The De-Queering of ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’

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The recent Netflix-sponsored re-translation of the iconic anime removes LGBT themes. We reached out the series’ English translator to learn more.

The recent Netflix-sponsored re-localization of Neon Genesis Evangelion, an incredibly famous and influential anime from the 1990s, appears to erase queer interactions between the protagonist, Shinji, and his friend Kaworu. The recent re-translation uses the word “like” in place of “love,” and changes “Kaworu said that he loved me” to the unusual phrase, “Kaworu said I was worthy of his grace.”

Twitter user jimmygnome9 posted an image comparing the changes from the original translation to the updated one:

The translator for the recent English re-translation, Dan Kanemitsu, responded to criticism on Twitter, and claimed that ambiguity in relationships can make them more interesting to viewers.

Understandably, LGBT fans did not react well to the statements, interpreting Kanemitsu’s comments to mean that reducing an explicitly queer interaction from text to subtext makes the work “more exciting” to audiences. Fans argued Kanemitsu’s 2019 translation had erased this important LGBT depiction from the historic work, one that had been part of Evangelion and its tie in media since its original release in the 1990s.

We reached out to Kanemitsu, and while he declined to comment on the scene specifically, he clarified it was not his intent to censor or marginalize queer depictions in his translation, and that his comments were simply that, “as a general principle, that leaving ambiguity can be constructive, in certain situations,” and that his comments applied “to all relationships of all sexualities.”

When we asked for further clarification, Kanemitsu reiterated he could not comment on that specific scene, but explained how he approaches translation on his projects:

There are multiple ways to approach a translation assignment, and no approach is full proof. There may be instances where a particular methodology is more appropriate than others, but that judgement is something each person has to make on their own terms.

There are cases where you want to make a work especially accessible to a specific target audience by removing or replacing culturally specific concepts inherit [sic] in the original title.

Then there are cases where you aim to have the foreign audience appreciate the sensibilities and nuances of the original work, focusing on the cultural contexts of where and when a particular work originated from.

These are not absolutes but a spectrum–Different approaches may be adopted at certain situations.

While it’s understandable that different translators may take different approaches, both the original translation of the anime from the 90s, and the tie-in manga’s English translation, made it clear that the relationship had explicitly queer overtones. In chapter 75 of the manga, Shinji has a gay panic while expressing to Kaworu, “guys don’t love other guys!”

Though translation is a highly subjective art, and does involve a degree of rewriting and reinterpreting the source material, given the extensive historical discussion on Shinji and Kaworu’s relationship, and how groundbreaking and influential it was for so many LGBT anime fans, it’s challenging to view this particular change as a simple difference in translation approaches and not as a regressive reinterpretation that erases a historic queer relationship in animation.

In a rather sharp response to Studio Khara and Mr. Kanemitsu, after this controversy began Viz Media reaffirmed on Twitter their commitment to keeping lesbian relationship between Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus intact in their re-localizations of Sailor Moon, another iconic anime series (they are romantic partners, but previous translations reduced them to ‘cousins’).

We’ve reached out for Netflix for comment, and will update the article with any response.

Authors Note: Viz Media, in a DVD insert for Sailor Moon, did incorrectly identify Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus as ‘friends’. Viz apologized for the error, and said they’re working on a way to ensure fans can get a replacement booklet with the corrected information. 

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