WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Episode 24 of Neon Genesis Evangelion, available now on Netflix.
Criticism of Netflix's new translation of Neon Genesis Evangelion was inevitable, to some degree. A lot of the most iconic lines from the older dubs by ADV Films and Manga Entertainment weren't entirely accurate, so in many cases, the streaming giant was caught between a rock and hard place between preserving what fans remember and offering the most direct translations.
One area where the new translation unfortunately fails, however, is in regard to crucial dialogue between Shinji Ikari and Kaworu Nagisa in Episode 24.
Kaworu only appears in this single episode of the original series, but few other "one-episode wonder" characters in the history of television have made the impact he has. The mysterious pretty boy arrives at a point when Shinji's depression is at its worst, and all of his relationships have gone down the drain. Kaworu boosts Shinji's spirits by offering him the chance for love.
Netflix's translation, in both dubbed and subbed form, removes the direct references of this love. Kaworu telling Shinji he's "worthy of love" has become "worthy of grace," and Kaworu now only says he "likes" Shinji rather than that he "loves" him.
friendly reminder that not only did netflix take away the iconic song "fly me to the moon" from evangelion, they also censored the show's gay media! congrats netflix you managed to fuck up one of your biggest titles pic.twitter.com/FlBpZJRKqR— alexxxxx (@mioshuns) June 21, 2019
To be totally fair to the Netflix translation, the "I like you" line is technically an accurate reading of the original Japanese. "好き" can translate as either "like" or "love." However, "Worthy of grace" is more questionable. For "好意に値するよ", "worthy of love" or "worthy of affection" would be a more accurate and fitting translation than "worthy of grace."
The Netflix translation also can't remove the homoerotic energy of Shinji and Kaworu's relationship. The "worthy of grace/I like you" conversation still occurs when they're having a steamy bath together. However, it robs the episode of much of its direct emotional power, especially in the final scene. Shinji recounting how Kaworu was the first person to ever say he was "worthy of grace" comes off as weak compared to the alternative.
Who or what was at fault with this translation isn't completely clear. The initial instinct might be to assume Netflix was trying to "no homo" the episode, but homophobic motives seem less likely when you consider that a non-binary actor, Casey Mongillo, plays Shinji in the new dub, and that streaming service's library is filled with LGBTQ-inclusive programming.
Khara, the studio that owns Evangelion, was in charge of the translation. Dan Kanemitsu, Khara's official English translator, previously translated the Evangelion 3.33 movie, which was more explicit about Shinji's bisexual feelings, and his romance with Kaworu, than even the previous translations of the TV series.
Kanemitsu has defended his efforts at faithfulness, and said there's clear room for interpretation, even without a declaration of love. However, he didn't go into detail about the translation choices in the bath scene, or its echoing dialogue at the end of the episode.
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.— 兼光ダニエル真 (@dankanemitsu) June 21, 2019
Might Netflix and Khara eventually make small changes to the translation in response to the backlash? Netflix has made bigger changes to its anime dubs, completely replacing the original A.I.C.O. Incarnation dub after the first one was roundly mocked.