This almost always means that a work of Japanese origin (animated or live action) has been watered down for release in the United States or elsewhere outside Japan. Prices for everything in Japan are very high, especially for entertainment goods; for example, Anime DVDs are typically $65+ for 3 episodes, $95 for the special edition, with 5 to 10 DVDs required for an entire series. In addition, the distribution system makes it hard to get any media at a discount, especially since the sale of used video games and used electronics are illegal.
Even when the costs of things like overseas shipping and currency exchange are taken into account, it is usually cheaper for the Japanese consumer to import from the United States or other countries than it is to buy the home version. Many companies realize this, and will therefore license inferior versions for overseas distribution (often by removing the Japanese audio and subtitle tracks) so as to discourage this practice.
Some companies have taken the opposite tactic of pricing the U.S. releases at similarly high prices, which doesn't go over too well, either. Aniplex earned quite a bit of flak for the pricing schemes of Puella Magi Madoka Magica ($40 per disc for 3 blu-rays with no extras, or almost twice that for the limited edition) and Fate Zero (a whopping $370 for each half of the 26-episode season, and this is significantly marked down from the SRP of $500). They still sold reasonably well due to the extreme popularity of the shows, but to many people this felt like exploitation. Unfortunately, Aniplex seems to be sticking to this strategy...
The US release of the original Mobile Suit Gundam lacked a Japanese audio track because there wasn't a Japanese DVD version yet (mainly because of age damage to the audio track) and Sunrise didn't want Japanese fans reverse-importing...especially not with a remastered version in the works. Bandai Entertainment was even forced to replace the original Japanese opening and ending themes with Toonami's custom credits after the first few volumes because of this.
Speaking of the music issue, the American release of Zeta Gundam replaces the openings with the Zeta Gundam's orchestral theme from the sound tracks; however, this is because Neil Sedaka wrote the songs and his family currently owns the rights, adding another name to the list of royalty payments that have to be made to use them. Thus they can be used (as in a few Super Robot Wars games), but usually Bandai just uses BGMs instead.
SyFy's airing of Gundam 00 had its endings cut due to music licensing, which would be annoying enough if not for the second season having a minute-long Stinger after each episode, which were hit with Credits Pushback. Often these scenes were plot-critical, such as the penultimate episode showing how Seravee Gundam was destroyed; without the scene, American fans were left wondering why it wasn't there in the big final battle.
The original American Princess Mononoke release was going to lack a Japanese track for this reason. After fan outcry, Disney decided to release it with one, but also delayed the release so it wouldn't compete as much with the Japanese release.
Toei Animation licensed Sailor Moon, subtitled, to ADV for about... ten minutes. The masters that they gave them were so poor, many fans suspect that ADV was actually stuck using the old masters that DiC originally had to use to make the dub, and they did not give them episode 67 (no great loss, it was a pointless swimsuit episode that had no connection to the plotline, but still irksome on principle). This has been speculated as due to the desire to prevent reverse imports, but nobody really knows. They apparently won't license it at all any more.
Similarly, Bandai America licensed Blue Comet SPT Layzner, but according to Bandai's PR rep the masters they received were badly damaged and tinted blue, making them completely unusable. Replacements never came, and after several years the license expired with absolutely nothing to show for it.
Night on the Galactic Railroad was released in the West on DVD only once, in 2001. Uncut, properly subtitled, great sound, but bad picture (the source was the laserdisk release). And it's now out of print, with only a few copies available online. The Japanese got a MUCH better DVD only a year after.
Milky Animation, a Japanese adult animation company, intentionally gave its American localization partner Kitty Media an unfinished/inferior copy of an episode of the popular hentai series Bible Black because the uncensored dual-language English versions were being reverse imported.
And before that, they tried to have the New Testament sequel series released English-only for the same reason; this backfired so badly that the series returned to dual-language by the second volume, with sub-only versions of the episodes on the first volume included as extras to boot.
Kitty Media also saw this happen with their release of Moonlight Lady: those with access to the original Japanese footage noted that the visual quality was dimmed quite a bit, to the point where a lot of the details in the character's hair was lost.
The original release of Blue Submarine No. 6 was sold a single episode at a time at relatively high prices to make it harder to reverse-import. A cheaper compiled version eventually did come out.
This is the reason that some anime releases outside Japan do not feature the original Japanese versions of the opening and ending credits. This has led to cases where the ending sequence changes in each episode in the Japanese version, but the same ending reel is used for all episodes in the English release.
That's borderline. Sometimes it does happen because the Japanese won't give the Americans the proper materials, bringing it under this trope, but sometimes it just happens because the American company doesn't want to use openings and closings that contain kanji, and they do have the original openings/closings, but not clean versions. Examples of this include the original release of Trigun, and Sailor Moon.
DVD image quality for anime releases outside of Japan are often intentionally reduced for this purpose. One of the most insane, however, was the release of Neon Genesis Evangelion by ADV. Rather than giving ADV high-quality transfers to use for their VHS and DVD releases, ADV was "granted" what essentially amounted to retail VHS copies of Evangelion that would degrade in quality when copied — even to DVD. This lasted until the Platinum Collection was released in America.
This trope in general is now made worse with the fact that anime is now often released in some half-finished formats, depending on the studio releasing the show. Recent shows like Super Robot Wars Original Generation: Divine Wars, Gundam SEED Destiny and Code Geass have received massive overhauls when "converted" over to DVD. Most companies are polite enough to generally give the localization companies the "fixed" versions of these shows — but there have still been releases that wind up basically shoving the lower-quality TV episodes at the American audience like it's the best they'll ever get.
Bandai's contract when it licensed the first season of Suzumiya Haruhi demanded that, despite the fanbase wanting it badly (and because the Japanese fanbase wanted it too and hadn't gotten it), they couldn't put the episodes on the DVDs in broadcast order, only in chronological order. Bandai reacted by providing two releases: the bare-bones chronological order DVDs and the special editions, which came with Feelies, chronological order and broadcast order discs, single albums and other merchandise.
Slightly inverted in that the US bonus disks are the ONLY release in either country that contains the original next episode previews. (the originals had a running gag where the main characters couldn't agree on how to number the episodes, while the dvd previews are mostly silent aside from the next title)
It should be noted that the UK Anime Legends release only has the chronological disks.
The ADV Films' release of Mazinkaiser is a textbook example of why this trope occurs, with Japanese fans ordering the American version and cannibalizing the Japanese release's sales.
This is actually the inverse of the overpriced-export situation — Japanese anime DVDs are outrageously expensive in Japan, and while still quite expensive in the US (a DVD with 6 episodes costs as much as a DVD set of an entire season of a US show) they're nowhere near as bad as Japanese DVDs.
The US Blu-Ray of Kurokamilacks a Japanese track. The Japanese licensor seems to be doing this to prevent reverse importation; Japan and the US have the same Blu-Ray region code.
Section23 is releasing Asylum Session Stateside this April... but only in a 2D subtitled version despite being made as a 3-D Movie.
Mostly averted with the US blu-ray release of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Instead of removing the Japanese audio, Aniplex made FUNimation lock the subtitles so that they can't be turned off unless the English audio is turned on.
So they punish legitimate importers who (probably) can't override DVD PGC codes, but not pirates. Good job!
The entirety of the 2005 Gaiking series is available on Hulu. However, the subtitle job, to put it mildly, essentially amounts to a very amateurishly made fansub; some words, and even entire sentences sometimes get left out, and there's at least one scene in one episode that isn't translated at all (specifically, the scene after the ending credits in episode 31.
Monster Rancher, while the anime itself was well made and well translated, large chunks were cut due to violence and blood present, in particular a scene where Genki is slashed across the chest and left for dead had all the blood erased. But, far less understandably, series two was only aired once and the third season, while dubbed, never at all. Even worse, only a couple of dozen episodes were ever released on DVDs and very few of those were printed. If you want to watch the whole thing you need to look up very-poor VHS rips online. Keep Circulating the Tapes, people. Maybe one day it will be available for download on Amazon or iTunes....
The season season of Heavens Lost Property released by Funimation was downgraded from DVD/Blu-Ray combo box to DVD only. According to an anime distributor, the Japanese license holders were a bit too cautious for having the Blu-Ray release being too soon after the Japanese release date, so Funimation decided to ditch the Blu-Ray option rather than delaying the release date.
With UK DVD releases of anime, what commonly happens is the lack of Japanese track - which is frustrating when the US release got both the dubbed and the subbed version. Example: Hell Girl: American Release and the UK release.
That's if they release it in the UK at all.
Not common at all, at least since early 2000s. Also that DVD does have Japanese. Amazon aren't the best at reporting language tracks.
A rare Manga version — Shonen Jump was so harmed by rampant piracy that Viz had to go to a digital only publishing model — "Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha," despite the Japanese manga industry being legendarily behind the times in terms of technology. Unfortunately it is only available to US customers at this time, partially due to the difficulty in getting rights to publish it in other countries, but equally due to issues of WSJA being only $1 ($0.50 with a 1 year subscription) — which is the equivalent of 80 / 40 yen, or in other words 15% - 30% of the price of the Japanese magazine.
The western dubbed version of Macross :Do You Remember Love? was apparently rumoured to be used as an education tool to teach English. It featured an ''eclectic'' bunch of Australian and Hong Kong voice actors who hammed it up despite the serious tone and had 30 minutes hacked off. It was released on VHS in the UK and US as Macross: Clash of the Bioroids. Due the problems associated with the Macross brand, it may be the only adaptation of this film to come to the west.
A subtitled, and slightly edited (mostly for nudity and two decapitations) version did come out for a microsecond in the '90s. Lotsa luck finding that one — it was here and then disappeared, most likely due to you know who...
The Alabasta movie was also released on Blu-ray in America before Japan.
However, FUNimation did have issues getting the 14th closing song included on their DVD release, and is skipped.
The Persona 4 anime was released billingually on DVD in North America as usual, but the Blu-ray only has the English track, due to fears of reverse importation. This was averted with the UK release though, since their Blu-ray region is different from Japan.
Reverse importation is also the reason Kadokawa Pictures USA will not allow any of their anime to see the Blu in North America. Sorry Deadman Wonderland fans...
The now OOP US release of End of Evangelion had great Audio quality, but bad picture quality. Manga Entertainment decided to turn the Gamma/Brightness Up to Eleven on their print, possibly as a form of censorship. As a result, the print looks extremely washed out and certain scenes (the infamous Masturbation scene) look like they were shot on the surface of the sun. The Japanese Renewal release doesn't have this problem, but it lacks English Subtitles.