Sex Changes in Animal Crossing?

With the new Animal Crossing game out now, I thought I’d do some quick looking around and see what interesting localization changes might exist. There’s SO much I could dig into and write about that it’d probably take years to document it all, so for now here’s just a little tidbit!

In the English versions of all the Animal Crossing games, there are two female characters known as Gracie, who’s a fashion-loving giraffe, and Saharah, a carpet-selling camel:

In the Japanese versions, they’re called “Grace” and “Roland”. And they’re actually male characters! In the Japanese versions of Animal Crossing, these characters are actually males who speak in an extremely feminine manner:

When they were localized into English, they were changed into female characters entirely:

But, wait, how do we know they’re supposed to be male in Japanese? Well, the official Japanese site (which you can see here) specifically says so:

Graces’s text there even says, “Oh, and just so you know, Grace is a he!”

Also, while we’re sort of on the subject, Saharah’s Japanese text also has a strong “foreigner who doesn’t speak Japanese natively” vibe to it. Off the top of my head I can’t recall if that was reflected in the English translations too. I feel like it might’ve been, though.

Anyway, I don’t play Animal Crossing as much as I used to, so this was all news to me! Was it news to you, or is this something everyone and their dog already knows?

Also, do you think this gender change was a good localization choice, or should it have been left alone? I’m really curious to know what fans think – let me know in the comments!

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43 comments

  1. You might be inviting a political argument with these comments, but I think it’s a terrible idea changing effeminate male characters into female characters. Especially in a game where you can cross-dress.

    Roland/Saharah doesn’t even look feminine to me.

    Reply
  2. I think the gender change was awful. Nintendo basically said men have to act “mainly”. Nintendo of America seems to have their head up their ads when it comes to censor ship.

    Reply
    1. They’re not saying that. They’re avoiding the scandal of having an openly gay character in an American kid’s game. It’s a business decision. Any level headed person, gay or otherwise, would understand that.

      Reply
          1. Not all openly gay people are flamboyant fashion designers with pink scarves and make up as well as a straight man could dress that way

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          2. The thing is that femininity and masculinity has nothing to do with sexuality. It never did. Just because the character dresses a certain way says nothing about them being ‘openly gay’ or not.

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          3. Hey guys? I know that you’re technically right, and you know that the average American would consider a flamboyant fashion designer with a pink scarf and eye makeup to be gay. Nintendo cares about what the average American would think. They changed him to a girl to avoid controversy, not to say that “men have to act manly”. That was my point.

            Reply
  3. Patrick Murphy

    I think it’s always cool to see some genderbending in video games, and I think Animal Crossing would have been a pretty good place to do this–especially in New Leaf, where the girl main character can wear pants and shirts and the boy main character can wear dresses and skirts without any trouble. Baby steps are okay too though!

    I never actually knew until a few days ago that Sahara was supposed to be a girl, I honestly thought she was a guy. It’s funny though, she reminds me so much of Eyelashes from One Piece, and he was a guy. Is that just an odd coincidence?

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  4. It seems like a bit of a dilemma. On the one hand, some will credit NOJ for having the courage to depict gender-bending or “gender queer” characters. On the other, some will bash NOJ for having the insensitivity to depict campy, effeminate, stereotypically gay characters.

    I don’t know enough about Japanese culture to say for sure what motive is more genuine. Tomato, would you say that when characters like this are included in games, it’s because their effeminate nature is considered grotesque and funny? Or is it just because the Japanese are generally cooler with gender-subversion, and thus gender-bending characters are just a normal way to include some diversity in the cast?

    Reply
    1. I think it’s a lot more common and normal in Japanese entertainment – I haven’t lived there in a good while so I can’t say how things might’ve changed/progressed over the last few years, but if anything, these two characters are portrayed more or less the same way openly homosexual celebrities/talents/personalities portray themselves in the Japanese media. So I don’t think it was NCL “pushing the envelope” or needing courage or anything, it’s just how things are there.

      Reply
  5. Woah, that’s actually pretty interesting. I’d love to read a LoL about Animal Crossing, though that’s probably a lot of text to sift through.

    Reply
  6. That comment about the giraffe sounding like a non-native speaker reminded me of something about the first Shenmue that I always found amusing. Tom, the american guy that could teach you some badass kick move. AFAIK, he was the only native english speaker in the game and yet he spoke in broken english and had the funniest accent of the entire cast.

    It’s pretty obvious why this happened, since in the original version he’s the stereotypical funky black foreigner with poor japanese. Keeping that trait in a game for english-speaking countries just makes him sound dumb, though.

    Reply
  7. CrouchingMouse

    Wow, that is quite honestly news to me! And here I thought I knew a lot about Animal Crossing. I guess it doesn’t surprise me too much though, since this certainly isn’t the first time Nintendo has changed a character’s gender to avoid reference to cross-dressing…

    Reply
  8. Well, that explains why “Gracie” spoke in one of the “male” voices. Saharah/Roland, I think, shares a voice with only the warthog lady(?).

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  9. Business as usual, really. I think the first time I can recall Nintendo changing an effeminate male character into a female for the US localisation was Birdo in SMB2. Animal Crossing wasn’t the last time, either; Paper Mario Y2k’s Vivian was male in the Japanese version also.

    I think I’ll avoid going down crazy street and speculating on Nintendo executives’ innermost thoughts in re: cross-dressing and just mention that these changes are clearly made based on the taste of the audience and not on, like, what Reggie thinks about RuPaul.

    Reply
  10. stone cold steve austin (scsa)

    IIRC Saharah did speak with a non-native vibe in English.
    But man them being changed to girls! That’s a pretty odd decision.

    Reply
  11. I can kind of understand why Gracie was made female, considering the original game was translated in 2002 and it might have been more controversial than, say, today.

    But Saharah being changed always seemed odd to me. He wears an open vest, nothing he says in the english version implies femininity (and yes, the dialog is done in a sort-of broken english way. Very short sentences, kind of simple structure). It’s such a random change.

    Reply
    1. I’ve heard it was the long eyelashes. To avoid making Saharah/Roland LOOK like a girl, they actually MADE him a girl. …Confusing, but entirely possible. Since when has Nintendo made sense, anyway?

      Reply
  12. Hey Mato. I’ve been wondering about what Tom Nook says in the japanese games when you walk into his store and he greets you. Is it at all similar to what he says over here, “Feel free to browse, but try not to carouse?” Carouse means having a party with drinking by the way, and I’ve always thought it was odd that they snuck in a drinking reference.

    Reply
    1. Carouse actually has the primary meaning of “to drink in excess”. The “engage in a drunken gathering” meaning is a secondary meaning.

      It’s derived from Middle French carousser (“to drink copiously”), which is derived from German “gar aus”, which is a shortened form of gar austrinken (“to guzzle”).

      Reply
  13. Saharah definitely speaks in a stilted English. It’s fairly subtle — very good work by Nintendo’s translators — but it’s definitely there.

    Reply
  14. I always found it obnoxious when effeminate men are changed into girl characters in English localizations of games…

    Also, Sahara/Roland speaks in borked English in the American version, s/he says stuff along the lines of “Me Sahara, I sell you carpet, you give me carpet and bells first”, something like that.

    Reply
  15. Margarita Law

    I hope that there was no gender change. Their original status should be retained and just the subtitles are change to like English from Japanese. Translation is very important so that we can understand each other and we can convey what we really wanted to tell on other people.

    Reply
  16. You people do realize these are animals right?
    I don’t think human rules apply.

    “crossdressing giraffes”.. .-.
    lol

    Reply
    1. Thank you! I’m glad someone said it.
      That and let’s consider, I’m pretty sure that this is a fictional world. Correct me if I’m wrong, but given that there are talking animals running around, well… My point being, who said the same rules apply to this world as ours? It strikes me as a tiny bit odd, but I shrug it off. Their world, their game, their rules. Whatevs! It’s all find by me. It’s nothing blatantly offensive to my eyes and/or ears…and I’m bisexual, so, I feel like I have at least some small right to say that.

      Reply
  17. nihiloEXmateria

    According to a friend of mine this may have been accidental: In the Japanese version of the game “Special”-characters (NPCs who are not villagers) have no gender defining variables. So the translators may have just stumbled upon situations where they felt the need to define what gender these characters where and just assumed they where female by mistake. (I have no idea how they came to the conclusion that Saharah/Roland was female though, even in the English version I always thought she/he was male.)

    Interesting to note is that New Leaf’s villager Julie kept his gender, only having his name changed to the more masculine Julian. Also this:
    http://24.media.tumblr.com/89084009000c2254671215208e877f71/tumblr_mpdswiHWEf1qmc4vro1_500.png

    Reply
  18. For Saharah, I honestly think the gender swap had nothing to do with stereotypes or personalities or anything – they just wanted to make that awesome name pun, and “Sarah” happens to be a girl’s name, that’s all.

    Gracie is a little different, though. If you listen closely, she uses one of the male voices, and her face looks a little bit masculine if you don’t count the makeup. However, everyone calls her “she,” including herself. You know what that means, right? NoA should be thanked, not criticized, because they are progressive enough to depict the first transsexual character in Nintendo history! So be careful, I don’t think Gracie would appreciate it if you say you wish her gender didn’t change.

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  19. Why do we have to bring this gay or cross dresser into a game for children? Don’t froget this is a child’s game. So adults play and have to interject their why of life.

    Children hare pure in thought and dont even know what transgender, cross dresser or gay is. Unles a adult try’s to bring it up. Children don’t see if it is a guy or a girl.

    Please keep this game free from politics!!!!

    Reply
    1. Being LBGT is not a “way of life”. Sexual orientation and gender identity are distinct from behavior. Many of the children playing AC are LGBT themselves, and are going to realize it sooner than you think (Put it this way – when did you first know you were straight? When did you first know that your physical and mental genders were the same? How much sooner would you have noticed if, rather than being the same as 90% of the world, you were different than them?).

      Don’t reduce people, particularly those who have traditionally been victimized and marginalized by society, to mere impersonal political “issues” to be dealt with.

      [/soapbox]

      Reply
      1. Irrespective of whether such is the case, the way they are depicted in the Animal Crossing series is both stereotypical and annoying.

        I’m tired of seeing effeminate fashion designers every five seconds. I really am.

        Reply
    2. It’s not keeping the game “Free from politics” by giving a few cartoon animal vaginas. You CAN crossdress in the game, as both genders, so that one’s . No one is gay because the only characters that ever mention romantic interest are randomized and usually just gossip from third parties. Children don’t see if it is a guy or a girl, and moreso they don’t CARE, and that’s exactly why randomly making the friendly carpet salesman a saleswoman makes no sense once so ever. Nothing about the game is offensive in Japan, it’s appearance + traits + outfit + voice. None of the traits are “rapist” or “pedophile” or “weirdly political about everything”, they’re “gentlemanly and flirty” or “afraid of bugs”.

      TL;DR: Sure, and let’s make Nan a white goat instead of a black goat to avoid racism, eh? You’re a dick.

      Reply
  20. Well i already knew about this but i didn’t care very much.
    I Think that having a male fashion designer would make some people be all like “OH GRACE IS GAY!” and be yelling it like everywhere. Some people are just stupid like that but i think the people who actually play animal crossing aren’t at all like that because animal crossing is complicated in so many ways.

    Reply
  21. I find pointless censorship like this VERY offensive. It tells me that Nintendo doesn’t respect its audience’s intelligence or understanding when it comes to topics such as cross dressing, sexuality, and gender identification; even in games like Animal Crossing. They only changed the text and character dialog, but it tells me a lot about the people who make the choices about localization. This isn’t 1992, western audiences will be able to cope, understand, and possibly relate to these “issues.” It was a creative decision by the Japanese developer to portray Grace and Roland as they did. Localization like this, while small, can impact the intended message. Animal Crossing is all about interacting will interesting characters in an accepting world. How “unique” is a girl who likes fashion? Give me my cross-dressers dammit xD. It makes me wonder what else they edited to appeal to our “Western” sensibilities. Perhaps I’m over reacting, nope!

    Reply
  22. It’s been sorta kinda mentioned in comments, but while Animal Crossing: New Leaf surprisingly had the ability to cross dress and have it both pointed out and complimented by other characters, these characters first appeared in earlier games. It makes me wonder if they would have not done this if they first appeared in New Leaf?

    Reply
  23. Well that just makes SO much sense; after all, in real life only females have eyelashes and male fashion designers are a myth! Nintendo needs to stop being stupid with localization, and I’m just glad they realized they couldn’t genderbend the fabulous peacock. Grac(i)e will always be my favorite character because of their hilarious attitude,

    Also, I want to know what Mabel says when you wear a skirt; in English, it really sounds like she’s insulting you under her breath with the way she says it, the English version is “Oh… well, I guess it’s OK to be a bit more adventurous sometimes.” Though mostly it just bugs me because of how oblivious she is at the girl wearing a tuxedo or ‘grandpa’ outfit. When those actually ARE gendered, moreso than a kilt at least.

    The fact that Nintendo (and especially Nintendo America) is more offended by the idea of dudes in skirts than many, many furniture items having visible genitalia and nipples really makes me judging of moral guardians in general. I mean, I’m fine with the visible naughty bits too, but there’s at least a relatively legitimate reason to censor nakedness.

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  24. Actually, the gender change came up even earlier than that. On the official E-Cards, all of the characters have their gender listed. Gracie, Saharah and Blanca all have the male symbol on their cards. This happens on every card for them, even some promotional cards with different artwork. Another interesting change that you might want to cover is Jane’s drastic art change.

    Reply
  25. Honestly, I knew this, but I see the reasoning behind Nintendo’s decision. Nintendo thinks the kids they’re marketing to can’t handle effeminate males and will get uncomfortable playing it.

    Reply
    1. What? No, that’s not it at all. It’s because Nintendo thinks that PARENTS (ie soccer moms) can’t handle their children seeing effeminate males. Huge difference.

      Nintendo is afraid of controversy, because a lot of it has happened here in the states because of uneducated or intolerant idiots. Like the Pokemon card with a swastika on it, “Koga’s Trick” if I remember correctly, or Mario Party (7?) being recalled in the UK because it used the word “spastic” (which is completely tame in the US but apparently the equivalent of “retarded” in the UK).

      Nintendo thinks that the US is full of puritans (because until very recently, we really were) and want to maintain their family-friendly image.

      Reply
  26. You are correct about Saharah’s English text. Her text is intentionally fragmented, and also includes asking ‘yes’ and ‘no’ at inappropriate times.

    Reply

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