These 4Kids edits are my favorite! Nothing beats a 4Kids edit.
Question: how do you learn almost everything about an anime fan in one question? Answer: Ask them their opinion on 4Kids’ anime localisations from the 90s and 2000s. Yes, this is a fancy way of asking “subs or dubs?” but shhhhh.
On one hand, 4Kids has been reviled by anime fans for decades. By heavily editing their source material to be appropriate for young children, 4Kids massively butchered classic shows like One Piece and Yu-Gi-Oh. On the other hand, this was standard fare for localization at the time. What’s more, some 4Kids edits became cultural icons in their own right. I mean, without 4Kids, we wouldn’t even have the iconic Season 1 Pokémon theme song. There are people who haven’t even played Pokémon that know all the words to that!
Regardless of your opinion on 4Kids, there’s one thing we can agree on: some of the changes they made are absolutely hysterical. There are literal volumes worth of 4Kids edits to list, so let’s look at 5 of the most hilarious ways 4Kids changed classic anime that we love today.
5: Onigiri Jelly Doughnuts
I remember being a kid and seeing Brock proudly hold rice balls while proclaiming his love of jelly doughnuts. Little did I realize I was witnessing anime history.
When you think about it, this moment brilliantly sums up the state of localization in the 90s. So much of Japanese media was gratuitously changed to be more Western, and Brock’s enthusiastic endorsement of his snack perfectly embodies this. He’s obviously holding a rice ball, yet he tells us with complete sincerity that these are, in fact, jelly-filled doughnuts. It’s like being convinced that 2 + 2 = 5 in 1984, except with slightly fewer electrical shocks.
4: Smoking a lollipop
This one is actually understandable, yet still hilarious.
One Piece‘s Sanji was a cool, suave character at the center of a lot of the show’s badass moments. And one of his distinguishing features was an ever-present cigarette in his mouth or in his hands. Now, western broadcasters generally avoid showing smoking at all, especially in shows aimed at kids or teenagers. Seeing that Sanji could have caused actual boycotts, 4Kids made the understandable choice to remove this piece of his characterization.
But rather than remove it outright, 4Kids changed the cigarette to… a lollipop.
You can see the logic, but it’s incredible how they chose a replacement that virtually sends the opposite message about Sanji as a character. We could have saved millions of dollars on anti-smoking campaigns if we just told kids that smokers might spend their lives with lollipops edited into their mouths in every picture.
3: The homeless girl who turns out to be not homeless
I’ll admit that most of 4Kids’ antics are pretty well known by anime fans. Yet some of the changes 4Kids made to Tokyo Mew Mew (or Mew Mew Power in their dub) are equally as baffling despite being less notorious.
As the Tokyo Mew Mew wiki puts it, the 4Kids version of the show “was nearly completely changed.” How extensive are these changes, you may ask? At one point, 4Kids decided to add a plot point that the character Bu-ling (Kikki in the dub) actually grew up in a homeless shelter. Yet little did 4Kids know that, only a few episodes later, we would not only see Bu-ling’s siblings, but also her home. So yes, 4Kids introduced a plot point into the show for virtually no reason, which then got written out of their own canon because the original script contradicted it.
While many of 4Kids changes make sense on some level, this is one edit that I absolutely cannot wrap my head around. Congratulations 4Kids, you broke me.
2: GOTTA GO FAST
I want to remind everyone that this is a list of hilarious 4Kids edits, not bad 4Kids edits. This is because the direction they took with the Sonic X opening is truly a gift that keeps on giving.
Yes, it’s well known that GOTTA GO FAST is meme magic in the Sonic community. But honestly, the more I examine this opening, the funnier it became. Most TV show openings make some effort to sell the audience on the show, which usually includes some quick summary of the show’s plot. Digimon told us that Digimon are digital monsters (and the champions), and even the infamous One Piece rap reiterates the show’s story numerous times. So what, you may ask, are the lyrics to the Sonic X English opening?
Movin’ at the speed of sound (make tracks!)
Quickest hedgehog around
Got ourselves a situation
Stuck in a new location
Without any explanation
No time for relaxation.
So there you have it, Sonic X‘s opening actively tries to tell you that the show has no coherent plot. Can’t wait to watch it now!
1: The Shadow Realm
For English speaking kids who grew up watching Yu-Gi-Oh, the Shadow Realm was a noteworthy piece of the series’ lore. After all, no climactic game of cards was complete without someone being banished to the Shadow Realm.
Except… the Shadow Realm absolutely did not exist in the original Yu-Gi-Oh canon.
Yes, an actually iconic part of the Western Yu-Gi-Oh lore was in fact a lie that 4Kids told us right to our faces. As it turns out, Yu-Gi-Oh featured a fair bit of death and violence. We’re talking buzz saws that cut off duelists feet and souls being banished to literal hell. So whenever one of these plot points came up, the victim got thrown into the Shadow Realm to never be seen again. Even people that didn’t explicitly die in the original script got sent to the Shadow Realm because… I guess they need to maintain a quota?
The Shadow Realm is absolutely silly and a poor localization choice no matter how you slice it. But by the same token, it also shows how Western audiences have forged their own traditions with Japanese media. So much of nerd culture stems from weird translation quirks (ie “You Spoony Bard!” from Final Fantasy) that it’s impossible to imagine a world without it. 4Kids may not have given us proper localisations for these iconic shows, but in a way, they’ve given us something even better.
For many of us, 4Kids was our gateway drug into anime. While they washed out these shows to fit alongside Saturday Morning Cartoons, perhaps that’s all we were ready for at the time. Now, over a decade later, we have abundant access to faithful subs and dubs of these shows. 4Kids localizations will never be remembered for their accuracy, but they’ll always be remembered for their treasure trove of quirky changes and sometimes baffling censorship. No one should be obligated to like 4Kids in retrospect, but by the same token, all of us should be grateful for the way they inspired an entire generation of anime fans.
So here’s to you 4Kids, or at least what you once were before you were systematically dismantled between 2012 and 2016. Perhaps you are gone from this world, but you will forever remain within the Shadow Realms of our hearts.