IV. “The Name’s Mai Valentine… It’s not a very subtle pun!”
Censorship of Sexuality in Yu-Gi-Oh!
Censorship in Yu-Gi-Oh! reveals anxieties about tainting children with the evils of sex. 4Kids devoted countless editing time to removing hints of sexuality, staking their big bucks in the construct of the sexless Romantic child. They played it safe—no one hates innocent children! Unfortunately for them, they had Mai to worry about. While Mai isn’t a kid—she’s 24 years old and still playing card games! The censorship surrounding this lascivious lady intends to preserve the virgin minds of child viewers. Much of the visual censorship is concerned with covering up her curvaceous bod, while her suggestive dialogue is cleansed with Kid-Brand Listerine.
In the English Dub, Mai is still a very sensual character. Her figure has been the prime target of alterations. Her skimpy skirt is usually lengthened in shots in the English Dub:
Episode 152-3: Mai’s generous cleavage line is also a sight for anxious eyes. It is significantly reduced from the original (Red), making her boobage look like a single blob of fleshy pudding (Yellow). Again, her skirt gets stretched (Yellow):
This shot of Amazoness Chainmaster trapped in Yami Marik’s Holding Arms card is cut from The Dub. The sight of the scantily clad female strung up in chains resonates closely with BDSM imagery. While various shots of Mai’s monster, groaning in pain, are depicted in the original, only a scant, faraway flicker of the Chainmaster sneaks into The Dub.
Moreover, in the original, Marik repeatedly addresses Mai as “woman,” which underlines her role as a sexual object. (Dub!Marik addressed Mai as “my dear”—a tad more polite.) This devaluation perhaps further highlights how women in shounen anime are often fanservice before characters on their own right. Mai is one of three strong female characters in the Yu-Gi-Oh!. How many important female characters are there? Four.
The Mai vs. Marik duel is one of the few points in which fanservice and grave sexual themes collide. It is in these episodes where one might argue that Yu-Gi-Oh! could have sufficed for an older audience than 7-year-olds; indeed the Yu-Gi-Oh! manga was targeted towards male teens (Takahashi). However, fanservice in other scenes is much more lighthearted.
In addition, when Anzu hears scary rustling in the nearby bushes, Jounouchi and Honda jump to her aid. However, Yuugi grabs them before they can open the shower curtain. The two mooks fall the ground in humorous positions, with Yuugi clinging to their coattails. Can we come in and see? they say. In response, Mai bonks them on the head, Of course not!
Fans do detect and respond to the censorship, often in indignant voices. In response to the censored climbing-the-tower scene, one fan comments on a YouTube vid: “4Kids… your censors make me and many others miss out on many real world jokes. You cause children to grow up awkward and shy, with less understanding of the truth that you hide from them. You ruin children's minds with your censors. I hope you're happy, you bastards” (Tainted Terror). It’s a guess, but this comment comes off as humorous and sarcastic. The “you bastards” is just a little too hammed on, especially when there are ample videos, art, fanfics, and whole websites dedicated to slamming 4Kids for their terrible track record with anime dubs. However, the threat of growing up awkward due to the lack of social knowledge is a real possibility, and so the fan’s bitterness may be authentic as well.
Moreover, this fan’s comment drives home the point that 4Kids’ censorship spree does not effectively confront issues of sexuality in American society. Rather than learning about sexuality in productive ways, children are simply shielded from it. Separation is key to Romantic childhood—children are simply not supposed to know. The ideal child stays in his/her bubble to preserve their blankness, to remain un-troublingly innocent. This way, no harm shall befall them. Or, at least, that’s the idea. Unfortunately, Romantic innocence itself presents a danger. Higonnet writes:
Romantic innocence puts all children at a kind or risk… Defined as the opposite of adult sexuality, childhood innocence… runs the danger of becoming alluringly opposite, enticingly off-limits. Innocence suggests violation. Innocence suggests whatever adults want to imagine. If childhood is understood as a blank slate, then adults can freely project their own fantasies onto children, whatever those fantasies might be. (Higgonet 38)
Such potentially dangerous fantasies can be found in fan-texts that depict sexual violence and children’s bodies. While they are fantasies and not real enactments of violence, kids are still harmed in real life. It may be unsettling to see anybody—“innocent” or “not”—co-opted for someone else’s violent fetish. Yet, who should have the power to police the desires of others? Controversial kinks are a hot topic within communities of fans and pro-writers alike: “It seems… that regulating which desires are acceptable and which are transgressions is a slippery slope.” Are such fantasies okay as long as they remain in the realm of the imagination? Do these fantasies unintentionally support a violent sexual culture? Or is criticizing them an act of kink-shaming? We’ll address this question later. For now, on to Section V!