5 Weird Ways Dragon Ball Has Been Censored
5. Mr. Popo turns blue
There’s no denying it: Mr. Popo has always been a problem. It doesn’t matter that Japan is an entirely different country with a their own history, or that they see these kinds of things in different context — Mr. Popo is a horrific example of the “darky” racial stereotype, and it’s unacceptable in any age. You don’t get to make a jet-black character with gigantic red lips and a single dangling tooth without getting called out for being racist, no matter the cultural context.
So you can imagine the prickly predicament that Western media companies found themselves in when it came to shipping this character overseas for American syndication. Mr. Popo is a little too important a character to cut completely, but not central enough that he would be cause to scrap plans to localize one of the most popular cartoons ever. So how do you tackle a monstrosity like this? Well, you just tweak the contrast a bit.
In the 4Kids version Dragon Ball Z Kai, Mr. Popo was transformed from a magical minstrel to uh, a magical minstrel that happens to look like an ill-advised mascot for Internet Explorer. You can kind of see what they were going for, at least; some suit somewhere said “Well, what about the Genie from Aladdin? Mr. Popo’s like a genie, right? With the turban. Phil, get on that.”
But a turd that you turn blue with the MS Paint fill bucket is still a turd. No matter how much you might be attached to Popo (or more likely, his Abridged alter-ego), altering the color of his genie-flesh doesn’t fix everything about this awful character design.
You can’t blame 4Kids for wanting to prevent children from being exposed to this kind of stereotype, and on a certain level it’s important that Popo stays the way he is. Warner Bros. best explained it when they released the Looney Tunes Golden Collection on DVD, which contained several cartoons with, to put it lightly, problematic racial imagery. The preface before these shorts read:
The cartoons you are about to see are products of their time. They may depict some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that were commonplace in the U.S society. These depictions were wrong then and they are wrong today. While the following does not represent the Warner Bros. view of today’s society, these cartoons are being presented as they were originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming that these prejudices never existed.
A cartoon with that kind of warning might be hard sell to advertisers, but it’s better than pretending that Blue Popo is any kind of solution. Barring that, maybe parents could actually sit down and talk to their kids about the background of the show about space humans with monkey tails.
- Strange ways of dealing with sex and nudity
Though it was toned down considerably in DBZ, the original Dragon Ball series was rife with innuendo. Much of it involved a young Goku, who was naive but curious about the the human body. Though the show’s sexuality was often played for laughs, some of the “fun” was downright creepy (looking at you, Roshi). Many of these scenes, including the one above, were cut out entirely when it came to the US release. It’s not hard to see why someone might want to delete a scene of a woman flashing her vagina to get a Dragon Ball.
But sometimes these risque scenes were kept in the show, with the slightest of changes.
At this point in the series, Goku hasn’t had a lot of contact with humanity — he’s not prepping Bulma for a creepshot, only checking to see if she has a tail like he does. Of course, this supposedly innocent premise also doubles as a way to give the audience a good look at the female protagonist’s ass. Though some edits excise this scene entirely, the Ocean Group version of Dragon Ball just colored in the underwear; instead of white with polka-dots, it’s pure pink. It’s such a bizarre decision. The only explanation is that a purely pink pair of panties might be construed as TV-appropriate swimwear. Then again, they didn’t bother to edit out Bulma’s clearly-visible buttcrack.
In other cases, some censors wanted to pretend that sexuality doesn’t exist.
In the original cartoon, horndog sensei Master Roshi is chilling out with a girlie mag, or at the very least Kmart’s swimsuit catalog. But when the same episode aired on Nicktoons, Roshi is reading what appears to be an engrossing issue of Blank Magenta Square Quarterly.
It’s almost kind of fun to see what crazy schemes censors will come up with next. In the episode depicted below, Bulma was using underwear as bait to catch the panty-crazed Oolong. In an effort to make this situation slightly less weird, the underwear was replaced with what looks like the first picture under “money wad” on Google Image Search.
Another difference you might have noticed there: In the unedited version, Goku isn’t wearing any pants. Dude was essentially born in the wild, so he didn’t know that rockin’ out with his Kakarot out was a taboo.
Of course, that kind of thing doesn’t always fly for Western audiences, so censors were forced to go to dramatic lengths to cover up Goku’s private parts. Some versions gave his bathing suit area something resembling a real bathing suit, but others actually inserted random objects into the world to cover up that doodled diddle.
Any scene that features a naked Goku comes off like something out of an Austin Powers movie. Sometimes, censorship can be so insulting and unnecessary it’s hilarious.
- Hell, also known as the Home for Infinite Losers
As any fan knows, the story of Dragon Ball Z involves a few deaths here and there. Okay, there are a lot of deaths. And yes, it’s mostly Krillin. This morbid side of the series proved troublesome for censors, especially in versions targeted at youngsters. In some cases, dialogue was changed so as to erase any concept of death; characters never explicitly stated Goku was dead, but instead “trapped in another dimension.”
But it took more than just changing a few dubbed lines here and there. When the “trapped” Goku is running along Snake Way, he falls and lands in Hell. The fact that this directly implies the existence of an afterlife (and therefore death) was a problem to be sure, but an even bigger issue were Goz and Mez, two ogres who had the word “HELL” emblazoned across their jerseys.
Like an underperforming middle schooler smudging a dire report card, censors managed to change “HELL” into “HFIL.” In other words, Hell became the Home for Infinite Losers.
It’s an especially bizarre move when you consider that the bits with Goz and Mez are more or less filler. Goku escapes Hell and has to go back to the beginning of Snake Way at the end of the episode, but the localization team could have easily snipped this episode and patched it up with a throwaway dubbed line. But no, the syndication gods demanded that the episode be doctored in order to squeeze out one more episode to gullible American children.
Then there’s the problem with Goku’s halo, which pretty clearly indicates that he’s passed on. Someone had a fix for that too.
So instead of a shining halo around his head, Goku wore a… glowing yellow dot. Such strange lengths to go to in order to make sure that the young aren’t prematurely introduced to the cold, hard reality of their own mortality. Or that people who constantly punch each other in the face will sometimes bleed.
- Strange ways of dealing with violence
It’s the American Way: You can’t show a naked toddler taking a bath in the sink, but grown men beating the shit out of each other is fun for the whole family. And yet, even America has its limits. Despite Dragon Ball Z rarely eclipsing PG-13 levels of violence, the myriad fights in the series were still censored to hell. So instead of Goku bleeding from his face like a real-life boxer might, he’s just kind of dirty and sweaty, and maybe drooling a little.
Censors don’t always erase every trace of crimson bodily fluid. Some versions kept the blood that dripped from Piccolo’s arm during his fight with Raditz — only they changed the color from brick red to lime green. Instead of a wound sustained by a superhuman, now it just looks like Piccolo’s armhole is a margarita machine that just ran dry.
After he got done blowed up by Goku, half of Frieza’s head was gone. While it might be understandable to cut away from the pulpy mass of brains and faceblood, not every version of the episode did so; instead, some yahoo thought that a simple palette swap was all that was needed. The resulting censored image is somehow even more unsettling than the original.
Besides the gore factor, violence against Gohan also proved to be an issue with censors. The infamous scene where Goku punches his kid was edited, which would seem reasonable if they weren’t localizing aninherently violent Japanese TV show for a young audience.
Maybe the most baffling thing done concerning Gohan in danger: Removing his tears while he cried in the custody of Raditz.
Sure, the audience was about to see his dad impaled by a laser beam, but at least they were sure that the toddler wasn’t too upset about it.
- Thailand’s censorship is out of control
The above image is pixelated as it is, but that smudge in the middle is not a product of JPEG artifacting — it’s censorship on the part of a TV channel in Thailand, which chose to blur the chest of Gohan while hehulked-out into monkey mode. To be fair, it’s a cultural thing, but censoring something in this manner just makes it look way worse than it really is.
It gets worse. This Maxim-style magazine is much more foul with a layer of vaseline smeared across the screen.
But it’s not all just near or non-nudity that’s off-limits. Like in other areas of Asia, showing the soles of your feet in Thailand is considered a sign of disrespect. So when anime characters inevitably do the thing where they’re so shocked they fall directly onto their spines, censors have to blur their shoes.
In a sense, Americans should be glad they grew up in a country that tolerated the pervy ways of Master Roshi.