With the rise in popularity of East Asian television dramas, a debate has popped up in the live action television community that has plagued the anime community for decades. Do you watch a show with subtitles or with a voice-over in English or your local language? The debate amongst Squid Game viewers over whether to watch the show in English or in the original Korean and whether to read the English subtitles or the English [CC] subtitles if watching the Korean version has been in the anime community for almost 3 decades now.
In the 90s and the early 2000s, the answer to this question (in anime, atleast) used to be much simpler. The English Voice Actors were mostly novices dubbing the show either due to their passion for the medium or due to being randomly picked off a Craigslist ad while having next to no talent or practice in voice acting, or even acting in general.
Back when the first localization of Neon Genesis Evangelion’s TV series was made between 1996 and 1998 by ADV, many of the English actors casted had the show as their literal first experience with voice acting ever. Despite being huge names in the voice acting industry today with extremely impressive resumes, most of them gave a performance considered not to be of the highest standard on the series, but they were performances that significantly improved as more and more episodes passed by. By the time ‘The End of Evangelion’ was released in the west in 2002 with its English voice actors, the voice acting had considerably improved and was considered on-par with the original Japanese voices, and even acclaimed more than the original Japanese for some characters.
When the franchise continued with the Rebuild of Evangelion film series in 2007, the rights to the franchise went to Funimation due to ADV Films’s dissolution in 2008. They brought back the actors to 3 out of the 4 main cast and recast almost all the side and minor roles to actors more easily accessible to them. Despite the major casting changes, the dub was mostly a well-received dub which stayed consistent in its scripting choices with the original ADV dub of the series.
Both aforementioned dubs were only released on Home Media and were not available worldwide on any streaming services until 2018, when Netflix bought the streaming rights to the original series for estimates of around $3 million to $25 million. They commissioned a completely new dub with a totally new cast and many controversial changes to the script, including the omission of “Fly Me To The Moon”, the series’s ending song as well as the removal of a pivotal romantic confession scene between main character Shinji Ikari and Kawou Nagisa, a move that was considered homophobic by most critics and fans. Even worse was the Japanese studio going forward with calling the Netflix dub the “official” dub and basically not acknowledging the existence of the original dub at all.
At the beginning of 2021, the end of Evangelion franchise was released in Japanese theaters during the pandemic with Rebuild of ‘Evangelion 3.0+1.0: Thrice Upon A Time’, becoming the highest grossing film in the Evangelion franchise despite limited showings at 50% capacity. Many of the fans were confused whether Netflix or Funimation will get the rights to the film, especially after Funimation’s relations with the studio making the franchise soured in 2013 after translation disagreements happened over the penultimate film of the franchise. In a surprise, neither of the two groups got the rights to the final film and the streaming rights of the movie (as well as the first 3) were instead given to Amazon Prime Video, who commissioned a new dub by French dubbing studio “The Dubbing Brothers”. Many of the fans were worried that Amazon might hire a third cast and disjoint the experience even further than it already is. But the Dubbing Brothers relieved fan fears by bringing back the original ADV cast, even including many of the actors that Funimation declined to bring back and redubbed the first 3 Rebuild films that Funimation had originally dubbed years ago. This move essentially negated the Netflix and Funimation versions of the show for people wanting a consistent experience.
All 4 companies dubbed and subbed the franchise differently, according to their own preferences and interpretations of the original Japanese dialogue. Till 2021, there was no way to have a consistent audio experience for the Evangelion franchise in English and many debate that there still isn’t a consistent scripting experience as of now. Iconic lines spoken by the same actors were altered when scripted by different companies and callbacks to previous dialogues were not the exact same as it would’ve been if the series was localized by the same company. The Netflix and Prime scripts have audio sync issues often seen with poor localizations that are not adjusted for mouth flaps of the original video. Meanwhile, the Funimation version doesn’t have all of the actors from the ADV cast returning, which might be jarring to some people, especially as one of the 4 main leads is voiced by a different voice actress in the Funimation dub. The Netflix dub, while considered to have some of the best performances in the entire franchise, doesn’t share a single voice actor with any of the other 3 dubs of the franchise, and is also considered the worst script-wise. Some fans are still hoping for Funimation to get the home media rights of the last film and redub it with their cast and scriptwriter and just get over the one changed lead and the changed side characters for a better script but it doesn’t look like that’ll happen anytime soon.
In my opinion, the scripting issues of the Amazon Prime version can be ignored due to just how good the voice acting is, after the original ADV cast got decades of experience with other shows, and the original dialogue in Japanese is considered so good that even some off-put translations do not ruin the experience at all. My recommendation on how to watch the series in English would be to watch the original series and ‘The End of Evangelion’ as dubbed by ADV Films and then to watch the 4 Rebuild of Evangelion films as dubbed by Amazon Prime. As for watching it subbed, my recommendation still remains mostly the same but to swap out the first 3 movies of the Rebuild film series with the Evangelion subtitles.
One of the biggest reasons for the hodgepodge that is the Evangelion western rights is due to its original creators not knowing about how massively popular the franchise would become around the world and due to the original licensor, ADV Films, shutting down in 2008. Company after company tried to get the rights to various parts of the franchise in an attempt to profit from the $16 billion franchise with the original creators not knowing who to stick with. Creative issues also arose between some of the companies which caused the original creators to become stricter with the western scripting despite little knowledge of localizations, which caused many scripting issues.
Neon Genesis Evangelion is one of the most critically acclaimed franchises of all time and its finale is my personal favorite movie ever made.
The series is peppered with references to mystical traditions in Judaism and Christianity, such as Midrashic literature and the Kabbalah. The series reworks Midrash stories, Zohar imagery, and other Kabbalistic concepts created from the Book of Genesis to construct a new Evangelion-specific mythology, further complicating viewers’ attempts to build an unambiguous meaning. Neon Genesis Evangelion has been interpreted as a deeply personal expression of Hideaki Anno’s own emotional struggles with depression over 27 years of his life. Anno himself stated that he identifies with Shinji in both a conscious and unconscious manner, and he, Asuka and Misato are close to himself, while Rei is Anno’s “deepest part” and Kaworu his Jungian shadow. The series includes references to Sigmund Freud, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Sren Kierkegaard’s works, as well as philosophical and psychoanalytic themes such as the oral stage, introjection, oral personality, ambivalence, and the death drive. Individuality, consciousness, freedom, choice, and responsibility are prominently emphasized throughout the series, notably through Søren Kierkegaard’s philosophies.
Neon Genesis Evangelion by itself is a franchise that people will either resonate with deeply or shun due to non-understanding of its themes and non-relatability if they haven’t yet experienced emotions in their life yet that help them relate with the characters’ struggles throughout the franchise. Evangelion as a franchise is something I adore and something I hope no one has to go through the emotional journey they do in life to “get” it, although it is a journey that most people go through at least once in their lives. But to those that do “get” it, it’ll be an experience unparalleled in both cinema and television. Do not go in and expect all your lore and plot questions to be answered, the main material of the Evangelion franchise is its characters and their struggles in life and their relatability. I hope you enjoy the series in whichever language you pick to watch it.