The first few anime series and films to be brought to the United States were all bowdlerized for American audiences, with violence, deaths of major characters, sexual references, etc., completely edited out, since the audience of the anime was assumed to be made up of young children (over time, anime has moved its target audience from young children to young adults and teenagers). These titles included the earliest anime films to be brought to the U.S., in 1961 (and the first three feature films ever released by Toei Animation):

The first anime series to be translated were not exempt:

Star Blazers (1979) and Robotech (which was adapted from three separate series) (1985) broke this tradition by leaving in some of those elements and preserving the drama of the original. However, they still had heavily modified plots.

Founded in 1987, Streamline Pictures was the first North American company founded primarily for the intention of distributing translated anime uncut and faithful to the original content. Streamline Pictures founder Carl Macek had worked for Harmony Gold USA during the mid-1980s, most notably on Robotech.

In the early 1990s, several American anime companies began to experiment with licensing less children-oriented material. Some, such as A.D. Vision and Central Park Media, and its imprints, achieved fairly substantial commercial success and went on to become major players in the now very lucrative American anime market (although, as of late, companies such as Central Park Media have come under financial stress). Others, such as AnimEigo, achieved more limited success. Many companies created directly by Japanese parent companies did not do as well, most releasing only one or two titles before folding its American operations.

The localization and editing processes were far more heavy in the past, when anime was largely unheard of in the United States. A notorious example of this was when Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind was first released outside of Japan in the mid 1980's. Repackaged as Warriors of the Wind, this release cut more than half an hour of the original version and attempted to market the film as a kids action movie, rather than the heavier environmentalist drama Miyazaki intended it to be. In 2005, Nausicaa was finally released uncut on DVD in the west, featuring a brand new dubbed soundtrack by Disney that was faithful to the original and the original Japanese audio with English subtitles.

However, in recent years, these localization processes have been used less because of the demand for anime in its original form. This "light touch" approach to localization and editing has proved popular with fans, as well as viewers formally unfamiliar with anime. The "light touch" approach also applies to DVD releases, as they often include both the English-dubbed audio version and the original Japanese audio version with subtitles, are often uncut, and lack commercials. Anime series with edited television versions may have uncut DVDs.

In recent years, a change in audience demographics has led to a greater emphasis being placed on releasing (or re-releasing) anime with fewer changes, especially on DVD, where there are fewer content limitations. Often, these releases (such as the Disney releases of Studio Ghibli productions) include both English-dubbed versions and the original Japanese versions, usually with subtitles.

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