An Absurdly Deep Dive into the History of 4Kids | Part 10: One Piece in Pieces (2004 cont.)

June 8, 2004 is a day that will live in infamy. It is the day that 4Kids got the license to the anime superstar, One Piece, and created what has been hailed throughout time as the worst English dubbed anime ever.

Just the most ridiculous edits 4Kids has ever done. Cigarettes changed to lollipops, guns changed to super soakers and hammer guns, poison darts changed to poison suction cup darts, editing Luffy’s not-moving mouth to move as he’s yelling so they can have him speak dialogue, a black guy painted into a white guy, pretty much any instance of violence, alcohol etc. completely removed, the soundtrack completely changed, the Marines were changed to the Navy, the voices were grating and overly loud, and yes, the cous de gras, the One Piece rap, which, oddly, they opted to use when they already recorded and publicly screened an English translated version of the first theme song, ‘We Are!’ And that’s not even the tip of the iceberg.

One Piece also suffered the most episode skips of any other 4Kids dub. They reached episode 143 but, out of those episodes, only 104 were dubbed, leaving 39 episodes in the wind. This situation was particularly odd in that there technically wasn’t 39 episodes missing. Only 20 full episodes were removed. It’s just that the episodes were frequently edited so badly that their runtimes would be too short for airing as a full episode, causing them to use footage from the next episode to make up the slack. As a result, the next episode would be short by default and would be made shorter due to content cuts, which means they’d have to take scenes from the next episode to pick up the slack and so on and so forth. This circle of mutilation resulted in enough edits to equal 19 more episodes technically being cut. To make matters worse, only 78 of those episodes ever aired on the Fox Box/4Kids TV, although the remaining episodes did air on Toonami in the US before they shifted to the Funimation dub. (Edit: Thanks to Bluebaron on Twitter for the info regarding Toonami.)

While 4Kids’ dub of One Piece was mostly lost media for many years, there were at least 11 volumes of DVD releases of the dub, reaching episode 52 before they stopped. Despite Al Kahn teasing they’d have an uncut One Piece release, this never happened. Sometime in 2006, 4Kids would reach a new DVD distribution agreement with Viz Media to release their cut DVDs, One Piece included, but, reportedly, Viz wouldn’t participate in an uncut DVD release because they weren’t involved in the dubbing process. I don’t really see why that’s a factor, but that’s what was reported.

The remaining 52 episodes were entirely lost for several years until TV rips were uploaded and posted to the Lost Media Wiki page.

One Piece, despite being a shounen show, was still very much not in the demographic that 4Kids aimed towards. It was loaded with violence, blood, death, fanservice, drinking and much more. Japan has a much different set of views on what is appropriate for children to watch compared to America. So 4Kids choosing to dub the show was a baffling turn of events to say the least. It was either a huge oversight or they didn’t care and just wanted the super popular property in their lap.

4Kids did okay in the merchandising department with One Piece, all things considered. They had several toys, four video games and even a trading card game released with Mattel.

The word around town in regards to the blame for this situation was that Toei tricked or forced them into taking the show. In a much-referenced interview with ANN, Mark Kirk, then-Senior Vice President of Digital Media for 4Kids, claimed that One Piece was part of a bundle of shows that 4Kids was purchasing from Toei. At the time of purchase, they had not screened the show or looked up much information about it and just accepted it as part of the bulk purchase. Poor little 4Kids didn’t know that One Piece wasn’t appropriate at all for their age demographic, so we shouldn’t judge poor little 4Kids for mutilating it as much as they did. They had to. It was out of their hands.

I want to know how many people actually listened to the interview instead of just cited what was quoted on Wikis, because there’s an important note about Mark Kirk’s interview. Before he goes into details about One Piece, he specifically says that the One Piece stuff happened “before (his) time.” Meaning he wasn’t even there when One Piece was being bought and dubbed. He was hired in 2007, which was after 4Kids canceled One Piece and Funimation purchased it. One Piece was obtained by 4Kids in 2004. Meanwhile, this interview is from 2010. What he was conveying was his account based on what he had heard and that was his, directly quoting here, “Non-official take on how (he) think(s) that came to be.” He doesn’t even say that this is based on what he heard around the office or what anyone specifically told him – it’s all just his theory on what happened.

The interviewer asks him what they look for in anime they acquire. He responds that they look for shows where the license is available, they can do marketing and merchandise for the property and that, specifically, it is suitable for their demographic.

The marketing thing is supported by Al Kahn in this quote from an interview with ANN in 2005.

“We look at things such as popularity, but also if it has a merchandising component; can we license it, can we license products for it? That’s really the main issue for us… the playing pattern, if it’s popular and how it merchandises. If we can’t merchandise it, it really doesn’t have a lot of interest for us.”

Something else from that interview that’s interesting:

Because it’s not financially viable?

“That’s correct, because it’s too expensive to do the dubbing and the acquisitions because we rewrite, we re-script, we re-score. So it’s very difficult to do that if you don’t have any other revenue streams and we have to make sure we get that.”

Kirk went on to say that, since Shaman King and One Piece are both Shounen Jump titles owned by Shueisha, that the shows were, directly quoting “probably some sort of package deal.” I don’t know why he’s just assuming that. If their announcements are anything to go by, Shaman King was acquired on May 15, 2003 and One Piece was acquired on June 8, 2004. Even on the official financial reports by 4Kids themselves, Shaman King is on the 2003 report as an owned title, but not One Piece, which would later be added on the 2004 report. They also premiered a year apart with Shaman King premiering on August 30, 2003 and One Piece being aired on September 18, 2004.

In addition, while their manga were both produced and owned by Shueisha, their anime weren’t. Shaman King’s anime was controlled and produced by TV Tokyo, and One Piece’s anime was controlled and produced by Toei. The acquisition and ownership information in 4Kids’ own official documents list Toei Animation, but not Shueisha. Same thing with Shaman King – it lists TV Tokyo but not Shueisha.

The way the actual rights work is confusing, but it basically boils down to this, to my understanding. Shueisha (and Eiichiro Oda, to a degree) own One Piece‘s manga. The anime is an adaptation of the manga, meaning Shueisha sold the anime rights of One Piece to Toei. As far as I can tell, when anime/animation rights are given to a production company, no other company can be given the anime/animation rights unless the first company gives them up or the contract runs out. The animation/production company in question controls the anime side of things with little input from the manga owner besides the ability to pull the rights if the contract allows or not renew them when the contract expires.

It’s basically the same thing as a dubbing company. When a Japanese anime studio sells the rights of an anime to a dubbing company, the dubbing company has control over how they adapt and present their adaptation. In some circumstances, as we’ve gone over with Ghibli, there are restrictions baked into the contract to have certain changes approved by the original company, but that was a particularly unique circumstance and typically isn’t the norm.

As another comparison, take when someone writes a book or a graphic novel and they sell the movie rights. It’s quite common for the book/graphic novel writer to have little to no input on the movie’s production and for the movie to wind up being insanely different from the source material, in some circumstances being an ‘in name only’ adaptation. The original author still probably gets a chunk of change from the movie and any merchandise the company gets as a result of the film, but the author still can’t do much, if anything, about any decisions involving what the production company does with the movie rights outside of selling the rights to someone else. For example, that author cannot force the production company to do something like sell the foreign dubbing rights to the movie to a particular company because they don’t control the movie – they only control the book.

Toei sold the international rights to the anime to 4Kids to dub. Shueisha likely didn’t have anything to do with it because the anime technically doesn’t belong to them. They have some degree of ownership, of course, and the anime would be under their ownership if the anime production company went under or decided to not renew the license, but they don’t have nearly as much control as Mark Kirk seems to imply they have, at least to my understanding. They deal with a multitude of animation studios and production companies who make anime based on their properties, but they don’t control them, at the very least not in regards to how they sell their localization/adaptation/international rights. If it worked the way Mark Kirk is acting as if it worked, Shueisha would have to somehow force TV Tokyo to sell the international rights to Shaman King’s anime to 4Kids at the same time this deal was going on, and not only does that not make sense, but that also doesn’t seem legally plausible or ethical unless Shueisha has some very specific clauses written into their contracts, and even then the timeline still doesn’t mesh.

For another comparison, when the Yu-Gi-Oh! lawsuit was going down, only TV Tokyo, NAS and ADK were listed as the entities pursuing legal action. Shueisha also owns Yu-Gi-Oh!, but since the anime version is not technically theirs, and anti-manga 4Kids didn’t have anything to do with the manga, it wasn’t their legal battle to fight.

There are a lot of additional and strange rumors about this whole ‘bundle’ situation. People have speculated that they bundled One Piece with Winx Club, but Toei doesn’t own that, it’s not even Japanese, or Ultimate Muscle, which is from Toei but was acquired long before One Piece was on the table and was only still going purely because of 4Kids. Some people also threw out Ojamajo Doremi, Tokyo Mew Mew and Futari wa Pretty Cure, because 4Kids really wanted those properties for the sake of hooking in female viewers and took One Piece as part of the deal because Toei was desperate to get the property out, which is probably the most laughable accusation.

First of all, 4Kids would never be so desperate for female-centric shows that they’d need to enter into negotiations to also take a show they have little to no idea about. Outside of branching out a bit, they never gave much of a crap about their female audience. They were always trying to lure in young boys……That sounds terrible out of context.

If they were really desperate for more girl-oriented shows, there were tons of popular girly shows out there that 4Kids could have acquired, either in Japan or otherwise. They didn’t need to roll over to Toei just to get titles like Ojamajo Doremi, Tokyo Mew Mew or Precure. In addition, Doremi wouldn’t be licensed until November 2004 while One Piece had been licensed in June (It’s true that they had been interested in the show since late 2003, but the license dates and announcements don’t match up at all, so the bundle theory still doesn’t make sense to me.), Tokyo Mew Mew isn’t owned by Toei, so that doesn’t hold water, and they didn’t even acquire the license for Precure until 2006.

Second of all, they allegedly desperately wanted Precure, but wound up never dubbing it?

Third and most of all, acting as if Toei was desperate to get One Piece off their hands and had no other offers or choices is ridiculous. In fact, Funimation, in 2003, said they were one of the “top companies still in negotiations” for One Piece, and they reportedly even bought the rights to a domain for the sake of making a website for One Piece. And of course there was intense competition for One Piece – it’s frickin’ One Piece!

It’s suggested that, despite all of the offers on the table, they went with 4Kids because they had massive powerhouses like Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh!, despite both faltering in popularity in the west around that time. They wanted to ensure One Piece would also be a western powerhouse, so they went with 4Kids’ offer. Funimation did have Dragon Ball Z, but at that point it couldn’t touch the popularity that Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! once had, especially in regards to merchandising, so 4Kids probably seemed more appealing in that regard.

To be fair, 4Kids reportedly did want the dub to be more loyal than usual, which is why most everyone retains their names and they were going to use an English version of the Japanese theme song and keep the score. It’s also why Al Kahn seemed to be adamant in telling everyone that two versions of the show (the TV cut and the non-released uncut versions) would be two completely separate entities that needed to exist alongside each other.

Reportedly, the intense localization changes were mostly done on Toei’s behest because they thought that was what American audiences wanted, which is weird to insist upon 4Kids of all people, but I really don’t know if I believe that. Then you have the whole supposed ordeal with 4Kids being put off by how their less-edited version of Shaman King was received to take the same risk with One Piece. Again, hardly any of this is substantiated to any degree. It’s mostly rumors and accounts from people who say they know people in the know who paraphrase from other people who might be in the know.

For example, according to someone named ‘Sam’ in the music department at Toei, which is someone this random banned person on a forum supposedly knows, they were shocked fans liked the original Japanese music and thought they’d like 4Kids’ score and theme song more, implying that either Toei made them use a new soundtrack or 4Kids greatly convinced them that kids liked the dub version better. Considering Al Kahn said he liked the rap better and thought it would be more popular, and I can’t imagine they can be legally forced by Toei to make a new soundtrack, unless it was some weird insanely specific part of their contract, I’m going to assume it was the latter.

Kirk then went on to say that 4Kids, at the time, probably overlooked the content issues because they believed that no anime could really be successful unless it was a kids’ anime because merchandising, toys etc. No company in America, at the time, would even consider making toys or other merchandise for anime unless it was aimed towards kids. They saw that Japan had toy lines for One Piece and just made the assumption that it was suitable for their audience before even looking at a frame of the anime. They didn’t take into account that Japan, is, shockingly, a different place with a different culture and different standards of content for various age groups where anime has been popular for decades.

The interviewer talks about how there’s beer and guns in episode two, but you don’t even have to watch that far. For god’s sake, the opening narration of every episode is Gol D. Roger’s last words before he’s skewered to death in his public execution. Granted, they don’t show the execution, but that should at least be a hint for them.

Did they seriously sign a contract to dub five seasons of One Piece without understanding anything of what it was? In any other show that they’ve acquired, they never had any problems dropping them. They dropped Fighting Foodons, Ultraman Tiga, they’ll go on to drop Mew Mew Power, Yu-Gi-Oh GX, Yu-Gi-Oh 5Ds and F-Zero GP Legends all without a single issue. If Precure is any indication, you can license a show and just not dub or air it at all. Why is One Piece different? Why would 4Kids make that big of a commitment, allegedly, for a show they didn’t screen? It just screams incompetence, if this is true.

In my opinion, I think 4Kids paid a ton of money for that license, took way too long to realize they screwed up, and they simply wanted to try and make back as much money as possible before they ultimately decided to pass the baton and get out of that sinking ship. The way I see it, they were more trapped by a desire to not lose their massive investment than they were by Toei and their contract of doom. Remember, once that license money is out, it’s out, it’s gone. That is Toei’s money now. If 4Kids really did quickly realize the mess they got into and wanted out immediately, they’d lose all that money. And this was the license for One Piece, of all things, and they were competing against Funimation, who obviously really wanted it. I can only imagine how much money they put down for that. That’s the only theory that makes sense to me given everything I’ve learned.

If you don’t take my word for it, take Al Kahn’s.

In that same interview with ANN in 2005, he said that, because Japanese titles are so expensive to acquire, they have to be “extremely selective” about the shows that they buy. This was after they had bought One Piece, which comes off to me like they weren’t careful in their selection beforehand and had already learned that lesson the hard way.

They also had options that would have allowed them to be more free in regards to editing. For example, a good argument was made by Theron Martin of ANN where they talked about how Naruto, which was airing around the same time as One Piece on Cartoon Network, wasn’t nearly as changed or censored as One Piece. They just slapped the Fox Box complete cut version of One Piece on Cartoon Network when you can get away with a lot more on Cartoon Network.

Of course, there were obviously still gore/blood removals, painting over Naruto’s Sexy no Jutsu boobs and stuff like that, but for the most part, pretty much everything else was left alone like the dialogue, the story, the soundtrack, the personalities, the names (which, admittedly, were also kept in One Piece, barring the fact that people like to complain about the Zoro/Zolo thing, which is pointless because Japanese doesn’t differentiate between L and R sounds) the text on screen, the Japanese voices and vocals in their theme songs etc. Naruto became a massive success in the west despite not doing all of the localization stuff 4Kids claimed was necessary to earn success in the west. And they had roughly the same demographic.

I would argue even further for Yu Yu Hakusho. That could be a pretty brutal anime at points. It has legit made me cringe at some of the graphic things they’ve put in the show. That also aired on Cartoon Network on Toonami, and while it was very obviously edited for certain things, again, it was largely left alone otherwise. Yu Yu Hakusho became a very popular title on Cartoon Network, and it ran in reruns for years, even rerunning again, uncut, on Adult Swim numerous times,

One Piece aired in syndication on Cartoon Network just months after it premiered on the Fox Box, which just makes me wonder why 4Kids didn’t opt to make a deal with Cartoon Network to have it premiere on Cartoon Network. If they knew that Fox’s standards and practices were too constricting for a show like Shaman King, and they knew One Piece was a similar situation by that point, why would they opt to cut the show to ribbons in an effort to adhere to policies more firmly than just find a different network to air it on? It’s not as if having a commitment of any sort to the Fox Box was a big deal….they OWNED the Fox Box. Toonami was insanely popular at the time, and they were always looking for new hit shows to have on their block. They probably would have loved to boast that they had the national premieres of One Piece.

The only reason I can think of as to why they didn’t choose to do that is none else but money. 4Kids would get more money if they premiered the show on their block first, theoretically. And they weren’t going to bother spending more money to have a lessened cut for Cartoon Network syndication, so One Piece basically had to be mutilated on all airings.

Some people may argue that Toei was probably a part of that, like they were somehow controlling what network they could premiere it on too, but I don’t buy that. I additionally doubt that they knew enough about American television networks to make an informed decision about that anyway. And if they did, they probably would have been fine with premiering it on Cartoon Network since their ratings numbers for 2003 and 2004 were breaking records. That’s not to say Kids WB and the Fox Box weren’t also doing well, because they were, but there’s absolutely no reason why Toei would care about what network the show premiered on.

Kirk also believes that when it came down to it, after everything was said and done, after the backlash had gotten really heated, there was supposedly two camps in 4Kids – one that basically couldn’t care less about the people complaining because those people weren’t kids, they weren’t their demographic, so who cares? The other “cared” so-to-speak in regards to the reputation of the company because those complaining people were loud, they had platforms in which they could reach thousands or millions of people, and they could easily damage the company’s reputation if this went on for too long. Eventually it just came down to which camp was really right. And, in the end, the camp that “cared” won out, so they decided to just wade through the rest of their contract, which was set to expire in August 2009, until they could shift the rights elsewhere.

That’s not what happened, though. 4Kids announced they were canceling One Piece in December of 2006 and Funimation picked it up in April of 2007, meaning 4Kids must have wiggled out of their contract early somehow, which would be unlikely if this truly was a case of them being trapped….Weird how he doesn’t mention that 4Kids had the option to cancel it, and didn’t, in fact, wait out the contract expiring. It’s almost like he doesn’t know much about what he’s talking about. Not as a sleight to him, because he admitted this is just his own theory about something that happened when he wasn’t there and has no given sources of any information regarding this.

If you want a little extra proof that he doesn’t really know much of what he’s talking about – in that interview with ANN, someone on Twitter asked about what happened to Tokyo Mew Mew/Mew Mew Power. He said that was also “before (his) time” (It was one year after One Piece had been picked up) so he had no idea. He said he’d have to ask someone and get back to them later, which never happened. I’m not saying he knows nothing, he obviously knows some stuff because he works there, but I’m saying his knowledge on literally anything that preceded his hiring doesn’t seem like something he’s actually asked about within the company or researched much himself, so I’m not sure how much of it you can really accept as an adequate or accurate explanation.

I’m also not saying I know more than he does as I also wasn’t in the board room of 4Kids when they acquired the One Piece license nor have I ever worked for the company or in the industry. Admittedly, I could be totally wrong about all this. I’m just also making my own theories based on the facts that I have, but those facts contradict Kirk’s claims very substantially.

Plus, I understand he’s obviously been pressured to talk about this. Apparently, the interviewers avoided numerous tweets in their Twitter Q&A for him because they were hostile, most likely about the One Piece stuff, and the one One Piece-related question they did let through was asking if Al Kahn/4Kids would ever offer a former apology for what happened with One Piece (He skirted around that question more or less). However, it probably would have been better for him to not say anything, because now I just feel like 4Kids was trying to cover their ass and put everything on other people.

According to Mark Kirk, he believes the One Piece fiasco was the main reason why 4Kids’ reputation was ruined, and that, if you took One Piece out of the equation, people would have been much more understanding to 4Kids and what they seemingly had to do in regards adapting everything else. Obviously, this is more than a bit optimistic, as the interviewer points out. 4Kids’ reputation had been terrible way before One Piece, and more shows after One Piece would ruin it more.

He didn’t really change his stance after that, but he did mention that the situation with One Piece most likely would never happen now (IE: 2010) because, in his personal experience with 4Kids and the way they licensed properties after the One Piece ‘incident’ was very professional. They vetted stuff more thoroughly, they did more research, and they were just overall more careful after that.

Kirk denies that 4Kids was being really sloppy and poorly researched what they were purchasing, which sounds really contradictory to what he was saying before. He basically just puts the blame on the fact that they were new to licensing anime, which they certainly weren’t by that point. They had around six years of experience licensing anime and decades of experience licensing tons of other properties, so I don’t believe that for a second. According to him, they were “stuck” with One Piece, so they decided to “do the best they could” until their contact was up and they could drop the show, which I already explained doesn’t line up with what actually happened.

The interviewer then asks if the people at 4Kids feel regret for what happened with One Piece. Mark Kirk starts saying that there’s “been so much turnover here” before stopping himself. Probably because saying “Oh there’s such a high turnover rate at 4Kids that hardly anyone who was there when the One Piece fiasco started is there anymore to show any regret.” is a little bit of a bad idea. I can’t be sure that’s what he was about to say, but it sounded like it. He added that he didn’t ask Al Kahn or any other higher ups about it or anything, and they’re always looking forward to what’s next instead of back at things like One Piece.

That comment also adds a little more validity to him not really knowing much about this situation because, if there’s so much turnover and hardly anyone who was there when the One Piece incident was going on was still there in 2010 or even briefly after the show got canceled, and he stated he didn’t ask Al Kahn or any other executive, then even if he did ask someone lower on the food chain about it, chances are they either didn’t know much about it or they weren’t there either and all they know about it is public word of mouth or rumors around the watercooler. And if they always look forward and don’t like talking about the past, then it probably hardly ever comes up in the first place.

Then Kirk brings up the fact that there were other offers on the table for One Piece since it was clearly a hot commodity. 4Kids basically thought they had to act immediately in order to beat out other companies, so rushing was also a factor in this mistake.

Yup. He pointed the very obvious that I talked about earlier. Something that directly contradicts his ‘bundle’ theory. They weren’t desperate to find dubbers and needed to negotiate with 4Kids to force them into taking One Piece. Toei just made a crappy decision most likely based on ‘Ooh One Piece could be the next Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh!’ As for Toei controlling how they dealt with the dub, there’s a reason I don’t buy that much. If Toei really wanted 4Kids specifically because they were the holy gods who made Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! western hits, why would they insist on micro-managing everything as some people claim?

From the best I can tell, Toei took the leap with 4Kids, hoping it would be this larger-than-life massive franchise in the west, while 4Kids took a chance with either a show they knew wasn’t in their demo and didn’t care or they didn’t know and didn’t care because ‘Ooh look at how popular and merchandisable it is in Japan’ and then gave it the ol’ college try afterwards to save their bank account as much as possible and maybe even profit a bit. After a while, I can imagine Toei regretting giving 4Kids the license just as 4Kids probably regretted taking it while they were in a panic trying to make it work, which was like trying to stop a dam from bursting by putting Silly Putty over the cracks. And after a while I can see Funimation laughing in the background while they put on sexy lingerie ready to seduce Toei the second the licensing agreement was cut short.

In the end, 4Kids is certainly most at fault, but there are also other factors here, most notably Toei, that share the responsibility for the disaster of One Piece’s first dub. It was a dumpster fire, let’s not mince words, but everyone learned from it, even if 4Kids kinda learned too late and should’ve have learned long before they even got the license. One Piece certainly didn’t suffer for it, when you think about it (If anything, a greater appreciation for the original series and desire to see it done justice in the west developed quite quickly. One Piece is doing amazingly now. 4Kids was just a battle scar.) and we can all still make jokes about it.

Phew, we’re finally through that shit storm. Thank god 4Kids didn’t have another big embarrassment in 2004…..

Next – Part 11: Playing Their Cards Wrong

Previous – Part 9: Be Careful What You Wish For


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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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