Thinly Veiled Dub Country Change

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"I've said this before, but one of my favorite things that happens to media during localization is when the studio tries to pass it off as taking place in the United States when it very clearly does not."
Katie Tiedrich on the localization of the Ace Attorney games

One of the many odd things dubs of foreign media tend to do is replace the setting where the work takes place — even when it's very clear that it's not set where they say it is. It's one thing to re-dub the lines; it's quite another to remove the very clear visual references to the original setting. But dubbers are very persistent, going out of their way to make even the most obvious foreign reference totally a "local" one. The only way to really get away with that would be to assume that Viewers Are Morons (or at least culturally ignorant).

The reasons for this may vary. Some studios feel like viewers would relate better to characters from the same country as them. Some feel that the original culture would fly over the audience's heads. Sometimes they want to emphasize that the story is universal. And sometimes they're right; Tropes Are Not Bad, after all.

Compare Cultural Translation, where characterization and actions are changed rather than the setting to fit the target audience's culture (and to avoid things like Values Dissonance). See also Macekre and Cut-and-Paste Translation, the kind of dubs that would often do this sort of thing. The opposite of this trope is We All Live in America, where the work is explicitly set in a country other than where the author is from, but the characters and set pieces make it look like they never left their backyard.


Examples

Anime and Manga
  • The English dub of Card Captor Sakura does its best to avoid saying the series takes place in Japan. This was no easy task, as most episodes prominently feature Tokyo Tower in the background, and it's even the site of a major battle. The dubbers will refer to it only as a "radio tower".
  • Although the Pokémon anime takes place in a Fantasy Counterpart Culture, it was full of Japanese cultural reference and set pieces, which 4Kids Entertainment did its best to "fix", at least early on. They went so far as to tout the fact that "kids won't realize it takes place in Japan anymore". The most referenced change was referring to what were clearly rice balls as "jelly donuts". When the series started to become the cultural phenomenon that it is today, the Japanese writers made a more concerted effort to make the series as a whole "culture-neutral", but this still pops up from time to time.
  • Sailor Moon was explicitly set in Japan, but the dub went to great lengths to disguise that fact, including the "rice balls as jelly donuts" meme and going so far as to change the characters' names to make them more Western. They couldn't, however, adequately explain away the characters' Sailor Fuku school uniforms.
  • 4kids did this again with its first attempt at dubbing Tokyo Mew Mew. This was very hard to pull off, as it's one of the most blatantly Japanese animes ever. Since it references Tokyo in the title, they tried to change it to "Hollywood Mew Mew"; after fan backlash, they settled on "Mew Mew Power".
  • In Fushigi Yuugi 's Tagalog dub, the location was changed from Japan to the Philippines with references to the MRT train system and universities such as Ateneo de Manila and the University of the Philippines.
  • European dubs of anime will sometimes keep the show set in Japan, except the characters use local currency instead of yen. This is true even when the money that appears is clearly Japanese yen. Doraemon in Portuguese is one of the earliest examples. The Italian translation of the Yu-Gi-Oh! manga was most maddening in its inconsistency, sometimes using yen and sometimes passing of a silver coin with "500" on it as 4,60 €.
    • Italian and French dubs of anime from the mid-1980s to the late-1990s used to rename all characters with Italian/French names and cutting (visually and linguistically) as many references to Japan as possible, going as far as replacing yens with Italian lire or French franc (with an imaginary exchange rate, too). But it still was clear it was Japan. As Italian and French TV channels started airing less anime and the Euro was introduced, this practice went exctint.
  • Being a kids' series, many foreign dubs of Doraemon attempt to relocate the series to the dub's country of origin, despite none of the very Japanese background imagery being changed.
  • Yo-kai Watch attempts this. The characters names have been westernized, text is translated into English, the money isn't apparently yen (in the video games, it's dollars and cents), and Eddie mentioned wanting to be President. This is despite how exceedingly Japanese the series is. The anime's English dub noticeably localizes the series much more than the games do. While the games did westernize names, they keep many Japanese things intact such as referring to riceballs and curry as such. In contrast, the anime has outright called a riceball a "marshmallow".
  • Gigantor's English dub takes place in 21st century America instead of 1940s Japan, but it still looks Japanese, and at least some of the text is left untranslated. When American characters actually appear, the dub made them into Australians.
  • In the Dutch dub of Medabots, during the world championship, the team consisting of Ikki, Koji and Space Medafighter X is blatantly refered to as "Team Netherlands", clearly expecting the viewers to believe that the whole series so far has been set in The Netherlands rather than Japan, despite the two countries looking nothing alike.
  • The Italian dubs of some Time Bokan series (in particular Yatterman and Yattodetaman) struggle to make it look like the shows are set in Italy, but in certain points the thing just falls apart, like when robots designed after a ninja and a daruma doll are passed off as being based after the Riace Bronzes and a seal respectively, or when they try to pass off sushi as eclairs.
  • Many of the dream episodes of Hamtaro feature Laura and the hamsters in a feudal Japan setting. The Italian dub tries to pass them as The Wild West by having the character refer to them with terms such as "sheriff" or "damsel"... but the style of the buildings and the fact that everyone was wearing kimonos made the truth kinda obvious.
  • Glitter Force, the English dub of Smile Pretty Cure, does its best to pass the setting as a not-Japanese country. The Class Trip arc where they visit Kyoto and Osaka was passed off as a visit to "a Japanese culture Expo".
  • This is oddly subverted in Miracle Girls. The TokyoPOP translation westernized the twins and their love interests names... and that's about it. Besides four characters having Dub Name Changes, little else is changed. They're still explicitly in Japan and everyone else (including their parents) have Japanese names. The end result is just that the protagonists parents gave them English names for some reason, which is a rare occurrence in Japan.

Comic Books
  • The first to import Astérix to Germany was Rolf Kauka, creator of Fix und Foxi. Now Kauka never left original titles untouched in those days, but he went even further in this case: He turned Astérix into Germanic Siggi & Babarras although the setting was clearly in Gaul (ancient France). Not only that, but he flooded his translation with right-wing Take Thats against for example East Germany, Jews, the Allied occupying forces and the NATO (the Roman Empire became "Natolia").

Film
  • The Portuguese dub of Chicken Run was always stated to take place in Portugal, with Fowler's references to the RAF being changed to the Portuguese Air Force. Rocky, despite still being American, says he came there for the lovely Latin chicks. And yet, all the characters have their original names and the text in the movie is clearly all in English, with some of it being read out loud.
  • U.S. dubs of Japanese kaiju (and other SF) movies that give the obviously Asian characters 100% North American names. Unless there are signs in kanji or characters wearing traditional garb who can't be edited out.

Live-Action TV
  • True to some extent in Power Rangers. While there is an entirely new narrative set in the States or wherever they need it to be each season, they still use Super Sentai Japanese stock footage for the majority of the fight scenes. The Japanese skylines, architecture and fields being so close to places that are ostensibly California is just never given any attention.
  • This is also done in VR Troopers, up to the point where a kanji sign was visible in one episode when a monster kidnaps a Japanese boy. The story attributes it to the presence of a Japanese-American community in Crossworld City.
  • In Full House, DJ wanted to go to Spain at the end of the fifth season. The Spaniard dub kept this unchanged, even as she put a Mexican hat on Comet when talking about it to Danny. When she was about to come back in the sixth season, inexplicably, the dubbing team decided that she had gone to Italy instead of Spain. However, Danny is still clearly holding a postcard from DJ that had a picture of Barcelona's Sagrada Familia cathedral on it.
  • A Running Gag in Fawlty Towers was the put-upon Spanish waiter Manuel, a Butt-Monkey burdened neither with brains nor a working command of English. Basil Fawlty frequently apologised for his employee with the words "He's from Barcelona, you know." Come the Spanish dub of the show. In which Manuel became a thick, dumb, Italian.

Video Games
  • Ace Attorney:
    • As the trope image from Awkward Zombie illustrates, the English translation tries its best to make it set in California, despite obviously being set in Japan. Even the legal systems and procedure aren't the same between the two, although this doesn't have much of an effect on the game itself. The English localization team eventually claimed the series was set in an Alternate Timeline California where there was no anti-Japanese sentiment, so Japanese immigration and cultural influence became much more pervasive. Other countries varied in their approach; the French translation set it in France, while the German one borrowed from English and set it in California.
    • This wasn't as noticeable in the first game, where the only vaguely Japanese thing was Phoenix's plucky sidekick, the spirit medium Maya Fey, who was dressed in traditional Japanese robes. However, as the series progressed, the obvious Japanese setting became more pervasive. The translation attempted to pass it off as a local Japantown or a character's specific interest in Japanese culture. Brentalfloss said it best: "I live in California, and by that I mean Japan!"
    • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies, one case takes place in a traditional Japanese village where a Yokai spirit was supposedly sealed. The English translation claims that it's still California, just a village entirely comprised of Japanese immigrants. And the Yokai spirit apparently immigrated with them. However, it works in the context of that case, since the "Yokai" is revealed to just be superstition, and is actually a huge chunk of gold that drove the villagers to fight each other over it. With California having a fairly famous gold rush, it becomes Fridge Brilliance on the part of the localization team.
    • Things get downright absurd in Spirit of Justice with the fourth case, "Turnabout Storyteller", revolving entirely around the very Japanese storytelling tradition of rakugo, and the translation does absolutely nothing to hide it, while still insisting it's taking place in Los Angeles. Though it does give an enormous amount of credibility to the fan interpretation that Simon Blackquill is a giant weeaboo.note 
  • Clock Tower: Ghost Hand attempted to do this by changing the setting from Osaka to San Francisco and Americanizing the character names, despite the fact that everything else in the game was left intact. Not only is the first house you explore very Japanese influenced, Japanese Kanji can frequently be seen on many different areas throughout the game.
  • The first Persona game was rather infamous for this. It attempted to change the location from Japan to Chicago, despite the fact that one of the major areas in the game is a Shinto shrine, on top of many of the houses looking very Japanese influenced. Atlus learned from that; the updated dub for PSP remake keeps the setting placed firmly in Japan, as do the English versions of the sequels.
  • Hamtaro: Ham-Hams Unite! follows the English dub of the anime by relocating the series to America, but despite this, the first area in the game is still a Shinto shrine. Since the entire game is a Macro Zone, it's not exactly easily missed, either.
  • The few games in the Kunio-kun series that were localized for the overseas market would feature redrawn graphics for their export versions in order to downplay their Japan-centric nature, such as replacing the school uniforms worn by the characters in River City Ransom with jeans and t-shirts or switching the nationalities of certain teams in Super Dodge Ball. However, the Game Boy Advance version of River City Ransom kept the school uniforms for the characters, despite the English localization giving all the characters and gangs Anglicized names.
  • The English translation of Yo-kai Watch has it take place in America despite the series obviously taking place in Japan. It's a series about youkai that takes place in an average Japanese city. Minor edits are done, such as the characters receiving westernized names or the money being "dollars" instead of "yen", but mostly everything else is kept intact. This might get awkward since Yokai Watch 3 has the character move to a tongue-in-cheek everytown in America with Funny Foreigner "Merican" Yokai.
  • The initial English translation of Cherry Tree High Comedy Club attempts to pass the game off as being in the United States, including renaming the entire cast, yet elements of Japanese culture remain: the school year begins in April rather than August or September, there's a local shrine, and there's a Japanese-style house that's home to a family with a Western last name. The Updated Re-release reverses these changes.

Web Video

Western Animation
  • This trope was parodied in an episode of Futurama, where they were doing an Affectionate Parody of anime in general. Despite the obvious Japanese setting, text would appear under it stating an American location, such as Golden Gate Park.
  • Dutch dubs had a habit of doing this. It's particularly strange given that the Netherlands is famously flat, and many shows thus featured incongruous terrain.
    • In Rugrats and All Grown Up!, the dubbers changed the setting from the USA to The Netherlands, replacing American cities with Dutch ones, despite none of the cities in it looking anything like those of The Netherlands. The worst offender was no doubt the episode "Graham Canyon", in which Didi states the family is on their way home from Utrecht while they are clearly driving through an Arizona desert.
    • Likewise the dub for The Real Ghostbusters which was said to be set in Amsterdam. Complete with "the forest" around it being on huge overlooking hills and a bayside.
    • This was also done for Phineas and Ferb in the first 2 seasons, which arguably made even less sense considering Danville is surrounded by mountains and the family visits Mount Rushmore by car in an early episode. Fortunately, it was dropped around season 3 when the dub finally began to acknowledge that the series is set in the U.S.
  • The Québécois dub did this to King of the Hill of all series, changing the setting from Texas to small-town Quebec (Ste-Irène). This was largely unsuccessful, because the plot and setting was very steeped in Texas culture, and the dub couldn't remove all the references to football and barbecues and such. It also couldn't explain that Texas is much warmer than Québec, and this was evident in the show. Ironically, the European French dub averted this, which is quite obvious, telling from the fact that their version is called "Les Rois du Texas".
  • The English dub of Code Lyoko avoids referring to the show as being in France as best it can. Never mind the characters go to a Boarding School. Or the extremely obvious France style architecture when they aren't at the school. Or the main characters using France's famous Absurdly Spacious Sewer to get to the factory that has the supercomputer that runs Lyoko. The Eiffel Tower can even be seen in the background of some episodes!
  • In the opening credits of the Scots Gaelic dub of Captain Planet and the Planeteers, Wheeler is from "Alba" rather than North America, despite the fact this makes him the only one who comes from a country rather than a continent, and nearly all Gaelic-speaking kids speak English as well and would have known perfectly well where Wheeler's really from.

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