Speaking in Tongues
Author: Amanda Wells
Source: Noise In My Brain
I like the EVA dub. A lot. It's not perfect, but what is?
To be honest, I never used to think of liking this particular dub as much of an issue. Even if everyone on the AnimeNation.com EVA Forums hates it, many review sites such as AnimeNewsNetwork and Revolution Science Fiction give it equivalent praise. It might be fair to say that opinions of the EVA dub are neutral, rather than heavily angled towards the good or bad.
So, I'm of two minds about this. My knee-jerk response is to relentlessly trivialize the significance of enjoying the dub, because doing so doesn't make me a different breed of EVA fan, thinking differently from all others. But because it's Evangelion, I also want to dig under the skin of my choices, covering all possible angles and disagreements and refuting any belief that enjoying the dub actually means something to my identity as an EVA fan. From the latter part springs this essay.
Assuming that I like EVA better dubbed because I'm a "Reading is hard" sort would be wrong. Liking the EVA dub is an aesthetic choice based on the voices. I can't show you me waiting eagerly for the next Inuyasha fansub to download, or watching 120 crappy bootleg subtitled Yuugiou (Yu-Gi-Oh!) episodes in five days and loving every minute of it, but I assure you these things, and such like them, happened. I will watch anime any way I can get it. Raw, fansub, official sub, heavily-edited TV dub, more orthodox dub, or whatever. (Raw is only an act of desperation, though). Since I can enjoy anime in nearly any format (even raw, in small, vague bits) I make decisions based on whatever sounds better to me, since it's not any more easy to watch one version or the other. I'm immune to feeling an attachment to one language just because it's the one I viewed it in first. I consider the Princess Mononoke dub to be a flawed work, even if I love the film and have never seen it in Japanese. I saw Escaflowne dubbed first, but liked the Japanese voices immediately.
Even though deciding what voice you like is a rather mysterious process, the best I can think of is that I somehow prefer "character" voices over more "realistic" ones, and thus judge accordingly. The EVA dub voices are not realistic. Rather, they offer a crude, simple reflection of the deeper personalities of the characters that possess them. This does not make it any harder for me to believe in the characters and be drawn into their emotions.
With Neon Genesis Evangelion I've tried the Japanese voices and attempt to remember script differences and experience others' translation ideas (not to mention finding out about honorifics and things). I did so because EVA was a wonderful series that deserved my full attention and scrutiny; I couldn't take the off-chance that there was something vital I missed. But I found no such thing.
That's not to say I didn't find differences between the English and Japanese versions. But the problem with most sub vs. dub debates is the presumption that there's no such thing as tolerable flaws, and all edits/changes are created equal. It's almost that, if a production moves one toe out of line, the viewer who enjoys it, and bases their feelings on it, is living a lie. But I believe true enjoyment doesn't come from a flawless experience; it comes from being able to think critically, recognize faults, and still love.
With a few exceptions, the major alterations to the EVA dub are rewritten jokes to make the humor more blatant, the addition of American slang and curse words, and altering in grammar or phrasing to fit mouth movements. These never really disrupt the rhythm of the series for me, so I won't fuss to impress others. Also, I saw no difference in the personalities of the characters, no possiblity that sub- and dub-versions of the characters existed. This wasn't like enjoying something by DiC or 4Kids, and I won't treat it that way. I won't joke about "whoring" myself out to ADV like I do for the Yuugiou dub, because there's no joke potential to begin with.
It's been my experience that trying to figure out what version someone liked, going by interpretations and writing styles, doesn't work. Fans will communicate with each other, not telling what version they've seen/prefer until the question is directly asked. There doesn't seem to be a split betwen EVA sub and EVA dub fans in terms of vision and ideology. That seems like a pretty good yardstick to measure the importance of my dub-liking. If I can talk with other fans, without anyone "suspecting" me, it shouldn't be a big deal what language I prefer watching EVA in.
But, no overanalytical essay is complete without the discussion of the "ethics" behind enjoying a dub. Onward.
I've never agreed with the idea that chosing sub or dub (for simplicity's sake let's reduce possible categories to two, and talk about bilingual, uncut works rather than TV dubs) is a matter of respecting the creator/culture/language. I can understand why they may an issue for others, but their stance is also a reflection of personal tastes and biases, not the Holy Words of one in tune with the Great Cosmic Oneness of Anime.
Two people can say things about a character, and it will sound like they're talking about completely different beings. Fans will also rip into the creator's decisions with impunity, leaving the implication that they could have done better. Relevant examples include the EVA TV ending, and Shinji. They are an integral part of Anno's work, yet many fans hate one or both. No one (usually) questions their integrity as fans. If these many perspectives can be allowed to flourish with no one it knocks the creator of their pedestal, a preference for the EVA dub shouldn't make noise.
It's true that Anno choose and directed the Japanese cast, and because of that I chose to respect those actors, even if it sometimes feels like lip service. Furthermore, if I watch the sub and the dub and get the same impressions of everything, can identify with translated Japanese academic work, or Anno's own words on EVA, there's no reason not to watch what I enjoy. why shouldn't I watch what I prefer. I refuse to believe there are sub- and dub- versions of the characters. English or Japanese, the personalities are interchangable.
And I'm as obessed with Anno as the next EVA nut. The first time I found out what EVA was really based on, I was surprised, but also very, very happy. The anime that I loved so much was not the product of a Bible, but of a disturbed man with an interest in psychology. I am still in awe of the honesty Anno put into his work, as well as the implied courage in making one's pain into work. Perhaps he wasn't a genius, but dammed if he wasn't exceptional in his own right.
I can easily reconcile this worship with a preference for an English version of his work. I believe respect to be a highly subjective thing. If I do not intend to disrespect Anno by preferring the dub voices, I do not disrespect him. Only an individual can define their level of respect. If I feel a great deal of admiration for Anno and declare him the One, True, Creator of All Things EVA, I think I have the "respect" thing cemented, no matter what language I switch my DVD to.
Another noteworthy thing is that what the VAs do when away from the microphone, or how they feel about their characters, has no impact on what I think of their performance. Spike Spencer, for example, thinks of Shinji as "annoying", I think he performed Shinji excellently, enough so that I liked the character even before I heard Megumi Ogata and her Bloodcurdling Screams of Doom. Amanda Winn Lee messed around with the EVA dub but I still think she makes a great Rei.