4Kids Entertainment, Inc. was an American film and television production company specializing in the acquisition, production, and licensing of children's entertainment around the world; they were most known for their acquired television programs. On December 21, 2012, 4Kids reorganized themselves under the name of 4Licensing Corporation, which itself became defunct in February 2017.
Between 2004 and 2007, 4Kids were involved in an English dub and localization of the One Piece anime series which covered the first 143 episodes and influenced the contemporary English manga, video games and merchandise. In 2007, the One Piece license was transferred from 4Kids to Funimation.
History of 4Kids and One Piece
Norman J. Grossfeld, the president of 4Kids at the time, was the executive producer of their English version of the series. On August 14, 2004, the first trailers were released. The One Piece anime debuted in America on the FoxBox TV block (later known as 4Kids TV) on September 18, 2004. Cartoon Network announced their aqusation of the series on February 16, 2005. In the UK, Toonami announced that they had acquired the series on November 18, 2004 and began their broadcast on April 23, 2005.
In an interview on April 24, 2005 4Kids CEO Al Kahn suggested that One Piece, along with every other 4Kids property, would receive an uncut DVD release, and added that anime fans would "have to accept the fact that it's going to be available in two styles". The American home video rights to the series were sub-licensed to VIZ Media, who began releasing the edited version of the series on DVD in February 2006 with "English TV Version" specified on the DVD covers. Despite Kahn's earlier statements, Viz were unable to release an uncut version as they were not involved with the dub's production.
On November 11, 2005 One Piece (along with Mew Mew Power, another 4Kids series) was reported missing from the 4Kids line-up. However, on January 2, 2006, the series was announced to be continuing on February 11.
On March 16, 2006, 4Kids announced plans to concentrate only on their fully-owned properties. A fall of profit was blamed on the shortfall of several of their dubbed licenses such as Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh, although One Piece and several other licenses they held were said to offset the results. The company as a result later dropped a few shows including one of their biggest earners, Pokémon. The dubbing of new anime lessened, and 4Kids announced on December 6, 2006 that they had canceled production of their One Piece dub and dropped the license. Ultimately, 4kids produced 104 English-dubbed episodes from the first 143 .
In Japan, early episodes of One Piece aired at 7 and 7:30pm. 4Kids reportedly licensed the series based on its merchandising potential and success in Japan without looking at the content of the episodes themselves in detail; when 4Kids staff watched the series, they were shocked at how much unsuitable material they found but had already committed to localizing the series. Their version of the series had to comply with the standards of their demographics of ages 8–13 as well as the rules set by the TV networks airing the series. Part of 4Kid's production process involved sending footage and scripts to American television networks for review, dictating which elements would be altered for the English version.
A Funimation representative would later confirmed some of the need for TV censorship when they aired One Piece on TV, stating that toning down the violence and removing cigarette and alcohol consumption was a requirement for the series to be broadcast on Cartoon Network.
Virtually no death scenes are shown, regardless of their importance to the plot, and the deaths of characters such as Bell-mère and Kuina were written out of the story. Initially the concept of death was never directly referenced at all, although later episodes were more lenient. Because blood was removed, the third Luffy vs. Crocodile fight was written so that Luffy uses his sweat to hit Crocodile rather than his blood.
A lot of dialogue was altered to include humor, often pun-based, even during scenes that were entirely serious in the Japanese version. Some scenes which were silent in Japanese had speech added by 4Kids.
Removal of episodes and arcs
The 4Kids dub skipped 20 episodes in their entirety and, by using footage from multiple Japanese episodes in a single English one, cut the series down by 39 episodes in total. As a result, the following story arcs were skipped: Buggy's Crew Adventure Chronicles, the Warship Island Arc, the Reverse Mountain Arc, Diary of Koby-Meppo, the Little Garden Arc and the Goat Island Arc. Individual episodes from the the Arlong Park, Loguetown and Post-Arabasta arcs were also removed.
In some cases this resulted in plot points significant to later story arcs being removed or altered. The removed Warship Island arc explains why the crew must use Reverse Mountain and the removal of Crocus meant that the first references to Laugh Tale were removed with him. To explain the Log Pose, a new dialogue scene was created using existing animation of the crew talking and footage of Yasopp and Zeff from earlier episodes; in this scene, Usopp finds a Log Pose that Yasopp left to him, reminding Sanji of Zeff's lesson to him about Grand Line navigation.
Mr. 3's later appearance in Arabasta was re-written to not reference the cut Little Garden arc. In the 4Kids version, he claims to have been chasing the Straw Hat Pirates since Roguetown, despite Baroque Works not knowing about the crew in either version until they reach Misty Peak. The Straw Hats also refer to Mr. 3 and his partner Ms. April Fool's as if they've already met them. Nami's sickness is rewritten to be "Grand Line Fever", but 4Kids later contradict this when Kureha asks Nami if she had been walking around on a prehistoric island, the origin or her illness in the Japanese version.
Because the storyline is still ongoing, several changes would become issues retroactively. Laboon's removal leaves Brook without reason to join the crew, cutting Dorry and Brogy removes Oimo and Kashii's reason to side with Usopp in the Enies Lobby Arc, the crew's meeting with Crocus is referenced again in Thriller Bark, Sabaody Archipelago and the Zou arcs, and both Elbaf and Laugh Tale are referenced significantly later in the series.
On September 9, 2004, 4Kids answered the problems of Sanji smoking in the show. This was one of the few announced changes made to the series and the first alteration the company spoke of in regard to the dub. Many firearms were changed to look less realistic, and some were edited into other objects; some Marine guns are turned into water guns while the others are simply colored green. Religious references were also modified: Dracule Mihawk's cross dagger was changed to something else, while Miss Merry Christmas' Christmas tree was colored purple and her name was changed to Ms. Groundhog's Day.
A number of animation edits contained inconsistencies. For example, in scenes where Robin's cleavage was originally visible, she would have an undergarment added in some shots but simply have her cleavage lines erased in others within the same scene. When Zoro is tied up in Episode 2, the sky is painted over the top of the cross and this blue area overlaps with Luffy when he moves his head at the end of the shot. In other cases, inappropriate content such as blood was left unaltered for a few moments.
In addition to the censorship, 4Kids made other changes to the series in an effort to appeal to western audiences; Kahn justified these changes as a necessary in order for anime properties such as One Piece to be financially successful.
Many attack names in other non-English languages (i.e., French, Italian, etc.) are given English names which are often loose translations or a different names completely (for example, most of Sanji's attacks, which were originally French cooking terms, are changed to food-based puns). Other names names that were originally English were also altered, including Portgas D. Ace (Portgaz D. Trace) and Edward Newgate (Ward Newgate).
Some names were changed to reflect censorship, like Captain Smoker becoming Captain Chaser alongside references to him smoking being removed. Some uncommon romanizations of names were used such as Zoro (Zolo) and Nefertari Vivi/Cobra (Nefeltari). 4Kids referred to the Fish-Men as Mermen, a translation error that also appeared in concurrent fan translations.
The dub's naming conventions were used in One Piece-related media in North America at the time, such as Viz Media's English release of the manga, and the English version of the fighting game One Piece Grand Battle for the PlayStation 2 and Nintendo GameCube.
The original symphonic score by Kohei Tanaka and Shirō Hamaguchi was replaced with synthesized music composed by John Angier, Louis Cortelezzi, Matt McGuire, Ralph Shuckett and Dan Stein. It was noted that some of the new score were reused from other shows 4Kids had dubbed. The series' opening and closing theme music was replaced with an original theme song produced by 4Kids; an English version of the original theme, "We Are!", was used in an early promo, but did not feature in the final English version.
Music changes such as this were not exclusive to 4Kids, and anime localization would commonly do this both to keep synchronization with the edited visuals and to replicate the musical aesthetic of western productions. Kahn explained that the music in 4Kids dubs was westernized "so that children in English-speaking countries will understand it" and to appeal more to American audiences. It has also been suggested that composing an original soundtrack is cheaper and more profitable for 4Kids than licensing the Japanese soundtrack.
Removal of Japanese text and culture
Almost all text was removed, including all Kanji and even text that was originally in English. The word "MARINE" on Marine soldiers' clothing was replaced with the word "NAVY".
Many elements of Japanese culture were modified to be more American, such as redrawing onigiri as chocolate chip cookies; speaking of 4Kids' similar changes to Pokémon, production staff member Eric Stuart justified this as "[making the series] a universal show, whatever country you were in, [as] more people could relate to doughnuts than sushi".
In the ANN 2005 Year In review, Zac Bertschy described the localization as "so poorly received that the show became something of a joke among fans". Sharing his personal opinion in the Answerman column, Bertschy said that 4Kids "butchered" the series and "made it this terribly acted pile of garbage".
Rebecca Bundy defended the censorship on principle in an earlier Answerman column, explaining that "Violence, blood, cursing, and the on-agai/off-again swapping of the cigarette for a toothpick are just a few ‘tweaks’ that are done to any series that airs in a timeslot aimed at a younger audience", while an alternate Year Review written by Theron Martin compared 4Kids' version of One Piece to the Viz Media dub of Naruto, which aired in a similar timeslot; while both series were censored for American television, the latter's dub was otherwise unaltered and received far more positively.
Reviewing the series as part of ANN's 'The Click' column from it's move to Toonami, Brian Hanson commented that "digital paint flows over every frame like Niagara Falls, random cuts abound, and odd name changes like “Nebra” and “Trace” flourish". As the column continued, Hanson declared that he had "zero tolerance for this dub" due to its "terrible, godawful puns", "unnecessary" censorship and "goofy high-pitched" voice acting. As the series continued, Hanson would regularly describe the names changes sarcastically at 4kids' expense and commented that the removal of Chaser's (Smoker's) cigars was poorly achieved. In response to Funimation's acquisition of the One Piece license, Hanson exclaimed "No more interminable Brooklyn accents! No more lame puns and jokes that even the most ardent Garfield fans would find infantile! Until then, though, we'll be slogging through 4Kids' One Piece detritus".
Reviewing the edited DVD release for DVD Talk, Todd Douglass Jr. described the dub's sound mix as "flat" and the voice acting as "pretty irritating" with "a lot of high-pitches and over exaggerated speech". Addressing the heavy localization, Douglass said that "unless you have seen the original Japanese version you may not be able to point out all of these examples, but you still get the feeling that something is missing" while conceding that "these episodes are fun enough despite having their content edited".
Some 4Kids employees have responded to this criticism by claiming that the most vocal critics of their localization are not in its target audience, and that many viewers enjoyed their adaptions as children before complaining about the changes made once they were older; they describe One Piece, however, as "an extreme case" that "tarred the reputation" of 4Kids.
Following Funimation's acquisition of the series, critics regularly compared their uncut DVD releases to the 4Kids version, with the former being seen as a huge improvement. Carl Kimlinger of ANN comment that "even at it's worst [the Funimation] version is far superior to 4Kids Entertainment's version". Summarizing the series' history in the USA, David Smith of IGN concluded that "here we are today, with a perfectly acceptable localization of the series [...] Pity it took so long" and noted which episodes had not been released before.
- 4Kids.tv (Defunct as of 2013)
- Corporate site (Defunct as of 2013)
- Home Video site (Defunct as of 2007)
- Comparison Guide between 4Kids and original anime (Defunct as of 2009, but fully archived)