Neon Genesis Evangelion (Netflix)
Neon Genesis Evangelion, coupled with its series finale movie, The End of Evangelion, adds up to one of the most revolutionary shows ever to have hit television either in Japan or anywhere else. With its fantastic action scenes, complex characters, and an impactful demonstration of depression, it changed the face of anime forever. One reason is that it served as an ideal gateway into the tortured human psyches underneath its flashy, epic surface. And for years, audiences here in America grew up with this show through the first dub released of the show on VHS and DVD, arranged by ADV and assembling some excellent voice actors. Many of them translated their characters for the American audience perfectly, leaving a mark on the general populace as the definitive representations of their characters here in the US.
Everyone was excited when the news broke that Neon Genesis Evangelion, the franchise, would’ve made its streaming debut on Netflix. But when they found out that it was going to have a new dub and have some elements changed around, suddenly they were all but pleased. How so?
I’ve recapped the story of the series and the movie so extensively that I’m just not in the mood to repeat it to you. Instead, you can look at my reviews of them both to get more up to speed on them. But all I can say is that everyone wanted the original series of Neon Genesis Evangelion to return after its home video release through ADV went out of print. They were in stock for a while, but then they suddenly became more expensive, selling in the triple digits. So, the news of the show returning through Netflix felt like it was the return of the classic show its fans had waited for. However, they suddenly turned their back on this return—and Netflix, arguably—when it turned out that the dub premiering with the show on Netflix was entirely new and did not bring back the classic ADV dub that its fans revered. Even then, everyone was all over the board with it. Some people found it a competent dub that expressed circumstantial commitment from the actors to their roles. Others dismissed it as feeling dull and restrained in its performances compared to the lively energy carried forth by the ADV dub’s actors.
When I geared up to see the show and the movie, I deliberately started with the ADV dub, knowing that it was notably the definitive dub in everyone’s eyes. Also, the backlash the Netflix dub received made me wary of which dub I should introduce myself to the show with. And if you recall from my reviews, I felt like the ADV actors generally did a great job expressing their characters with enough identity, no matter how over-the-top or modest they were. These performances were so memorable that plenty of the actors returned to voice their characters again for the English dubs of the Rebuild film series. They held that special a place in every anime fan’s heart.
So, because of that, what are my thoughts on the Netflix dub?
I may have to go character by character to see how well the actors portrayed their characters either on their own or compared to the ADV actors.
First, the actors generally sounded like they emphasized some commitment to their roles, making their characters sound like they acknowledged the travesties in front of them. Yet, their methods of conveying it all with consistency were prone to vary, especially within the first part of the show.
There were a few actors who I thought did such a good job conveying their characters for this dub that they almost felt on par with the original ADV actors who voiced them. When I think of that, the actors who come to mind are Ray Chase as Gendo Ikari, JP Karliak as Fuyutsuki—Gendo’s right man—Greg Chun as Kaji, and Abby Trott as Hikari.
Ray Chase generally portrayed Gendo with his general lack of concern and his dedication to his and NERV’s progress against the Angels. However, whereas Tristan McAvery did so with a more genuine inflection, Chase portrayed him with a rougher tone. It made him come across as ruthless in his pursuits, and sometimes, that jibed quite smoothly with his personality, especially when he was most composed or agitated.
As Fuyutsuki, JP Karliak conveyed his character with a concerned disposition and a level of authority to him. But in Karliak’s case, he portrayed him while emphasizing the authority aspects of his character, whereas Guil Lunde portrayed his character’s aspects a touch too lightly.
Like Aaron Krohn before him, Greg Chun portrayed Kaji with his consistently charming and common-sensical manners. In his case, I don’t recall ever telling the difference between the two of them, outside of Krohn sounding slightly bold about it and Chun feeling a little modest about it.
With Hikari, she generally conveyed her tender personality with some of her uptight motives as school captain. But once again, the actresses conveying Hikari were different in their approaches. Carol Amerson played her with more of a sweetheart angle, but Abby Trott played her with mainly her high-ranking schoolgirl fluctuations. That seemed to make her sound more like a regular schoolgirl by comparison to the Toji’s-other-half persona I remembered her ADV performance by.
Other actors, however, generally felt like they did an excellent job portraying their characters, but came super, super close. I felt like it was because, for all their general excellence in their performances, there was just that one element to them that I thought was missing. Those actors happen to be Stephanie McKeon as Asuka Langley Soryu, Ryan Bartley as Rei Ayanami, and Clifford Chapin as Kaworu Nagisa.
I noticed about the voice actresses playing Asuka and Rei that McCoy portrayed Asuka with a little more softness than the ADV actress, and Bartley portrayed Rei more like a normal but slightly socially awkward young girl. Frankly, I don’t mind that since those made them feel more human, easier to identify with, and, dare I say it, almost sound their age. However, I find this to be a blessing and a curse. Because in this case, it makes Asuka lose some of the arrogance that Tiffany Grant enlivened Asuka with in the ADV dub. And with Rei, she lost a bit of the mysterious nature that Amanda Winn Lee perfectly expressed through her in the ADV dub. So, in the case of both these characters, I missed those qualities of each of them a little.
Chapin portrayed Kaworu with the same amount of soft tones and contentedness as Kyle Sturdivant provided to Kaworu in the ADV dub. Like Kaji, Kaworu generally felt no different from the ADV actor outside of carrying a slightly deeper tone in his voice. As for how he generally felt incomplete compared to how he was in the ADV dub, I’ll tell you when I get to the dub’s translations.
I also felt intrigued by the actors voicing the NERV coworkers, Makoto, Shigeru, and Maya. Christine Marie Cabanos portrayed Maya with a slightly higher voice than Kendra Benham in the ADV dub but still maintained her character’s sense of commitment and lighthearted banter. But the Netflix actors playing Makoto and Shigeru generally emphasized their sheer confidence in their skills as they tackled any problems involving the Angels with cool-headed composure. Even Makoto’s voice sounding light, like Maya’s, didn’t detract from his general performance. These actors shared a sense of respectability through their characters and thus emphasized their positions in power a little more. It felt a little uneven, even compared to the ADV actors who played the three characters, but the Netflix actors still did a good job.
The only actresses who I genuinely didn’t find as remarkable as the ADV actresses were Carrie Keranen as Misato Katsuragi and Erica Lindbeck as Ritsuko Akagi. In the Netflix dub, Keranen played Misato, as did Lindbeck with Ritsuko, with softer yet no less aggressive tones in their voices as they chatted or troubleshot something out of the ordinary. Even in some moments where they felt desperate or in control, they generally expressed their emotions as such but delivered it in a way that felt slightly off to me. I felt like the actresses tried to add more professionalism to their characters’ tone, but it made them sound a little less like complex human beings. Half the time, whenever I heard their voices, I couldn’t have even told them apart. Whereas in the ADV dub, when I heard Allison Keith as Misato, she sounded like a young-at-heart party animal who expressed some tender moments and heated devotion. And when I heard Sue Ulu as Ritsuko, her voice felt like a natural-born professional who knew what she was doing. These actresses nailed down their characters by understanding their personalities, and because of that, they both sounded distinct enough to be identifiable.
The one episode where I felt the inconsistencies from these Netflix performances felt most apparent was in Episode 16—Splitting of the Breast. In the Netflix dub, during Ritsuko and Misato’s heated arguments about Shinji’s welfare, they sounded so calm and in control even as they got angry. However, in the ADV dub, they both felt like they started losing control of themselves emotionally. You could feel the sheer vitriol in their arguments, and it added to the exquisite drama of this episode. Even the first time I saw it, this specific episode was when the show went from being very good to outstanding, and the acting from the ADV dub helped support that. However, in the Netflix dub, the acting from Kerenen and Lindbeck felt helter-skelter. So, the inconsistencies did a slight disservice to this episode. The Netflix actresses did get better by the end of the show, but these two generally felt like the weak spot in the ensemble for me.
On the other hand, two actors who I thought felt better than their ADV counterparts were Benjamin Diskin as Kensuke and Johnny Yong Bosch as Toji. That’s not to say that the ADV actors playing these characters didn’t do a good job; they portrayed them just fine in the ADV dub. But I didn’t find them that memorable. However, in the Netflix dub, something about the actors’ voices sounded like they perfectly captured what makes them them. Diskin gave Kensuke a slightly nasally voice, which felt more in tune with his geeky and over-the-top personality. And Bosch portrayed Toji like he’s your typical school jock while also sneaking in some slightly tender moments to him, too, to emphasize his more humane angles.
I also thought the voice actors portraying the SEELE monolith members felt stupendous. In the original ADV dub, they all shared the same voices as the members we saw on the member board, the meetings in which Gengo participated in the first part of the series. Sometimes, however, I thought of those voices from the ADV dubs sounding slightly eccentric and silly, mostly because of the electronics I spotted in their vocal transitions. Yet, the voices oozing through the monoliths in the Netflix dub sounded ominous. They made the SEELE members convey themselves as a little more sinister in their voices, honing the magnified fear factor of their goals.
And that leaves us with the last Netflix actor, Casey Mongillo, as Shinji Ikari. As I watched him do his thing as Shinji throughout the show, I didn’t know what to expect out of him. I didn’t know whether he would fumble a bit and not be as good as Spike Spencer or if he might have ended up being as good as him instead. Generally, he spoke in a much softer tone than the ADV dub. But as time went on, I honestly looked at him as if he was super close to being as good as Spencer. Whenever he felt emotional, agitated, or upset, he gave him a variety of emotional inflections that sounded genuine. And when I say genuine, I mean so genuine that Mongillo tugged at my heartstrings a little at just the suitable scenes. There were even times when he sounded like Spike Spencer during his more manic episodes. And that’s no small feat. So yeah, I’d say that Casey Mongillo did as good a job on Shinji Ikari as Spike Spencer did in the ADV dubbing.
Whenever I think of the Netflix ensemble and compare it to the actors assembled for the ADV dub, it always takes me back to the general reactions NGE fans had to this change, where they expressed their displeasure with the new dub when comparing it to the old one that they grew up with. It almost felt equivalent to the Disney fans’ general responses about Disney remaking their classic animated favorites in live-action. But in my opinion, I found the Netflix actors committed at best and uninspired at worst.
And then there’s The End of Evangelion. I’m not even kidding when I tell you that this was where NGE’s Netflix acting ensemble came into its own. Whenever I look back to the film’s ADV dub, I enjoyed the main characters’ performances but thought that the supporting characters’ performances sounded a little too goofy, like they did not take the situations very seriously. However, throughout the movie’s Netflix dub, the general tone and consistencies of the performances felt more thorough and impactful. I felt like I was in as much of a massive predicament as the characters experiencing it were. And whenever Asuka or Shinji was ever in a world of pain…sheesh! The actors emphasized every ounce of pain and panic out of them, to a point where I felt some chills down my spine every time I heard them in such conditions. Even the voice actress who lent the voice of Lilith as she emerged from her slumber in the Central Dogma sounded womanly and eerie. As soon as I heard that voice, that told me that this was more Lilith than it was Rei, who merged with her earlier.
Another focal point of the Netflix dub that caught everyone’s attention was the translation of the show’s dialogue and writing. Word has it that unlike the ADV dub, which had a little more freedom with its translations, this dub adhered strictly to the transcriptions of the original Japanese version. Some people were open to it since this was an English dub that was a more direct translation of the source material, like the 2010 dub of Kiki’s Delivery Service. However, the general complaints from those who felt perturbed by it said the translation was too direct and resulted in some awkward exclamations from the characters.
Do you remember what I said about Kaworu and how I thought, despite Clifford Chapin doing a good job playing his character, that something about him was missing? Well, here’s what happened: instead of saying “I love you” to Shinji, like in the ADV dub, here he said to Shinji, “I like you.”
Now, this I found fascinating. Having Kaworu’s declaration of love to Shinji be more modest than meaningful slightly added more humanity to him, even though he’s an angel. But, of course, it also took away some of his natural qualities that I recalled in the ADV dub, just like Rei and Asuka. When I heard Kaworu say I love you, I took it as him admitting his genuine love for Shinji while also cluing us to the idea of how angels like him could love humans. To others, it felt like a straight-up sign of homosexual love. I came to love that kind of double meaning with this moment. In the Netflix dub, it felt slightly reduced to a more modest yet still open declaration of love. If anything, it makes it sound more like a declaration of homosexual love for me. If I heard an angel say that to a human, it would sound awkward. Whereas saying “I love you” sounds more heartfelt and like something that an angel, just like Kaworu, would say.
Another fascinating translation to pick up on was when Shinji visited Asuka in the hospital at The End of Evangelion. After accidentally tearing her shirt open to reveal most of her upper body, Shinji infamously masturbated over her, only to then look at his semen-covered hands and whisper, “I’m the lowest of the low.” And that’s just the Netflix dub. In the ADV dub, he instead lamented, “I’m so fucked up.” In addition to Shinji being very expressive about how he felt over what he just did to Asuka, it indirectly referred to the general reaction most viewers may have had over watching him masturbate over Asuka. I felt like this last line was famous to fans for those reasons. “I’m the lowest of the low,” on the other hand, sounded more like a discouraged response than a strongly remorseful/bewildered one. It probably depends more on the mood the viewers would’ve felt in this given moment.
However, the biggest complaint I’ve picked up from online critiques on this dub was that the children chosen to pilot the EVAs in the show were mentioned not individually but collectively. For example, whenever Shinji was described by his title, it wasn’t as “The Third Child” but instead as “The Third Children.” It may sound like a descriptive error, but this honestly came from the original Japanese transcriptions and was translated as such. And I agree, this description of the EVA Pilots felt very inconsistent. You would think the translation would’ve been direct and still provided a little leeway to sound more grammatically correct.
Also, while the literal translation of the show from the original Japanese source resulted in some inconsistent ways of allowing the characters to express their thoughts or emotions, there’s one part of the literal translation that I thought worked to its advantage. In Episode 22—Don’t Be, as Asuka relived her most painful memories while being attacked by Arael, the 16th Angel, there was a section where she saw the different parts of herself repeating what Asuka said earlier in the show back to her face over and over again. In the ADV dub, it was all repeated back to her in the same voice. Sometimes it seemed annoying, but other times, it still seeped into the uncomfortable nature that the viewer would’ve experienced with Asuka. However, in the Netflix dub, the voices repeating themselves back to Asuka came forth in different vocal tones. Sometimes they were regular; sometimes they were light and squeaky; sometimes they were rough and womanly. This was one part of the original Japanese version of the show that I thought was nicely translated here in this dub. Having some of your sayings repeated back to you through your voice and expressed in various tones would feel very freaky and ominous but even more uncomfortable when forced to put up with it. And this was one such scenario from the Japanese version that the Netflix dub nicely carried over to the English-speaking audience.
What I’m about to say next may have nothing to do with the new dub, but one thing I picked up from this dub that I’m curious about is that, throughout the show, the characters referred to each other by their first names, whereas other times, they generally described each other with their last names first and then the first names last. I understood that this was a common way of describing each other’s full names in Asian countries. But I also picked up all the moments when they referred to each other by only their last names. I don’t know how the name descriptions work in Asian countries, but I found this just a little distracting from time to time.
But whether the NGE fans liked the new cast and translations or not, those were not what turned people off about the new dub. Instead, what rally turned people off was the omission of the show’s closing theme, Fly Me to the Moon.
In the original Japanese version and the show’s ADV dub, the closing credits of each episode played a section of the classic song. And during most of those episodes, the song was sung in a different voice every time, including the original Japanese voice actresses of Rei, Asuka, and Misato. I found this part of the show unique because it expressed ties to the main characters’ dilemmas throughout the show. And, to have it sung in different voices and styles was subtlely referring to how the dilemmas in the show applied to many of the characters in the show, not just Shinji. So, when the news came out of the song’s removal from the end credits, everyone just flipped their lid, accusing Netflix of taking away what they felt was one of the show’s main components. The only explanation I have for this is that ADV had the English rights to Neon Genesis Evangelion back when anime, in general, was still trying to find its footing among American audiences. Plus, ADV must’ve had the rights to the song back then, too, so that should explain how it made its way to America through the show’s ADV dub. Now, with ADV having gone out of business, the rights to the song, especially as expressed here in the show, were expensive and nearly unobtainable. So, instead, the Netflix version switched out the music with a different musical piece, an instrumental score entitled “Rei I.” Now, that’s not a bad score, nor is it a bad one to use as a replacement. But I have varied feelings about Fly Me to the Moon’s removal. I was so invested in the way Fly Me to the Moon was sung throughout each of the episodes’ end credits that it felt discouraging to watch the show without hearing what was a good expansion, in musical form, of what the show would generally have addressed. Not to mention, it nicely balanced out with the show’s opening theme, A Cruel Angel’s Thesis, which was about Shinji, while Fly Me to the Moon was more subtle and arguably about all the show’s main characters. What’s even more frustrating is that at this moment, Japan, the show’s originating country, is the only country that shows the show as it originally was with the Fly Me to the Moon closing credits. On the other hand, everyone else must watch the show without the song. But at the same time, that theme song was exactly what I described it: an expansion. And though Fly Me to the Moon is lovely and slightly catchy, it adds a bit of lightheartedness to the show, which would sometimes feel out of place once the show progressively got darker. So, listening to some calm, soothing music while the closing credits rolled is not a bad way to close out each episode.
So…long story short, this generally does feel like an offhand but no less exciting way of reviving a classic show like Neon Genesis Evangelion for the new generation, especially after the show was marketably dormant for a lengthy portion of time. Though the new dub was not without its flaws, it still had some respectable elements that generally complimented what made the original series such a masterpiece. And, most of all, it dawned upon me that the ADV dub wasn’t without its flaws, either. That dub felt as lighthearted as the show’s Fly Me to the Moon closing theme, while the Netflix dub intended to achieve a more straightforward approach to the show’s translation and performances. The actors didn’t treat their characters like they came from a live-action drama like the cast of The Prince of Egypt, but they nonetheless had enough good fluctuations from them to make it mostly work. And I feel that the overall efforts put this dub super close to being on par with the ADV dub. All in all, I find it hit-and-miss.
But that’s just my take on it. Which dub do you prefer? And does it matter whether Fly Me to the Moon stays in the end credits or not? Tell me more. I’m sure interested to hear more about this from you!