After years of licensing limbo, Netflix has re-released the critically acclaimed anime Evangelion. There’s a catch, however, that’s rattling long-time fans of the series: Netflix appears to not have secured the rights to the original ADV Films English dub of the anime, and have re-translated from the original Japanese on their own. And some of Netflix’s translation choices smack of the censorship that has long afflicted Western releases of anime.
One example is protagonist Shinji’s self-hating confession, “I’m so fucked up,” which has been changed to the less severe “I’m the lowest of the low,” a bowdlerization on par with repeat dubbing offender 4Kids. The line comes after an infamous scene in which Shinji masturbates over the body of a comatose woman, so Netflix’s decision to soften the unequivocal condemnation rings tone-deaf at best.
Similarly controversial is a softening of the homoerotic relationship between Shinji and Kaworu, an alien in the body of a young twink. Kaworu’s out-of-the-blue love confession has been changed from “I love you” to “I like you.” The line change smacks of “straightwashing,” especially because of dubbed anime’s long tradition of such censorship, most prominently evidenced in Sailor Moon S’s Western release abracadabra-ing lesbian couple Uranus and Neptune into close cousins.
Besides censorship, there are other changes drawing fan’s ire. For one, the original ending theme song of the show, the pop standard “Over the Moon,” is missing without explanation, replaced by a piano rendition of Rei’s theme. In Japan, however, the ending is unaltered, pointing to either a licensing issue or an unwillingness on Netflix’s part to pony up the money to secure the song’s rights. (TheWrap is reporting that “‘Fly Me to the Moon’ was among a ‘few select’ assets the streaming service was unable to obtain for all regions, due to the way the song was priced for global rights.”) Another is Netflix’s decision to not let the original voice cast of the ‘90s ADV dub reprise their roles, despite Tiffany Grant, the voice of heroine Asuka, petitioning Netflix to bring them on again.
Despite the strong fan backlash, many are still celebrating any re-release at all. The series has been notoriously hard to find after its Western distributor, ADV, went under in 2009. Aaron Clark, a writer on the fan site EvaMonkey, said last year: “Eva will be available to the largest audience for the lowest price point and the best quality” that the franchise has ever seen, thanks to Netflix.