So, I’ve just finished watching Neon Genesis Evangelion on Netflix and I have a lot of thoughts and opinions I need to share, and what better place to share them than with the Internet! Before I start, I have to preface this with a statement – I have never before experienced Neon Genesis Evangelion, be that the original anime, the movies or the manga. This was my very first experience with the series, and I went into this totally blind. As such, despite the controversy surrounding the Netflix release, I had no prior attachment to the series or knowledge of what the series once was. Despite this, I will be wading into that controversy here, but this is definitely more of a final thoughts/ opinion piece on this incredible anime. This is all my personal opinion and I’m sure many others will agree and disagree with a lot I have to say. But, without further ado, let’s begin our breakneck trip down the Otaku Rabbit Hole, and jump right into it!
The Truly Fantastical Evangelion
Starting this anime was an incredible experience. A small disclaimer: I am not generally a fan of anime that make use of mechs. Fan-favourite series like Gundam, Code Geass and others do very little to get me excited, and I expected more of the same from Evangelion. The truth is, however, that after the first episode, I was hooked. That final moment with EVA-01 staring straight at the angel gave me chills, and I just knew that I had stumbled onto something incredible. Since then, every opportunity I could find, I would dive back into the world of NERV to see what would happen next – would the angels finally defeat the EVAs and win? Would a beloved central character die? Would Gendoh FINALLY show Shinji some affection? We all just knew the answer to that last one would be no. From the angels and their monstrous appearances to the EVAs themselves and their odd-but-endearing pilots, everything about this anime rang the right bell for me. One character that particularly endeared herself to me was the fiery and outspoken Asuka. This character started out as the loud and in-charge character, a genius at piloting her EVA-02. Her relationships with the characters we’d already grown close to completely altered the team dynamics and marked a notable shift in the series – a shift that I absolutely adored. What really made me feel for her, however, was her suppressed trauma regarding her mother and how that, alongside her innate insecurity, led to her eventual decline and metal breakdown. My heart broke seeing her fall from her once lofty heights to become little more than a broken shell of what she once was, no longer able to operate her EVA. While I loved Asuka most of all, each and every character in this cast has something to make them stand out – a moment of development that really redefines who they are, and this cast of characters is one of the many jewels in Evangelion’s crown that help set it as an all-time classic for anime fans.
On first watch, I thought that episodes 25 and 26 were stylised in a way to incorporate the storyboard sketches and concept art and lend itself to the surreal atmosphere and overall bizarre vibe that the series had decided to end upon. This was a choice that I found worked masterfully with the overall feel of the final few episodes and really helped focus the audience’s attention on the messages being delivered on screen. I later learned, however, that money had begun to dwindle towards the end of the series due to unforeseen delays and re-writes, and the use of sketches and concepts was little more than a means of salvaging the project – a choice I find both admirable and, in hindsight, inspired. The bizarre, otherworldly angels had already set a standard where anything was possible, so warping the conventions of the anime in its final moments will remain one of the stand-out moments in Evangelion for me. Did I understand the ending? Hell no! But the fact remains that the ambiguity of Evangelion’s ending only made me love it more. Dark and somewhat abstract concepts being used as an unconventional tool in anime storytelling is something that is absolutely fascinating to me, with Madoka Magica and Made in Abyss finding their way to my Number 1 and Number 2 favourite anime slots respectively. Evangelion is the perfect manifestation of what anime can accomplish if given the appropriate time and care to craft something wholly inspired, as it is a passion project that provides an experience that never quite fits within an easily explainable package. It makes you think. The ending is as open to interpretation as many other moments in the series. Nothing is overly explained, and it provides audiences with the opportunity to dive deeper, which I feel works best for the ending. For all its bizarre and complex moments, dark themes and multi-faceted characters, Evangelion is capable of something very few anime can accomplish – it provides an experience that stays with you long after the final episode, providing a need to dive deeper and return to its world again and again.
Evangelion – Lost in Translation
However, despite my glowing review so far, not everything was quite so rosy with my first dive into Evangelion. While many of my personal issues were quickly dispelled, leaving only a morbid curiosity in its wake, I must admit that my biggest issue stood as a result of the controversial translation of Kaworu’s dialogue in episode 24. By the time I had reached this episode, I was already innately aware that this scene had received significant criticism due to Netflix’s re-translation and re-sub. Despite this, I still approached it with an open mind and hope that this criticism was being blown out of all proportion. Sadly, it was not. Translation is a complex art, often attempting to walk the line between a direct translation and a translating in a manner that will convey the original intent. Language barriers and phrases that lack direct translations are something that any translator must attempt to overcome. However, in this case, I feel that this translation was not given the treatment it deserved. The choice was made to replace Kaworu’s now iconic and impactful “I love you” for the far weaker “I like you”. A small change, admittedly, but one that carries significant weight and has carried even greater ramifications. From the character interactions alone, it is immediately apparent that the chemistry between Shinji and Kaworu is something that reads far more intimately than mere friendship. While I’m aware that the Japanese phrase is open to interpretation, a vague statement such as “I like you” plays down the importance of the relationship, which only served to diminish the episode as a whole. This moment marks a number of firsts for Shinji. Kaworu is the first person Shinji feels comfortable enough to talk to openly about his world and his life; he is the first person to show him any true affection and is the first person to outwardly say that they “like/ love” him, which makes the eventual betrayal all the more harrowing. The emotional impact behind the word “love” compared to “like” is incomparable and, sadly, is far too weak for what’s portrayed on screen. From blushing to the subtle glances from both parties, this is more than a mere “like”. Sometimes, being vague holds a power that can elevate a moment, but when context dictates one meaning, ignoring that context results in erasure, something far too prevalent in media as a whole.
What’s also important to remember here is that back in 1995 when Evangelion was first aired, these characters presented one of the few non-yuri or yaoi LGBT+ characters to have appeared in anime. As such, to ignore that important history by removing that line is to erase an important moment in anime history and a landmark moment for many fans, in what can only be described as a poorly conceived move. Due to the backlash of this, the translator, Dan Kanemitsu, has since made a statement as to why it was decided to make that particular choice:
“While I am not in a position to refer specifically to the decision involved in the scene you described, in all my translation of any title, I have tried my best to be faithful to the original source material. Bar none. The power of storytelling sometime depends on the ability of audiences to establish emotional relationships with the characters, as well as, recognize intimacy between people based on inferences. It is one thing for characters to confess their love. It is quite another for the audience to infer affection and leave them guessing. How committed are the characters? What possible misunderstandings might be [taking] place? Leaving room for interpretation make things exciting.”
While this surely helps clear up the creative decision making behind the new translation, sadly the damage is done. Regardless of your opinion of the matter, it is undeniable that the opinions of fans the world over will remain divided as to this new translation. Many will only talk of the Netflix release with scorn due to the poor re-sub, and others will remain somewhat confused as to the extent of the uproar being made. For me, personally, while I can say with complete honesty that Neon Genesis Evangelion was one of the finest anime I’ve watched in recent memory, and that I have enjoyed it immensely, the implications behind the Kaworu dialogue change did somewhat mire the waters for me, but not sufficiently to spoil my overall enjoyment.
While this was my first experience with Evangelion, I’m positive that it won’t be my last. I’m already planning to dive into the movie, End of Evangelion, and plan on seeking out the recent remakes in time for the new upcoming movie release in 2020. While many would try to persuade you to avoid this version, it is undeniable that for those planning to watch Evangelion for the first time, the Netflix version provides the most accessible starting point, even if it does lack much of what made the original great: the original voice actors, the iconic “Fly Me To The Moon” and, of course, the original subtitles. Despite that, I’d still say that to miss out on this anime, as I did for many years, is something you should not do. Regardless of how you decide to do so, if you are an anime fan and have yet to take the plunge, I implore you to please check out Neon Genesis Evangelion for yourselves – you’ll certainly be glad that you did!
With all that said, thanks once again for joining me on this week’s trip down the Otaku Rabbit Hole. If you enjoyed this post, then please consider sharing by clicking one of the buttons below. I truly hope you’ve enjoyed your time here and, until next time, keep it weeby everyone!