On June 21st, 2019, Netflix released Hideaki Anno’s anime classic, Neon Genesis Evangelion, to controversy from the community. Most were ecstatic for Evangelion‘s return to the West, but the new translations upset many viewers. Most notably was the Kaworu bath scene, which fans said downplayed Kaworu’s relationship with Shinji. Yet, over a year later, fans have noticed that Netflix quietly updated the Evangelion subtitles slightly.
In the bath scene, Kaworu’s initial line has a broad transliteral meaning. But the Japanese word used in a lot of context can more mean “like” or “love”, essentially becoming a confession. So the line itself has undergone quite a few interpretations based on this. Even among the original ADV Film releases of Evangelion vary its use of “like” and “love” during this scene. Yet the majority of the translations for this line interpret it to mean a strong affection, which fans take to imply their relationship is more romantically rooted.
Netflix Evangelion subtitles quietly changed
If Netflix had just released the series with this line saying “like” instead of “love”, perhaps the backlash wouldn’t have been as bad as it was. However, the Netflix Evangelion release had Kaworu’s subtitles here read “you are worthy of my grace”. While Kaworu subsequently explains that he means he “likes him”, fans weren’t happy with the obscure translation which seems to erase their relationship.
Some fans debated the nuance of different interpretations and translations for the Japanese dialogue. Others argued that the Netflix localization is intentionally homophobic. Now, about a year after the Netflix Evangelion release, the bath scene has had it’s subtitles tweaked. With Kaworu’s line reading “you are worthy of my affection”.
When the change exactly happened is uncertain. It’s been narrowed down to be possibly as recent as June 15th, 2020 based on viewer accounts of the Kaworu line. While this is a step in the right direction towards what fans want, the English dub of the show still reflects the original “grace” line. Also later in the episode when Shinji references the scene, the subtitles still say “grace”.
Translator responds to Netflix Evangelion translation
The animation studio behind Evangelion, Studio Khara, directly involved themselves in the English translation of the Netflix release. Their in-house translator responsible for the subtitles, Dan Kanemitsu, responded to fans on Twitter about the Kaworu bath scene situation when Netflix Evangelion first released. “While I am not in a position to refer specifically to the decision involved in the scene you described, in all my translation[s] of any title, I have tried my best to be faithful to the original source material. Bar none.”
Kanemitsu also stated in August 2019 that he submitted changes to the subtitles months prior but hadn’t gone into effect yet. It’s possible that the Kaworu bath scene might have also had changes submitted during this. However, the line he was looking into for this was a different line from the End of Evangelion movie. And that line has yet to be altered.
The “grace” line wasn’t the only troubling line from the original Netflix translation. Another scene from episode 20 referred to a “terrorist act” as a “terrorist attack by a leftist”. This sparked many to believe Kanemitsu was injecting his own political agendas into Evangelion.
We’ve reached out to Netflix for any comments or clarifications, but have not heard back yet.