Neon Genesis Evangelion is an undoubtedly influential anime. It’s guided decades of other media that, in turn, spiraled out to influence a million other things as well. But its limited availability in English truly gave it legendary status in the west. People knew it was important, but barring illegal downloads it was hard to get your hands on the anime. Now the show is available on Netflix. But here’s an age old anime question: Should you watch the subs or dubs of Neon Genesis Evangelion?
Sadly, that’s a surprisingly complex question — and not just for the usual reasons. Sure, there’s always the debate over what’s better. Japanese audio is obviously more authentic to the animation and even original vision of the show. Meanwhile, English is more accessible to, well, native English speakers. And in the year 2000-and-ever-loving-19, English voice over is actually pretty good anyway! It’s nowhere near the obviously inferior product you got 20 or 30 years ago.
Netflix added one more wrinkle to Neon Genesis Evangelion, however. Part of the company’s licensing deal to stream the show included producing a completely new English dub. So the version you hear now isn’t even the version that was available back in the day. So the “subs or dubs” debate has a whole new layer this time around.
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Of course, the new Netflix dub of Evangelion comes with its own pros and cons. For one, most people would tell you that the new dub sounds “better.” I certainly think so! The modern voice cast is stacked with professionals with years of experience in video games and other anime. Vitally, Casey Mongillo plays a much subtler — more authentically “high school” — version of protagonist Shinji Ikari than the original version.
You’re still going to face the same dubbed over weirdness that… Well, you’re probably so used to by this point that you don’t even notice it anymore. Specifically, characters pause at strange times mid-sentence to better match mouth movements. If you’re familiar with anime, it’s nothing you haven’t seen before. If you’re not familiar with anime, just know that you get used to it.
The Japanese voiceover, on the other hand, appears to just be the original version the series aired with. That’s great! All the emotion and tone survives completely intact. So if you want the most authentic version (particularly if you speak fluent Japanese) have at it.
Whether you watch the Evangelion dubs or subs, however, there are some important things to know. Netflix didn’t just redo the English dub. The company also re-translated much of the original text. This has driven the internet into a bit of a tizzy. Of course there was always going to be discourse around Neon Genesis Evangelion when it became widely available in the west. But two changes to the translation stand out in particular.
Subs or Dubs: Neon Genesis Evangelion on Netflix
Specifically, one character late in the series now says “I like you” instead of “I love you.” This is technically closer to the line’s meaning in Japanese, but isn’t quite as obvious an expression of queer romance. Another line from The End of Evangelion, a movie sequel to the 26-episode series, was also altered. What was once “I’m so fucked up” is now “I’m the lowest of the low.” Again, this is technically more accurate. Yet the original translation has long propagated as a meme. So the internet has a certain fondness for it.
Personally, though, I think the queer relationship still shines through. In fact, thanks to other changes surrounding the iconic line, it seems even gayer in spots. That particular romantic subplot also has… bigger problems, anyway. It was incredibly gratifying to see overt queer representation — any queer representation really — at the time. And it was understandably seminal to many (myself included). But we thankfully live in an era with better media to fixate on and draw from. I suggest Heaven Will Be Mine if you want another dose of queers in giant robots.
So… Subs or dubs? Well, here’s the thing: You’re basically safe to watch whichever version of Neon Genesis Evangelion you prefer. Longtime fans of the series might enjoy hearing a much more natural dub, for comparison. Whereas newcomers will likely find it more accessible than the sub. If you just prefer the original Japanese, well, that’s there too! The moment-to-moment speech might look a little more natural on-screen. Just know that by spending your time reading, you might miss some absolutely incredible animation. Evangelion is hilariously gorgeous. It looks even better in high definition.
The subtitles are more-or-less the same as dub translation, though. A few lines are very slightly altered, presumably to fit the text on-screen in a way that looks natural. But there’s no escaping Netflix’s changes if you do indeed watch it on Netflix. So the battle of subs versus dubs in Neon Genesis Evangelion can largely be put to bed. Now let the “old translation versus new translation” debate begin…