Why Funimation Never Dubbed Evangelion 3.0 + 1.0

Rejoice, "Evangelion" fans of America, for you finally have a chance to see the saga's conclusion in a theater. "Evangelion: 3.0 + 1.0 Thrice Upon A Time" had a (very successful) theatrical run in its native Japan, but international audiences had to settle for a Prime Video release in August 2021. GKids has since acquired the North American distribution rights and has partnered with Fathom Events for theatrical exhibitions. After a one-night IMAX screening on November 30th, the film is playing during the week of December 6 in theaters across the U.S. These showings will exclusively show the subbed version of the film: Japanese audio, English subtitles. If you prefer your anime dubbed, you're out of luck. 

This is the latest in a long line of hurdles dub watchers face in getting into "Evangelion." For starters, the "Rebuild" films which "Thrice Upon A Time" concludes have two English dubs — an incomplete one done by Funimation, and the widely available re-dub, courtesy of Amazon Prime. Why are there two dubs? Why did Funimation not dub "Thrice Upon A Time"? And which version of the films should you watch?

The dub begins at ADV films

You can't fully appreciate the "Rebuild of Evangelion" films unless you're familiar with the original TV series, "Neon Genesis Evangelion." Likewise, you need to know the history of the "Neon Genesis" dubs to understand the decision-making behind the "Rebuild" dubs.

"Neon Genesis Evangelion" was produced by Japanese animation studio Gainax and was primarily the creation of director Hideaki Anno. Its 26 episodes aired on TV Tokyo from 1995 to 1996 and were then released in the west by the Houston, Texas-based ADV Films. ADV initially released the series on home media, specifically VHS and LaserDisc. The company would subsequently re-release the series in multiple DVD collections from 2002 to 2006. It took until 2005 for "Evangelion" to premiere on an American TV channel, specifically Adult Swim. More information on ADV's different DVD editions can be found in "The Art of Studio Gainax," by Dani Cavallaro.

ADV's releases included an English dub produced in-house. The company's small stable of voice actors, recruited from local theater talent and production staff, include Amanda Winn-Lee (Rei Ayanami), Spike Spencer (Shinji Ikari), Tiffany Grant (Asuka Langley Soryu), and Allison Keith-Shipp (Misato Katsuragi). Matt Greenfield, co-founder of ADV films, served as ADR director. According to Winn-Lee (who also served as an ADR writer/director), Greenfield is the one who rejected the Gainax-supplied script and wrote a less literal but better-sounding dub script.

These English localizations gave way to humor, some hilarious, some cheesy. The actors also weren't above poking fun at the series' more abstract parts. However, the quality of the dub improves as it goes along; the series gets darker and the performances improve in the process. The stand-outs were Keith-Shipp and Grant (who, for one, loves her character).

The end of ADV

Manga Entertainment dubbed and distributed the follow-up film, "The End of Evangelion," in the U.S. However, ADV's influence was still felt; most of the cast reprised their roles and Winn-Lee served as ADR writer/director. Manga's dub inherits the virtues and flaws of the ADV dub. Spencer also isn't as good as Shinji's Japanese voice actor, Megumi Ogata. The despondent Shinji often screams at the horrors around him and Spencer's attempts can't compare with Ogata's soul-searing wails. Still, if you liked the ADV dub, you'll probably like Manga's "The End of Evangelion."

Even if the series seemed over, ADV had further ambitions. A live-action film "Evangelion" film was announced at, of all places, the 2003 Cannes Film Festival, to be co-produced by Gainax, ADV, and Weta Workshop. The farthest the film got was concept art produced by Weta. The project was unable to find a director and ultimately concluded with ADV suing Gainax over a rights dispute in 2011.

If this wasn't enough to put a kibosh on the film, ADV had declined during the late 2000s. In 2008, they lost the chance to dub and distribute "Gurren Lagann," another Gainax mecha anime considered a successor to "Evangelion" (Bandai Entertainment would ultimately dub the series instead.) ADV liquidated its assets in 2009; it technically still exists, but only as a shell corporation.

As for "Evangelion," ADV's DVDs were reported as going out of print in 2011. This left the original series unavailable (legally) in the West for much of the 2010s. However, by this time, "Evangelion" had moved onto a new chapter, one which had a different American home.

Rebuilding at Funimation

In 2007, "Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone" premiered in Japan. The film was co-directed by Anno, Masayuki Yamaguchi, and Kazuya Tsurumaki. While veterans of the series, they had left Gainax for a newly-created studio, Khara.

The film was released stateside in 2009, but not by ADV. It was a different Texas anime dubbing company: Funimation. Founded in 1994 and based in Dallas, Funimation grew to anime fame by dubbing "Dragon Ball Z." Unlike the fading star of ADV, Funimation remains one of the biggest anime dubbing companies in the US (albeit merged with Crunchyroll).

Funimation's acquisition of "Evangelion" was announced on December 31, 2008, and the dub cast announced in May 2009. Spencer and Keith-Shipp reprised their roles as Shinji and Misato; from the second film ("2.0 You Can (Not) Advance") onward Grant joined them as Asuka. John Swasey, understudy for Tristan MacAvery at ADV, also returned full-time as Gendo Ikari. Otherwise, the cast was Funimation regulars, whose voices you may recognize from "YuYu Hakusho," "Fullmetal Alchemist," or "Attack on Titan." Mike McFarland was ADR director, while the voice talent included Brina Palencia (replacing Winn-Lee as Rei), Justin Cook (as Toji Suzuhara), Colleen Clinkenbeard (as Ritsuko Akagi), and J. Michael Tatum (as Ryoji Kaji). The best addition for me though was Trina Nishimura as the new character Mari Illustrious Makinami. Her character is thinly drawn but Nishimura goes all out in her performance, making Mari's presence worth it.

Problems at Funimation

Funimation's release of the first two films was smooth, but "3.0 You Can (Not) Redo" was a different story. An early version of the dub went unreleased after its theatrical premiere in 2013 and it ultimately took until 2016 for the film to get an American Blu-ray/DVD release. Word from Funimation in 2014 was that they were, "Working closely with Studio Khara to make [the '3.0' dub] closer to the original vision." Indeed, Khara wound up writing the subtitles for the English home media release.

According to Tiffany Grant, Funimation's released dub of "Evangelion: 3.0" had dialogue changed from the first screened version. As Grant put it, "'Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo', which we redid." Presumably, these changes were to make the dialogue closer to the Japanese original. However, since Funimation's first "3.0" dub has not been widely released, there's no way to do a line-by-line comparison.

The series' creators at Khara may disagree, but for my money, Funimation's work on the "Rebuild" films is the best English "Evangelion" dub. With veteran voice actors filling out the supporting cast, there were finally good performances across the board. Funimation's dubs also have the most naturalistic dialogue, without being outright silly like ADV could be. Sadly, I can't wholeheartedly recommend the Funimation dub because it's missing the final "Rebuild" chapter.

A new licensee

Initially scheduled for a 2013 release, the final "Rebuild of Evangelion" film arrived eight years late in 2021. Delays came both from Anno co-directing "Shin Godzilla" (released in 2016) and the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Evangelion" wasn't in a total lull during this time gap, though. The original series finally found a new distributor and came back into the public eye. Considering their work on the "Rebuild" films, you might think this distributor was Funimation. You'd be wrong. In fact, it was Netflix. The acquisition was first announced in 2018 and the series premiered on Netflix on June 21, 2019.

Gen Fukunaga, founder and then-CEO of Funimation, expressed disappointment at this turn of events. Speaking with Polygon in 2018, he said:

 "I'm 100-percent sure that we'd have done a much better job brand-managing ['Evangelion'] and turning it back into what it was [...] Had 'My Hero Academia' gone onto Netflix, it would have just dropped on the platform with any number of titles and probably would have died as a brand. It would have just been another brand on the platform."

Fukunaga's predictions that "Evangelion" would fade into the Netflix library turned out wrong. If anything, the release created a whole new generation of "Evangelion" fans — I'm one of them.

However, there were controversies. For one, Netflix wasn't willing to license "Fly Me to the Moon" for the end credits, so they were replaced by the piano tune, "Rei I." Netflix also didn't use the ADV dub, instead creating a whole new one with a complete recasting to boot. There were some well-regarded anime veterans among the new cast: Carrie Keranen (as Misato), Johnny Yong Bosch (as Toji), and Ray Chase (as Gendo). Still, Netflix's dub came with plenty of problems.

Netflix redubs

If I were to use one word to compare the Netflix "Evangelion" dub to ADV's, it would be "reserved." The character's moods are more subdued and the actors' line reads less theatrical. This results in less memorable performances. The dialogue is also translated too literally. Many sentences simply don't flow well, which reverberates back on the acting and can make it feel robotic. Most egregious is how the EVA pilots are called "children" even when referred to in the singular. "Kodomo," the Japanese word for "child," can be both singular and plural but that's obviously not the case in English.

Of particular controversy was a change to episode 24. When Kaworu confesses his feelings for Shinji, ADV films translated it as "I love you." Netflix went with "I like you." The Japanese phrase, "Suki tte koto sa," can mean either, but the change earned accusations of queer erasure. It wasn't just the fans: Amanda Winn-Lee raised her objections too. Winn-Lee has also stated the Netflix dub script is the very same one that Greenfield turned down using for the ADV dub.

The problems with the Netflix dub are often laid at the feet of Dan Kanemitsu, Khara's in-house translator. Indeed, he has defended the ambiguity of the Netflix dub's "I like you." Many of these problems would rear their head again when the "Rebuild" dubs were finally completed, but not at Funimation.

Licenses lapse

There was never an explicit announcement that Funimation had lost the rights to dub "Evangelion." Based on their website's "Evangelion" page (which has dubbed clips and Blu-ray trailers) and a recent UK release of the "1.0" and "2.0" Blu-rays, they retain some control over the dubs they did. However, it's plausible Khara was reluctant to work with Funimation again after "3.0." But again, there's been no official word.

In July 2021, shortly after the Japanese release of "Evangelion 3.0 + 1.0" that March, it was announced that Amazon Prime Video would exclusively stream all four "Rebuild" movies. That was pretty much the death knell for fans hoping Funimation would get finish the job. Moreover, similar to how Netflix handled "Neon Genesis," Amazon would go back and re-dub the first three films. Since Funimation does seem to retain some ownership over their "Evangelion" dubs, Amazon would have to license or buy said dubs from Funimation to stream them. Even if they wanted to make that investment, Funimation giving their assets to a competitor for a reasonable price was simply not going to happen.

A silver lining came when it was confirmed that Spike Spencer, Tiffany Grant, Allison Keith-Shipp, John Swasey, and Amanda Winn-Lee (for the first time since 2002) would reprise their roles in the Amazon dub. The supporting cast (barring Felecia Angelle as Sakura Suzuhara), however, would be replaced.

The Amazon dub

Unfortunately, Amazon's dub of the "Rebuild" movies suffers the same issues as the Netflix dub of "Neon Genesis." The dubbed dialogue is often, to its detriment, identical to the subtitled English text.

I'd like to compare the last third of "2.0," in my book the absolute highlight of Funimation's dub. Take Mari's battle with the tenth Angel, Zeruel. Trina Nishimura's battle-ready enthusiasm ("Point blank, s**head!") turns a cool scene into an exhilarating one. Spike Spencer has also never been better as Shinji than when the young pilot tries to save Rei from the Angel. Using a deeper voice than usual, Spencer practically growls his lines and even sounds scary ("I want Rei ... give her back!"). When Shinji's determination threatens to unleash the Third Impact, Ritsuko (Colleen Clinkenbeard) and Maya Ibuki (Caitlin Glass) sound convincingly alarmed, while Misato (Allison Keith-Shipp) is awed.

None of these emotions are present in the Amazon dub, for every line is read without passion. Even Spencer and Keith-Shipp's new line deliveries are inferior, with Shinji's voice trembling like usual when he should be resolved. Ritsuko asking Shinji to stop doesn't sound like a desperate plea, but a casual request. Shirō Sagisu's score barely salvages the dramatics of the moment, but it also makes the understated line deliveries of the Amazon dub stick out all the more. The Funimation dub, on the other hand, works in conjunction with the music to sell the scene's weight.

Which to watch?

In a Facebook comment, Tiffany Grant would blame Kanemitsu for the problems with recent "Evangelion" dubs; not just Amazon but also Netflix and Funimation's dub of the "Rebuilds." Her advice to fans? "Hang on to your [Funimation] DVDs." Unfortunately, Funimation's Blu-rays can only be bought second-hand in the United States. Considering Amazon maintains streaming rights for the "Rebuilds," the (un)availability of Funimation's dub is unlikely to change.

There's also the fact that Funimation's "Rebuild of Evangelion" dub is incomplete and almost certain to stay that way. Now, one could simply watch Funimation's dub of the first three movies and then Amazon's dub for the final. However, the re-castings mean that would come with an adjustment. Brina Palencia and Amanda Winn-Lee, for instance, are both very good as Rei Ayanami, but they don't sound like each other at all (Winn-Lee's Rei voice is much higher-pitched).

Despite four separate companies taking a go, I'd say there still hasn't been a definite "Evangelion" dub. If Funimation had gotten the chance to dub "3.0 + 1.0," though, that honor would've been theirs.