An Absurdly Deep Dive into the History of 4Kids | Part 5: I Summon Yu-Gi-Oh! in Attack Mode! (2001 cont.)

In 2001, the anime market was quite limited in the US. Despite Pokemon being one of the key reasons behind the biggest anime boom in the west, eventually leading to anime more or less becoming mainstream years later, there still wasn’t a lot of anime being offered on TV at the time. Some anime was being offered on niche cable channels, and others were offered on VHS and DVD, but weren’t really advertised or pushed all that much in stores. There wasn’t much anime that was shown on TV on easily accessible channels, but the titles that were out there had their loyal fans, even if it had been extremely westernized.

One of the most notable examples being Sailor Moon, which debuted in North America back in 1995 by DiC Entertainment. They later got the rights to also show the second iteration, Sailor Moon R, in 1997. However, DiC did not pursue future series because it was not deemed financially viable after the first two series underperformed. DiC also didn’t seem particularly interested in the anime market, having only two other anime dub jobs under their belt after Sailor Moon’s first two series – Speed Racer X in 2002 and Knights of the Zodiac in 2003.

Speed Racer X, originally known in Japan as Mach GoGoGo was a flop in every sense of the word. Not only did it only air on a block on Nickelodeon that was so obscure even I, who was a complete Nickelodeon obsessed nut at the time, don’t remember at all, SLAM!, but it also failed to get an audience because they were only able to air 13 episodes before needing to pull it due to a lawsuit between DiC and the American company Speed Racer Enterprises – a company dedicated entirely to the American licensing and management of Speed Racer.

Knights of the Zodiac, originally known in Japan as Saint Seiya, also didn’t do very well, leading DiC to give up on the series after 40 episodes, despite having the authority to dub at least 60 of the episodes. Knights of the Zodiac and Sailor Moon would contend with 4Kids for having some of the most butchered dubs in existence, and Knights would also go down in history as having what I believe is the most confusing English dub theme song change ever by having Bowling for Soup do the opening theme – a cover of the A Flock of Seagulls song, ‘I Ran.’

In the other corner, you had Nelvana, who had dubbed another beloved shoujo anime in the States – Cardcaptors (Cardcaptor Sakura) – in 2000. Nelvana would fare a bit better with their dubs, despite being similarly butchered, specifically Cardcaptors, and even more specifically the Kids WB airing, which had somehow taken the butchered series and required broadcast edits that made it even worse. The directive in this situation was an effort to do everything in their power to make the series more oriented towards young boys instead of girls.

Nelvana would go on to dub Medabots, almost the entire Beyblade franchise (until 2016 when ADK Emotions NY, Inc. would obtain the rights), and the entirety of Bakugan.

4Kids’ seeming biggest rival in the anime industry, kids’-wise anyway, at the time was Saban Entertainment, who had been dubbing old anime since 1985 – over a decade before 4Kids would throw their hats into the ring. Since 1980, Saban had been making a huge name for itself in children’s media – whether producing it in-house or localizing anime and foreign live-action shows, particularly tokusatsu shows.

Saban had already become quite famous with its breakout hit, Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, which was both an in-house live-action production and a localization since a lot of the footage used was from the tokusatsu show, Super Sentai.

In addition, they enjoyed a good degree of success by being the distributor of the first two seasons of Dragon Ball Z, which was being dubbed by Funimation and Ocean Productions, and was supposedly the reason why the Ocean dub was so mangled. Still, Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z had staked claims for themselves as being some of the most popular anime series in the west in the late 90s and 2000s and helped make Funimation one of the most successful English dubbing companies around.

Saban had many imported titles that were financially successful. In 1999, Saban launched the English dub of one of Pokemon’s biggest competitors – Digimon – even though the company reported in 1998 that were intending on leaving the children’s television syndication business.

If 4Kids really wanted to reap the full benefits of anime in North America as a whole, and if they really wanted to stake a claim as being the top dog in the world of licensed children’s media, they needed more than Pokemon. Whatever they chose would have to have comparatively similar levels of success locked in. Luckily for them, a new cash cow would wander onto their farm soon enough.

Yu-Gi-Oh! was a manga written and illustrated by Kazuki Takahashi in 1996. While it took quite a while for the manga to find its footing, it skyrocketed in success when it did, especially once it toned down its horror elements and became more geared towards kids while still keeping a darker mystique about it that made it more appealing to slightly older audiences.

Yu-Gi-Oh! already had one anime under its belt in 1998, fan-titled as Season Zero, but that was based more on the stories told when Yu-Gi-Oh! was more horror/older audience oriented. Not only did 4Kids never pick it up, but it and the 1999 movie that was produced from it were never dubbed at all. When the manga had a soft reboot to better fit this lighter-hearted and kid-oriented new direction, titled Yu-Gi-Oh!: Duelist, a new anime series was launched in Japan in 2000 to mirror it, Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters.

The series was the perfect target for 4Kids. It was already becoming a major franchise in Japan, it obviously had massive marketing potential for not only toys but also a nearly endless supply of trading cards, and it was geared towards only a slightly older audience than Pokemon’s – meaning that they could keep many of their old Pokemon fans, particularly older boys, hooked into their shows for a while longer if they had started growing out of Pokemon. Likewise, the Japanese consortium who controlled Yu-Gi-Oh! in Japan, TV Tokyo and Asatsu-ADK, the latter of which owning the subsidiary, Nihon Ad Systems, which produced and owned the anime, found 4Kids to be a preferable dubbing company to take the series to North America, considering its good merchandising numbers, general demographic and their success with Pokemon.

And so, on September 29, 2001, already having been primed with a slue of teasers and early access Yu-Gi-Oh! cards in select hobby stores, 4Kids launched the premiere of Yu-Gi-Oh! and a new surge of success for 4Kids started. Yu-Gi-Oh! quickly became an insanely successful hit, especially alongside trading card sales that were only increasing in demand every single day.

The anime required more editing than Pokemon to make it suitable for their intended audiences. They removed darker themes, anything sexually suggestive in the slightest and any instance of implied nudity, even skimpy clothing, instances of violence, gambling, guns and alcohol and any references to death. It was also the dub that spawned the popular meme of saying someone who had died had really just been ‘sent to the Shadow Realm.’ as that was a common method 4Kids used of covering up nearly any death or threat of death in the show.

However, Yu-Gi-Oh! would enjoy a brief and rare stint where they had uncut DVD releases, not only with a full English dubbed version of the uncut and unaltered episodes, but also with an uncut Japanese version with subtitles. The only other 4Kids show to get this treatment was Shaman King.

Even when they did release uncut DVDs, they still tended to be bungled a bit. For example, they changed Katsuya Jonouchi, who was changed to Joey Wheeler in the cut dub, to Katsuya Joey….Yeah, his last name is Joey. What’s even funnier is Serenity. Her name, at least the first, is kept, which begs the question of if her name is Serenity Joey. Also, during her video tape message to Joey, she calls him Joey, which means she’s calling her brother by their last name?

Every other character kept their English names, like Tristan and Tea. Joey’s situation would imply that they changed half the names of characters to be both of the versions’ first names, which might mean Tristan is supposed to be Hiroto Tristan and Tea is Anzu Tea, but as far as I saw Joey’s the only character whose name changed at all. Mai Valentine, Weevil Underwood, Rex Raptor, Maximillion Pegasus – everyone’s names are their Americanized versions, which is quite weird because the uncut dub was also noted as being almost too direct of a translation of the original script, creating some awkward dialogue and speaking patterns, but for some reason they didn’t find it worth it to revert anyone’s names back to their Japanese version, except Joey’s, and that’s only kinda?

According to Mark Kirk, Senior Vice President of Digital Media for 4Kids starting in 2007, the reason they kept the card names as their American versions was for the sake of consistency. It was a business decision, as he put it, so that people could follow along with the duels more easily with their own cards. Fair enough, but why did they keep the character names the same as their cut dubbed versions? Why does that matter? Did they think audiences would get confused?

Sadly, however, while the cut version eventually got a full DVD release, the uncut DVD releases would stop at volume three, ending on episode nine. According to rumors, this was due to 4Kids’ concerns about having the DVD releases clash with the releases of the cut version DVDs. It’s true that Al Kahn at one point said they staggered the DVD releases of the uncut and cut versions to not affect the separate sales, but if that was in place then that would indicate that their sales didn’t clash and wouldn’t be the cause of the eventual cancellation. Even if they didn’t stagger the releases, I wouldn’t see how clashing release dates would affect sales. Anyone who wants the uncut version will buy the uncut version, and anyone who wants the cut version or doesn’t care will just buy the cut version or either one.

I think the real reason they stopped releasing uncut DVDs after a while was because it was expensive to call everyone back to rerecord nearly every line. For the most part, 4Kids was paying to have the same episodes recorded twice while also paying to have the script rewritten. I don’t know how much money the uncut DVDs were bringing in, but I doubt it was enough for them to justify continuing to do that.

This is all speculation on my part, however. The best I can come up with as support for this theory is that the 2005 report does note that television and film production/distribution sales were down 17% partially due to Yu-Gi-Oh!’s domestic home video sales decreasing, but that’s about it.

Lance Heiskell, a representative at Funimation, who was helping 4Kids with the distribution of the DVDs, reportedly said there were legal issues preventing the uncut release (something corroborated by Mark Kirk in 2010, but he wasn’t with the company when this happened so I’m not sure it’s 100%). What these legal issues were, I have no idea. Future fans speculated that there were contract issues with Yugi’s original Japanese voice actor, Shunsuke Kazama, but that doesn’t make much sense.

Yes, it’s true that the Japanese episodes were removed from 4Kids’ Youtube page because Kazama decided not to renew his contract with ADK, and they accidentally caused a bunch of rights issues with the show as a result. However, this went down in 2009. The DVDs were canceled in 2005. They even had two more volumes set to release in April and May of 2005 with cover art and a release date out for volume four, but they just never released them or continued the project.

There was another claim that it was because the relationship between 4Kids and Funimation was dissolving at that point, but why it was dissolving, I don’t know, and why that fully matters, I don’t know. They could just find another company to help with the distribution and whatnot. Maybe it was a combination of all of these factors – they all seem to have a degree of validity to them. We’ll likely never know for certain.

The projected success of Yu-Gi-Oh! coming after the success of Pokemon was not only good for 4Kids in that they had a whole new franchise to piggyback off of for years, but it was also a positive sign that anime was indeed on the rise – meaning they were interested in seeking out more titles to dub.

For instance, in that same year, 4Kids dubbed Tama of Third Street: Have You Seen My Tama?, which they titled Tama and Friends.

Never heard of Tama and Friends? Neither have I.

Part 6: 4Kid—

Oh fine. There really isn’t a lot of information on this show, either original or dub. It’s a show about a bunch of chibi cats and dogs doing random things. In 1999, 4Kids just rather randomly got the rights to dub it, they did, it ran in syndication in the US in 2001, never on Kids WB or anything, never got a home video release, and I never remember seeing it all.

Still, their interest in dubbing new titles would spawn an entire catalog of anime that would impact the world of anime and anime fans….4Ever.

….Get it? Because the next part is 2002, and that’s when…Pokemon……4…..*cough* Nevermind.

Next – Part 6: 4Kids 4Ever

Previous – Part 4: Entering Unown Territory


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An Absurdly Deep Dive into the History of 4Kids | Part 4: Entering Unown Territory (2001)

In 2001, 4Kids was still riding pretty high on their Pokemon wave. They had two full seasons of the anime dubbed, and they were in the middle of dubbing their third season, named The Johto Journeys. This was an especially exciting period because this was the first time an entirely new generation of Pokemon was being released both in the games, which had just released Gold and Silver for the Game Boy Color in North America in late 2000 with Crystal coming up in the summer of 2001, and in the anime, which had Ash, Misty and a finally returning Brock exploring the region of Johto. In addition, 4Kids made another commitment with Pokemon by purchasing a 3% stake in The Pokemon Company to better profit from the franchise as a whole by also gaining money from their original Japanese market and overall Asian returns.

With another new year, new anime season and new Gen of games came, of course, another Pokemon movie. Pocket Monsters the Movie: Lord of the Unknown Tower, Entei, which would later be titled, Pokemon 3: The Movie – Spell of the Unown: Entei and what I would later title What the Hell? The Movie – Can’t Anyone Come Up With Anime Movie Titles of a Reasonable Length?: Entei, was released in Japan on July 8, 2000 and would be released by Warner Bros. and 4Kids in North America on April 6, 2001.

Interestingly, while Pokemon 3 was the first ever Pokemon film to be released in IMAX theaters in Japan, the same did not happen in any other region, probably for financial reasons.

Like the previous two installments, 4Kids and Nintendo maintained the same basic advertising structure, although, notably, they did not push nearly as much as they did with Movies 01 or 02. They didn’t release as many toys nor did they get a comic or novel adaptation. This was also the first Pokemon movie release to not get a Burger King deal, meaning no new collectible toys.

They did, however, keep the aspect of a Wizards Black Star promotional trading card. With the purchase of a ticket, moviegoers were given a reverse holographic Entei card, and included in the DVD and VHS releases was a special Unown card – and it was always J, which is kinda random. The Entei card was particularly coveted in America, because it was the first ever reverse holographic Pokemon card released outside of Japan.

Sadly, the downward trend of Pokemon movie releases in North America was continuing. While the third installment did better with critics again, it still wasn’t viewed all that favorably, even if fans regarded it quite highly. It only managed to reach the fourth spot in the box office on its opening day, and it now sat $2mil behind the release of Pokemon the First Movie by only collecting $8,240,752 upon release. Even worse, it hadn’t even made half as much as Pokemon the Movie 2000 after its closing, making only $17,052,128 domestically. Despite this clear decline in returns over the years, the movie was largely a financial success.

To make matters a little better, it seems 4Kids learned a few lessons over the years and made a significant effort in the dub of this movie. It still had a couple rewrites, some questionable dialogue choices, scene shifts, and a completely replaced soundtrack, but overall it was kept much more loyal to the original than the previous two movies were. They didn’t even stab the ending credits repeatedly with an overabundance of unrelated pop songs like the previous two movies……They just loaded up the official soundtrack with an abundance of songs that had already been released in North America and Australia on the Totally Pokemon CD three months prior. So, you’d basically be getting scammed in either territory if you bought the soundtrack and already had the Totally Pokemon CD as only three songs, ‘Pokemon Johto (Movie Version),’ ‘To Know the Unknown’ and the medley from ‘Spell of the Unown’ were new to the set. This was done for the sake of attracting European audiences to buy the soundtrack without them needing to record any new music.

Additionally, it’s clear that, at this point, 4Kids probably knew their music was marketable enough to not spend a lot of money bringing in big pop stars to sing songs for them.

For a complete breakdown on what they did change, see Dogasu’s comparison here.

As was tradition by this point, Pokemon 3 was accompanied by a short called Pikachu and Pichu, and, surprisingly enough, 4Kids left this short almost entirely alone, barring clipping the credits, cutting the opening and making their own, altering the logos a little and, of course, including a Pokemon misidentification – this time incorrectly having a Voltorb say “Electrode.” Even the soundtrack was left intact.

After this point, Warner Bros. would no longer be handling the distribution of the Pokemon films. The reins would be handed to Miramax, which is arguably one of the worst things that could have happened to the movies for international release. But let’s save that for later.

Speaking of Pokemon, 4Kids had another Pokemon ‘movie’ or special to release, but this one was a direct-to-VHS/DVD movie called Pocket Monsters: Mewtwo! I Am Here ‘MEWTWO SAGA’ or as 4Kids dubbed it, Mewtwo Returns.

It chronicled the life of Mewtwo and the other clones immediately following the events of Movie 01. In America, this marked the first time westerners would be able to see the ten minutes that were cut from the beginning of the first movie, marketing that segment as The Uncut Origins of Mewtwo on the DVD. It also holds the coveted title of being the origin to the meme line “Hey I know! I’ll use my trusty frying pan….as a drying pan!” It also contained the incredibly confusing baby Nidoqueen and Rhyhorn, which should have been physically impossible to create considering Nidoqueen can’t breed at all and is a fully evolved Pokemon, meaning its offspring would be a Nidoran not a Nidoqueen.

There’s certainly quite the list of changes between the original and the dubbed version, with a large bulk of them being dialogue changes or additions. There’s really not much else to talk about with this special besides the fact that it hasn’t seen a single re-release and has never been made available on Blu-Ray. The movie/special is also usually broken up into three episodes when listed on streaming sites.

Since it was direct-to-VHS/DVD, there’s no real public information on how much it made, and the very vague title of Mewtwo Returns makes finding relevant information a pain in the butt. However, from its IMDB page, it seems fans view it positively for the most part, though some still criticize the special for being just as preachy as its predecessor.

In nonPokemon news for 2001, 4Kids picked up their first venture into Korean animation with Cubix: Robots for Everyone. The series was actually co-produced by 4Kids in conjunction with two Korean companies, Daiwon C&A Holdings Co., Ltd and Cinepix, making Cubix a unique property for them. They were both helping produce it, but also dubbing it as the series would be created with a Korean track first. The Wiki page credits the entirety of the series to Cinepix and claims 4Kids just dubbed it, but they are on the production credits, and financial reports show that they were co-producing it. This series was valuable to 4Kids both as a merchandise machine and as a suitable fit for their required half-hour of educational and informative programming credit in 2010 on the Fox Box.

Despite only running for two seasons, Cubix was a fairly decent success. 4Kids played it a lot in reruns between the years 2003-2004, then again in 2010. It spawned three video games and plenty of toys. It even had a toy tie-in with Burger King at one point. However, since the show only had two seasons and it wasn’t a massive hit, it kinda ran out of steam a few years later, which is totally understandable.

The show never got a full VHS or DVD release in America. Only the first three episodes were released on DVD in the US, and they were marketed as a movie titled The Search for Solex. There was also a European and/or Australian release for at least most of the episodes. I say “most” because I can only find proof that up to volume five even exists. I found an eBay listing for volume five, and it seems legit. Considering that volume five covers up to episode 20, and there are only six episodes left after that, I assume that a volume six would have been the last one, but I can’t even find a picture of that volume, should it exist.

Cubix still has a bit of a following from what I see, and despite not leaving a huge impact on pop culture throughout the years or anything, is still remembered fondly by numerous people. My experience with the show is that I definitely remember it being promoted a lot on Kids WB, and I remember the Burger King promo, but I don’t remember actually watching it. I would think it would have been advertised so much that I at least watched some in passing, but I can’t remember anything about it besides the fact that it was promoted a lot.

Sadly, 4Kids would experience a bit of a drop off financially in 2001. Their net revenues were down 53% earning $41,538,000 in 2001 from $87,997,000 in 2000. This was attributed to the popularity of Pokemon going down at the time since it was no longer hot and new. Sales of the trading cards, for some reason, were noted as suffering the worst declines, but Pokemon still remained the number one children’s show on domestic broadcast television. Most of their income streams were down barring their media sales and television syndication services, which were up 10%. As noted in the report, Al Kahn took a significant bonus cut to help keep expenses down. He graciously only accepted $370,000 as a bonus cutting off $1,809,000 from what he was originally intended to have. I think we can all agree that he should have been given sainthood for this act.

In the end, their net income dropped from $38,773,000 in 2000 to $12,244,000 in 2001.

Don’t you worry your pretty heads about 4Kids quite yet, though. We’re still talking about 2001. In September of that same year, they would be premiering their second most massive franchise that would once again grant them incredible success.

Next – Part 5: I Summon Yu-Gi-Oh! in Attack Mode!

Previous – Part 3: 4Kids 2000


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