The REAL story behind the USA localization of “Astro Boy”
Everyone loves Astro Boy. He’s world-famous, lovable, and righteous. What about Mighty Atom? Or Tetsuwan Atomu? Or 鉄腕アトム? Those are his “real” names and their various translations and transliterations….but why did his name change when he was imported to the U.S.A.?
Well, the common myth is that “Mighty Atom” (1) had too strong a connection with “atomic bombs” and similar ideas, and/or (2) sounded too much like existing characters “Mighty Mouse” and “Atom Ant,” and was therefore changed to the unoffensive “Astro Boy.” But recently, some ‘research’ of mine suggested otherwise….
For the English version, the producers, NBC Enterprises, settled on “Astro Boy” after discussions with producer Fred Ladd and representatives from NBC led them to the name. (The title “Mighty Atom” for an atomic powered robot, as “Astro Boy” was thought of back then, was considered too generic and not “catchy enough” a title for a program for American TV.)
(taken from the “Astro Boy” article on wikipedia)
So, it was really just a question of what was catchy, I suppose. When you think about it, poor Leo the lion went through something similar. Leo is such a stereotypical lion name in Western countries, while “Kimba” sounds exotic and African. What sounds more rare and exciting than “Kimba the White Lion”? I guess “Jungle Emperor Leo” just doesn’t have that “kid show” ring to it, now that I think about it.
Things have changed quite a bit from the “old days,” where localizers often went to great lengths to make sure a show didn’t appear “Japanese” in any way. Even as recently as when I was a little girl watching Sailor Moon, I remember that all the signs were painted over to have English on them and all the characters’ names were changed to “English” ones. In recent years, however, dubbers and localizers have responded to changes in audience and the audience’s increased knowledge of/interest in Japanese culture and anime and minimalized changes.