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4Kids Entertainment was a United States 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.
4Kids Productions is a wholly owned subsidiary of 4Kids Entertainment, and is responsible for the production of original or licensed properties owned by the company.
4Kids and One PieceEdit
On June 4, 2004, 4Kids announced they had acquired the television distribution and merchandising license over One Piece in the US, Canada, UK, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.
After this, 4Kids set to work on an English version of the series. Norman J. Grossfeld, the president of 4Kids at the time, was the executive producer. On August 14, 2004, the first promotional trailers were released for viewing alongside Mew Mew Power and F-Zero: GP Legend. Their English dub of One Piece debuted on the FoxBox TV block (which would later be known as 4Kids TV) on September 18, 2004. On November 18, 2004, Toonami announced it was allowed the broadcasting rights to air the show in the UK; the series began airing on Saturday, April 23, 2005. The next channel to announce production was Cartoon Network on February 16, 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 another show dubbed by 4Kids, Mew Mew Power, were reported missing from the 4Kids line-up. However, the show was announced as "not canceled" on November 23, 2005 and was expected to return later on, but 4Kids did not announce when. On December 22, 2005, 4Kids announced the show would return after the holiday season and on January 2, 2006 the series was announced to be continuing on February 11.
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.
An Anime News Network interview with Mark Kirk, a 4Kids representative, states that One Piece was acquired in a package with other Toei anime such as Ultimate Muscle and Magical DoReMi, and 4Kids licensed the series based on its merchandising potential and success in Japan without looking at the content of the episode in detail. When the episodes arrived, 4Kids staff were shocked at how much unsuitable material they found and were beginning to regret localizing it and wanted to pass on it, but they were forced to localize it or else it would be a violation of their package deal. As part of the production process 4Kids would send footage and scripts to American television networks for review, dictating which elements would be altered for the English version. 4Kids entertainment is aimed at children from the age of 8 to mid teens while One Piece is aimed at teenagers and older in Japan. This meant the show had to comply with rules set for TV of not only the intended age limit, but also the intended time of day the show was aired in, the TV networks own rules and 4Kids own standards of the age group it was aiming for. The problem was because of the age difference and the time of day it aired during, One Piece did not comply with the rules set before it.
In producing a version of One Piece for the North American market, 4Kids Entertainment considerably altered the original content. In total, 4Kids created 104 English episodes based on the first 143 Japanese episodes, cutting 20 entire episodes and the equivalent of 39 episodes of material in total.
One of the more noted changes that was spotted was in episode 5 when 4Kids changed the skin of a character from black to white. This was common practice made by 4Kids to avoid a certain stereotype and was seen in other anime at the time. They also changed "Devil Fruit" to "Cursed Fruit".
4kids toned down many of the series' more emotionally intense scenes, often due to bad voice direction, lines, and inappropriate music. They also toned down violence and other extreme situations.
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, sometimes only making their situations even worse (such as saying Kuina was in a coma after being brutally assaulted). Initially the concept of death was never directly referenced at all, although later episodes were more lenient. All blood was also removed, even when significant to the plot such as in the third Luffy vs. Crocodile fight; In the 4Kids version of the fight, 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. Also, speech was added in scenes which were silent in the Japanese version. As well as removal of scenes, new scenes were created by reusing old frames from the show, usually used to disguise the removed scenes and edits made to the show. The success rate of this varied as story writers were left to create improvised storyline around the edits and new replacement scenes.
Removal Of Story ArcsEdit
One of the most significant changes 4Kids made was the removal of several story arcs. These included:
- Buggy's Crew: After the Battle!
- Warship Island Arc
- Reverse Mountain Arc
- Diary of Koby-Meppo
- Little Garden Arc
Additionally, episodes from the Arlong Park arc and Loguetown Arc were removed. In all cases, the storyline had to be altered resulting in significant problems. At the time, there was no way of knowing which way Oda was taking the storyline, and therefore many removed plot points became hugely significant in later episodes. These changes were never given reason for and remains the subject of much speculation amongst fans.
While there are also many other complaints on the company in regard to alterations, such as visible alterations, poor translations and low-quality dubbing, this remains the only non-opinion based problem caused by the dub.
Plot Hole Creation: Warship IslandEdit
Information left out in the Warship Island arc on entry into the Grand Line created problems in explaining why one cannot just sail into the Grand Line.
Plot Hole Creation: Reverse MountainEdit
Crocus was removed, resulting in the storyline being reworked to fit around his absence. The rework initially included just his Log Pose explanation that he gave the Straw Hats. Crocus, however, was a focused character during the Thriller Bark Arc, Sabaody Archipelago Arc and the Zou Arc. At the time other storylines that mention his importance to the One Piece world had not been reached in the original Japanese version.
Removing this arc also means removing the mention of Laugh Tale which is the important destination in the series and becomes more focused on after the timeskip.
Plot Hole Creation: Little GardenEdit
Because the Little Garden arc was removed, there was no explanation behind much of Mr. 3's later appearance in Alabasta. He was said to have been chasing the Straw Hat Pirates since Loguetown yet Baroque Works did not know about the crew in the actual storyline until Misty Peak. Mr. 3 and his partner Ms. April Fool's were also spoken about during the explanation about Baroque Works given on the organization as if the crew had met them. This would also create a problem in the Impel Down arc, as Luffy would never have met Mr. 3 previously and thus would not know who he was.
Because the Little Garden Arc was removed, Dorry and Brogy were not part of the storyline. This meant later on another plot hole would have been created for Oimo and Kashi. Elbaf also plays a small part on the story, as Usopp wanted to go there, yet 4Kids removed it. Elbaf would later get referenced a lot more after the timeskip and finally shown in a flashback, which makes removing this arc create more problems.
Nami has gotten sick due to being bitten by a Kestia in Little Garden but because 4Kids skipped it, they attempt to explain her illness by calling it "Grand Line fever", but 4Kids would later contradict this by letting Kureha ask Nami if she had been walking around on a prehistoric island.
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 4Kids spoke of in regard to the dub.
Many firearms were changed to look less realistic, and some were edited into other objects. Most often, Marine guns are turned into water guns while the others are simply colored green.
They also removed all religious references; Dracule Mihawk's cross dagger was changed to something else, while Miss Merry Christmas' Christmas tree was colored purple and her name 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 painted over the top of the cross; 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 Americanize it. Kahn justified these changes by saying that they were necessary in order for anime properties such as One Piece to be financially successful in the west.
Removal of Japanese text and CultureEdit
Almost all text was removed, including all Kanji and even text that was originally in English. The word "MARINE" on Marines' 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".
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 removal of music scores and the addition of new introductions were not exclusive to 4Kids and other companies such as Nelvana also used these practices. Additionally, 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. This remains the most controversial music usage of all, particularly because 4Kids had purposely given fans the impression that they would be using the dubbed "We Are".
Kahn explained that the music 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.
Renaming many locations and attack names. Many attack names in other non-English languages (i.e. French, Italian, etc.) are given English names. These are often not proper translations of the name, and are sometimes different names completely (for example, most of Sanji's attacks, which were originally French cooking terms, are changed to food-based puns). 4Kids also referred to the Fish-Men as Mermen, a translation error that also appeared in concurrent fan translations.
Altering many character names. Some names that were originally English were changed to apparently make them sound more exotic. Examples include Portgas D. Ace (Portgaz D. Trace) and Edward Newgate (Ward Newgate). In addition to this, several other names are changed for content, like Captain Smoker (Captain Chaser) and possibly Cobra (Nebra), while others use uncommon romanizations of names, like Zoro (Zolo), Nefertari Vivi/Cobra (Nefeltari), and others.
Despite the numerous edits, One Piece was one of 4Kids' more violent properties. The producers had left in certain unavoidable excesses; blood, appendages being ripped off (such as Shanks' arm and Zeff's leg), and a character being killed by gunfire. Errors were occasionally made in scene edits. Since the dubbed version of the Drum Island arc began, more violence and references to death were included, and no new arcs have been skipped or episodes joined together, save for a few filler episodes.
Many characters who had regular voices in the Japanese version were voiced with heavy or cartoonishly exaggerated accents in the 4Kids dub, including David Moo voicing Sanji with a thick Brooklyn accent and nasal tone, and Veronica Taylor playing Nico Robin with a Texan accent, a decision that seems to have been made solely because Robin wears a cowboy hat in the Alabasta arc. The French accent given to Miss Father's Day was a notable example as it appeared to reference the French delicacy Frog legs, an association that could be interpreted as an ethnic slur.
A sticking point for criticism from fans was 4Kids' marketing strategy for the franchise; although the show is enjoyed by a fairly broad audience in Japan and consistently scored high ratings from teens, children, and even adults, 4Kids decided to initially air the show on Saturday mornings and focus solely on the lucrative 6-11 demographic. It formerly aired at night on Cartoon Network's Toonami Broadcast and had been receiving much higher ratings from the 9-14 demographic, but the new time-slot has brought question to the necessity of the excessive editing the series continues to receive. Also, the broader potential audience that could be reached through an uncut DVD release is still being ignored completely. Over time, the editing had decreased, perhaps due to the fact that the show was airing on a later time slot, although the production still resembled that of a typical 4Kids localization.
Some 4Kids employees have responded to this criticism by pointing out that many of the people criticizing their localization were not in its target audience in the first place, and that some viewers enjoyed their adaptions as children and only complained about the changes once they were older. At the same time, they described One Piece as "an extreme case" that "tarred the reputation" of 4Kids.
Following an announcement on March 16, 2006 by 4Kids, the company stated they will concentrate only on producing its own shows. 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 dub. As of September 2007, 104 English-dubbed episodes have been produced from the first 143 . 4Kids dropped the license afterward.
When 4kids' acquisition of the One Piece license was first announced on Anime News Network (ANN), it was met with negative reception from reader comments citing 4kids' previous track record of censorship and highly localized releases. Criticism continued once the series began airing; 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 "took what was once a really cool, pretty edgy and exciting kids' show that had great characters and some really awesome battles and made it this terribly acted pile of garbage".
In an earlier Answerman column, Rebecca Bundy defended the censorship on principle by explaining that "Violence, blood, cursing, and the on-again-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 version of Naruto, which aired in a similar timeslot; while both series has mandatory edits made to them for American television, the latter's dub was otherwise unaltered and received far more positively.
A FUNimation representative would later confirmed some of the need for TV censorship when they aired One Piece on TV, stating that cigarettes had to be removed for the series to be broadcast on a TV network for a teenage audience. Funimation's version aired it at a later time, allowing FUNimation to avoid some of the edits 4Kids had to comply with.
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. Hanson regularly described the series sarcastically at 4kids' expense, describing Zolo as "the erstwhile swordsman of the Straw-Hat Pirates who IN NO WAY RESEMBLES LEGENDARY SWORDSMAN "ZORRO" SO DON'T SUE OKAY", that Chaser "continues to bizarrely release smoke out of his mouth which is shaped oddly as though he were holding two cigars in them" and the Ace's name was changed because "we all know that kids won't watch any cartoon where secondary characters have names that begin with vowels". 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. commented that the dub's sound mix "didn't offer a lot of diversity and it really came across as kind of flat". Following this, he described some of 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".
When FUNimation took over, while anime magazines did note the take over, the fan disappointment at 4Kids was over things that articles would note the most and the actual magazines themselves did not seem to express their own editorial based opinions. Critics regularly compared the 4Kids version to Funimation's dub unfavorably when reviewing the latter's uncut DVD releases. 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 in a compact collection at a reasonable price. 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)