As you may have noticed every time you open up NetFlix, and the algorithm has chosen it to court your attention, Neon Genesis Evangelion was released on the streaming service ten days ago. What does that mean to me when I have two copies of the series on DVD and VHS and the remastered version in high-def? The sound is certainly better on NetFlix except for some very crucial differences. But I think it’s entirely likely millions of people will be exposed to the series’ brilliance for the first time, to find the experience a delight and, even better, a challenge and intellectual stimulant.
Thankfully, NetFlix is providing the original Japanese language version with optional subtitles and English dub. I have to admit I was curious about the dub, a brand new one NetFlix commissioned to much controversy among fans as well as dismay among the voice actors who first dubbed the series in English back in the 90s. I can understand why the voice actors would be upset but it always surprises me when I see any evidence there are fans of English dubs of anime, particularly dubs from the 90s. Unless big name voices are cast, like in Miyazaki movies, all the English language voice actors tend to sound like kids putting on bad impressions when they play with action figures. When this is added to the inaccurate and awkward translations, the English dubs tend to be a thoroughly disappointing experience.
I found the new NetFlix dub to be just about exactly as bad as the old one. Everyone’s voice sounds phony and put on and the script is an awkward thing crammed into their mouths. The only improvement I noticed was that everyone seems to pronounce Japanese names more accurately. But it wasn’t nearly enough to keep me from switching to the Japanese version a few minutes into the first episode. Of course, I also watched the second episode last night, it’s kind of impossible not to watch those two episodes together.
The end credits of the first episode tipped me off to the most unfortunate change to the NetFlix version. In many territories, including the United States, NetFlix chose not to pay the licensing fee for “Fly Me to the Moon”, the Bart Howard song written in 1954. The cover versions included in the end credits were an integral part of the series’ tone. Rei’s piano theme has been substituted, a melancholy melody that removes the contrasting effect of the original end theme when it appeared immediately after a grim episode conclusion. But even more importantly, the “Fly Me to the Moon” melody was used in the series itself on at least two crucial occasions—when Misato and Kaji are walking home in episode 15 and then, in episode 21, my favourite episode, the melody is used in the climax. Netflix has removed the score from these scenes without replacing it and seems to have done so without access to the original recordings because the dialogue sounds distinctly and distractingly muddy. This would be bad enough if these scenes weren’t particularly important but they happen to be two of the most important scenes in the series, especially the second instance. It’s in those moments where the viewer is meant to have a kind of epiphany—it’s the moments where the use of the song as an end credit theme suddenly makes sense when it seemed just a provoking contrast before.
There’s no question there’s a vital aspect of the show missing. But this version also contains the remastered scenes, many of which are very good, particularly in episodes 21 through 24, and I suspect many fans outside Japan have never seen these versions. Although I was watching without subtitles, I hear the translations are more accurate, which has caused accusations of “straightwashing” because Kaworu now says he likes Shinji when they’re bathing together instead of saying he loves him. In my opinion, the romantic or sexual chemistry between Kaworu and Shinji is by no means diminished, it just makes the dialogue a little subtler. You can say “suki” in Japanese, literally translated as “like”, has more significance than it does for English speakers, but I ask my fellow English speakers, if a guy says he likes you when you’re sitting in a bath naked together, how likely are you to take it as platonic?
Anyway, if you’ve never seen Evangelion, I guess I’m saying, if you have no other option, you can get something pretty close to the proper experience from this release. Maybe you should watch this a few times, though:
Twitter Sonnet #1251
The newer pair of brows were arched at once.
A pair of spies were secret through the smoke.
Forbidden buttons changed the biggest runts.
A cloudy suit the Madeleines evoked.
A partial toy was making songs alone.
On broken dials symbols touched the dream.
Computers ticked what’s properly condoned.
A silken stitch unites the leather seam.
A shining can replaced a mirror tube.
Reclining nymphs observe the moving trees.
The wooden ducks invite the tender rube.
The strongest club would miss but all the tees.
The absent flight replaced a silent noise.
A naked turkey built a house of toys.