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Tweet of the Week #37: Netflix’s Neon Genesis Evangelion Subtitles Stink

Fans of the cult anime aren't happy with the redubbing either.

By 4 min read

Fans didn’t quite get what they had hoped for with the long-awaited Netflix release of the Neon Genesis Evangelion mecha anime series—thanks to a butchering of the subtitles by the streaming service.

When Netflix announced that it had acquired the streaming rights to the Evangelion TV show and movies for American audiences—previously only available via bootleg copies or pirating—it caused quite the stir. However, after it finally hit Netflix last Friday, some viewers were seriously upset.

The drama started with the omission of the iconic “Fly Me To the Moon outro song in certain regions due to licensing issues, which prompted fans to launch a petition.

But the majority of the backlash was reserved for Netflix’s new subtitles.

Netflixでエヴァが配信 はいしんされはじめたが、まずオリジナルの英語吹えいごふえキャストを変更へんこうしたことでれて、「日本語にほんご忠実ちゅうじつ翻訳ほんやく」という理由りゆうでカヲルが同性愛者どうせいあいしゃではいことになって大荒 おおあれ。「きってことさ」というセリフが「I love you」から「I like you」に変更された。

= Netflix has released Eva but… first of all, changing the English dubbing cast was bad, but omitting Kaworu’s homosexual love entirely under the pretext of “a translation truer to Japanese” is brutal. The phrase「好きってことさ」was translated as “I like you” instead of the original “I love you.”

While admitting translating Japanese into English is a difficult exercise, @NikiNipo feels the translator did a poor job in helping an audience unfamiliar to Japanese language and culture to get the true meaning of the scene.

Fans also criticized the re-dubbing of the series from the original ADV ’90s dub, commenting that the poor voice acting ended up rendering the story lifeless.

Why was the backlash so intense?

Evangelion is lauded as one of the most important anime of the last 30 years with debates having raged on and offline over its divisive content ever since it was first broadcast back in 1995.

A dark tragedy that takes place in a post-apocalyptic 2015, the plot follows the journey of a reserved teenager, Shinji Ikari, who must pilot giant bio-machine robots called Evangelions along with other chosen kids in order to save humanity. Breaking with the idea that Japanese animation was for children, creator Hideaki Sanno produced one of the first anime geared towards adults as a catharsis for his own deep depression. Evangelion is a dark world in which Antarctica has been wiped out, the Earth’s axis has shifted and half the population is dead. But the series is ultimately less about the setting and more about the chaos going on in the protagonists’ terrifying psyches.

It’s a controversial and challenging work of art, and one that cost Netflix a speculative $3 million to license, so it’s a pretty big deal that the new subtitles don’t appear to do it justice.

How to use the Japanese expression という

To get a better hand of the expression という which links two sentences together, you need to understand its components:

The particle has many usages. One of these is to quote what someone has said.

The other component, いう comes from the verb “to say.” However, it doesn’t mean someone actually said something. Here, いう is here to help define or describe what is said in the first clause. Most of the time, という isn’t really translatable into English.

In the tweet, @NikiNipo is referring to the suggestion that Netflix is trying to「日本語に忠実に翻訳」or “more faithfully translate to the original Japanese” which he likely took from a statement by the streaming service.

「日本語に忠実に翻訳」+ という + 理由 + でカヲルが同性愛者では無いことになって大荒れ。

He uses it again in a slightly different way to relay one of the lines he’s talking about.

「好きってことさ」+ という +セリフ

という can also be used to mean what you think. In Japanese, people rarely strongly express their opinions so you’ll often see sentences ending with and the words for “think”, “hear” or “say”.

明日までだと思います。= I think it’s until tomorrow.

Vocabulary

Japanese Romaji English
エヴァ Eva short for Evangelion 
配信はいしんされはじめる haishinsare hajimeru start to be broadcast
まず mazu first
オリジナル orijinaru original
英語吹えいごふ eigo fukikae English dubbing
キャスト kyasuto the cast
変更へんこうする henkou suru change
れて arete brutal, ugly, bad
日本語にほんご nihongo Japanese
忠実ちゅうじつ
chuujitsu ni true, close to
翻訳ほんやく honyaku translation
理由りゆう riyuu pretext, reason, excuse
同性愛者どうせいあいしゃ douseiaisha gay, homosexual
suki like, love
セリフ serifu lines, dialogue
から … に kara…ni from…to

For more on learning Japanese

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