With the continued release and popularity of the games and anime, it’s safe to say that Pokemon will be around for a long time to come. However, the franchise has not always existed without its ups and downs.
Looking back at the original Pokemon series, many episodes were edited or unaired for many reasons, including resembling natural disasters, accused stereotyping and (perhaps the most infamous incident) the Cyber Soldier Porygon episode, that caused hundreds of viewers to have seizures across Japan.
The editing became more extreme, and perhaps petty, when the show was dubbed for American audiences, where there were new standards to keep the show safe for children. From the very beginning, the opening was changed, removing the suggestion the singer will catch Pokemon anywhere, even up a girl’s skirt. This is understandable, however, compared to the attempted removal of Japanese culture.
Here are 10 banned and censored episodes of Pokemon from the earlier episodes of the original series that are sometimes completely understandable, and sometimes surprising.
Note: Episodes are listed with the Japanese numbering due to episodes being removed in the American dub. Subtitled screenshots are from the original version of the anime with English subtitles.
1. The School of Hard Knocks (e.9)
In ‘The School of Hard Knocks’, Ash (Satoshi) and Brock (Takeshi) are presented with a photograph of a young girl. Although this scene is still shown in many versions, including the episode aired on Netflix, it is edited out of some dubbed episodes altogether.
It is to be remembered that Brock is only 15 in the anime and Ash is only 10. Even stating that ‘she can violate my rights any time,’ can be considered surprising when looking back.
Other lines have been changed throughout the series for being seen as unsuitable for children. Notably, in episode 34, the Kanghaskhan Kid asks Misty (Kasumi) if he can suck milk from her breasts while the camera focuses on her chest.
In the dubbed version, he instead asks if they are people or Pokemon.
2. The Squirtle Squad (e.12)
The Squirtle Squad originally threatened to execute Misty. In the American version, they instead threaten to dye her hair purple if Ash does not return on time. References to death are removed many times from the dub, such as during episode 16, ‘Shipwreck!’, when Jessie (Musashi) tells James (Kojiro) that if he doesn’t come with them, he will die in the ship.
Whilst tied to a tree in The Squirtle Squad, Jessie yells that they are eating all the doughnuts, despite a few seconds that show the Squad eating sandwiches and onigiri. This was edited to give the snack a name that would be more recognisable to American children, though this censorship is arguably taken too far.
In other episodes, onigiri (Japanese balls of rice, often with a sweet filling) are repeatedly changed into other types of food. This resulted in the meme of Brock’s ‘jelly-filled donuts’ from episode 25, ‘Primeape Goes Bananas’. They are referred to as rice balls later in the anime, though this isn’t always consistent.
The first occurrence of Japanese food being censored is in episode 2, ‘Pokemon Emergency!’, where Professor Oak (Dr. Okido) is cooking ramen during the call with Ash. In the dub, his pizza arrives rather than his ramen overcooking.
3. Mystery at the Lighthouse (e.13)
A more understandable time when food is changed for American audiences is during ‘Mystery at the Lighthouse’, when Bill (Masaki) and Brock discuss food that Brock can make over the lighthouse intercom. The Japanese version mentions katayaki and yakisoba, which American children are perhaps less familiar with, with no visual reference.
But did they go too far by entirely changing the food to cheeseburgers? Even the English subtitles translate the Japanese cuisine into something understandable.
4. Beauty and the Beach (e.18)
Although the episode has a dubbed version, this was banned for almost three years due to James wearing an inflatable suit for a beauty contest.
When the episode was later aired, all scenes showing James were cut, instead only showing the Pokemon entering the contest. Netflix is one of many platforms that skips straight to episode 19, numbered as episode 18.
At the beginning of the episode, an old man tells Misty that he looks forward to her in 8 years, whereas in the American version he says ‘you remind me of my granddaughter.’
5. Tentacool and Tentacruel (e.19)
‘Tentacool and Tentacruel’ was temporarily removed from showing around the time of 9/11, despite the clips never being removed from the opening of the show. It was then temporarily banned after Hurricane Katrina, as the city is shown being flooded with water. Other episodes were temporarily removed for similar reasons, such as episode 23, ‘The Tower of Terror’, simply because of the episode’s name, however both of these episodes are now available on Netflix.
6. The Ghost of Maiden’s Peak (e.20)
Sold as ‘Ghost Stickers’ rather than O-fuda, this is another time when the censoring of Japanese culture perhaps goes too far, when it could instead be used as a learning experience. Unnecessary action was taken to hide anything Japanese, such as text, celebrations, legends and, of course, food.
O-fuda were often placed in homes following specific traditions to call upon spirits for family protection. Nowadays, this is not a strict tradition in Japanese homes, however it is certainly much more believable than covering James and Brock with stickers in order to ward off ghosts.
At the end of ‘The Ghost of Maiden’s Peak’, the Bon Festival is dubbed over as simply a ‘summer festival’. During this festival, many honour the spirits of their ancestors, as it is believed that during this time, spirits return to visit their relatives. The anime shows people dressed in kimonos, dancing and sending lanterns across the water so that their ancestors can return after their visit.
7. The Legend of Dratini (e.35)
It’s a shame that this episode was banned, as it is perhaps one of the cutest episodes of Pokemon. I would highly recommend anyone to watch it before they continue the series. However, it is very clear why the episode was banned: handguns are continuously pointed at and used to threaten characters. Not to mention Team Rocket being shot at.
In terms of the story, removing this episode caused a substantial issue of major plot holes in the American dub. The Safari Zone is removed (another shame considering its amazing part in the games), leaving English-speaking audiences confused as to how Ash suddenly gained thirty Tauros.
8. Cyber Soldier Porygon Episode (e.38)
If you go to find this episode online, watch at your own risk. ‘Cyber Soldier Porygon’ induced photosensitive epileptic seizures and other ailments for close to 700 viewers across Japan.
It’s easy to understand why. Halfway through the episode, as the group are chased through the Pokemon Center computer, an intense circle of flashing red and blue light appears behind them.
It’s harsh on the eyes even for those not experiencing seizures. This is one episode that will not be missed, though Porygon, who has never had a major role in the anime since, will be.
Due to the issues surrounding this episode, the New Year’s Eve Special, ‘It’s New Year’s Eve! Pokemon Encore’, for which a trailer was shown, was never aired. Many other episodes were delayed and the anime went on hiatus for four months.
This caused even more issues with the following two episodes.
9. Holiday Hi-Jynx and Snow Way Out! (Originally e.39 and e.40)
‘Holiday Hi-Jynx’ and ‘Snow Way Out!’ were originally episodes 39 and 40, following ‘Cyber Soldier Porygon’. Due to the incident with the previous episode, they were rescheduled together as a one hour special.
In the American dub, they were instead shown between episodes 64 and 65, rather than their intended placing before ‘Pikachu’s Goodbye’ (the current episode 39).
This causes errors in the American dub of ‘Snow Way Out!’, due to Ash using Charmander instead of Charizard and Misty’s change back to her old Pokemon.
‘Holiday Hi-Jynx’ was later banned after being accused by Carole Weatherford of stereotyping African-American women. This caused later episodes to be edited and banned where even a cameo was made by Jynx (e.g. ‘Orange Islands: Stage Fight!’ and ‘The Mandarin Island Miss Match’). Jynx has now been recoloured to purple, not only in the anime, but also the video games.
The American dub of ‘Snow Way Out!’ attempts to edit out the lit match that Meowth holds by turning it into a candle, apparently to discourage children from playing with matches. However it makes little sense when they keep the burnt out matches a few seconds later…
Anyway, wouldn’t playing with a lit candle have the same effect as a lit match in terms of causing a fire?