Same Content, Different Rating
So the latest entry in your favorite series has just come out. But what's this? "Rated M for Mature?" "Parents Strongly Cautioned?" "Not for children under 17?" What's all this nonsense? The last work in the series, the one before it and all
of its predecessors have been perfectly family-friendly. Sure, there might have been a little violence, an odd bit of innuendo that flew over your head 20 years ago that makes you chuckle looking back
or a joke or two that pushed the boundaries of what would today be considered good taste, but certainly things haven't changed that
much, have they? Has the franchise taken an unexpected turn
for the Darker and Edgier
while you weren't looking?
You pop in the disc (or crack the cover) and find, surprise surprise, that the series hasn't really changed at all. What's changed is how its content is seen
. Something that might have been perfectly innocuous and acceptable 20 or 10 or even five years ago is now regarded as unspeakably heinous
and instant grounds for a rating bump. Even if everything else in the series is all rainbows and unicorns.
This can be justified
as ratings systems
grow more robust over time, introducing more tiers of ratings and allowing for more accurate classification. More egregious
cases can be chalked up to overzealous Media Watchdogs
Contrast What Do You Mean, It's Not for Kids?
, where something genuinely
inappropriate for younger audiences is mistaken for being perfectly innocuous (often due to the Animation Age Ghetto
). When this is invoked
by the executives to generate new buzz in an old line
, the affected installment has been Rated M for Money
Note that this trope does not
apply to series whose content has genuinely
become Darker and Edgier
. For those that do so which are or become dramas, see Cerebus Syndrome
. For those which become or stay as comedies, those are ToneShifts
towards Black Comedy
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Anime and Manga
- School Rumble consistently received ratings of TV-PG to TV-14 on YouTube, up until the ninth episode of Second Semester. From that point on, the ratings were bumped up to TV-MA... with hardly any change at all in the romantic comedy formula. Granted, the first episode of the second season has a surprising amount of violence, even if it was All Just a Dream.
- A single, comedic-toned filler episode of Naruto got a 16+ rating for the Hungarian broadcast. It may have been because of one use of the S-word, though since the word is used very often in other, more serious episodes (along with other instances of foul language), one has to wonder why they picked this one to be "too much" for the standard 12+ rating. Since the TV channel stopped using rating signs, this phenomenon ceased to be a problem. Now you don't know the rating for anything.
- In Australia, the first volume (and, as a result, the later box set and complete collection) of Azumanga Daioh were rated MA15+ while the rest of the series were rated G or PG. The reason is because of Kimura's joke about drinking the pool water and more specifically because child prodigy Chiyo-chan was present and the rating board decided it could be interpreted as being included. The rest of the series generally makes it clear that Chiyo-chan is not one of Kimura's targets, hence the lower ratings... though let's face it, a pedophile teacher being acceptable in an otherwise family friendly show is one of those things you just have to go with when viewing works from Japan.
- The Ah! My Goddess manga in America was, when it was first released in flipped left-to-right format, rated for readers 8+. Its second release, in original right-to-left, was rated 13+. There were no substantive changes between the two beyond the flip (and maybe a few more references to Japanese culture); if anything, the original's language was a bit cruder.
- Despite the "shonen romantic comedy" nature of the show, UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie has a TV-MA rating. However, Spain apparently aired on a kids network, to no problem, though.
- Inversion: The first volume of Ghost Stories may have warranted a TV-PG rating by ADV Films; but the show continues to get more explicit while it continues with the same rating.
- The complete collection of the Ah! My Goddess anime was released in 2010 in the UK with a '12' rating, however for some reason, the first individual DVD volume, released in mid-2011, gets a '15' rating.
- The Fate/stay night DVDs released by Sentai Filmworks were rated TV-14. This is rather surprising, considering that all other companies that released both the anime and the Unlimited Blade Works movie rated it as TV-MA (as both have pretty considerable amounts of blood, gore, and violence).
- Subverted in a way by Central Park Media when they released the soft-core Fencer Of Minerva. The back of the DVD box was rated 16 and up. At least some of the DVDs when played would warn of explicit content and state that no one under 18 could watch it.
- Tintin in the Congo is usually considered Afrophobic by modern standards and has often been classified as for adults only because of this.
- This isn't a totally straight example, though; the early Tintin books (this was only the second) were undisguised propaganda, and the author made an enormous effort to improve the series in later stories. He would later refer to Tintin in the Congo as "a mistake".
- This trope is at the heart of the "Han Shot First" controversy surrounding the Star Wars Special Edition. The scene in Episode IV: A New Hope where Han shoots Greedo after being threatened by him flew under the censors' radar back in 1977, but would have bumped the rating up to PG-13 two decades later. So the scene was edited so that Greedo shot first, and thus the Internet Backlash was born. Especially hilarious because the film was almost rated "G" — yes, G — back in 1977. (This despite the fact that it features charred corpses, a bloody severed arm, multiple violent deaths, and a "heroic" character who starts out as a Jerkass smuggler.)
- In Germany some films are refused ratings from the FSK which inevitably leads to them ending up on the Index which means they mustn´t be advertised, can only be sold to persons 18 and up and can only be shown on TV with drastic edits. When 25 years have passed movies are removed from the Index and can be rated again by the FSK which then end up giving them ratings of 18 and sometimes even 16.
- Transformers: Dark of the Moon received a rating of 16+ in Hungary, whilst it's considered to be anything from a PG-13 to G movie in the rest of the world. What makes this especially peculiar is that the dub even removed or toned down most of the original movie's foul language, making the rating decision seem even more unwarranted. Yet the far more obscene and about equally violent Revenge of the Fallen only got a 12+ (along with the original installment).
- For a 2011 re-release in UK cinemas, Ghostbusters was passed 12A by the BBFC for "moderate sex references", up from the PG of its original 1984 release (five years before 12 was introduced). The film had still been released on DVD as PG as recently as 2009.
- The 1999 British film The Big Tease recieved an R rating in the United States and the equivalent of a PG almost everywhere else. Although the reason given is language, there are very few instances of profanity, leading some people to believe it was more harshly rated in the U.S. because the main character is very blatantly homosexual.
- The original release of ET recieved a G rating in Australia. Because the 20th-anniversary re-release was edited (to remove guns), the film had to be re-submitted, and received a PG rating for "supernatural themes".
- After Midnight Cowboy became the first and last X-rated filmnote to win an Academy Award for Best Picture, it was rereleased with an R rating though no cuts were made.
- In the UK, Forbidden Planet is rated PG note on DVD, and rated 15 note on Blu-ray. Maybe the monsters from the id are just scarier on the higher-definition format.
Live Action TV
- The Sesame Street: Old School DVD collection is shrinkwrapped with a "Not for Children" sticker on the packaging. It appears that what was considered perfectly suitable for preschoolers 40 years ago isn't acceptable now, mostly due to an increased sensitivity to Nightmare Fuel.
- That's less "no longer appropriate for kids" in terms of content appropriateness, but because Science Marches On and standards of education have changed. To be exact, it advises that the older episodes "may not meet your child's educational needs." Tough Pigs, a Muppet fansite, elaborates:
The disclaimer doesn’t say, “Do not under any circumstances let kids see this stuff because it’s bad for them.” It just says it “may not suit the needs of today’s pre-school children.” Now, if you had watched these DVDs, you’d know that the first episode includes a slow-moving, seven-minute segment on milking cows with droning, repetitious narration. Does that sound like the kind of thing today’s kids would sit still for?
There’s also a film sequence about unsupervised children playing in a construction site. We could debate whether or not watching that is damaging to kids, but can you blame Sesame Workshop for covering themselves by putting a disclaimer in front of something like that?
- In terms of actual inappropriate content, the biggest issue seems to be smoking—specifically, scenes of Cookie Monster introducing "Monsterpiece Theater" while "smoking" a bubble pipe.
- It's worth noting that some (though not all) of the E-to-E10+ examples listed here are due to the game's volume level - video games with generally chaotic and noisy atmospheres are generally slapped with the higher rating as a precaution in case the end product is too intense for younger players (even if there's nothing else in the game that would call for such a bump).
- Fire Emblem Tellius: Path of Radiance was slapped with a T rating, despite only being slightly more dark/violent than the GBA games. (Granted, it does feature a husband unwittingly killing his own wife while Brainwashed and Crazy, but that's as dark as it gets, and that's only a flashback) This was probably due to the more realistic graphics in battles. Its sequal, Radiant Dawn, was considerably darker, so its rating was more understandable. Still, the DS games recieved the same rating as the GBA ones, so it was probably the graphics.
- Radiant Dawn is an inversion of this trope, being rated E10+ despite actually being darker than its big brother.
- The original Super Smash Bros.. for Nintendo 64 was rated E. Its sequels, Super Smash Bros. Melee and Super Smash Bros. Brawl, are both rated T, despite having the same level of violence as the original (no blood, no gore, just characters getting smacked around and sent flying). However, some of the sound effects in the first game were replaced with more cartoony ones when the game was released outside of Japan. The higher rating was due to the fact that the graphics of Melee/Brawl were more realistic than the original.
- Hilarious related example: the DK Rap originated in Donkey Kong 64, with a line about Chunky Kong declaring, "He may move slow; he can't jump high / But this Kong's one hell of a guy!" The game is rated E. In Melee, this line had the minor alteration from "hell of a guy" to "heck of a guy", presumably to clean up the language to be suitable for all audiences, and in response to angry parents who complained to Nintendo about use of the word "hell". As noted above, Melee is rated T; a single instance of the word "hell" would be well within the bounds of the T rating.
- Every game in the Digimon franchise to come out in Europe was rated 3+, with the exception of the last two: Digimon Rumble Arena 2 and Digimon World 4 both got a ratings bump to 12+ and a symbol on the back of the box citing violent content as the primary cause. It's speculated that the games didn't sell as well as previous games because of this.
- On a higher maturity level, the original Manhunt was rated M. The second game in the series had to have cuts to keep it M and not AO, but what information has leaked about those cuts indicates that they were all things present in the first game.
- The original Command & Conquer was rated G8+ (for general audiences 8 and up) on original release in Australia, but when it became widely known and re released it was bumped up to MA15+ without any changes in gameplay at all. Should be noted that the original features a man being executed right in front of you (among other things rendered in Full Motion Video), infantry being crushed by tanks with an audible "SQUELCH" as a gameplay mechanic, and very graphic deaths for units killed by fire.
- Ace Attorney:
- Narrowly averted by Mario Kart 7 - while the final cut is given an ESRB rating of E like the rest of the series, pre-release trailers show that it was originally prepped to have an E10+ despite the sole content descriptor being "Comic Mischief".
- Kirbys Return To Dreamland, also known as Kirby Wii, is the first game in the series to have an E10+ rating, but it's hardly more violent than any other game in the series.
- The Japanese version averted this by having it rated A, which is the E rating for Japan. This would mean that either the Japanese or the Americans are missing something with this game. Then again, American Kirby Is Hardcore!
- Inverted with Kirby's Dream Land 3, where the game is rated E despite featuring Zero as a final boss, who gorily rips out his own iris. He proceeds to use his own blood as projectiles, too. Upon the release of Kirby's Dream Collection, the ESRB finally caught onto this and gave it an E10+ rating for "Animated Blood".
- The Legend of Zelda:
- The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess got a T rating despite being only marginally more violent than the E rated Ocarina of Time. Sure, there's more blood, but this time around, it's exclusively Alien Blood.
- Ocarina of Time: E. Ocarina of Time 3D: E10+. Violent or sexual content that changed: Almost nil. If anything, there's less sexual content; the perpetually nude female character, Ruto, was updated to look more like she's wearing something, and the Ambiguously Gay carpenters had one of their lines altered to make it sound less like they were hitting on Link. The updated graphics might have had something to do with it (making it seem more "real"), but it's anyone's guess. More or less justified by the fact that E10+ didn't exist during the N64 era, but otherwise fits the trope to a T (or E10+, at any rate). In addition, Suggestive Themes was listed and involves the semi-nude Great Fairy.
- The Wind Waker was rated E in its GCN version. The Wii U remake is rated E10+, but all original content remains intact.
- Spirit Tracks and Skyward Sword go into the halfway mark with an E10+ rating. The latter was rated M in Australia (M being the equivalent of ESRB's Teen).
- Star Fox 64 had its E rating changed to E10+ for the 3DS rerelease.
- The first White Knight Chronicles was rated 16 for "Violence" and "Drug Use". The sequel included the entire first game on the disc, but only came in at a 12 for "Violence" and "Bad Language".
- Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 had one pedophile villain. This was cited as the main reason to bump it up to M from the original Hyperdimension Neptunia's T.
- Inverted with The Ratchet & Clank Collection; Originally, the first three games were rated T, but their HD remakes for the PS3 are all marked with an E10+, putting them in line with the rest of the series. (The games were released before the E10+ rating was introduced, and the first one is actually the tamest one in the series.)
- Sonic Adventure 2 was rated E when it was originally released. It was bumped up to an E10+ with the XBLA/PSN rerelease, but with the same content warnings. What's confusing is that the plot involves the murder of a terminally-ill twelve-year-old girl, but the content warning only mentions "cartoon violence" and "mild lyrics". And still no mention of Rouge's alternate multiplayer outfit.
- The Streets of Rage series got MA-13 (Sega equivalent to the Teen rating) ratings for their initial release. Modern-day re-releases of them are E10+.
- Same goes for the Golden Axe series. They got MA-13 or MA-17 ratings originally, but modern-day re-releases are E10+ or T.
- Averted with Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc. You'd think for sure that Ubisoft would've sent the HD version into the ESRB for a re-rating, due to the game including a lot of adult humor, but no, it still kept the rating for the HD version.
- In the UK, the PS1 and PC versions of Metal Gear Solid got an 18+ rating. When the Gamecube remake came out, it got a 15+ rating, despite the violence being more intense in this version (for starters, we actually see Gray Fox killing the people in the hallway). Then when the PS1 version came to Playstation Network, it still kept its 18+ rating.
- The Space Channel 5 series received an A rating in Japan and 3+ in Europe (both of which are those countries' equivalents to the E rating), while America gave it a T rating, because of Ulala dressing in skimpy, sexy outfits (as Classic Game Room put it, "Basically, she's half-naked throughout the whole game, which is good."). Apparently Japan and Europe don't have any problem with how girls dress, while America flips their shit about it. However, in the E10+ rated Sega Superstars series, Ulala appears in all of the games, and the ESRB even acknowledges it (although they don't refer to her by name).
- Atelier Totori Plus garnered attention shortly before its release outside Japan by receiving the highest rating in Australia possible (R18+) without getting banned entirely. Averted in other regions. Especially confusing considering the PS3 version released only two years before.
- Fighting Vipers and Virtua Fighter 2 were rated T for their original Saturn releases. Their 2012 re-releases bumped them down to an E10+ rating.
- Street Fighter IV was rated T on its console, PC, and 3DS versions. Its iOS versions were rated 9+ (which is the Apple equivalent to the E10+ rating).
- Guilty Gear XX Accent Core + got an M rating despite all the previous games in the series getting a T. This one is particularly notable in that Accent Core + actually removed most of the blood in the game compared to previous entries, the only exception being Testament.
- EarthBound received a K-A rating when it was first released. However, for its Australian release it was slapped with an M rating, the equivalent of the ESRB'S T or PEGI's 12+, for "crude humour and sexual references", even though the game contains an Eldritch Abomination final boss babbling about how much "it hurts" as you're trying to kill it. It seems like the US has caught up to this as well, as the rating was bumped to T for the long-awaited Wii U Virtual Console release. Like the Kirby example above, the blood visible on the Mondo Mole/Guardian Digger and Plague Rat of Doom's sprites appear to be the primary culprit. Oddly, the ESRB had earlier rated a prospective Wii VC release E.
- Another Australian example, Persona 3 FES was rated M (equivalent of ESRB's T), but Persona 3 Portable was rated MA (equivalent of M, and a restricted category).
- Mario & Luigi: Dream Team is more or less identical in content to the previous three games in the series, but was bumped up to an E10+ in America for seemingly no reason other than the Video Game 3D Leap. For the record, it is rated 3+ in Europe, the same as the rest of the series.
- Pikmin 3 got a bump up in the US and in Europe, from the last game's E/3+ to E10+/7+ respectively. It's barely different from its two predecessors, other than a slightly darker plot, and even has the same ESRB content descriptor of Mild Cartoon Violence.
- Inverted in the case of Portal 2, which was noticeably darker than the previous game in the series (which wasn't all that sunny to begin with) and yet actually received a lower ESRB rating than its predecessor - Portal 1 is rated T, 2 got an E10+. The only reason the ESRB rated this one lower was because this one didn't have blood, while the blood in the first game was the only factor that resulted in the ESRB giving it a higher rating.
- Limbo was originally given an 18 rating in Europe when it was released on the PS3, 360 and PC. However, when it was released on the Playstation Vita, it only got a 16 rating, while the aforementioned versions remain 18-rated.
- Sonic Lost World got an E10+ rating for "Mild Cartoon Violence", even though the content is no different than its predecessor, the E-rated Sonic Colors, which got an E rating for the same reason.
- The Looney Tunes Golden Collection DVD series from volume three to its last one (volume six) contained a "Recommended for mature cartoon collectors" rating, as a lot of the cartoons they started putting on the sets contained a lot of cartoons that had content considered too racist, sexist, or outdated by today's standards (but are going to be shown uncut for two reasons: 1. The classic cartoon fans would be pissed if anything was edited for content on DVD, and 2. Editing out the offensive content is considered worse than showing it in the first place (at least with it shown, people can see why today's audience would want the content of the past suppressed) and are meant as more of a study of what life was like back then rather than as entertainment.
- The first run of South Park episodes on SBS in Australia were rated PG (Parental Guidance Recommended) but when the same episodes were shown later, after the series became the cult classic it is today, they were rated M (15+). Also, many earlier episodes have since been re-rated TV-14 for being not nearly as irreverent as its much mature later episodes.
- Family Guy in Hungary went from an initial rating of 16+ to 12+, and being aired early in the afternoon, then right back to 16+ with a strict night-only time slot. The abundance of uncensored swear words in the dubbing may have had something to do with it (besides the original content, of course). Strangely, the even more vulgar dub of King of the Hill (even though King of the Hill in its original American English version isn't all that vulgar. Yes, there is some offensive language — mostly Hank telling someone that he's gonna kick their ass — and a lot of dialogue and scenes that are suggestive of adult themes, but it's about as "vulgar" and "adult" as any family-friendly 1980s sitcom — which is, to say, not very, but some crap does slip by the radar) didn't get pushed back; they instead gave it an earlier afternoon air-time, with reruns being shown early in the morning, and the TV station doesn't supply any information on the rating. This might be because the channel it airs on (Viasat6) is broadcast from England, so the ratings don't have to conform to Hungarian policies — it could even be that the people in charge didn't even realize that the dub contained such crude language. Nevertheless, the swearing was abandoned in the second half of the series, possibly as a response to this.
- Several episodes have been rated TV-MA when aired on [adult swim], including "I Take Thee Quagmire" (for the scene of Joan threatening to kill herself if Quagmire divorces her and the subplot about Lois' breasts), "The Father, the Son and the Holy Fonz" (for its take on religion, particularly Stewie's line after seeing Francis put a crucifix in the kitchen "Nothing says 'Eat up' like a skinny Jew nailed to a piece of wood," which was cut on FOX for being blasphemous), "Peter's Two Dads" (for the subplot of Stewie being a masochist), and "Family Gay" (due to its crude sexual humor, centering on homosexuality). They have since been re-rated TV-14.
- Averted with Watership Down. Despite its reputation as the single leading cause in childhood trauma, the official BBFC rating for it is "U" (which is similar to the "G" rating in American movies, meaning that the film is suitable for all audiences and contains little to no violence, foul language [some rude and insulting words, like calling someone an "idiot," is allowed, but only if it's justified by the content, and even then, it should be kept to a minimum], suggestive themes and dialogue, or sexual content outside of romantic affection and low-level sexual attraction).
- Played straight in Germany, where Watership Down is rated 6+ (meaning that the content is appropriate for children ages six and up).
- Madagascar got a G rating on Brazilian theaters, but the DVD has a 12 rating for consumption of legal drugs.
- When Sponge Bob Squarepants premiered on Nickelodeon in 1999, the rating for the series was TV-Y (Like most other Nicktoons). Towards the end of 2006, the show was bumped up to a TV-Y7.
- The same thing happened with The Fairly Oddparents on the same channel. It premiered in 2001 with a TV-Y rating, and then went up to a TV-Y7 around the same time Spongebob did.
- KaBlam! also went from a TV-Y to a Y7 like the previous two mentioned, but it didn't take as long as the other two. The show premiered in 1996 without a rating (as the television ratings were not put into use yet), and when the television ratings were introduced in 1997, it was given a TV-Y. When the second season premiered in October of the same year, it went up to a Y7, and even had a content warning at the beginning until 1998 due to it being one of the very few Nick shows at the time with a Y7 rating (Not counting the shows which would be TV-Y or TV-G and then go up a rating for reruns).
- Futurama, originally a TV-PG on FOX (the only TV-14-rated episodes that aired on FOX was "A Tale of Two Santas" and "Spanish Fry"; the former due to violence, the latter due to sex and sexually-suggestive dialogue), was rated TV-14 when rerun on Comedy Central and on local station affiliates in America.
- In the UK, Futurama is usually given a PG or 12 rating, depending on content (mostly the sex, violence, and Bender's criminal behavior is the deciding factor on which direction the ratings scale will tip), but the episode "Leela's Homeworld" (where Leela finds out that she's a mutant who was sent to live on the surface and that her parents are alive) was given a U rating, despite no edits made to the content (and it did have some risque parts in it, like Fry and Leela's conversation about spankings and Leela freaking out over the mutants allegedly killing her parents and getting ready to shoot them).
- Time Squad carried a TV-Y7 rating back when it aired on television (despite having enough sexual innuendo and homoerotic subtext to fit snugly into a TV-PG show). When Cartoon Network showed episodes of the show online (and clips of the show) for their 20th anniversary in October 2012, the clips were finally given the rating most people in the show's Periphery Demographic thought it deserved in the first place (TV-PG).