and movies, Magneto has a tragic backstory that shaped his view of humanity. As a boy, he lost his family in the Concentration Camps of Nazi Germany. X-Men: First Class even showed Magneto’s torture at the hands of Sebastian Shaw. In the comics, Magneto would encounter a group of Nazis when he reached adulthood. He battled Baron Strucker in Israel alongside Charles Xavier. Magneto took the cache of hidden Nazi gold that Strucker was seeking and used it to finance his schemes as a supervillain.
With the success of the first X-Men movie, a new animated series was created in the year 2000, called X-Men: Evolution. The show actually attempted to portray Magneto’s childhood but ended up totally missing the point.
In X-Men: Evolution, Magneto is indeed sent to a prison camp as a child. Instead of being tortured by Nazis, he is rescued by Wolverine and Captain America. He was literally saved by the symbol of all that is good in humanity, yet he still grew up to be an asshole who hates humans?
6. The Simpsons – Rabies Syndrome
It might seem like an odd idea now, but The Simpsons was actually a controversial show when it first hit television screens. The Simpsons took the dynamic of the family sitcom and turned it on its head. Anyone who has read the creator’s, Matt Groening, Life in Hell comics will know that he has a tremendous disregard for figures of authority, especially within the education system. Due to the fact that The Simpsons was a cartoon show, it got away with a lot of offensive and racier material that most other primetime shows.
With all that being said, The Simpsons still got into trouble from time to time. The episode “A Streetcar Named Marge” featured lyrics about how New Orleans is a terrible city (during a production of A Streetcar Named Desire). The president of Fox actually issued an apology, though the creators of the show refused to do the same. They even referenced it in the chalkboard gag of “Homer the Heretic”.
One of the few times that the show actually censored and rerecorded a scene happened in the episode “Marge Gets a Job“. To refresh your memory, it is the episode where Marge works at the nuclear power plant and Bart keeps lying to get out of class (and gets attacked by a wolf). One of Bart’s lies involved him saying that he has come down with Tourette’s Syndrome. Bart then does an impression of a person with that condition. This scene garnered lots of complaints and threats of legal action. The creators of the show did actually apologize about this joke. They rerecorded the sketch, with Bart now claiming to have rabies instead.
5. Adventure Time – Mathematical Lesbians
TV shows love to include same-sex romantic subtext, even more than actually admitting it exists. Fans are more likely to stay tuned for a “will they/won’t they” than a “they are, actually.” In some cases, the romantic subtext is all that is allowed when it comes to same-sex couples, especially in the case of a kids’ show. Most notably, the ending of The Legend of Korra went about as far as they could go without including a giant neon sign that says “These two girls are a couple and that is OK”.
You can’t really blame the creators of shows for not wanting to be open about the relationship between two characters. One only has to look at Adventure Time to see why.
Adventure Time used to have a promotional series on YouTube called Mathematical. It was created by Frederator Studios, who were also involved in the production of Adventure Time itself. Mathematical used to give breakdowns of the episodes. The series was cancelled after it recapped an episode called “What Was Missing”. This episode featured a lot of romantic subtext concerning the past relationship between Princess Bubblegum and Marceline. The Mathematical episode suggested that the two had been in a relationship in the past and encouraged fans to call up a hotline and give their thoughts on the subject.
The fact that the video was created by a studio involved with the production of Adventure Time was the issue. Mathematical was cancelled and the series was taken down. The “What Was Missing” video has since been reuploaded by fans and its status as a controversial video has made it even more popular than it would have been if it were just ignored.
4. Sonic The Hedgehog – Perving On The Princess
Sonic the Hedgehog was once a serious competitor to Mario. The two of them symbolised the war between Sega and Nintendo that raged in the ’90s. While that struggle has long since ended, both Sonic and Mario are still starring in video games to this day. While Mario is regarded as one of the most recognisable video game characters of all time, Sonic is… doing fine. Mario keeps starring in amazing video games, while Sonic is… doing fine.
Back in the ’90s, Sonic was a cool character. Nowadays, he has become associated with some of the seedier parts of the Internet. This actually made it into the video games, with the universally reviled Sonic ’06. In this game, Sonic actually kissed a human Princess.
What most fans don’t realize is that these kinds of shenanigans have been happening as far back as 1996. There was a Sonic the Hedgehog animated movie produced in Japan, that was released on VHS in the West. This movie needed to have several scenes edited out in the dub.
In the movie, Dr. Robotnik kidnaps Princess Sara as part of his schemes. Princess Sara looks like a human, except with cat ears and a tail. The dub had to remove scenes where Tails accidentally grabs her breasts (when he falls on top of her), a scene where Sonic looks up her skirt (whilst seeing through the eyes of Metal Sonic) and a scene where Robotnik daydreams about marrying Sara, with her having his children.
3. Ren & Stimpy – Naming The Pope
When Ren & Stimpy was first broadcast in 1991, it was unlike anything that had ever been shown on TV before. It was a pioneer in weird television, that was filled with innuendo and rude jokes. It spawned a slew of imitators (like Rocko’s Modern Life and Cow and Chicken) and inspired many beloved modern series (like Spongebob Squarepants).
With all of its edgy content, Ren & Stimpy had many episodes censored and banned. Most of the removed scenes have since appeared on the DVD/Blu-ray releases of the series.
One of the most unusual censorships (that had an even weirder response) happened in the episode “Powdered Toast Man“. The eponymous hero saves the Pope (voiced by Frank Zappa) from being blown up by an evil fish. The episode received complaints about the inclusion of the Pope. The episode was later redubbed, with the Pope now being called “The Funny Little Man in the Pointy Hat”.
2. One Piece – Burn The Franchise And Run
One Piece is the biggest selling comic book in the world. Marvel and DC do not produce a series that comes close to the sales that One Piece has achieved. Despite this, the show took a long time to find an audience outside of Japan. The reason? Because of the dub of the anime produced by 4Kids Entertainment in 2004. It has become the most notorious example of horrible censorship done to a cartoon series.
4Kids should never have attempted to create a version of One Piece intended for kids in America; the show has way too much objectionable content. They tried it, however, and came up with some of the most hilarious censorship in cartoon history.
One of the main characters of the show is a pirate named Sanji. He is a chain smoker and is rarely seen without a cigarette. In the 4Kids dub, every single Sanji scene was edited to make it look he is sucking on a lollipop. All of the guns in the show were edited to make them look like water pistols. One scene has a character pointing a pistol at another character’s head. This was changed into a sort of… hammer on a spring. The villain known as Don Krieg fires a barrage of poison darts at the main character. These were changed into poison suction cups (which makes no sense – how is the poison is administered?). The female characters would have their cleavage shoddily drawn over. Entire episodes and story arcs were skipped for seemingly no reason (most importantly the Little Garden arc, which featured several important scenes).
The 4Kids dub only produced 104 episodes (created from 143, which shows just how much they cut out), before One Piece was cancelled. The series has since found an audience in the West, with the One Piece manga and video games showing the series as it was meant to be seen. The anime has since been picked up by Funimation, who release uncut versions of the show on DVD & Blu-ray.
1. Spider-Man – Morbius Loves Plasma
Dracula is one of the most recognisable fictional characters of all time. Vampires are also one of the most well-known fictional monsters, who have appeared in various forms among the legends and myths of many countries across the world. If you asked anyone on the street the question, “what do vampires drink?” and “how do they drink it?” chances are everyone would know the answer.
With all that being said, the people at both Fox and Marvel must have assumed that everybody in the world is an idiot. Either that or they thought there would be a big outcry concerning the depiction of a vampire in a kids show.
In 1994, in response to the huge success of the X-Men cartoon, Marvel greenlit an animated series starring Spider-Man. One of Spider-Man’s villains is a vampire named Morbius. They decided to use him in the cartoon, but soon found out that they couldn’t use the word “blood” or show him biting a victim with his fangs.
So what happened to Morbius? He now spoke about his unending hunger for… plasma (which is just another word for blood). So how did he drink his plasma? He extracted it using suction cups on hands (similar to those on the tentacles of an Octopus). Honestly, the suction cups are way more disturbing than fangs.
In trying to create a family friendly vampire, both Fox & Marvel only highlighted how ridiculous Morbius had to be made in order to become broadcast-worthy.
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