Did Netflix Straightwash A Classic Anime?

Main character Shinji Ikari (left) and Kaworu Nagisa / Image via Netflix

If you’re a fan of anime, you’ve probably heard of Neon Genesis Evangelion before. The classic anime ran from 1995 to 1996 is widely celebrated by anime fans. Part of the reason for that is because of a gay ship.

We’ve talked before about how you can find a gay ship anywhere. Some creators or talents even push into the idea like Brie Larson supporting a Captain Marvel/Valkyrie romance or Tom Felton saying that “Harry Potter was constantly crushing on Draco Malfoy.”

But, the gay relationship in Evangelion has actual context backing to it. Without giving too much spoilers, the show follows main character Shinji Ikari on a journey of emotional evolution. Originally a withdrawn character, Shinji tries to become more outspoken but later withdraws again. This is when he meets a mysterious character named Kaworu Nagisa who acts as a catalyst for change with Shinji.

Netflix and Khara are recieving complaints after the above scene was changed to take out the word “love” for “grace” / Image via Netflix

Kaworu not only accepts Shinji for his honest and true self but even expresses adoring him for that. As you can imagine, this set LGBTQ fans and fans of LGBTQ media aflame.

And now, those same fans have turned from flames of passion to flames of rage after Netflix recently re-translated the show. The new translation expresses a few lines from Kaworu differently than fans are used to or prefer. Instead of saying, “You’re worthy of love” and “I love you,” Netflix has him say, “worthy of grace” and “I like you.”

But here’s the thing, the specific lines that Kaworu says during this iconic scene and episode are 好き or “Suki” and 好意に値するよ. In the prior instance, suki can be translated as both an intense like or love. Use of the word can be broad and related to really liking a food, liking a friend, or liking a lover. As such, the new Netflix translation isn’t wrong.

In addition, there are several different interpretations of the line. There are not only other official translations that have used “like” instead of love, but several fan translations have used “like” as well. And perhaps, the “love” translation that many fans are protesting over originated from a fan translation to begin with.

That said, the other line seems like a more deliberate change. For the line “好意に値するよ,” “worthy of love/affection” is a more appropriate English translation than “worthy of grace.” Honestly, that line’s a stretch when it comes to translating the meaning of the original phrase.

But who made this change and what is their reasoning? Well funny enough, Khara, the studio that owns Evangelion, was in charge of the translation. In addition, Dan Kanemitsu, the studio’s official English translator, oversaw the change.

In response to online backlash to the translation, Kanemitsu said that he was trying to be faithful to the original context. That’s despite his belief that there was room for interpretation with the meaning.

“While I am not in a position to refer specifically to the decision involved in the scene you described, in all my translation of any title, I have tried my best to be faithful to the original source material. Bar none,” he wrote on Twitter.

He then added:

“The power of storytelling sometime depends on the ability of audiences to establish emotional relationships with the characters, as well as, recognize intimacy between people based on inferences.”

“It is one thing for characters to confess their love,” Kanemitsu continued. “It is quite another for the audience to infer affection and leave them guessing. How committed are the characters? What possible misunderstandings might be talking place? Leaving room for interpretation make things exciting.”

While an initial reaction to that statement is to call out a resounding “BS,” there is room for backing Kanemitsu. After all, he did oversee the translating of the Evangelion 3.33 movie. In that film, Shinji’s bisexuality and romantic feelings for Kaworu were more explicit than ever before. As such, we can believe that he’s not opposed to the LGBTQ content.

In addition, perhaps Kanemitsu really was trying to interpret the lines in a more realistic way. The Japanese are known for being shy when it comes to expressing emotions. Perhaps Kanemitsu saw it as more realistic for Kaworu to imply interest without outright saying it. As such, he wasn’t trying to straightwash the romance and story but simply express it in a more subtle and realistic way. And again, he wasn’t the first translator to do so.

Whether you agree with that decision or not, there is no doubt that the change doesn’t mean the end of the romance. While those two lines are significant because love is being openly expressed, they’re not the entirety of the relationship. The erasure of those two lines does not erase the intense connection between Shinji and Kaworu. The storyline between the two also does not change.

So, should fans be upset at Kanemitsu for changing those two significant lines? Did he really do it with the intention to bury a gay romance? Answers to both are tricky, but not the results we may first think. Despite that, there is still no denying that a classic anime depicted a gay romance back in the 1990s and it still does so today. Outright love confession notwithstanding.

What do you think?