I. "Children’s Card Games are Serious Business”: An Introduction
You’ll notice that my appearance is a little odd for your typical cartoon character: large eyes, miniscule nose, craaazy hair. That’s the characteristic art style of anime, or Japanese animation. But the fact that you’re reading this thesis in English means that Yu-Gi-Oh! has garnered at least some attention in the Western world. Indeed, Yu-Gi-Oh! exploded onto US television in 2001, and its massive popularity helped rip open the floodgates to a greater presence of anime in the US. The card game theme was a real hit. The lights and drama of the show made Duel Monsters look so great that it generated billions in sales in a real life Yu-Gi-Oh! Trading Card Game. Hey, maybe sales were the real goal of my creation. My show is, like, a giant commercial! 4Kids style.
What’s 4Kids? That’s the name of the company that licensed my show for Saturday morning TV. Being of Eastern origin, I was originally speaking Japanese until 4Kids hired the hammy Dan Green to dub my voice in English, and hired tons more editors to make the show appropriate for American child audiences. In this thesis, censorship means changes made from the original material to fit ideological standards of what is appropriate for the target audience. In particular, we’ll focus on censorship of sexuality and violence. Censorship can occur through 1) dubbing, which is the process of removing Japanese dialogue and replacing it with English. While audiences often assume that dubs are a faithful translation of the original Japanese dialogue, dubbing actually creates space to replace sexually charged or violent language with “kid-friendly” material. For example: my best friend Jounouchi has a dirty mouth. He’s picked up a lot of language on the street and often directs it at characters he doesn’t like: Kaiba, that a**h*** (Episode 24). Dubstyle “Joey,” however, doesn’t cuss in any episode. This bowdlerization can be considered a form of censorship, as violent meanings are being targeted and removed. Another form of censorship is 2) visual alterations in the image in order to remove signs of sexuality or violence. In the original version of my show, beautiful ladies tend to show off their stuff; but in The Dub, their skirts get lengthened and their cleavage tucked away. Often, whole shots or scenes are removed. Ahhh, what a loss…
The first major half of this thesis will compare the English Dub of Yu-Gi-Oh! to the original Japanese Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters series, examining the heavy US censorship that plagued The Dub, and understanding how differing US and Japanese cultural norms prompted such censorship. In Japan, children’s programs may have “light sexual scenes or nudity,” or may “be violent and engage with concepts of death” (Okuhara 199). As scholar Reiko Okuhara claims, “the censorship of children’s culture in Japan has never been as strict as in America, so Japanese children grew up learning about sex and violence through anime” (Okuhara 199). As the Western construction of childhood compels society’s “Moral Guardians" to protect children from sex and violence (207), US entertainment companies will sometimes go to great lengths to mold popular anime to US cultural standards. 4Kids dramatically altered Yu-Gi-Oh!, which originally contained plenty sexuality and violence, to make it appropriate for a target audience of American boys age 7-14 (“4Kids Properties: Yu-Gi-Oh!”). My show is a bowdlerization bonanza. 4Kids edited anything they thought might have been touchy—short skirts, cigarettes, brands, guns, death, alcohol, occult and religious symbols, suggestive conversations, the figures of sexy ladies, and my friends punching each other. They even changed my last name from “Mutou” to “Moto,” so kids could better pronounce it!
But that’s only half of the research. The other half comes from seeing what Western fans of Yu-Gi-Oh! wank and squee about. By examining texts created and shared by fans, we’ll analyze how fans sexualize Romantic notions of childhood innocence and how fans may project violent fantasies upon children’s bodies. Research involves reading page upon page of fanfiction about myself or other Yu-Gi-Oh! characters (most of it too embarrassing to read in public). Research also involves looking at fanart (some of which made me want to gouge out my eyeballs, and others which depicted my deepest fantasies…). And more research investigating Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series (or YGOTAS)—the fan-video parody series which inspired an entirely new genre of fantexts and which garnered Yu-Gi-Oh! more fans and attention even when the original show had past its glory days on KidsWB. In all, fans are not a passive audience; rather, fans create knowledge. Otakus post, host, and come together, sometimes creating massive communities and producing large volumes of knowledge. Furthermore, they do not necessarily regurgitate the original canon fodder of their obsession. Instead, fantexts reimagine alternate meanings to the canon, reclaiming part of the original material from the super corporations that marketed Yu-Gi-Oh! in the first place. Ultimately, fan-creations run against the grain of censorship and imagine new possibilities for childhood.
The writer of this paper is a fan who loves Yu-Gi-Oh!. In her younger days, she watched the show on Saturday mornings, drew fanart, and wrote fanfiction to share amongst friends. In her burgeoning teens, she discovered large internet fan-communities devoted to Yu-Gi-Oh!, and has been involved in online fandom ever-since. She is continuing her love for Yu-Gi-Oh! by writing this “fanessay” for other fans. From here, this paper proceeds with…
- (II.) A cultural comparison of the US and Japan. We’ll explore their differing attitudes towards sexuality and violence, recite their particular histories of censorship, and examine how their differing cultural norms led to aggressive US censorship of anime.
- (III.) A short insight into the construction of Western Romantic childhood. We’ll discuss its role in shaping social attitudes towards “protecting” children from The Naughty (sex) and The Nasty (violence).
- (IV.), (V.) A comparison of the original Japanese and Dub versions of Yu-Gi-Oh! & A comparison of the original Japanese and Dub versions of Yu-Gi-Oh!. Censorship of Yu-Gi-Oh! reveals anxieties about exposing children to sex and violence, as 4Kids attempts to steer the show and its characters along the pure ideals Romantic childhood.
- (VI.), (VII.) Finally, we’ll examine how fans take matters into their own hands via Yu-Gi-Oh! fantexts. Despite 4Kids’ attempts to censor out the controversial bits, many fantexts sexualize Romantic innocence and/or project violent fantasies on children’s bodies. Fans enact desires, reimagine social constructs, and recreate child characters under a sexual or violent lens. Ultimately, their creations go against the grain of censorship and imagine new possibilities for childhood.
So let it begin.