Done slightly in the Cowboy Bebop dub. When tracking down a hacker, Faye remarks that their target is probably a smelly nerd, rather than using the term Otaku. This was changed back to its original comment in later runs.
Probably both the archetypal and ironically least obvious example: In the North American dub of Ranma ˝ produced by Viz Media, all of the classical Japanese poetry quoted by Tatewaki Kuno has been skillfully replaced with near-perfect equivalents from William Shakespeare. This has been done so meticulously that for many years fanon held Kuno to be a devotee of the Bard.
Another is referring to Shampoo and Cologne's village as "The Village of Chinese Amazons", which aside from being noted for its 'female warriors' (literal translation) has very few tropes to the usual depiction of Greek Amazons.
The name of Ryōga's dog, Shirokuro, refers to the dog's fur colors ("shiro" means white and "kuro" means black). Viz's translation of the manga changed the dog's name to Checkers, which sounds similar to Shirokuro, retains the meaning about fur colors, and also sounds like a dog's name. Viz's subtitles translated the name more literally, as Black'n'White.
Mexican dubbing of anime and cartoons has been very guilty of this, inserting as many references to Mexican culture as they can have, which often results in borderline Gag Dubs; the more (in)famous examples are Pokémon and The Simpsons. However, the public rarely protest, maybe because of the Mexican dominance in the Latin American pop culture since the 1930s until today, via films and soap operas. Some immortal examples of this: at one point during the Saiyans saga in Dragon Ball Z, Yamcha says "We'll turn them into guacamole!"; in the Pokémon dub, James sometimes starts speaking in a heavy accent from either Veracruz, Nuevo León, or the Yucatán peninsula; and in one chapter of The Simpsons a reference to Richard Simms was replaced for a more known (for Latin Americans) Lorenzo Lamas, without replacing the visual representation.
Dragon Ball had an extreme example at some point. Emperor Pilaf has finally collected all the Dragon Balls, has summoned Shenron, which will grant him any wish, and is stuck saying "I wish to conquer...", "I wish to conquer..." But then Oolong appears suddenly and makes a wish instead. What did he wish for? In the Mexican dub, he says "I wish to conquer Bulma!" This seems like a great plot twist, until the viewer is left clueless while a pair of panties falls off from the sky, and this is never explained...
InuYasha also had a Japanese gag replaced with Shippo calling Inuyasha a "two-legged rat" in allusion to a song by famous Mexican ranchera singer Paquita la del Barrio.
Interestingly, even when suffering from the same Animation Age Ghetto syndrome as the US, Latin American-Spanish dubs in general rarely censor things unless it's too violent or too naughty (and even that is more done by broadcasters),there are cases that the original material made a previous stop in the USA were it was Bowdlerized first and then licensed for Latin America.
And the public rarely complains because of the exceedingly high quality of the dub performances, which have often taken mediocre shows and made them stellar through the power of acting alone.
Not actually in the dubbing, but in Pokémon whenever the main cast are eating something, in the original Japanese, it's almost always rice balls. In the English 4Kids dub, it's whatever the dub-techs were hungry for that day. In the Hoenn Saga, large sandwiches became the standard.
One of the good things Pokémon USA has done is stop that practice completely. They have even begun calling them rice balls.
The episode that introduced Todd Snap in the original dub did properly refer to them as "Rice Balls", however, as it showed Brock making them, umeboshi and all.
On the subject of Pokémon, the two recurring Team Rocket members are named "Musashi" and "Kojiro" in the original Japanese, named after the famous samurai. In the English version, their names are "Jessie" and "James", in reference to the American outlaw Jesse James.
The Tokyopop version of Battle Royale was adapted for the Western audience by comic book writer Keith Giffen — he was given a straight translated script and altered it as he saw fit. This led to, among other things, lots of American pop culture references
The English dub of Tsukuyomi Moon Phase replaced the closing trailers' horrid Japanese riddles with horrid English riddles. Apparently there's a law of Conservation of Corny involved in the translation process.
The river Sanzu was changed to the Western equivalent, the river Styx, in the dub of YuYu Hakusho. The English manga calls it the river Sticks.
In Slayers, Lina Inverse is known as the "Dragon Spooker", where "spooker" is a contrived acronym "Dragon Steps Past Out Of Clear Revulsion". In the original, it's "Dra-mata", meaning "dragon mo mata ide tooru" (even a dragon would step over it), a play on words on the Japanese phrase "neko mo mata ide tooru" (even a cat would step over it), which means a nasty person. The acronym was needed because to finish the play on words, a dragon really does step over Lina.
In Azumanga Daioh, Yukari temporarily switches from Language to Math to P.E. on a whim. Soccer is the initial game of choice. When questioned about her knowledge of the rules, she said, according to the sub, "I'm Nakata," probably referring to Hidetoshi. In the dub, however, she instead says, "I'm Mia Hamm," an American soccer player.
And in the American translation of the manga by ADV, she's Pele.
Also, in the French translation of the manga by Kurokawa (possibly the editor relying the most on Cultural Translation in the French manga market), she's Ronaldo (the Brazilian player, not Cristiano Ronaldo).
Another example would be Osaka meeting Chiyo's father. She makes a comment on his face. In the sub, she refers to him having a face similar to Mori Yoshiro, a former Japanese Prime Minister. In the dub, she comments that he looks similar to Bill Clinton, a former President of the United States.
In the manga of Azumanga Daioh, however, Osaka is translated to be from New York - Yukari-sensei invites her to say to the class, "Yo, how ''you doin'?" The other girls also ask her about meatball sandwiches and Mickey D's instead of McDonald's. The phonetic accent works...less perfectly...but otherwise, eh, fuhgeddaboudit!
Although the actual cultural references in Full Metal Panic!! are unchanged, in the English dub of Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu a passage from Sousuke's Japanese Classics assignment is read in what appears to be Middle English, in order to preserve the effect and explain why Sousuke is having so much trouble understanding the text.
In Naruto, the title character uses remarkably impolite forms of address toward most adults outside his closest circle; except for Jiraiya (Ero-sennin, Pervy Sage) most cannot be translated directly. However, this is more than made up for by the somewhat affectionate Tsunade-baachan becoming much ruder when non-idiomatically put into English as "Grandma Tsunade".note "Auntie Tsunade" would be a much more accurate adaptation.
In Part II, when Sai reads a book that suggests that using honorifics on friends is polite but not helpful to becoming closer, he notices that Sakura never uses any with Naruto (when he had previously used "-san" on her and "-kun" on Naruto), and decides to no longer use honorifics on them. The book in the Viz manga advises against using "mister" or "miss" on friends, which Sai had not been doing before.
The English dub also has an unusual example of adding a literary reference: Kin Tsuchi fighting Shikamaru in the Chunin exams. Kin, who uses a jutsu based on the sound bells make, explains how they work normally in Japanese. In English, she quotes John Donne: "Ask not for whom the bell tolls..." (Given that Naruto is set in another universe, it must be assumed that ninja-John Donne exists within it.)
In Maison Ikkoku episode 73, Godai has locked himself in his room after missing a job interview. Kyōko asks Akemi what he's doing, to which Akemi answers, "Amaterasu-omikami". Viz changed Akemi's reply in the subtitles and the dub script to "He's playing hide-and-seek".
In Sailor Moon the famous "odango atama" insult, which translates as "dumpling head", was changed to "meatball head" in the dub because odango style round snack dumplings aren't common in the west, whereas the similar sized meatball is. Both objects are roughly the same shape as Usagi/Serena's famous hair "balls".
In the Norwegian translation of the Samurai Deeper Kyo manga, Benitora's kansai accent was changed to a Bergen accent, with a note explaining this was a common way of rendering this accent in Norwegian translations. While this was hardly true, not having been done anywhere else but here, it worked so perfectly no one complained. In Swedish, he was given a Gothenburg accent, which worked very well.
The dub of Tokyo Pig had one of the worst instances of this ever, at the close of the first episode. The lead character's father says of his relationship with the eponymous pig "A boy and a pig. Only in America." In a series that was named Tokyo Pig in the dub version. This was so blatantly stupid that when they Flash Back to the scene in a later episode, they redubbed that line as "Only in Tokyo."
Not surprisingly, this dub was supervised by Harvey Weinstein (who is infamous for heavily editing and redubbing Asian material to incomprehensibility).
A major clue in one Kindaichi Case Files story was based on the ability of Japanese computers to switch keyboard inputs between the various Japanese alphabets and Roman (English) letters. The translators altered this clue so that only knowledge of the standard QWERTY keyboard was required.
Patricia Martin from Lucky Star uses her lack of Japanese language fluency to unsuccessfully avoid Kagami's criticism (despite speaking near-flawless Japanese up to that point.) In the English Dub, it wouldn't make much sense to say "I can't understand your language, I speak English!" ..When they're all speaking English. This was changed to an annoyingly immature "Lalala~ I can't hear you!" Given the situation, though, the dubbers were placed in a difficult dilemma.
In an episode of the Hungarian dub of Soul Eater, Kid is chasing after an assassin called the King Fisher. When Patty opens fire on the assassin, she refers to him as "Ho-ho-horgász" (Fi-fi-fisher), the title of an old Hungarian animated series.
In Filipino dubs of anime the Japanese Sibling Terminology for familial relations are quite easily translated, with mat of the inherent context intact, since Filipino has direct equivalents. "Ate" for "Onee-san," "Kuya" for "Onii-san," and so on. Also like the Japanese language, Filipino allows for the usage of said pronouns to refer to unrelated people.
These sort of notations appear all over Ouran High School Host Club, because much of the humor that isn't Slapstick revolves around wordplay (which would, of course, otherwise go right over the heads of a non-Japanese-speaking audience.)
In Domu: A Child's Dream, one child sings the first Super Sentai theme song to himself. This is changed to "Go, go Power Rangers!". The manga was written in the late seventies but not translated until the nineties, so at least the reference had a reasonable equivalent.
Chapter 67 of You're Under Arrest! featured Strike Man wearing a red-and-white bobble hat variation of his usual mask and a red-and-white cape rather than his usual ones, calling himself "Santa Claus Man", and claiming that he's not Strike Man. When asked why his mask has Strike Man's "S" emblem on it if he's not Strike Man, he answers that it stands for "Santa". This caused a problem for the French translation of the manga, because what Japanese and Americans call "Santa Claus", the French call "Pčre Noël"note or "Father Christmas" in English, which doesn't have an "s". So, the translators changed "Santa Claus Man" to "Super Noël", which is pronounced like "Pčre Noël" except for the "su" prepended in front.
In the dub of Cardcaptor Sakura, Card Captors, they were quite stringent about avoiding any and all references to the series being set in Japan, including the unusually technical reference to Tokyo Tower as just a radio tower.
Comic Party had this happen in the English dub. Yen becomes Dollars, Kimonos become Prada dresses. Oddly, the yen is shown and it is still called dollars.
Futari wa Pretty Cure: The dub names takoyaki something else entirely again — donuts. Maybe that has something to do with 4kids temporarily taking this series. That or they thought some slightly older kids would start making sophomoric jokes about "octopus balls".
One Piece has plenty, such as a rice ball Zoro/Zolo is fed being changed to a cookie (that he somehow swallowed whole, which made a bit more sense with rice).
Surprisingly enough for a 4Kids dub, most of the characters' names are not only left intact, but actually left in Japanese order of family name first, something that even the likes of VIZ or Funimation rarely do.
Digimon Adventure has the scene when T.K. and Patamon read a note in Primary Village about rubbing an egg to make it hatch. It's clearly written in hiragana◊, but instead of translating it or simply cutting the shot and making the characters read it off-screen, they decided to say it's "digicode".
A similar scene occurred in the Sailor Moon dub: Usagi/Serena's "funny squiggles" handwriting refers to the original Running Gag that Usagi never learns proper Kanji writing, even as an adult.
Although almost everyone else in Hellsing has (or at least attempted) a British accent, Alucard spoke with a distinctively American tang. Interviews with the translation director revealed he made this decision because of a theory that people can relate to a protagonist better if he sounds like them.
Gigantor ran into a problem when it was Americanized — one episode has the cast traveling to an American ranch from their native Japan. The dubbers changed the location to Australia and gave the American characters Australian accents. But the "Australian aborigines" sure didn't look like aborigines.
Shin Chan characters in the English Gag Dub seem to know more about American pop culture than they know about Japanese pop culture to an extent that you might question whether the show takes place in a Universe where Japan is part of the United States instead of Asia.
Detective Conan underwent Americanization, but this was specifically at the request of creator Gosho Aoyama, who thought foreign fans would better identify with local characters than Japanese ones. The name change to Case Closed, however, was purely a legal issue. This however still doesn't explain why only the American release had to be changed and all the other releases in over 15 Countries were left completely intact.
Following in the footsteps of Demashita! Powerpuff Girls Z is Stitch!, a Japanese version of Lilo & Stitch: The Series. Most notably, the original's Hawaiian setting is transplanted over to Okinawa, and Lilo is replaced by a new girl named Yuna. (Interesting in that a significant portion of the people who live in Hawai'i are ethnically Japanese.) Extra points go to it for replacing Bleach in its time slot.
Early examples of the Dutch Pokémon dub introduced the euro system to the currency world. Mind you this was YEARS before the euro was introduced as currency in the Dutch society, being late 90s and the euro entering the world as currency in 2002.
This is true for the German dub as well.
In one episode of Excel♥Saga, Il Palazzo's speech outlining the current strategy for world domination is peppered with random bits of what may or may not be real Italian and other bits which are English spoken with a heavy fake Italian accent; as the trivia tooltips point out, this is because in the original Japanese the speech was interspersed with random English and a bad American accent, and they needed to retain the same feel. By and large, though, the series averts the trope; jokes will be translated more or less as they are, and instead you can turn on the aforementioned tooltip feature which will explain why something which is just an insane non-sequitur in English is actually an elaborate joke in Japanese.
Some of the less, shall we say, scrupulous (read: probably bootleg) translations of Doraemon published in Taiwan had the series set in Taiwan rather than Japan, changing out all of the locations.
This trope is referenced in the translation notes for Volume 3 of Del Rey's translation of xxxHOLiC, to note an aversion and to assure us that Watanuki did really mistake Yuuko's reference to Casshern for one to Star Wars in both languages.
Spanish dubbing studio Luk Internacional is heading into this territory with their Crayon Shin Chan and Kochikame dubs. No, the sexual stuff is intact. However, they sometimes seem to have a 4Kids-level dislike of Japanese culture and like to hide it whenever possible. Two egregious examples: In Crayon Shin Chan, Masao's nickname of "Riceball Head" is changed to "Onion Head", which would normally count as a woolseyism except they even do it when obvious visual references to riceballs are shown. Even worse was an episode of Kochikame about the Hanami festival. Not only they kept referring to it as a "picnic" and nothing more, they also called the cherry blossom trees almond trees, for no reason unless they absolutely needed to hide that little bit of Japanese culture. To be fair, this seems to be depending on the translator, as they can go the opposite route at times too, but when they do this, they do it bad.
The mystic aura of Saint Seiya depended heavily from Classical Mythology, but the Italian dub had to rely on higher epicness in all the dialogues and insert Divine Comedy references because every single Italian is familiar with Classical Mythology since before grade school.