Fidelity is not a problem with modern anime dubbing. Anime is often translated and localized with a great deal of faithfulness by studios. Anime fans, meanwhile, have more access than ever to the original, unedited versions of shows. When it comes to dubbing, though, fans need to remember that anime scriptwriters can’t simply recreate the original scripts word-for-word. Literal translations often sound artificial and unnatural, so dub scripts need to make efforts to localize what a script says, to some degree.
Granted, some publishers have taken this concept of localization so far that what they end up creating is entirely unlike what they were given to dub. In fact, the farther back in dubbing history you go, the more you find studios who didn’t really care about fidelity to an anime’s original script. 4Kids Entertainment, for example, infamously localized anime like Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! for American kids, which often required changing elements of the show to better fit with other content on television. Names like “Satoshi” or “Jonouchi” became “Ash” or “Joey.” Rice balls became jelly donuts or poorly photoshopped sandwiches. Violent and sexual content was censored. Lethal handguns became harmless finger guns. Oh, and soundtracks would regularly be altered, for better or worse.
However, none of 4Kids’ localization choices were as drastic as the decisions DiC made when bringing Sailor Moon to the west. DiC was one of three companies to dub the series for western audiences. While Viz Media would eventually gain the license for Sailor Moon in 2014, two companies — DiC and Cloverway Inc. — produced English dubs for the show in the late ‘90s and early 2000s.
While Cloverway’s approach was similar to 4Kids’s approach in many ways — most infamously, changing obviously queer Sailor Uranus and Neptune into ostensibly hetereosexual cousins — DiC’s localization of Sailor Moon was particularly drastic. DiC had risen to prominence over the years with numerous animated children’s shows. When they acquired the rights to Sailor Moon, the company went as far as to re-edit the series to be more in-line with other shows they had produced previously, such as Inspector Gadget and Captain Planet and the Planeteers. By the time Sailor Moon debuted on American televisions in August 1995, it had been rewritten and reworked into something distinctly different from the original.
DiC removed as many references as possible to Japan as a nation. Kanji were censored in various shots and Japanese names were altered whenever possible, which was very much the style at that time. Some of these changes weren’t overly drastic. Usagi, for example, became Serena, which makes sense considering Usagi’s prior incarnation name as Princess Serenity. Rei became Raye, while Ami became Amy. But then you get to names like Mamoru, who became Darien, or Naru, who now goes by Molly.
Many of the villains didn’t get their names changed, especially in the first or second seasons, where their names are primarily references to minerals or gemstones. Two distinct exceptions to this are Kunzite, whose moniker was weirdly changed to Malachite, and Black Lady, whose name is changed to Wicked Lady. Some fans believe this was done to avoid any potential racial implications.
Every script was re-written, sometimes extensively, and lines were not translated faithfully in any sense of the word. DiC would typically take the “gist” of the original version, then change so much that it barely resembled the original whatsoever. This implies that the writers and translators for DiC knew what the characters said, but deliberately chose to not write it.
For example, in the first episode, Usagi delivers her first major speech as Sailor Moon, right when she confronts the monster that has replaced Naru/Molly’s mother. The official subtitle translation of that address goes something like this:
“I’m the pretty guardian, who fights for love and justice, I am Sailor Moon! In the name of the moon, you will be punished!”
This is DiC’s adaptation of the line:
“I’m Sailor Moon, the champion of Justice. I will right wrongs and triumph over evil, and that means you!”
On one hand, the same idea is relayed to the viewer. Usagi is introducing herself as a hero, and she’s preparing to vanquish the evil before her. Despite this, nearly every word in her speech was modified, which completely alters the impact of what she’s saying. The original Japanese lines emphasize Sailor Moon as a beautiful guardian, representative of a force larger than herself. The DiC dub turns that into a generic superhero speech. Most obviously, it omits the now-iconic line “In the name of the moon, I shall punish you!”
It should come as no surprise, therefore, that due to DiC’s cavalier attitude toward their writing, nearly every character’s personality is drastically oversimplified. In the original anime, Usagi admits she’s a klutzy crybaby, but her actions and behavior throughout reveal hidden depths to her personality that become more apparent the longer the show goes on. Serena, however, is just a klutz and a crybaby. Even her accomplishments are re-written to be in-line with this goofy, one-dimensional persona.
Despite this, Serena still manages to show some shades of Usagi’s complexity. While she is mostly selfish, she isn’t nearly as one-note with her personality as, say, Raye. In the original series, Rei is at times very sassy and bratty to Usagi and toward men, but her abrasive side is balanced out by many moments of kindness and empathy toward her friends. Despite the levels of sass she dishes out to Usagi, she still very clearly cares about her. Raye, on the other hand, is incredibly mean to Serena. She constantly mocks Serena’s eating habits, appearance, and intelligence, as neutral lines of dialogue or even fair rebukes are changed to beat up on Serena.
Still this flattening of characters might not be intentional. In a Den of Geek interview with Katie Griffin, Raye’s voice actor, she stated that the team didn’t intend on presenting Raye as that overtly mean:
“You know, I’ve had a few of these conversations as well, because I get the question, ‘Why is Raye so mean? Why is she such a bitch?’ And you know, when I played her, I never saw her that way. I just saw her as really strong and really loyal. Of course they fought. They were like sisters, and that’s what happens, especially if there’s a boy involved and they both like the same guy. But they’re still friends at the end of the day.”
Some of DiC’s alterations are even more drastic than these character modifications. Sailor Moon and Sailor Moon R feature three entirely disconnected villain groups: the Dark Kingdom, Ali and En, and the Black Moon Clan.In DiC’s dub, though, all three are blended together into agents of the Negaverse: a clear amalgamation of “Negative Universe,” despite all three having drastically different origins, motivations, and reasons for existing. As seen with the main cast, the plot flattening over-simplifies everything.
In an ironic twist,in the Naoko Takeuchi’s original manga, every villain group is tied together thanks to their connection to Chaos, an immortal evil force in the universe. And though Chaos actually appears in the anime, it exists as an abstract evil Sailor Galactus takes into her being to save the world, rather than as the source of all Usagi’s problems throughout time.
Every episode of DiC’s adaptation saw content cut for the sake of pacing. The good folks at the website Sailor Moon Uncensored went through every installment of the DiC and Cloverway dubs to see how much of the original episode remained in each episode released for American television. They ultimately concluded that only 47% of Sailor Moon’s first episode made it through the cutting room floor.
Not all of these cuts are unmerited, of course. Most of the transformation sequences, for example, are sped up. Moreover, much of the cut content was originally used to tighten the focus on the originally scripted content, and some scenes were re-edited out of sequence in order to justify this. Still, when you break down the many, many changes made to these scripts, the changes seem fairly arbitrary.
This is particularly apparent in episode 17/14’s script (we’ll get to that discrepancy in a moment). The original Japanese episode starts with Usagi giving viewers an update on who she is, before cutting to Naru and friends reading a fashion magazine. DiC cut out all of that, which resulted in the first fifty seconds of the episode being omitted entirely. We then later see roughly fifteen seconds of content cut from a conversation between Serena and Amy, in order to tighten the scene around the newly re-written dialog. Later in that same episode, a scene with Mamoru talking about how good photographers are able to capture a person’s inner beauty as well as outer beauty is replaced by a segment in which Darien explains how he used to be a model for money.
That said, the most egregious changes can be found in the cut episodes. DiC dubbed only eighty-two of the first eighty-nine episodes of Sailor Moon. The adaptation gained notoriety for its combining of the last two episodes of the first season, because too much disturbing content was censored from them. Likewise, episodes like episode 42 were entirely omitted, despite that particular installment outlining Sailor Venus’s tragic backstory.
This liberal approach to storytelling and sequential understanding of the plot extended behind the scenes, as well. ADR Director John Stocker explained that the cast and crew often didn’t know the plot, since they often recorded episodes out of order:
“The general format is that we were recording one performer at a time. We jumped all over the place. We’d save the screaming till the end. That, too, would be out of context. Even as voice director, I had minimal handle on the storylines and the plotlines and the themes. All I knew was, here’s a conversation. I knew it had to make sense.”
It should be noted that not all of DiC’s changes involved content removal and that they added many new stylistic elements. For example, cartoon effects and transitions were added to nearly every scene. Scenes swipe over a bubble-gum pink 90s-esque backdrop to show transitions, creating a very distinct style in and of itself. It’s rather similar in some ways to other ‘90s shows aimed at kids, like Saved by the Bell, which had concluded two years prior to Sailor Moon’s westside debut.
That’s to say nothing of the adaptation’s new soundtrack. The original orchestral soundtrack composed by Arisawa Takanori is replaced by a synthetic soundtrack, which was developed in-house. Opening theme song Moonlight Densetsu, meanwhile, was replaced by DiC’s almost equally iconic opening song. While the two songs sound similar musically, their lyrics are entirely different. Whereas the original number is about destined romance, DiC crafted a song about a cool hero being awesome. And, to be honest, this is one change that a lot of fans are okay with. There were also various insert songs that were entirely original to the series composed by Bob Summers, and, quite frankly, are quite charming in their own right. Both were clear attempts to be stylish, but this endeavour, strangely enough, gives the DiC dub some nostalgic charm of its own.
What’s less charming is the sheer amount of censorship found within the series. DiC is guilty of absolutely decimating the show in an attempt to remove any hint of objectionable material from Sailor Moon. For example, in one major scene where Usagi gets drunk, all verbal references to alcohol are removed, with the drink insead being referred to simply as “punch.” Scenes where characters get hit physically are trimmed so the moment of impact is never shown.
Similarly, Chibusa’s first appearance features her drawing a gun on Usagi and threatening her with it. The gun turns out to be a toy, but we only realize that when Chibiusa fires a toy dart at Usagi’s head. Rini’s first appearance, on the other hand, is edited around that confrontation, with DiC cutting out all reference to the dart.
As mentioned before, the final two episodes of Sailor Moon were censored so heavily that DiC opted to combine the episodes into one. Specifically, they contain several moments in which main characters die. In DiC’s adaptation, every death scene and moment in which characters are mourning in anguish is cut and re-edited to make it look like the characters are either being captured or in need of rest. In one scene, Usagi is shown mourning Mamoru by cradling his dead, lifeless body and talking about how she’ll never be able to kiss him while he’s alive. This scene was cut down to a couple seconds, with DiC literally reversing the images of Mamoru’s eyes closing in death in order to prove to the audience that Darien is totally fine and alive. Mamoru’s death becomes Darien just taking a breather.
Of course, the most infamous changes are the omissions of anything that could be construed as remotely sexual. Usagi’s transformations are edited. Outlines of Usagi’s breasts and anatomy are blurred to be as conservative as possible. Rei’s grandfather in the Japanese original leers on teenage girls frequently, making many perverse comments about them. Therefore, the scenes featuring Raye’s grandfather are often cut short or severely modified.
The most well-known of these types of edits, though, were made to erase any queer content from the series. While Haruka and Michiru do not appear in the DiC dub at all, Malachite and Zoisite do. In the original, these two are romantically involved with one another, while in the DiC dub… well, Malachite and Zoisite are still romantically involved. Rather than remove their relationship, DiC simply turned the male Zoisite into a woman to keep the romance from being gay.
While this censorship seems out of this world today, it’s vital to remember that this was standard practice at the time. Many American cartoons were beholden to certain conservative standards regarding violence and sexuality, which were typically defined by networks as part of their Broadcast Standards and Practices. Spider-Man: the Animated Series, which ran alongside Sailor Moon, famously featured only a single punch in the entire show because the team was reportedly not allowed to show characters punching another person. Morbius the Living Vampire was forced to suck plasma from suckers along his hand instead of drinking blood from victims’ necks like a real vampire. Carnage, a notorious serial killer whose name literally refers to the shredded remains of human flesh, never maima anyone, but instead exists as a servant of Dormammu. While the changes made to Sailor Moon sound bewildering and drastic today, it’s clear that DiC wasn’t so much an outlier during the ‘90s, but rather a part of the broader system.
But then this begs the question: why did DiC dub Sailor Moon if they’d have to change so much? A definitive answer has never arisen, but it’s not hard to surmise that at least part of the decision can be owed to the Power Rangers. Saban had great success in taking on a Japanese property, re-editing it for Western audiences while adding their own original plotlines and concepts to it to make it more palpable for western viewers. Sailor Moon, in comparison, required even less work: hire actors, rewrite the script, but film nothing new. Bandai initially collaborated with American firms Toon Makers and Renaissance Atlantic to produce a western pilot for Sailor Moon. The companies aimed to produce a live-action/animation hybrid that could be pitched to publishers like Saban or networks like Fox Kids. The pitch, which has been mistakenly attributed to Saban in the past, became notorious among Sailor Moon fans after footage of it made its way online. In this light, it’s hard to argue that DiC’s dub is the best case scenario for that time, in many senses of the word.
When dubbing Sailor Moon, DiC used an approach similar to the one employed by Carl Macek when he produced Robotech: cut up and re-edit anime to appeal to a new audience. Macek was brought on as a creative consultant for DiC’s Sailor Moon early in production before being fired due to creative clashes with DiC’s CEO. DiC’s approach to Sailor Moon is in-line with what its competition did.
In hindsight, this might seem kind of absurd. Still, it makes sense if we consider the landscape of anime in the west at the time . In the mid-’90s, anime was a niche market. DiC had the license to a show that was popular in Japan, but needed to be re-worked to be as successful as their other material. They had no idea that, twenty years later, people would be baffled at the idea that Sailor Moon would need “to be fixed” at all.