The REAL story behind the USA localization of “Astro Boy”

Astro Boy or Mighty Atom? Or Tetsuwan Atomu?

Astro Boy or Mighty Atom? Or Tetsuwan Atomu?

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.

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3 Responses to “The REAL story behind the USA localization of “Astro Boy””

  1. Ha ha, interesting article. I read about the localization of Robotech once. If anybody would like to know more about localization for the US or anywhere else on the planet, then please check us out at http://www.localizationworld.com. Our conference will be in Berlin, Germany next month and in Silicon Valley in October later this year. You’ll be able to learn more about game localization, tv/film localization, website and whatever else that could be localized. Major companies will be discussing their loc strategies!
    Thanks!

  2. If you are interested in an in-depth article on the localization of Kimba the White Lion, I have one on my site: http://www.kimbawlion.com/history.htm . It was written by Robin Leyden and Fred Patten, and posted with their permission.

    While I still would like to see the original Kimba with accurate subtitles, I have to admire the work that was done by the American dubbers. They did a beautiful job of dubbing the iconic mother-in-the-sky scene in the first episode–an annotated version comparing their first (recently rediscovered) attempt with both their later, more common dub and the Japanese original is on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGSOfM5mhyA . Reading the straight Japanese translation after hearing the dub shows how a good dubber can really bring a localized version to life.

    In my episode guide, http://www.kimbawlion.com/epguide.htm, I have more examples of changes that were made to the shown for American audiences. These examples are marked with a cartoon image of Osamu Tezuka in the episode descriptions.

  3. Thanks for the great article! I’ve linked to it in my linkbar. Very in-depth and interesting! 😀

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