Fans Are Cranky Over Netflix’s Evangelion Translation

Fans Are Cranky Over Netflix’s Evangelion Translation

The worldwide release of Neon Genesis: Evangelion on Netflix has meant that the iconic series is much more publicly accessible — but as fans have quickly discovered, a lot has changed. To add insult to the injury of losing the iconic covers of Fly Me To The Moon from the series’ end credits, Netflix’s release of Evangelion has also made several subtle, but critical localisation changes, including one with a momentous impact on the final episodes.

Studio Khara has copped a bevy of criticism from fans and former voice-actors, not just for the lack of Fly Me To The Moon (which is still intact for Netflix Japan viewers) but a more literal attempt to translate the original series from Japanese to English, rather than redubbing the lines in the same fashion as the original localisation.

We can’t talk about what’s changed without getting into heavy spoiler territory, so again, if you’re still watching Evangelion and Shinji for the first time, bookmark this and come back later. Otherwise, spoiler ahoy.

Fans Are Cranky Over Netflix’s Evangelion Translation
Fans Are Cranky Over Netflix’s Evangelion TranslationImage: IMDB

The localisation versus translation debate can be tricky. Many sayings and phrases in Japanese (and other languages) often have no direct comparison in English, or their literal translation makes no sense due to grammar, or simply a lack of context. In these instances, studios will often convert the Japanese lines into something that conveys the original meaning as much as possible.

The most impactful instance in Evangelion is the Kaworu-Shinji relationship, where the former enters the picture as the fifth child following Asuka’s mental collapse. Kaworu immediately strikes up a comfortable and intimate relationship with Shinji. Shinji, who’s never had any real friends and has difficulty connecting with anyone amidst the calamity of the Angels and being an EVA pilot, doesn’t know initially how to respond.

The Best Neon Genesis: Evangelion Episodes

One of the seminal anime of the '90s, if not of all-time, Neon Genesis: Evangelion is about to find a brand new audience when it hits Netflix worldwide this Friday. The recent Evangelion movies won't be available on Netflix, but the original series will. It's still mandatory watching for any Evangelion binge, and even today there are some episodes that still stand the test of time.

Read more

It’s a real moment of growth for Shinji, especially after — in the original translation, at least — Kaworu tells Shinji that he loves him. It’s been debated in the past whether there’s something romantic or sexual behind that gesture, or whether the love is merely symbolic. For what it’s worth, Vox has pointed out that Hideaki Anno, Evangelion‘s creator, said in a 1997 interview released in an Evangelion companion book that “Kaworu was the first friend he could open up to, and he could also be someone that could be a same-sex partner”.

Readings differ from this point whether Kaworu wanted anything physical, but what’s key is Shinji’s intent and establishing that connection with someone as a friend, and then exploring feelings beyond that. As he tells Kaworu afterwards, nobody’s ever told Shinji that they loved him — Gendo hasn’t, explaining 99 percent of Shinji’s problems — and he’s never had that depth of reverence for anyone before, not Asuka (although End of Evangelion complicates that a little, depending on your reading of that scene).

But in the Netflix Evangelion release, Kaworu simply tells Shinji that he likes him, rather than love. That’s backed up in a follow-up scene, where Shinji reflects on what Kaworu said, which again has a completely different tone.

Dan Kanemitsu, the translator credited on the Netflix Evangelion release, told a fan last week that he “tried my best to be faithful to the original source material”.

“The power of storytelling sometime depends on the ability of audiences to establish emotional relationships with the characters, as well as, recognise intimacy between people based on inferences,” he said.

But is the more literal translation an accurate one? The Neon Genesis: Evangelion manga, which was published in the West through Viz and is still available locally, was pretty explicit. And it’s not the first time people have told Shinji — or at least indicated — that they like him either: he’s aware that Misato is always looking out for him, and after initially beating his arse in the first act, Toji and Kensuke are by Shinji’s side to the end.

That’s not the only adjustment made in the Netflix release, though. Swearing has been removed from the Netflix localisation, which makes sense from a purely literal standpoint: Japanese doesn’t have curse words the same way English does. There’s other ways of conveying a similar meaning, but that lack of a word or phrase that cuts through is why the original localisation featured the line “I’m so fucked up”.

Now, that same line is “I’m the lowest of the low”. (See the original scene here.)

Fans Are Cranky Over Netflix’s Evangelion TranslationImage: Netflix

Given the context of what’s happening here, there’s no doubt which line has the stronger weight. It’s the only time in the original Western release that a swear word is used, and given the fact that Asuka is unconscious and Shinji’s behaviour qualifies as sexual assault, the original localisation is miles more appropriate. That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of weight underneath the scene — there’s an interesting reading of the scene being a meta commentary on otaku culture and the objectification of nuanced, complicated characters, as well as the scene serving as the basis for Shinji’s depression throughout End of Evangelion.

The literal translation has also cut out other beloved bits, like Asuka’s German when we first see her in Unit 02’s entry plug, or introduced some grammatical errors for the sake of correctness.

Fans Are Cranky Over Netflix’s Evangelion Translation

In the first episode, where Misato hurriedly ferries Shinji to the NERV base for the first time, she describes herself as an “international civil servant” instead of a government employee or government official. Shinji’s referred to as the Third Children, rather than the Third Child, which matches the original text despite the grammatical oddity.

Fans Are Cranky Over Netflix’s Evangelion TranslationImage: Netflix

One of the biggest translation changes is with NERV’s logo. Instead of the classic “all is right with the world”, SEELE’s chairman utters “all is very good”. That would be fine from a pure translation standpoint, except for the fact that “All is right with the world” still appears — in English — under the NERV logo. The logo’s motto was always written in English, so it’s bizarre that the translation doesn’t reflect that.

Fans are keeping track of the full list of changes and quirks on the official Evangelion sub-reddit, and unsurprisingly, people aren’t thrilled about most of them. The standing recommendation is to watch the original anime by some other means, especially for the Fly Me To The Moon covers at the end of every episode. Evangelion is still well worth a watch if you don’t have that option, though.


  • I wonder if people will release custom subs of the Netflix release because the changes sound horrible

    • If you want to hear Shinji scream, I mean really scream, listen to the Japanese dub. Otherwise, if you want an English dub, the one from ’97 is the best. Really has some great performances.

    • Really depends on your general feeling towards watching a series dubbed/subbed. But if you go dubbed, i would say go original dub for sure.

      For a show like this where it ends up being more about the characters and how they feel about each other and their interactions, i feel like listening in english works better for me. So I watched the dub.
      For more action-y shows it doesn’t matter so much imo, so i watch it in whatever i find it in, though with a preference for japanese (with subs) if its still airing, and english if the show is finished.

    • The rights to the original dub are not held by Gainax: instead it was created by the original English language distributor ADV Films. ADV went bankrupt about a decade ago, and distribution rights returned to Gainax.

      Netflix has licensed the series from Gainax, and needed subtitles and a dub. Presumably they either couldn’t reach an agreement with the ADV successor, or felt it was cheaper to commission a new translation that they would own.

      • There was a story on Reddit by a collaborator of the original translation team. They were firm believers in localizing for meaning rather than simply translating literally. Apparently, by the time when the movie Rebuild of Eva 3.0 was first shown in US theaters, a representative from Khara was in the audience and was shocked by seeing the fans laugh during a scene he considered very solemn (ironically, Shinji and Kaworu’s first conversation in the ReBuild timeline).

        To make the story short, localization was blamed (rather than the cultural differences between American and Japanese movie-goers) and Khara hired an in-house translator to do all their stuff from that day, focusing on being as literary to the the Japanese as possible.

  • “The power of storytelling sometime depends on the ability of audiences to establish emotional relationships with the characters, as well as, recognise intimacy between people based on inferences,” he said.

    And that’s why I took out an inference…

    Localisation > Translation

    • Agreed, I’d rather it makes sense and convey the intended meaning, than having to be strict word for word.

    • I think what he’s trying to say is that he made the translation more ambiguous so that it was more necessary to read into their relationship based on inferences, which makes sense for his argument… but I think it was a stupid choice, and not really something he should have taken on himself to change, because it really messes with the standing perception of the characters.

      From my limited Japanese understanding, “suki” (Kowaru’s word choice) can be used to say you like/love/enjoy and object, but when it is used to refer to a person it pretty much always is taken to be romantic/love/adoration. So to me, he’s ignoring context and has just run with a literal translation that misses the point. Happy to be corrected there if wrong.

      Between the questionable translation choices and the awful new dub, both the sub and dub options are inferior, so I’m just glad I’ve held onto my DVD boxset.

      • Wishing I’d bought them, myself. But 2002 me was an idiot. “Oh I taped them all off SBS, what do I care for this newfangled ‘D.V.D’ nonsense?!”

        You’re right about context; and I’m not even talking about them being in a bath, touching hands. This changes it from Kaworu being the first person to ever tell Shinji he ws loved, to “you’re okay I guess, buddy.” What is even the fuck?

        • Agreed. It doesn’t remove the suggestion that that there is a romantic connection (however conflicting) between them, because “liking” someone can be taken in a romantic sense – it’s just potentially a noncommittal or childish expression of romantic interest. It’s does however rob the scene of the gravity of someone expressing “love” for Shinji, because at this point Shinji feels like he is not worthy of such love.

  • Literal translations never work well – it’s almost as bad as reading the auto translated subtitles on a YouTube video.
    Referring to them individually as children instead of child is just stupid and one of the examples that really stick out.

    This dub also has some other really annoying issues, not least of which is the voice actors. Shinji is terrible and sounds extremely monotonous and feminine, Asuka doesn’t even try to have the slightest hint of a German accent – even when speaking in German.

    There is also an issue with what seems to be a lack of variety of voice actors with many characters sounding the same, and just a general lack of range in the performances.

    It may be a case of fondly remembering the original voice cast and just being used to their voices, but I really think this dub is just not that good.

  • In reference to “God’s in His heaven…” Translators / localisers changing phrases that are in English in the source material is a definite pet peeve of mine. As in you’ll hear a character say something in English in the Japanese and then they choose something completely different for the sub.

    And then we’ve got the official Bastard! Sub where they changed all the names to avoid litigation from Metallica.

  • Weird.
    Ah well, I’ve still got all the original DVDs, so I wouldn’t bother watching it on Netflix anyway.

  • Fill my heart with song
    Let me sing forever more
    You are all I long for
    All I worship and adore
    In other words, please be true
    In other words, I like you

  • Interesting. It’s like the reverse of FFX where Yuna’s 「ありがとう」was changed to “I love you…”
    The Kaoru/Shinzo relationship felt similar to Guts/Griffith, Hannibal/Will Graham. There is a grey zone where there could be something sexual but isn’t confirmed.
    In saying all that, 「好き」 can be translated multiple ways. I’d probably have left it as ‘love’ but there’s no cause for outrage here.

  • Kaoru needed to use the word love for a multitude of reasons. His “otherness” is reinforced by the forthrightness of his choice of words, the declaration instantly penetrates shinji’s emotional armour and puts him on the back foot, and it’s alluding to a biblical ease of throwing the word around.

    Reducing it to “like” torches all of the impact that scene had, and the lack of love would alter why the ending plays out the way it does.

    Focusing on whether it’s based on sexual attraction or not is entirely the wrong way to point the translation.

    I really wanted to rewatch the series, but without fly me to the moon and with the hokey subs and stuffed VO, I’ll be digging the dvd’s out of the shed.

  • What really triggered me was in ep1 they’re talking about eva01’s chances to actually work for the first time and Ritsuko says it has a 0.00000001% chance of working and how thats not exactly zero. But the netflix dub seems to have had a recording error where she doesn’t say the 1. She says 0.00000000%, shortly followed by “its not exactly zero”. Makes the whole scene seem kinda retarded

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!