|| Does an English Dub of
"Cyber Soldier Porygon"
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Dogasu's Backpack | Features | Pokémon Shock
The idea that 4Kids actually created an English version of the infamous "Cyber Soldier Porygon" episode but just never got around to airing it is just about as old as the English dub itself. But is there any truth to this rumor?
This page takes a look at the arguments both for and against the existence of an Episode 38 dub and tries to figure out which scenario is more likely to be true.
Before we dive into whether or not 4Kids dubbed Episode 38 it's worth taking a quick look at the series of events leading up to what would have been the episode's North American debut.
Pocket Monsters Episode 38 "Cyber Soldier Porygon" aired on TV-Tokyo on December 16th, 1997.
According to this Fuji TV news report from December 18th, the Pocket Monsters VHS releases that had come out so far (Volumes 1 & 2, covering Episodes 01 - 06) had already started being pulled from store shelves.
On December 20th TV-Tokyo announces they're putting the show on an indefinite hiatus. From Page 367 of the book Pokémon Story (ポケモンストーリー), or Page 15 of my translation:
Meanwhile, negotiations between ShoPro and Nintendo of America for a deal to bring Pokémon to the United States continued to move forward. Here's what Masakazu Kubo recalls on Page 414 of the book "Pokémon Story" (Page 21 of my translation):
It was somewhere around this time when Norman Grossfeld, president of 4Kids Productions, started calling around to let people know that they were the ones who were granted the rights to produce an English version of the Pocket Monsters TV show. Here's Michael Haigney's recollection of his initial conversation with Mr. Grossfeld, as told on the first episode of his podcast "Original Pokéman." The story begins at the 00:47 mark:
On January 19th, Summit Media started shopping 4Kids' new "Pokémon" show to potential networks. From Pages 428-429 of "Pokémon Story" (Page 34 of my translation):
The trade show is covered in this Animation World Network report from February 1st, 1998. About halfway into the article Summit Media's Shelly Hirsch states that the offending scene in the Porygon episode had been cut. The emphasis below is mine:
Summit Media's stance of not airing the Porygon episode as-is, at the very least least, is repeated in the "Full Report" TV-Tokyo wrote up in the wake of the incident. From Page 430 of Pokémon Story (Page 35 of my translation):
Back in Japan, Shogakukan started re-releasing re-edited versions of those first 37 episodes in which their flickering light effects were reduced and/or dimmed down. Volume 3 (Episodes 07 - 09) and Volume 4 (10 - 12) came out February 20th, Volume 5 (13 - 15) and Volume 6 (16 - 18) came out on March 20th, and so on.
At this point there were two versions of the show in Japan; the flashy 1997 version and the toned-down 1998 re-edits. The 4Kids dub ended up going with the latter.
On Page 14 of Viz's Animerica Vol. 6 #5 magazine, which came out May 1998, the upcoming English dub of Pocket Monsters is featured in its "hot off the press" section. In the final paragraph the magazine states that the Porygon episode's being edited.
Viz LLC, the company that published Animerica magazine, is a subsidiary of Shogakukan Productions Co., Ltd.
A little over four months later -- September 7th, 1998 to be exact -- Pokémon starts airing in syndication in the U.S. A few episodes get skipped along the way -- "Holiday in Aopulco" and "The Legend of Miniryu" -- though footage from the latter can be found in some of the PokéRap segments that aired at the end of each episode. Footage from the Porygon episode is nowhere to be found, however, with stock artwork used for the Pokémon instead.
On October 26th "Ditto's Mysterious Mansion" airs. On October 27th, 4Kids skips over "Cyber Soldier Porygon" as well as "Pikachu's Goodbye" (though this second one's only temporary) and airs "The Battling Eevee Brothers" instead.
So we know none of the networks that carried the 4Kids dub back in the day -- syndicated networks, Kids' WB!, Cartoon Network, etc. -- ever actually aired "Cyber Soldier Porygon." But did 4Kids at least dub it, maybe? There are conflicting stories.
Probably the earliest example most people know about of an actor stating the episode's been dubbed is from Maddie Blaustein, the voice of Meowth during the majority of 4Kids' run with the show. Ms. Blaustein was invited to the Serebii.net forums shortly after TPCi took control of the dub back in 2006 to host a sort of Ask Me Anything type question and answer session for members of the site, and it's in this post from May 21st, 2006 where she addresses the then nine-year old Porygon episode:
As far as I know this is the only statement Ms. Blaustein ever made about the episode before her death in 2008.
About ten years later Eric Stuart -- who would have been voicing Brock and James back in 1998 -- said straight out that they did indeed dub the episode. Mr. Stuart's comments were made at Ramencon 2016, held September 23rd - 25th, 2016 in Merrillville, Indiana, USA and were provided by Drew Scott (who later allowed the video to be posted on YouTube):
I looked and looked but it seems as though Maddie Blaustein and Eric Stuart are the only two people involved with 4Kids to say that claim that an English dub was made.
On the other hand we have people who have outright said that no, they never dubbed it.
Veronica Taylor, most well known among fans as being the voice of Ash Ketchum in the English dub, has repeatedly stated that 4Kids never dubbed the episode. Whether it's in this interview on pokedream:
...or her X (Twitter) account in October 2017:
...or her interview with Drew Scott (TheGreenBeetle) in March 2018 (it's at the 2 minute 52 second mark):
...Veronica Taylor has consistently said that no, they never did it.
Rachel Lillis, voice of Misty and Jessie, has also stated she was unaware of a dub existing. On July 30th, 2019 Drew Scott e-mailed the voice actor and got the following response:
And then finally, we have this footage from Convention Coverage of the 4Kids Pokémon panel at the SacAnime Summer 2022. During a nearly hour long panel with a lot of the staff of the 4Kids' Pokémon dub, Michael Haigney interrupts a fifteen minute question and answer session to confront Eric Stuart about the comments he made at Ramencon:
As far as I know these are all the comments made by the show's cast regarding the existence of an Episode 38 dub. If you come across any other comments from the show's cast or staff then please let me know!
So what else can we look at to help us determine which of the the various conflicting claims made above are correct?
The original batch of 40 episodes
There's a theory going around that 4Kids' original order for their first batch of episodes -- the ones that debuted in syndication before the show got picked up by Kids' WB! -- ended up getting adjusted once 4Kids realized they were going to have to skip a few episodes after all. So, something like this:
Original Order: Episodes 001 - 037, and 039 - 041 (40 episodes)
Adjusted Order: Episodes 001 - 017, 019 - 034, 036 - 037, and 039 - 043 (40 episodes)
A major driving force of this theory is the PokéRap, a series of music videos 4Kids put together to teach viewers the names of all the show's 150 Pokémon. Generally speaking, if a Pokémon appeared during the batch of episodes 4Kids had access to at the time (the "Original Order" above) then they'd use footage from the show to represent the Pokémon.
Any Pokémon who debuted after that point -- Moltres, Victreebel, Lickitung, etc. -- would be represented with clip art placed against a background from the animated series.
There are exceptions to these -- the PokéRap inexplicably uses clip art for Chansey even though it appears in Episode Two, for example -- but generally speaking this is the way the video works.
As mentioned in the Timeline section above, Porygon falls into the category of Pokémon represented by clip art.
The theory goes that 4Kids was fully intending to dub all the episodes in the "Original Order" above but then once they actually got into it realized that uh-oh, we're not going to be allowed to air two of these (the beach episode and the gun episode) and so they had to send for two additional episodes from Japan to take their place. The theory goes on to suggest that the PokéRap was edited together before 4Kids made the "Adjusted Order" above, which explains why footage from "The Legend of Miniryu" gets used while footage from "Showdown at Dark City" and "The March of the Exeggutor Squad" does not.
All of these, of course, are merely educated guesses. Porygon appearing in the PokéRap as a piece of clip art does not prove 4Kids was never sent a copy of the "Cyber Soldier Porygon," of course, but at the same time it doesn't exactly help the argument for the existence of an English dub either.
The "Who's That Pokémon?" segment from "A Way Off Day Off"
By the time 4Kids was in its second season they started to do this thing where they stopped limiting the Pokémon featured in their "Who's That Pokémon?" segment to species who actually appeared in that episode. Instead, they started using whatever Pokémon they felt like on any given day.
In the Season Two episode "A Way Off Day Off," 4Kids decides to use Porygon for the episode's eyecatch segment.
The thing I'd like to point out here is the voice. We don't know who provided Porygon's voice as the show's Japanese end credits do not have a dedicated entry for Porygon, but we can say that the voice used for the dub's Who's That Pokémon? segment is not the same. The English dub voice is noticeably deeper and more robotic sounding than the comparatively high pitched voice heard in the Japanese version.
Generally speaking 4Kids would keep Pokémon voices the same between versions if their names weren't changed during the localization process, though as with everything else Pokémon there are a ton of exceptions to this. Was Porygon's voice change here just another example of one of 4Kids' random recasts? Or, did 4Kids change the voice because they didn't have access to Episode 038 or any of its audio and therefore had no choice but to come up with a brand new one? You could make arguments either way.
The big thing I often see missing in these types of discussions is the logistics of actually producing a dub of "Cyber Soldier Porygon." Where would 4Kids have gotten the money to actually dub the episode? The amount it takes to dub an episode of anime can vary greatly from series to series, year to year, and concrete numbers are surprisingly difficult to come by. The only well sourced figure I was able to find was the Skip Beat! Kickstarter, which hoped to raise $155,000 to dub 25 episodes. That's around $6,200 an episode, though it's also worth mentioning that this amount does not cover the huge cost that is the show's licensing fees. Other estimates often cited online put the average cost closer to $10,000 per episode.
We don't have any hard numbers for how much it cost to dub a single episode of Pokémon back in 1998, but one thing is for sure; it would not have been a non-neglible amount, especially for a TV show just starting out. Remember, in 1998 there was absolutely no guarantee that this "Pokémon" thing wouldn't end up being a massive flop in the West. It's unlikely 4Kids would have had the extra 10Gs lying around to dub an episode they had no chance of ever airing.
Based on everything above -- the timeline of events, the voice actor comments, the other elements at play -- I would have to conclude that no, an English dub does not exist.
If you look at the way events unfolded after December 16th it's very clear how serious everyone was taking the Pokémon Shock incident. From Page 364 of the book Pokémon Shock (Page 11 of my translation):
With all the precautions everyone was taking it just doesn't make any sense for OLM to have sent the episode out to an international rights holder for the purpose of having them create a version they could then freely distribute overseas.
It's mainly the voice actor comments that have convinced fans that a dub exists, but when you look at them closely you'll see they're not all that clear-cut either. Eric Stuart more or less backpedaled on his 2016 comments when confronted about them in 2022, going from "I remember dubbing it" to "No, I think I only saw it in the studio." But even his 2016 comments, on their own, aren't altogether convincing. The flippant way he says "Yeah. Sure. Sure we did" gives off the vibe of someone telling a kid whatever they wanna hear to get them to finally shut the hell up, and his "How else would I have seen it?" comment doesn't make sense either when paired with his conversation about "The Legend of Miniryu" at the very same convention. So Mr. Stuart knows about "The Legend of Miniryu" even though 4Kids never dubbed it, but he only knows about "Cyber Soldier Porygon" because 4Kids dubbed it? He's contradicting himself.
The Maddie Blaustein comment, in a vacuum, would usually be enough proof for most people. But given the mountain of evidence to the contrary it kind of keeps losing its efficacy.
In the case of both Maddie Blaustein and Eric Stuart, I don't think either one of them lied, at least not intentionally. I think it's much more likely they simply either mis-remembered what happened or got the episode mixed up with something else. "Cyber Soldier Porygon" was old when these actors were asked about them (nine years when Ms. Blaustein was asked about it in 2006 and nineteen when Eric Stuart talked about it in 2016) and they had done hundreds, if not thousands, of episodes of television by that point in time. I don't think it's weird or inappropriate to suggest they were inadvertently mixing things up when they made their comments.
On the other hand, it's also possible actors like Veronica Taylor and Rachel Lillis are the ones mis-remembering what happened. They even admit as much in their respective comments. I've also seen some people claim Veronica Taylor is "backpedaling" in the video interview linked to above but I see her reticence to be less about her second guessing herself and more her not wanting to throw her colleague Eric Stuart under the bus. Showing professional courtesy and grace toward a former colleague by refusing to call him a liar is not the same thing as "backpedaling," now is it?
So what else is there? Well, there's the question of who would have paid for a hypothetical dub of the episode to be made, a major factor that we don't even have anything close to an answer for.
At this point, I think it's safe to say that all the evidence tells us that it's extremely, extremely unlikely that an English dub of "Cyber Soldier Porygon" ever existed. If any new evidence comes out that might change, but at this point? I think anything less than a full leak of the 4Kids dub episode itself is unlikely to be convincing.
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