Ask anyone who grew up watching the English dub of some of the most popular anime out there, and they will more than likely know who 4Kids are. They were once one of the most prominent companies in charge of localizing anime for a Western audience, responsible for such powerhouse shows as Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh, Dragon Ball Z, and One Piece.
Their time in the spotlight, however, is well and truly over, with many criticisms over their work and several lawsuits, the massive licensing company lost the rights to all their major projects. In early 2017, 4Kids shut down for good and is now simply a reminder that, at one point, they were among the biggest companies in the world relating to anime distribution. Here are 10 things you never knew about 4Kids and the way its history shaped its lasting image in the anime community’s lives.
10 4Kids Has Gone By Many Names
Although it was most well known as 4Kids, the company would go through many name changes over its lifespan. Starting as an independent licensing company called Leisure Concepts in 1970, it wasn’t until 1995 that they were officially known as 4Kids Entertainment.
When the company was shut down for good, it was known as 4Licensing Corporation and 4Kids Productions was merely a subsidiary of a much larger company, which was bought out by Konami and became Konami Cross Media NY.
9 4Kids Started Out Pitching Toys & Cartoons
4Kids wasn’t involved in localization until many years after it was formed. In the beginning, they would pitch show ideas and toy tie-ins to various other companies, being responsible for the creation of many well known Western cartoons from the ’70s and ’80s.
Their list of pitches included the likes of Thundercats, SilverHawks, and G.I. Joe, which would eventually be sent overseas to Japan where the animation would be produced.
8 4Kids Held The Rights To Some Famous Characters & People
During the ’80s, 4Kids drew lots of attention from media giants when they began to license products, concepts, famous characters, and even people for toy manufacturing. Their more high profile licenses included Farrah Fawcett of ABC’s Charlie’s Angels, James Bond, CBS’ live-action The Incredible Hulk, as well as many of Nintendo’s characters and products.
This early connection to Nintendo would result in 4Kids acquiring the rights to localize one of their most profitable IP’s, but not for many years down the road (more on that in a bit).
7 The President of Activision Blizzard Once Had A Controlling Stake In LCI
At one point in his life, Robert Kotick tried to buy a controlling stake in Commodore International, failed, and subsequently set his sights on Leisure Concepts. He joined the company in June 1990, where he became the CEO and Chairman for around six months before leaving in December 1990.
He traded out his stake and bought 25% shares in Activision, where he became the CEO in March 1991 and is currently still in the position for Activision Blizzard. Needless to say, he made the right choice.
6 4Kids Was Signed To Market Video Games
In 1986, Leisure Concepts signed a deal to market Star Wars and it’s merchandise during the rise of the video game industry. The next year, they also managed to sign a similar agreement with Nintendo of America to market their video games for the wildly popular Nintendo Entertainment System in the US.
Increasing their business with Nintendo would eventually lead to another licensing deal with the mega-corporation that would shape the work 4Kids did until its eventual demise.
5 Pokémon Was 4Kids’ First Dub License
For many, the Pokémon anime is the first anime that comes to mind when 4Kids is mentioned, and with good reason. Aside from being arguably the biggest and most successful show 4Kids was responsible for, it was also the first anime license they ever obtained.
4Kids went on to dub the first eight seasons of Pokémon until their contract expired, showing Ash’s Kanto adventures until the end of the Advanced Battle season in Hoenn. Following this loss, the license was moved to Pokémon USA and voice actors for many characters in the show were replaced, including Ash, Brock, May, and Jesse.
4 4Kids Tried Its Hand at Video Games
In a joint venture between 4Kids and Microsoft, a deal was struck to market and license video games exclusively for the Xbox 360, to be aimed at a younger audience. At that time, most of the games on Microsoft’s console were geared towards an older age group. One of these new titles was Viva Piñata, developed by Rare who, at one point, had an exclusivity deal with Nintendo until they were bought out by Microsoft.
4Kids also licensed a TV show to air alongside the release of the video game, returning to their roots of televised toy tie-ins, with the show’s animations being made from the 3D models used in the game.
3 4Kids Licensed Chaotic in the US
A few years after the Yu-Gi-Oh’s anime success, another lesser-known card game tried its chances at getting its share of the spotlight. Chaotic, a now-defunct Danish trading card game, was licensed to 4Kids for circulation in the US. Eventually, the card game would be joined by an animated show with a very similar premise and an online game that has since been shut down.
While the game and the show weren’t terrible, they simply couldn’t compete against the popularity of other card games in circulation at the time, mainly Magic: The Gathering and, again, Yu-Gi-Oh!. Plans about a reboot care of the original creator have been attempted, though there isn’t a solid release date yet.
2 4Kids’ Expired Licences Continued To Air On Another Network
During the height of 4Kids’ power, they created an online network to air their shows. This division was appropriately named 4KidsTV, which later moved to the CW as CW4Kids. During this time, 4Kids lost the majority of its licenses through contracts ending and companies refusing to renew them. However, CW4Kids still continued to air these shows.
Even after 4Kids lost the licenses to many of their shows and other companies were responsible for their localization, those shows still aired on CW4Kids, a network still associated with 4Kids. The network would eventually be renamed Toonzai, but not for many years.
1 4Kids Went Bankrupt Twice
In 2010, 4Kids’ common stock was delisted from the New York Stock Exchange and Alfred Kahn, the CEO at the time, stepped down. He was replaced with an interim chairman while a permanent role was being found, but that was the beginning of a downward spiral the company wouldn’t be able to escape.
Over the following years, assets were sold off in an attempt to keep the company afloat, which temporarily worked as the company was reformed following its first bankruptcy as 4Licensing Corporation in 2012. In 2016, 4Licensing once again filed for bankruptcy and on February 7, 2017, the company shut its doors for good.
4Kids is an irreplaceable part of anime's global history, but there's a lot about the company not everybody knows