Some of the most popular anime in Japan have never set foot on American shores. Oh sure, we have Naruto and Pokémon and Dragonball Z, but what we don't have are the kids shows — the Japanese anime equivalent of SpongeBob SquarePants, Dora the Explorer and the like. Why? Because while you'd think they'd be the most adaptable for worldwide audiences –- kids are kids, right? –- they're actually quite insane. Here are seven anime series that Japanese kids love that no American parent would ever let their kids watch.
1) Detective Conan
What if Encyclopedia Brown investigated murders? That's the general behind idea behind this super-popular kids' anime, which has run for 17 full years with no signs of slowing down. After thugs from the mysterious Black Organization force brilliant teenage detective Shinichi Kudo to drink an experimental chemical, thinking it's poisonous, it has the very unusual side effect of turning him into a 10-year-old. Taking the name Edogawa Conan (say it out loud — it's inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allen Poe), Conan is forced to hide as a kid to prevent the Organization from finishing the job. Meanwhile, he ends up solving mysterious deaths each week, which pop up near him in alarming Murder, She Wrote-style — and when I say murder, I don't mean bloodless bodies; the first episode involves a guy who gets decapitated while on a roller coaster. Funimation imported the series to America and aired it on Adult Swim as Case Closed, but it turns out American teens aren't interested in watching a kid solve murders, and American kids aren't allowed to.
2) Dr. Slump
Before Akira Toriyama created Dragonball Z (and made enough money to fill and swim in his own, Scrooge McDuck-esque vault), he drew Dr. Slump, a much goofier series about a terrible inventor named Senbei, the cyborg daughter he creates named Arale-chan, and the completely bizarre inhabitants of Penguin Village. These include a pudgy Superman parody who "flies" by lying down on a skateboard and rolling, aliens with butts on their heads, and… uh… talking piles of shit. Add to that the infamous episode where Arale-chan wants a belly button and Senbei misunderstands which lower-body feature she's referring to, and... yeah (before you go thinking the worst, Senbei's never seen a vagina, so the episode is hardly X-rated). It's a level of toilet humor and crudeness that Japanese kids find hilarious and American parents would find scandalous. Also, besides the aforementioned "Suppaman," there's a policeman who wears a Stormtrooper helmet from Star Wars, so licensing-wise alone, Dr. Slump isn't going to make an American house call anytime soon.
3) Nintama Rantarō
Rantaro is just a kid who wants to be a ninja, and so he's enrolled in ninja school with a bunch of other students. Kids love ninjas, and besides, Naruto is basically the same thing, right? Wrong. First off, Naruto is aimed and the tween and young teen male audience in Japan, while Nintama Rantaro is for the 4-8 year-old crowd, seeing as it primarily stars first-graders (or the ninja equivalent, I guess). While Naruto and pals have fight to the death after fight to the death and end up covered in blood in most episodes, most of Rantaro's ninja missions are much more benign. Of course, that still means they occasionally find bodies with shurikans stuck in their backs, or have to traverse mine fields. There's not much American censors can do with first-graders running through mine fields.
There's nothing overtly inappropriate about Anpanman, arguably the most popular young kids' character in Japan. He's just a superhero with an anpan for a head — a Japanese bread with red bean paste in the middle — who helps people. The first problem with bringing Anpanman to the U.S. is, of course, that no one in America knows what the fuck an anpan is, although maybe you could pretend it's a jelly donut. The second problem is that Anpan primarily helps people by tearing off parts of his own head and giving it to them to eat. Given how convinced American parents are that their kids will emulate what they see on TV, this is a Bad Thing. But moreover, the problem with Anpanman is that it's just Japanese, since Anpanman pals around with several other Japanese bread-based people, such as Curry-panman and Melon-panman. Between trying to figure out how to Americanize everything and the undoubtedly high licensing price (it's super-popular; having run for 25 years and more than 1,100 episodes), it'll never make its way to the U.S.
5) Crayon Shin-Chan
Little kids don't really know enough to be properly ashamed of sex; they grab their junk, ask questions about genitals, and occasionally run around naked, never thinking that what they're doing might be scandalous. And in fact, in Japan, it's not, it's just funny. Which means one of the most popular little kids' shows in Japan features its titular tyke using a marker and his penis to make an elephant face, has discussions about penises with his dad (usually during family bath time) and basically strip down whenever it's most embarrassing for his parents. And Crayon Shin-chan is absolutely one of the most popular cartoons in Japan, amongst kids who love to see their animated contemporary be a brat, but also their parents, who laugh knowingly at how hilariously inappropriate children can be. Some of you may remember Shin-chan airing on Adult Swim some years back, and yes, it's the same thing; importer Funimation — with no chance of marketing it to the show's actual target audience –- went the other way and decided to try and redub it as an adult cartoon, just about a small kid. It actually kind of worked.
Ojarumaru is one of those perennial Japanese kids's favorite, having aired since 1998; there's practically nothing inappropriate about its contents. So what's holding it back? It's Japanese as hell. It's about a Heian era prince (that's about 9th to 12th-century) who is transported to modern Japan after accidentally finding a magic power stick stolen by three demons. Now, Ojarumaru spends his time learning about modern life with his new friends while foiling the three (admittedly adorable) demons who keep trying to get the stick back. While you could easily call the demons monsters, there's no way an American kid looks at Ojarumaru's topknot and classic garb without his/her head exploding (or so adults seem to think). Bonus concern: The creator of the Ojarumaru manga killed herself by jumping off her 14-story apartment building, mostly likely because of the stress of her job writing and drawing the comic. So that makes it a little tougher to publicize.
7) Gegege no Kitaro
Gegege no Kitaro was a manga series created by Shigeru Mizuki way back in 1959; the animated version hasn't run nearly as long as most of the other shows in this list, but its popular enough it has had six individual TV series, one airing every decade. It's about a one-eyed boy named Kitaro, who just so happens to be a 150-year-old yokai –- more or less the Japanese term for a monster of the supernatural variety. But Kitaro is good, and tries to keep the peace between the human world and the often malicious yokai who would torment the living. He's helped by his father, who just so happens to be an anthropomorphic eyeball that lives in Kitaro's left eye-socket. You can see why some TV producers might think that be a bit much for American kids.
Bonus: Grave of the Fireflies
Grave of the Fireflies is a movie, and doesn't really count for this list. However, it's always worth remembering that this World War II movie — about two kids who starve to death during the firebombing of Kobe — was originally shown as part of a double feature with My Neighbor Totoro. Clearly, that took care of all of the nation's child-traumatizing needs.