(Open Thread) The Whitewashing of Sailor Moon (And Other Anime)


Chaka Cumberbatch’s article about white fandom’s bullshit towards her Sailor Venus cosplay (Which by the way is the best Sailor Venus cosplay. EVER.) set off a train of thoughts which got me thinking about how the US dubbing of anime.

Because I’m always so out of touch with the current, I don’t know if this is still the case but I do know that in the previous decade, anime dubbed in the US which are targeted at children (though some of them are targeted at teenagers back in Japan) have a strong tendency to give the English names to the Japanese characters.

Not only that, the dialogue would even be written to disguise the fact that it isn’t set in the US. That results in some weird hilarity if you’re watching the English dub of Sailor Moon, where the US apparently has signs in hiragana and kanji all over! And there was Raye (The White Rei!) wearing miko robes when… Um, I don’t remember what the reason was given if any.

Now I’m wondering how they justified that episode in the third season where there was a shrine festival and everyone was wearing yukata and then Haruka and Michiru appears with the former genderbending as usual– Yeah, we can also talk about the lesbian erasure in most dubs including the one made in the SUPER PROGRESSIVE FIRST WORLD SUPERPOWER WHATEVER JINGOISTIC LIBERAL BULLSHIT USA.


What does it means for children both white and of colour in the US (and other Western countries when applicable) when they can watch something from Japan and yet once again see white people in it. What does it mean when the producers would see the need to whitewash it for children, and let’s be real about it, they’re thinking white when they think children.

And if you’re like myself who comes from a non-Western country but receive US dubbed anime on your television, what does it mean for us and our children?

33 thoughts on “(Open Thread) The Whitewashing of Sailor Moon (And Other Anime)

  1. I don’t think that they change names to hide the Japanese background anymore. Though it depends on how you look at it. I have seen a Hellsing fan who argued that Alukard should be named Arukadu to match Japanese pronunciation. But I still see them changing bills from yen into dollars, which sounds funny in the obvious Japanese surroundings.

    • “I have seen a Hellsing fan who argued that Alukard should be named Arukadu to match Japanese pronunciation.”

      That’s one of those cases where the intent of the author is important since ‘Alucard’ is really Dracula and by extension Vlad III Tepes so in that case, the correct and accurate translation is ‘Alucard’. ‘Arukakdu’ is just how the Japanese end up pronouncing it due to the nature of their language.

      I don’t think the names of certain anime/manga characters are always names that are given to people in real life Japanese society. I mean, you don’t see people in the West who are named Albus Dumbledore or Hagrid do you? Not that that justifies erasure but that is another layer surrounding this.

      • That is what I mean, there are cases when you need to change the original names somewhat. To give less obvious example than Alukard, look at Lina Invers from Slayers. In Japanese it would be Rina Inbasu, which is not a Japanese name in the first place. But if you have a character named with a real name, like Sosuke or Kagami, it is better to leave the name as it is.

    • Actually they still do it. In Detective Conan (CASE CLOSED <– see even changed the name of the show) Shuichi became "Jimmy". It went so far that Viz used the names for the manga. (Which is why I hate Viz and don't support them among hacking out all the Japanese SFX in manga and replacing it with goofy looking english text) Besides Pokemon, I think Bakugan got some name edits and possible the new Beyblade. I'm not sure what's on TV anymore.

      Pokemon now dubbed by.. uh.. NOT 4Kids still renames characters. I'll have to see if Card Fight! Vanguard got renamed, but I don't think it did. I think it was dubbed in SIngapore where they most times stay a bit more faithful to the production (not always mind you, I think Digimon got some edits). Then again I'm not sure Card Fight! Vanguard is on US TV (haven't watched it in a loooong time.)

  2. I live in Germany and the German Dub usually kept the Japanese names for the most part, except Digimon and Pokemon for some reason. Maybe it’s because people assume that children wouldn’t be able to remember foreign names and thus don’t have to. Even if they grow up in a culturally diverse place like Berlin. (Then again, most German media is made in West Germany)
    Anime aimed at older children, like Detective Conan, kept pretty much everything and nobody complained (at least until some Media Watchdogs complained about the violence).

  3. It is true that there have been some utterly appalling dubs in this regard. The butchering of Card Captor Sakura into the abomination known as Card Captors.

    It doesn’t help when the original drawings are white washed enough to enable this behaviour.

    On the other hand, there ARE good dubs out there – Planetes has a good dub that preserves the diversity of the original characters.

    • “It doesn’t help when the original drawings are white washed enough to enable this behaviour.”

      That’s not the fault of the Japanese artists but the fault of the Westerners for looking at the through the parameters and cultural dictation of the art in their part of the world.

      An Asian artist living in the West or a white artist in the west might want to make it clear that a character they are drawing is Asian but Japanese artists don’t commonly put ‘markers’ on their characters because they are Japanese by default and when they want to draw someone outside of their ethnicity, culture and country then they would layering the character with markers to depict their ethnicity along with other references to their heritage and background.

      What is important is for Western audiences to remember and accept that part (and there are some who do) and not to entitled about another person’s work and experiences.

      • It was not my intention to assign blame, or motives, to the original artists.

        I should probably have added “inadvertently” or “effectively” to the original statement.

        There is however one example of a half-Japanese character being drawn with more Asian “markers” than the fully Japanese cast: Kanuka Clancy from Patlabor. I’ve never really known what to make of that.

  4. I had no idea this was a thing! I didn’t grow up watching anime*, and nowadays when I watch anime it’s with the subtitles, It’s insulting to children to think that they need ‘white’ names to watch a show or understand the premise.

    *[Well, except for a Japanese/Spanish co-production of Dogtanian, in which the characters were French, and a Japanese/French co-production of Mysterious Cities of Gold in which the characters were Spanish (or South American). Either way, no originally Japanese characters to whitewash.]

  5. It happened in Cardcaptor Sakura aswell where 4Kids (who is the usual culprit for this kind of thing) decided to edit out the anime (or was it the movie) so that they can erase the female main character and have her male love interest be the protagonist instead.

    I don’t live in the US but luckily, I grew up watching the real Cardcaptor Sakura with Sakura as the main character and I can say that same for most of the other anime’s I grew up watching.

    Personally, I believe it’s disgusting to take something from another culture then strip everything relating to that culture and then marketing. It’s such a spat in the face of the creators and the country where the story originated from.

    Lately, I haven’t heard of any white washing in anime. However, I have heard that several Hollywood adaptations (tv and movie serial) might end up being whitewashed. I haven’t heard anything about the Akira or Bleach movies which many feared (and had a right to after seeing the Race Bending of Avatar the Last Air bender) would end up being whitewashed. Furthermore, it even sparked debate on the character’s ethnicity.

    What I find interesting about it though is that whenever a light skinned character appears and there is no other ‘markers’ that people look for then it is automatically assumed that the character himself is a white person. It just slides under the radar and everyone goes along merrily. However, if a brown skinned character appears then their ethnicity sparks debates, epic flamewars and it is absolutely imperative to confirm whether the character is black, Indian or Hispanic. This was the case with Yoruichi from Bleach. I mean why can’t we have dark skinned characters in a completely fantasy and their ethnicity is passed without comment?

    2-3 years back I got into a small debate with an online friend, who happened to be black and I recall him insisting that one manga character; Kakashi from Naruto, was white character and I told him that he was Asian. We didn’t go too far with that particular debate but it did show me that even some non-whites can fall into the trap of assuming that a light skinned anime character is by default a white guy so long as they don’t have markers.

    • Oh man, I can’t believe I’d forgotten Card Captor Sakra! I got Cardcaptors, where they tried to make it about her and Li, when the show was Cardcaptor Sakura. What a bunch of BS that was…

    • I remember back when I used to go to Aang Is Not White on Livejournal all the time and learned that there were people who argued that not only are all Avatar characters white but most anime characters too. Because apparently if you want to draw East Asians, you must have yellow skin and narrow eyes!

      • I have seen an article that I think was published in peer-reviewed literature, that discussed the reasons why anime/manga characters were ‘drawn to look caucasian.’ The possibility that they weren’t, and this was all in the mind of the author, was never discussed.

        Actually, I think I also saw it on Aang is Not White.

  6. The dubs of Sailor Moon, Pretty Cure, Pokemon, and Digimon were white-washed in how they changed names, but from what I recalled of a video, Pretty Cure got the worse of the treatment.

    Despite taking place in Tokyo, the dub writers did almost everything they could to ensure that any mention of Tokyo was taken out along with the original names.

    In Pokemon, they not only renamed everyone but also did stuff like call Onigiri donuts.

    It’s part of why I don’t like dubs… along with how I just don’t think they’re that good.

    • The onigiri becoming something else happened in Sailor Moon too.

      And yeah, I was thinking of Futari wa Pretty Cure too when I wrote this. Sure, you have someone named Hannah Whitehouse living in an old Japanese manor and has a grandmother who is totally white I swear but she is always wearing yukata because… Um… And it’s also a totally American thing to eat takoyaki all the time!

  7. Yeah I noticed that alot back in the day. Now since people are not stupid, THe dubbers finnaly decided to maintain the culture with the show. Too bad we won’t be seeing no Asian Drama on TV anything soon

  8. TBH this is a category of fail that goes all the way back to ‘Gigantis the Fire Monster’. That people in the 21st Century are repeating the same mistakes indicates either inability to learn or refusal to learn. The reference to Gigantis the Fire Monster, BTW, is actually an *improvement* over the original idea, which was to remake the film entirely as something called the Volcano Monsters. I believe the whitewashing is one part ‘Viewers are Morons’ and a much greater part ‘who wants to watch Japanese people with Japanese names in Japanese cartoons in the United States? Bah. Make something cool completely nonsensical by saying it’s really the USA, what can possibly go wrong?’.

    • I just watched that the other week, too! Gigantis the Fire Monster, where they cut out close to ten minutes of footage, switched up the roars between the two monsters, had American actors voice over the Japanese actors in often racist dialects, and other things.

      Fun trivia Fact: Doing voice work for Gigantis The Fire Monster was George Takei’s first acting job.

  9. Ah! Reading this brought back memories of watching the Sailor Moon dub as a child. It’s horrid some of the English dubs I happen to see on Saturday mornings. When my brother watched Sonic X dubbed, some of the stuff was awful.
    I think though, they change the names since some Japanese names might sound too complex for little kids they target the show for, and they don’t want to confuse them. That’s what I mainly think anyway.
    The one thing that I kind of understand, but kind of hate is when I saw something about the English dub of the first Pokemon movie, they took out the whole 10 min (or somewhere near 10 mins) beginning about one of the scientist’s daughters spending time with Mewtwo in some psychic realm because it was too dark. When I saw it on YouTube, I swear it’s the darkest Pokemon’s got and I loved it, but since it dealt with death I could see why it was left out.

    • The idea of Japanese names being too complex for little kids is preposterous. After all, there are many little kids who have those names or know someone with those names. Besides: Se-Re-Na vs U-Sa-Gi; three syllables for both and somehow the Japanese one is supposed to be too difficult?

    • “I think though, they change the names since some Japanese names might sound too complex for little kids they target the show for”

      They are not always like that. I have read a number of manga’s and watched anime and very rarely have I come across unpronounceable names. I’m not even Japanese. Even in those those cases, why can’t kids and people just rely on contractions and nick names? My username on another site is ‘Kazekage’ but I frequently get called ‘Kaze’ by friends.

      People get confused but anime and manga outside of Japan are a piece of culture, confusion is a small price to pay when you are exposed to a different and it might be a good thing too as it encourages people to find answers to those confusion and creates a platform for communication between the two cultures.

  10. Personally, I think this was a normal thing for just about ANY anime before 2000 that was dubbed and to be broadcasted on local US stations since 60s. This may have been part of what helped establish “anime characters are white” in people’s minds, including my own.

    I think that successive sequels to the Pokemon, Digimon, & Yu-Gi-Oh franchises have been grandfathered into this tradition. Maybe partly from habit and partly from continuity?

  11. I’m hoping that when/of the new Sailor Moon anime makes it to North America that they’ll know enough not to mess with it like they did the last one.
    I watched the dub anime religiously as a kid, and remember my friend going over which character was gay, which characters were men in Japan, and how those two “cousins” were really lesbians, and even as a kid, I thought it was stupid that they changed it like that.

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