An Absurdly Deep Dive into the History of 4Kids | Part 7: A Fox in a Box and a 4Kids with a Block (2002 cont.)

In January of 2002, Al Kahn made a four-year deal with Fox to take over their Saturday morning kids’ programming block, Fox Kids, for $101.2 million, nudging out competitors DiC and Nelvana to get the spot. This was particularly sweet for them because Fox Kids used to be the home of Digimon, one of Pokemon’s biggest competitors. The deal gave 4Kids full control over everything shown in that window of air time, as long as it fit Fox’s standards and practices, and it also gave 4Kids every penny of the advertising revenue from that spot.

The new block would be titled Fox Box until three years later when it would be renamed, what else – 4Kids TV. 4Kids would not be moving away from their usual home of Kids WB – at least not entirely. Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! in particular were not moving to the new Fox block, in a supposed show of loyalty to the WB. Not entirely sure I believe that’s the real reason, especially since Warner Bros. recently didn’t feel any loyalty towards 4Kids when they dropped the movies from distribution, but what do I know?

The deal seemed pretty great at the time. Kahn in particular seemed very happy about the decision and the potential for growth for each company. And a great deal it was. 4Kids didn’t even have to pay the $101.2 million up front. They had a leasing deal in which they’d pay Fox $25.3 million each year. All 4Kids had to do was fill the block with content – one of which being required to fit educational and informative requirements. Some shows they acquired from third-party sources, but the majority of their lineup was either western animation shows that they produced or from anime they had dubbed.

4Kids had four new shows to launch during the premiere of the Fox Box; Ultraman Tiga, Kirby: Right Back At Ya!, Ultimate Muscle and Fighting Foodons.

Ultraman Tiga was, in my opinion, 4Kids’ attempt to compete with Saban for their Power Rangers audience, even if the Power Rangers boom of the mid 90s was pretty much over by that point. It still had steam, but it wasn’t as massive as it was with Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. At this point in time, they were airing Wild Force, which was their tenth season/series.

4Kids didn’t do any better job at dubbing Ultraman Tiga than they did with any other show they dubbed. The typical changes were made – new theme song, completely replace the soundtrack, names of items, abilities etc. are changed, and storylines were changed, there was a much more humorous tone added with many more jokes, although, interestingly, everyone’s characters retain their original names. The aspect of the stories being changed was blamed on Fox’s standards and practices clause, not on 4Kids themselves, but I can’t be too sure.

Unlike what Saban did to Super Sentai when they created Power Rangers, 4Kids didn’t opt to film an entirely new show with American actors and only splice in scenes from the original show when it suited the new one. They just dubbed the original footage into English.

Despite getting the rights to dub all 52 episodes, 4Kids dropped the show at episode 23 due to low ratings. According to Erica Schroeder, a voice actor in the show, a part of the reason Ultraman Tiga flopped was because they couldn’t decide whether it was a serious show or a parody.

I never saw this series when it was airing, but I did find an episode on Youtube, and even in episode one this problem is clear. A lot of the episode will go by being entirely serious, but then they’ll suddenly interject with a weirdly out of place joke. Like how when they learn Easter Island is being attacked by a giant monster, one of the characters says it reminds him of his mother-in-law, and Daigo, the main character, says their mother-in-law’s nose is bigger than the monster’s.

One clip I found on Youtube has one of the enemies claiming he’ll capture all of humanity, shrink them down into collectibles and everyone will be trading them back on their home planet – claiming that they’ll be “Bigger than Pokemon.” TV Tropes claims it is clearly a parody, specifically parodying the 1966 Titra Studios dub of the original Ultraman, which, if true, is equally confusing. Like any kid would ever get that.

It’s almost like they were trying to reach the same balance of humor/cheesiness with action/seriousness that Power Rangers is known for, but just couldn’t achieve the right result. It’s a shame, because, honestly, I did find the show to be perfectly watchable. It’s not great, but it’s fine. Not sure it ever would have been a favorite of mine as a kid, especially since I was pretty well out of my Power Rangers phase at that point, but I can totally see myself enjoying it back then on Saturday mornings.

In a really weird twist, 4Kids didn’t release the episodes they had dubbed on DVD. Instead, they released all of the Japanese episodes uncut on DVD. The dub was originally lost, with copies only being available through recordings people had when the episodes originally aired. Nineteen of these episodes have been found, remastered (Using HD footage from the original Japanese version) and released on Youtube by a user named Gorizard, if you want to check them out. Also, if you have access to the remaining missing episodes, please go drop the Lost Wiki a line.

Their next show to premiere on the Fox Box was Kirby: Right Back at Ya! – originally known in Japan as Kirby of the Stars. Believe it or not, even a show based on a character as innocent as Kirby didn’t get away without being edited.

As was now the norm for all of their dubs, 4Kids removed any instances of text, usually Japanese, but also commonly English, they got a brand new theme song and opening sequence as well as an entirely new soundtrack, some instances of violence were cut, many of the names were changed, some swearing was removed, the characters announcing their attacks was removed, references to alcohol were removed, one instance of fanservice was edited, and an entire subplot was removed. There was also one episode, A Dental Dilemma, that was never aired, but this was also supposedly because of Fox’s standards and practices. As Michael Haigney stated during an interview with Anime Boredom,

“The Standards & Practices woman at Fox felt that the whole show dental care in a terrible light and that airing it might discourage children from going to the dentist. Actually, Escargoon had to go to the dentist because he had taken terrible care of his teeth, so there was a positive message in the show, but in a kind of negative way. (The Japanese have a very different sensibility in some things.) I saw the woman’s point, though the show was obviously (I hope) a comedy. After some back and forth, we decided to release the unaired show as a bonus on one of the Kirby DVDs.”

Edit: Apparently, while the episode was initially removed from airing, the episode was eventually aired during season three

Even the broadcasting of the show had to be messed with. Some episodes were aired out of order to better suit 4Kids’ marketing – such as when they moved some episodes to coincide with the release of new Kirby games, and one instance where, not kidding, they shifted the airing of an episode that was parodying Harry Potter for the sake of mooching off of the upcoming release of one of the books.

There was even one time where they moved episodes from near the end of the series, episodes 96 and 97, to much earlier than they were set to air to help promote Kirby Air Ride on the GameCube. To avoid people getting upset at spoiling parts of the finale, they edited the episodes to make it seem like the characters were having a prophetic dream and aired the episodes as a special called Air Ride in Style.

Despite this, from all I’ve read online, fans seem to claim Kirby: Right Back at Ya! is one of their better dubs – only the various terrible accents bother them for the most part.

However, just as many other people claimed the series was an empty excuse for random monster fighting or mindless toddler stuff that even seemed out of place on a block like the Fox Box.

While the Wiki page acts as if the show got a full DVD release by 4Kids and Funimation, it really didn’t. In 2003, it got three volumes worth of releases, which, by 4Kids’ DVD logic, means just a pitiful nine episodes were released. Considering Kirby: Right Back At Ya!! has 100 episodes, that means, if they kept this pace, it would have taken them over 30 volumes to release the entire series.

They did release a bundle of the final five episodes in the DVD Kirby: Fright to the Finish!! though they were edited together to make a “movie” (They announced it as a new feature film even though it wasn’t….) The DVD also included a bonus episode, Hour of the WolfWrath (episode 24). They released two other compilation DVDs after that three years later.

In 2008, they released Kirby’s Adventures in Cappytown…..which was just a re-release of the first seven episodes….and, finally, they released Cappy New Year and Other Kirby Adventures, which also re-released episodes eight and nine, but also finally released episode ten, eleven, twe–eh thirteen, fourteen and 29, which was the titular Cappy New Year. According to a moderator on 4Kids’ forums, 4Kids lost the rights to Kirby in 2009 so no more DVDs surfaced after that. In 2012, three episodes of the show were included on the disk for the GameCube game, Kirby’s Dream Collection, episode one (again), episode 60 and episode 72. Altogether, that means 76 episodes of the show have never seen a DVD release.

Next up was 4Kids’ dub of Kinnukuman Nisei, retitled by 4Kids to be Ultimate Muscle. In a surprising turn of events, Ultimate Muscle would prove to be one of 4Kids most successful dubs, despite having the hallmarks of nearly all of their dubs, such as changing the names, censoring violence and some sexual-ish/nudity-ish content, removing English and Japanese text etc. Ultimate Muscle would also have the first instances of 4Kids changing the ethnicity of certain characters, although only audibly – Check Mate was originally from Monaco, but 4Kids gave him a British accent. There was Buffaloman, who was originally from Spain, but was changed to be Russian. They made The Ninja, who was originally Japanese, American. Perhaps the most ‘Do we need to point out what’s wrong here?’ moment of ethnicity changes was Geronimo who was originally Native American but was changed to British as well.

Unlike Ultraman Tiga, 4Kids seemed to know for certain that they wanted Ultimate Muscle to be almost entirely comedy-focused to the point of parody, and they made the right call. The series would be praised for its strong sense of humor, light tone and fun characters. They even broke the fourth wall regularly and kept numerous innuendos from the original series in addition to making their own, such as naming a character Dik-Dik Van Dik.

4Kids’ dub of Ultimate Muscle did much better than its Japanese counterpart, which got canceled after 51 episodes and running for one year due to low ratings. The ratings in the west were so good that 4Kids called the original production company, Toei, up and requested them to make two more seasons of the show that would be marketed as spin-offs in Japan. Despite the lousy ratings in Japan, TV Tokyo and Toei agreed. The spin-offs in Japan would be titled Kinnukuman Nisei: Ultimate Muscle and Kinnukuman Second Generation: Ultimate Muscle 2. Whether at the behest of 4Kids or because Toei thought it would be a better move, the next two seasons would be more American focused. Like the original series, neither spin-off did well in Japan, but the continuation of the series was very successful for 4Kids.

Oddly, however, as far as I can tell, Ultimate Muscle only got two DVD releases in America, which contained the first nine episodes of the series. In Japan, however, both of the spin-off series they made would get full box-set releases, which has to be one of the more backwards things I’ve heard recently.

I remember seeing bits and pieces of Ultimate Muscle when it was airing, but I never really followed it. However, finding some clips for research and seeing how beloved it’s remembered by fans, I think I’ll keep it in my back pocket and watch it sometime in the future.

Finally, 4Kids dubbed Martial Arts Cooking Legend Bistro Recipe, which they would retitle to Fighting Foodons. Despite there being very little information on this title, the manga of this series was popular enough to warrant two spin-off Game Boy Color games, neither of which got released outside of Japan, and a Wonderswan game, which obviously never released outside of Japan either. The anime version was less successful. It ran for 26 episodes, completing its run after airing between December of 2001 and June of 2002. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have been aired in Japan after this.

Since the series was doing poorly and they only had two volumes of manga to work from anyway (I don’t know if the manga got canceled or just ended), the series was discontinued. Enoki Films, who currently own the rights to the franchise, never released the show on any form on home video, nor did the manga, which was obscure in its own right, get any English translation (not even a fan scanlation), making the series largely lost to time.

Sometime in 2002, while the original show was airing in Japan, 4Kids purchased the rights to dub the show. Their run of the show started on September 14, 2002 and ended on August 30, 2003. Despite not being all that popular State-side either, the show did garner a cult following because of its strange premise and, like Ultimate Muscle, its sense of humor. In fact, from what I found, many fans who seem to have watched the original find the dub to be at least fairly loyal to the original while some have gone so far as to say the dub is better. However, I did also find a THEM review that completely steamrolled it, claiming it was the worst Pokemon rip-off that, unlike Ultimate Muscle, wasn’t fun or funny, but instead was annoying and boring.

The information available online is sparse. Even the Fandom page for the franchise doesn’t have a lot of content.

Trying to find any information on what changed between the original version and 4Kids’ dub of Fighting Foodons is very difficult since the Japanese version was never released on home video, and the raws, at least as far as I can tell, aren’t available anywhere online either. I’m 99% certain the only copies of the Japanese version are in Enoki’s hands, and they don’t seem interested in releasing them.

As far as I can tell, most of the regular 4Kids cuts are present. Completely change the score, change the opening theme song (set to, of all things, a bastardization of Jacques Offenbach’s ‘Orpheus of the Underworld’?) changed the names, removed all text, removed smoking etc. Names of certain Asian dishes represented in the show were also changed to food more familiar to Americans, even if many of the dishes were still not entirely unfamiliar to Americans because, well, we have Asian foods in America all the time. Not only were the names localized, but they made puns out of the names. For example, a Foodon called Meat Sauce was changed to Spaghettabout-It. Chorizon, based on a Chorizo, was changed to Hot Doggone-It. Curry was changed to Curry-Up. And Kobe Beef was changed to Sir Loin.

There was one clear instance of digitally painting away pistols to make them into ketchup and mustard shooters, and that also seems to be something people noted in other discussion threads about the show’s dub.

The show never did that well in America either, so the fact that they only had the 26 episodes was no real skin off of 4Kids’ nose. However, apparently, the show did have a strong enough cult following to prompt Discotek, who bought the rights to the show after 4Kids went defunct, to release the dub on DVD in 2017. While the box art for their DVDs had uncensored images of a character smoking (right on the spine, so it’s not really an oversight) and Hot Doggone-It, the character whose pistols were changed to ketchup and mustard bottles, with his uncensored pistols right there on display (as the main art on one of the discs, even, so it’s a clear closeup) the footage was the same edited version as shown on the Fox Box.

I never watched Fighting Foodons, but I definitely remember the moment when I first heard that random-ass theme song. Why is their theme song the Can-Can? Is it because it’s public domain and they didn’t want to bother having an original song made?

Other notes for 2002 include the acquisition of several properties for syndication broadcast such as Cramp Twins, which was very popular in the UK, and Pirate Islands, a live-action pirate-themed action-adventure show from Australia that prompted Al Kahn to say this cringey paragraph;

“Pirate Islands combines practically everything that kids love: high-flying adventure, an exotic pirate story and fast-paced video game-style action. The only thing missing is chocolate. If this isn’t a sure-fire hit… I’m walking the plank!”

Al Kahn was then eaten by a shark because I don’t remember this ever being a thing anywhere. I imagine it was more successful in Australia, but the generic title makes it really hard to find much information on it. The ratings that are around seem pretty middle of the road, though.

Oh as a final note to close out 2002, 4Kids also picked up some little known license. Teenage Mutant something or other. I forget.

Overall, 4Kids saw a 28% rise in 2002 from $41,538,000 in consolidated net revenues in 2001 to $53,140,000 in 2002, attributed to their returns from the Fox Box, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Pokemon and Cabbage Patch Kids, but production costs increased 137% to $3,375,000 as a result of taking on more properties than ever before, and their net income was actually down nearly half of 2001’s net profits with $6,990,000 in 2002 compared to $12,244,000 in 2001.

Next – Part 8: Miramax Killed the Movie Theater Star

Previous – Part 6: 4Kids 4Ever


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3 thoughts on “An Absurdly Deep Dive into the History of 4Kids | Part 7: A Fox in a Box and a 4Kids with a Block (2002 cont.)

  1. I actually remember Fighting Foodons! You’re right the theme song was super annoying, but the show itself was pretty funny. But then I also really liked the Kitchen Princess manga and Ramen Fighter Miki, so maybe it’s just me?

    Liked by 1 person

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