Opinion: It's not as bad as you think.
The classic anime Neon Genesis Evangelion hit Netflix recently, but fans aren't thrilled about some of the changes made to the new version. Read on to find out what some of those changes are, why fans are reacting negatively, and why they should maybe take a step back and consider what's really important.
It should be a time of celebration for anime fans: Neon Genesis Evangelion, Hideaki Anno's seminal anime series, is finally streaming worldwide, as Netflix secured the rights to the classic anime. But the fans who should be cheering are not happy.
Evangelion originally aired in Japan in 1995, and it quickly earned a reputation as a controversial, psychologically and philosophically complex series that deconstructed the mecha anime genre. Unfortunately, the series has rarely been widely available, as its English-language licensee, ADV Films, went out of business in the 2000s. The only way you could legally get the series in physical format was by spending over $30 on the VHS release that only had two episodes per tape, or by spending over $100 on the DVD collection in 2005--and aftermarket prices for those versions have skyrocketed since then.
But many of Eva's most dedicated fans quickly voiced their concerns with the version of the show that was released on Netflix. Fans flocked to Twitter and Reddit to describe the changes made to the show. It all started with Netflix removing the covers of the song "Fly Me to the Moon" at the end of each episode, a change which The Wrap says is due to licensing fees. But that was just the beginning. We listed the biggest changes to Evangelion on Netflix, which includes the lack of translation of some on-screen text, a completely new and more literal script that takes away from the nuance of the original text, a new voice cast, the omission of swearing in the new translation, and the omission of a key piece of gay subtext.
This resulted in many people recommending newcomers to skip the Netflix version altogether and instead seek out the long-available bootlegs in order to watch the show as they experienced it back in the day. This raises some interesting questions: Sure, some of the changes are significant, but is preserving the nostalgia for the original anime really more important than it being easily available for everyone? Are fans overreacting?
I spent most of the weekend Eva hit Netflix debating whether my first experience with the classic anime should be with the apparently inferior version on Netflix, or the various lower quality but higher integrity bootlegs. The question instantly brought to mind memories of another big sci-fi franchise that was only available in low-quality VHS tapes before going through several controversial changes once it was made widely available for the second time. That's right, I'm talking about the Star Wars original trilogy Special Editions.
The mere mention of the phrase "Special Editions" is one of the scariest and most controversial things in all of Star Wars. You can ask any fan of the franchise and they'll all have an opinion of the 1997 theatrical re-release of the original trilogy. Sent to theaters with great fanfare, the remastered and altered versions of the original trilogy are nowadays remembered with a predominantly negative connotation. George Lucas decided to update his iconic trilogy of films with updated effects, sounds, and scenes, few of which landed with hardcore fans. There's a reason those t-shirts with the phrase "Han Shot First" are sold everywhere.
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Like Evangelion, the changes to the Star Wars trilogy ranged from big ones like Greedo shooting first, the addition of "Jedi Rocks," and the loss of "Yub Nub," to kind of random changes like adding a ring of fire to the Death Star explosion and adding a bunch of new aliens on Mos Eisley. People hate the Special Editions so much that fans have taken it upon themselves to reproduce the original appearance of the movies with fan restorations.
Sure, many of those changes were unnecessary beyond George Lucas wanting to show off his new special effects technology that wasn't available in the '70s, but look at the state of Star Wars fandom before the Special Editions. They're one major reason why Star Wars is still around.
Before the Special Editions were released in early 1997, Star Wars was no longer a pop culture giant. Those who grew up watching the original trilogy had already moved on to new and shinier franchises like Terminator. Though there was Mel Brook's Spaceballs, Timothy Zahn's Thrawn trilogy, and the Dark Horse comics, the beloved galaxy far, far away hadn't been relevant since 1983's release of Return of the Jedi. Those who didn't get to watch the trilogy in theaters had it worse, as they could only watch the films in cropped pan-and-scan VHS copies.
Then came the Special Editions. Say what you will about the changes made and how much you hated watching CGI Jabba meet Han in Episode IV, but the Special Editions put the original trilogy back in the public spotlight. The Special Editions also came out at a changing time for the moviegoing experience, as theater chains were expanding and the multiplex started to become the norm, with stadium seating preparing audiences to experience Star Wars in a new way years before DVDs became a thing. You may hate the changes, but those who hadn't seen the movies before didn't even notice them, and the re-release turned an entire new generation into fans. Star Wars was nowhere, and suddenly it was everywhere again.
With Evangelion now available worldwide on arguably the most popular streaming platform, it will only help turn more people into fans. Maybe they'll finish the series and then seek out the original dub and listen to "Fly Me to the Moon" on repeat, or maybe they won't--but that doesn't take away from the fact that the Netflix release is doing more right than wrong.
Preserving art is an important task. I'm not saying you should feel happy that they changed the lines you spent years memorizing. All I'm saying is that glorifying the version of a piece of pop culture you saw when you were younger, and getting in the way of a new generation experiencing that same piece of pop culture now, is not a battle worth fighting.
The changes made to Eva won't stop brand new fans from enjoying the show, just like the Special Editions didn't destroy Star Wars, but instead set the table for a world of prequels, sequels, and spin-offs. Netflix didn't ruin Neon Genesis Evangelion, but it introduced millions of viewers to the magic of Cruel Angel's Thesis and "Get in the Robot, Shinji."