Cartoons are a kids market. Right? Everyone knows that children watch cartoons, and then when they’re a bit older, they watch TV shows about teenagers, and then they watch adult shows like The Walking Dead, Dexter, Breaking Bad… you know, blood and guts and grisliness, and the occasional half-naked body (or, in the case of Game of Thrones, totally naked).
So it makes sense that, if you’re importing an anime from Japan to be aired on your TV channel, you’d market it to kids too, right? And have dubbed voiceovers of squeaky voiced little children that scrape the inside of your ears every time they speak?
Well, wrong, because Japanese anime, especially those that get exported to the States and Europe, aren’t all that children-friendly. They’re not created for 5 year olds. In fact, a much more standard Japanese anime audience is from 10 to 16. In the case of the boys’ shows, they want to see blood and guts and violence. In the case of the girls’ shows, they want to see handsome, stand-offish men and the girls they fall in love with.
The point is, the Western and Eastern animated markets are different. Japanese TV won’t shy away from real emotion, real devastation. The artwork on Japanese anime “One Piece” is very childish. From the outside, it looks like a kid’s show – a series of fun adventures of a rubber-bodied pirate and his friends. But, around the 25-episode mark (in a series that now has passed 600 episodes), we watch a heroine’s mother get killed in front of her. The bullet hitting the mother’s chest is shown in a black silhouette on a white background, with the blood spraying out of her before she hits the ground. A short time later, in one of the finest moments of the whole show, we see the same heroine, traumatized by her gang tattoo, repeatedly stab her own tattooed shoulder – complete with sound-effects.
Of course, you can’t see either of these events in the American imported One Piece. Heavy edits are made to try and make the show child-friendly, until the plot is near incomprehensible. The mother just suddenly disappears. The stabbing is cut, the blood edited out, she’s left crying in the street. Another main character, a habitual smoker, is changed in the American version to be always sucking a lollipop. Just think of all the time and effort it took to remove the smoke from every shot.
Even genuinely kiddy shows like “Detective Conan”, where a child helps a bumbling adult detective solve murders, have no problem showing blood or dead bodies. Clearly, Japanese censoring isn’t such an issue.
So, the point of this is, a lot of anime is not for kids, and we shouldn’t try and make it like that. Don’t judge a book by that cutesy cover, but watch it first. And then market it at the right audience – blood, guts and all.