Lost in Translation: The strange case of Evangelion’s italian translation and Gualtiero Cannarsi

(*Note: this article on Cannarsi was written some time ago, little after the re-relase of Evangelion. Some things may have changed by then)

Netflix re-relased the fan-favourite classic Neon Genesis Evangelion, along with new translation and dub due to legal reason. Shortly after, the internet raged over a translation of a single word: during a dialogue between Shinji and Kaoru, the later tell to Shinji he likes him, while in the old translation he stated he loved him.

The affected line

The Japanese term (好き) can be actually used for both, but it sure toned down the homoerotic tension between the two. If you think that was bad (and sure the fan thought so), you saw nothing: in Italy, the translation of Evangelion was so insane that Netflix had to shut it down and made a public apology: but how was that possible? And who was the mastermind behind this? Bear with me, because what you are about to read is kind of insane, and Evangelion is just the tip of the iceberg

Profanities, beasts and the monster between

May 8th 2014, Italy. The evening lights still linger in the sky, a sign of the impending summer. The air is full of hope as I am heading towards the cinema. The moment is historic: it is the return of Hayao Miyazaki in large national distribution. Princess Mononoke had already been released in 2000 but, following the success and artistic recognition of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, his works return with a new edition, as Lucky Red is distributing the film in theaters with a new translation and dub.

I sit in the seats in the center of the hall and relax, but after a few minutes I sense that something is wrong. Or at least that don’t understand: the dialogues of the characters that come to my ears are almost devoid of any meaning. Archaic words, grammatical constructs taken literally from Japanese … I struggle to follow, but keep watching anyway.

After a few minutes, the whole room bursts out laughing.

Then again, and again, and again. It’s madness

Mononoke hime is a dramatic movie, why on earth should everyone laugh?

It’s very simple. The “translator” translated “shishigami” (シシガミ) as “Dio Bestia”.
A “bestemmia“, a blasphemy

The blasphemies in Italy

Blasphemy in Italy is much more than profanity. It is a linguistic construct so vulgar, strong and rooted in Italian culture that just a mention of one cause the immediate expulsion and cancellation from public TV (well, except for some exceptional cases…)

In some regions, the use of blasphemy is common and used as an interlayer by, especially in people common perception, lower social classes, like farmers and workers, thus assuming an almost comic connotation.

Hearing one pronounced on the big screen, spoken by the protagonists of one of Miyazaki’s most beautiful films, is not only grotesque, but also comical and ridiculous. Not necessarily a translator or adapter, but any other person would have noticed that it was not the case to translate the term so literally: in the previous translation, in fact, “god” was rendered as “spirit”, as the Japanese kami it does not have the same divine connotations and significance compared to the Western culture. And the nice thing is that, as we will see later, even ignoring the blasphemy factor this “translation” is also wrong grammatically and contextualy.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg

Google translate in action

The dialogues continue, but each time I have to ask myself what the characters are really saying. Is it really Italian what they speak? Old and disused terms. Phrases with senseless grammar. Terms of doubtful use . A normal person can hardly follow the film without turning up his nose. But in 2014 I had already graduated in Japanese, and I realized a horrible trend: all forms and terms are literal transliterations from Japanese.

image that precede unfortunate events

Japanese grammar is very different from Italian, starting from the basic sentence structure (SVO versus SOV). It has forms, suffixes and meanings absent in the Italian language, that is on the contrary very specific. When translating and adapting a text, you must conform form and content to the target language: this is one of the bases of translation and adaptation. The translator seems to ignore all this, using forms and contents of dubious understanding. A first-year student of Japanese would have done better.

And Mononoke Hime is not the only work affected: all the works of Studio Ghibli, released in cinemas and in home video, have been affected by a similar fate, to the point of generating entire online pages dedicated only to laugh (or cry) at those translations.

But how can such a situation exist? And who is the monster behind these works?

The Man behind the Horror

Before we talk on the Evangelion translation itself, we need to understand who was the man behind it: Gualtiero Cannarsi.

To understand how this man works, the quality of his works and the way of thinking I will refer heavily to the series of articles in Italian “Gualtiero Cannarsi: nel di lui caso“. A study on the subject going into detail that I invite everyone to read, even if with Google translate. Really, even if you can’t read it, give it a few clicks, because there is no better reading on the subject.

Better known as Shito, he hung out in various online forums, giving proof of pseudo-translations and comments in which his style was already evident. But beyond his passions as the NeoGeo, Shito is best known as a fan of Miyazaki and the Ghibli studio. He was known for having collaborated with Italian publishers for the edition of Evangelion as a “specialist”, working on the extra booklet that came on the DVD and lending a help for the adaptation, along with others. There is no doubt that Cannarsi is a fan of Japanese animation, and is knowledgeable in the works he’s involved, but his professional profile is empty: neither studies, nor a single proof but an attempt the Faculty of Laws, unfinished. Other than that there is not, and I repeat, not a single proof of any competence or studies on either Japanese language or translation/localization in general.

One day, Studio Ghibli online fan’s forum, a letter is written to the distributor Lucky Red, signed by 46 people, asking to integrate our man into the adaptation team. Not only there was a positive reply from the company, but it was confirmed that Cannarsi will replace a professional figure already at work, and will be able to use whoever he wishes for the translation.

How is it possible? How can a letter signed from less than 50 people on a open fan forum can decide a professional figure without any restrictions for the most prominent Japanese animation movies in the world (especially after it had achieved media success with the victory of the Golden Lion)? A man who, let us remember, has no experience or minimal competence, theoretical or practical, linguistic, on adaptation and translation?

One could speak of the obsolete mentality of Italian companies, of their radicated nepotism, or other unfortunately valid theories. It does not matter. What matters is the result: a person with no experience or knowledge, practical or theoretical, of translation and adaptation has had carte blanche to work on all the works of Studio Ghibli at a national level. With devastating results

Translation method and ego problems

Cannarsi has a method of translation and adaptation, but as we will see it is incorrect and wrong, which contradicts itself continuously. In addition, we will also see how he defends himself and talk about his gigantic and ego of him. Once again, mine is just an hint of the complete analisys you can find on Mondo Fumetto, and which I invite you to read (google translate permitting) case-method /

Cannarsi, during numerous interviews, affirms that the cardinal values of adaptation are absolute fidelity to the original and objectivity. To every question that is posed to him, Cannarsi answers with long ruminations, often misleading the question itself and filling it with quotations from Voltaire or in Latin.

His method is based on two points: it is a pity that he does not respect neither of them. There is no fidelity with the original, since the syntax in the same sentences change randomly; there is no “objectivity”, not only because an objective adaptation cannot exist, but because Cannarsi himself repeatedly claims to be based on purely subjective methods and on purely his own ruminations. He translates crude sentences with courtly terms (the particle ~ ぞ is not an opinion) basing on “historical” arguments, which are then completely false and out of context; he translates sentences with a literal method, justifying himself on allegedly hidden meanings that are not there and based on his very personal and subjective vision of things. The result of this is that Cannarsi does not understand the meaning or the basics of even simple constructs such as “Ohayou Gozaimasu” or “Meshi Agare”, adapting them by instinct using as a basis very personal opinions on the characters and their context. There is no real professional method, because Cannarsi is not a professional. He doesn’t know Japanese, he doesn’t know Italian and he doesn’t know translation or adaptation. He does know a lot of the original work he’s working on, but that’s not the correct basic for a professional work.

The defense of Cannarsi, when cornered, is always the same: closing in his positions or discrediting those who criticize him. After all, he is, by his own definition, the only one who is faithful to the translation, not like those incompetents who worked for 30 years before him!

THIS is the right way to translate something

A huge ego problem, present in his speeches and in the method of approach, that is certainly not new. The fake knowledge of Japanese; the subjective opinions; the aulic speeches to seem right when he actually said nothing: all those were elements already present in his past. From discussions on Michelangelo and the backgrounds of The King of Fighters, arriving to justifying pedophilia and subjugating women as existing for their man, there is no shortage of illustrious examples of his ego and dubioutios morality. How can we not forget when he created a fake profile on Wikipedia to modify his own dedicated page and fill it with honors (including “the greatest Italian expert in Neogeo” for having many games at home), only to be immediately caught due to the writing style?

This didn’t seem to matter to Lucky Red, the Ghibli’s works publisher in Italy. By now, after all, the dialogues of difficult understanding and the courtly, obsolete style used by the characters of those movies was associated to the works of Miyazaki himself rather than to a work of adaptation done by Cannarsi. On the opposite: the “Cannarsi” method has received praise by crowd of fans, supported by the author’s pseudo-intellectual attitude.

Then, Evangelion came

The Evangelion case and the light at the end of the tunnel

Evangelion returned on Netflix. In almost all cases, the edition got a new dubbing and a new adaptation all around the world: it cost much less for the US giant to remake them rather than to buy the rights from the current publishers

Rumors were running on the presence or absence of the Supreme (as Cannarsi is sometimes called) in the serie, but until the last time the fans were hoping they were just rumors. Then, the first episode aired, viewers eagerly awaiting it after all these years.

And then, the first character opens his mouth.

“But as for you, as much as what can only do you, there should be something you can do for you”. And it’s even worse in italian

From meme frases like “no recalcitrance” to dialogues so messed up no one can still understand what they mean, the adaptation were a mess, su much that even the dubbers couldnt understand the dialogues and almost refused to workin order not to lose credibility.

But this time, it didn’t went unnoticed.

This time the fans reacted.

Evangelion was a serie deeply rooted in nerd culture. It was even aired on MTV in Italy back in the day, in addition to being a pillar of japanese animation. That means that a lot of people 20 to 30yo were very exited to see it again, and boy they was disappointed. And, most importantly, they started making noise. A LOT of noise. And people strated noticing, in minutes. Netflix was flooded with critics and hate letter asking to remove the infamy that is the new dub, asking why such a work were even approved. The noise and the people involved were so many that even the national press took notice (Corriere della Sera, La Stampa, Repubblica), while the dubber themselves stated that their critics were silenced. Cannarsi, on the other hands, defended himself as usual stating that it’s the listener’s job to understand his translation, and if you don’t you are just too stupid. After some ridiculous internet debates in different channels and with net personalities (both without any knowledge of translations or adaptions, and by so creating a distruptive confrontation on both sides), Netflix had to do something. It apologized for the new translation and dub, and put it down, promising to redo it. And it did

The nerds won

But did they?


Yes, Netflix redid the dub, but Cannarsi is still where he was before. Distributors Lucky Red keeps using him for all Ghibli production, as well as a lot of other companies. The single case has been fixed, but his “professionality” has not. He’s still where he was, closed in his bubble and with his little army of fans. His presence is not nocive because of the person, there are a lot of incompetent people around the world, but because it set an example, a precedent, something that was normalized. He’s not the issue as a person, but the fact that he can keep working like he does it indeed is. And until he’s been called publicly, and cast out from his make-up fake throne, his works will keep being a problem, killing not only all the work he is involved, but also the work of all the other, aspiring and not, professionals.

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