Another reason “Evangelion” has so many different interpretations is the way it’s spread around the world. Many who watch it have to rely on subtitles to understand its Japanese dialogue or just watch it dubbed. Anime dubs are rarely accurate translations of the originals, as Japanese puns or cultural contexts cannot always be transferred to English. How you interpret “Evangelion” will depend on which version you’re watching.
Some have even argued that the ending of Episode 26 isn’t upbeat, but insidiously depicts Shinji coming to terms with instrumentality. This follows of English dub dialogue using the phrase “this world ain’t so bad”, “this world” potentially meaning either physical reality or the lower realm of joined souls. The Japanese had the clearest, “Genjitsu Sekai”, meaning “the real world”. The dub ended up being even more ambiguous than the original.
One final layer of complication: there are two English dubs of “Neon Genesis Evangelion” (let’s not even get into the “Rebuild” movies). The series was first dubbed by ADV Films from 1996 to 1998. In 2019 when Netflix acquired the distribution rights, they dubbed the series with a different cast and storyline. The Netflix dub translates more literally, which caused controversy among longtime fans when the translations conflicted with their accepted interpretations.
In particular, there is the character of Kaworu. In episode 24, he affectionately says to Shinji, “Suki tte koto sa.” ADV Films translated this as “I love you”, while Netflix opted for the more ambiguous “I love you”. Sometimes leaving too much room for interpretation robs a moment of its power.
Translating a story is always a matter of judgment, as many languages just don’t sync. Thus, it is important to remember that translators are not always the arbiter. Their interpretation can be one of many.