Talking about Evangelion is a losing battle- you either piss off the diehard fans with “incorrect” impressions/opinions about the intricacies of the series, or you end up picking a fight with a sworn enemy of the psychological drama. Often times, both parties must make it known as quickly and as vocally as possible after an incidence of the anime being mentioned. Heaven forbid you lean more towards indifference or slight like/dislike for the anime, because both sides will meet in the middle to kick you mercilessly. Why bring this up? Well, as the title suggests, I would like to dive into the toxic dumping ground is talking about the Evangelion dub.
In case you were one of the few lucky ones who have lived without the trauma that is fighting over Evangelion, the dubbing for this franchise has a peculiar history that only grows more interesting whenever something new happens to the anime. As recent as March 2021, there has been plenty to talk about with the behind the scenes for this franchise’s English dub. At first, the debate centered around how impure it was to watch EVA dubbed- I’d go as far as to say Neon Genesis Evangelion’s original dub was the catalyst for the “subs over dubs” debate in a way not unlike how the anime boiled the waters for “waifu wars.” Things got more complicated as there was a director’s cut of the anime that required re-casting characters because of conflicts in availability. Further, when Funimation took over dubbing for the already divisive Rebuild of Evangelion film trilogy (well, we have not received the fourth film in the US at the time of writing this), there was considerable change regarding the casting. Only three of the original cast members returned, with a fourth from the director’s cut as well. Much of the reasoning as to why certain voice actors were not returning to these roles is speculative, and I would rather not muddy the waters with unintentional misinformation.
While there is very little sharing the rationale behind this decision making, fans would soon learn that there would be a far higher visibility dub drama around the corner. When Netflix announced that it would be streaming the legendary series and the original film, End of Evangelion after receiving the rights on November 26, 2018, everything seemed bright and cheerful for the medium’s favorite talking point of an anime. This would all come tumbling down when it was decided that the dub would be working with a brand-new cast. Mere days later, November 30, 2018, Amanda Winn Lee (who dubbed Rei in the original ADV dub and was the voice director for End of Evangelion) tweeted the following, suggesting that she would not be returning to the dub
Just a few days following this tweet, Winn Lee assured fans that, after meeting with the new dub director () that the dub was on the right track.
So there was a new dub cast, and everyone would just have to listen and see how this fresh cast compared to the legendary one, right? Well, not so fast.
In a since deleted tweet from March 23, 2019, Winn Lee announced that none of the original cast was even asked to audition to reprise their roles.
There was relatively quick elaboration on this matter, with Winn Lee following up with this tweet, replying to a fan:
At the same time, Tiffany Grant (the VA for Asuka Langley Sōryū all the way up through the Rebuild dubs) had discussed on her Facebook fan page that she had known she was not returning for the new dub for “months” and grappled with the disappointment. Grant also echoes what Winn Lee discussed that their auditions were simply formalities and that there was never any intention of casting them. She also brought a new point to light that the original dub would not be available for streaming, which would explain the first tweet by Winn Lee on November 30.
Couple the optics of this with the famous December 11, 2018 Polygon interview where Gen Fukunaga, Funimation’s founder and president, expressed concerns with hosting highly acclaimed anime like Neon Genesis Evangelion on Netflix, and it almost feels like the dub would be DOA. While dub director,, reiterated that the casting was determined by Los Angeles based VSI, it remains hazy just how much involvement series creator Hideaki Anno’s Studio Khara (who had been at the helm for the Rebuild tetralogy) had with writing the script for the Netflix release of the anime. Sure enough, when Netflix dropped Neon Genesis Evangelion and End of Evangelion on June 21, 2019, the dub was met with negative reception.
Interestingly enough, however, the bulk of the backlash was less to do with the cast themselves and, rather, the script. There were well-known headscratchers of translations such as calling Asuka the “Second Girl” instead of “Second Child” and the glaring retconning of Kaworu and Shinji liking each other instead of loving each other. What a mess! If only if we had someone who could make sense of what happ-
Seeing as how this development brings up to literally a little over a month after this tweet, it is safe to say this is the conclusion of the oral history regarding this franchise’s dubbing. My thoughts about the Netflix dub are summed up well by the above tweets, and I won’t pretend I have much else to add other than that I think that the hate the new cast got was entirely unfair. Like most issues involving media development hell, I think the brunt of the frustrations should fall on management/leadership. From where I stand looking at it, Khara is more to blame than Netflix and infinitely more than the team at VSI. These actors were just doing their jobs, and, I should add, did a damn fine job at them, too. When the Netflix dub first dropped, I had this idea of comparing every dub together and presenting what I felt each of those cast as these well-known characters brought to the table, but roughly halfway through watching the new dub, I realized that something was going on.
Instead, let me take a minute to highlight some of the nuance that the new cast had in the dub, because I don’t think it gets enough credit for what it was. Straight from the top, I think the direction of the dub feels noticeably smooth despite the script being the mess it is. Indeed, Carrie Keranen and Kevin Hoffer do a fine job in that regard. The casting decision making, and the audition process remains a glaring hole, and I would say the directors are on the hook for this, but from an evaluation of what was trotted out onto the field, this was a well-directed dub (particularly in End of Evangelion.)
As it goes with heavily protected anime fandoms, I am appalled by the terrible hate that the voice talent received for delivering what was a losing script. I found that a bulk of criticisms were focused on the content of the lines being delivered and less about the delivery itself. Side-by-side videos since removed due to copyright issues aggressively tore down how scenes were “ruined” by the new actors. This is just another layer to an already problematic trend- people fiercely defend media they are nostalgic for and, in their frustrations, pay no mind to how this can negatively impact others. There are valid concerns that stem from changes to the script, but these are independent from (or should be) the performances.
Something that immediately pops out with this dub is how well these voice actors fit their respective roles. A criticism has been that the performances sound “like they are trying to sound like the original dub” but I think that it is less of that and more that both dubs do a stellar job at fitting talent in that fits their characters. Why redub it if the previous dub was fine as is? That is a fair question, and I do not want this to read like I am invalidating those feelings. All said, however, the new dub should not be thrown away now that it has already been done.
These are not easy roles, and I think hearing the new dub makes me realize how incredible it is that all of the talent in these dubs were historically good with difficult roles. This shows with how well Casey Mongillo (Sho Suzuki in Mob Psycho 100) hits on the severe degree of anxiety Shinj has throughout the anime and its films. Ryan Bartley (Ram in RE:Zero- Starting Life in Another World) takes on maybe one of the most complicated roles due to the history of the dubs as Rei. The name we are familiar with thanks to the recap to this point, Amanda Winn Lee, was the original voice up through the original End of Evangelion. When Funimation cast for the Rebuild films, Brina Palencia was cast as the enigmatic pilot. For such a quiet character, it is interesting how unique each of the talents are with their takes on Rei- I find this especially true with how Bartley spices up her role a tad for End of Evangelion.
These next few roles are interesting because they have had the same talent throughout the entirety of the franchise’s dubs. As discussed to this point, Tiffany Grant had been the voice for Asuka Langley Sōryū through both the original and Rebuild dubs. If you’ve never heard of Stephanie McKeon, I wouldn’t blame you- this is someone relatively new to anime dubbing. Her performance in this new dub, however, does not show her rookie status at all. A real headscratcher I read while looking up comments on clips from the new dub was something along the lines of “What is this new voice for Asuka supposed to be? She sounds like a bratty kid.” Now, I may not be as educated as some of our other authors here at AniTAY- so stop me if I am not seeing things on the same plane as this individual- but this performance might be portraying Asuka this way because the character is a bratty kid.
Director Carrie Keranen takes over voicing Internet heartthrob Captain (Major? Lieutenant Colonel? Colonel?) Misato Katsuragi after legend Allison Keith voiced her in every other dub. It is remarkable how difficult of a character Misato is- she is the busiest character in the anime (maybe aside from Shinji) and this makes this role quietly difficult to nail. It speaks to both Keith and Keranen how exceptionally these two delivered nuances of damage, exhaustion, and frustration that the character builds as the drama builds in Evangelion. Both performances are special, and both are worth experiencing.
There are other really inspired casting choices and performances here such as Erica Lindbeck (Kaori in Your Lie in April, Mordred in Fate/Apocrypha) as Ritsuko Akagi, Ray Chase (Noctis Lucis Caelum in Final Fantasy XV, Bruno Bucciarati in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind) as Gendo Ikari, Greg Chun (Kaname Date in AI: The Somnium Files, Takayugi Yagami in Judgement) as Ryōji Kaji, and Clifford Chapin (Connie Springer in Attack on Titan, Katsuki Bakugo in My Hero Academia) as Kaworu Nagisa. What I love about this batch is that, for the most part, they are new takes on the roles and sound noticeably different. Different does not mean bad, as I think critics are missing with this dub. In cases of actors like Lindbeck and Chase, I think their performances are better than their predecessors. It makes me wonder who will be coming back for the new Rebuild film, or if Funimation runs it back with the team they had before- something very interesting to keep your eye on as the casting announcement drops whenever the film crosses overseas.
All said, the Evangelion dubs are full of behind-the-scenes drama and the many twists and turns have left fans split. Never mind the usual disdain for dubs that fans of high-profile anime like these have, the history of this franchise has left even the most passionate dub fans torn. I hope this history was informative and the discussion about the Netflix dub effectively conveys that the performances of the cast should not be trashed because of the questionable executive decisions going into redubbing it.
Are there any other franchises you think have had particularly interesting histories? Did you like this kind of change to the usual formula? Let me know, and have a healthy and safe Spring.
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