Undoubtedly the first work of animation that comes to mind when referring to the Apocalypse and the End of the World is Neon Genesis Evangelion. Hideaki Anno created through his series and the subsequent movies a vision of the Apocalypse and an analysis of the events at global and personal level that is staggering in its complexity, detail and symbolism, as well as characters and design.
Neon Genesis Evangelion reaches out to many complex themes, from alienated childhoods to the hardships of growing up, but maybe the most prolific of them all is the one of the Apocalypse and its role in the evolution of the human species.
Right from its opening sequence, the 26-episode TV series hints at the apocalyptic view of the World that director and writer Hideaki Anno had in mind. A cataclysmic event has occurred at the beginning of the new Millennium and, similar to the various prophetic depictions, almost the whole world is destroyed and much of the population killed. Yet the series does not focus on this single catastrophic event but is dispersed, analyzing the Apocalypse at various levels. There is another cataclysm, one that mirrors the global event, at individual and interpersonal level. Shinji Ikari, the messianic hero, is meant to make a choice between the difficult acceptance of his predetermined destiny and the easiness of a withdrawn self-interest. The vision of Hideaki Anno also encompasses the dualistic nature of the Apocalypse: by means of destruction, death and chaos, rebirth and renewal is facilitated. The Apocalypse is not the actual End but a mechanism of purification, a cyclical event that allows souls to be redeemed.
In the late 1990s, three of the world’s genius scientists commence their work on a project under the directive of SEELE, a secret organization operating based on the predictions contained in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Their task is to implement the Human Instrumentality Project, a project that is meant to evolve the humans by relinquishing of their physical form and allowing them to reach a state of divine. On the 13th of September 2000 in the Antarctica takes place a cataclysmic event that melts the polar caps and causes the Earth to shift its axis. This event is triggered by the discovery of the First Angel, Adam. The event is called the Second Impact, the First Impact being believed to have happened over 4 billion years ago and to have been so massive that a chunk of Earth was thrown into space creating the Moon.
According to Wikipedia, Apocalypse is a term applied to the disclosure to certain privileged persons of something hidden from the majority of humankind. Today, the term symbolizes the End of the World, but in fact has the meaning of The End of an Age. Coming from Greek, the term literally means “Lifting of the Veil” or “Revelation”.
In order to protect humanity from further encounters with Angels, NERV is established under the command of Ikari Gendou and is placed in the Geo-Front, a city located in a artificially crafted circular cavity under the Earth’s crust. Above it, the ‘decoy’ city of Neo-Tokyo is build. Also, staying true to the dual nature of the Apocalypse, the Second Impact did not have only a destructive aspect. At the time of the impact a number of special children are born. These children have the unique ability to synchronize their brains with the gigantic EVA units, huge humanoid cyborgs created to battle the angelic threat.
All these events set the stage on which the staggering vision of Neon Genesis Evangelion unravels. Saving spoilers and skipping to the end, the series has two endings. One is represented by the two final episodes of the series, which focus on the deconstruction and reconstruction of the self of Shinji Ikari, one of the children piloting the EVA units. But the most impressive ending in terms of both of symbolism and visuals is achieved by the movie The End of Evangelion. The series presents the Apocalypse as a new beginning. There is no absolute End but rather an apocalyptic turn. We witness the death of the human race but also its rebirth into a world made new as beings that are immortal, freed from the prison of their physical form. There are no more biological or psychological constraints that keep us from reaching a state of bliss.
At the time of the impact a number of special children are born. These children have the unique ability to synchronize their brains with the gigantic EVA units, huge humanoid cyborgs created to battle the angelic threat.
The duality is once again present throughout the entire sequence of the Apocalypse, as well as in visuals and in the soundtrack. The world is being engulfed by light and we can see how every soul becomes a cross of light. You can also hear the screams of the people but they are not screams of despair or agony but rather of relief and happiness. The moment which we all feared because of the limitations of our physical form has come and we now realize that it is actually a natural step in our evolution towards a more pure being. The music also is happy and joyful, although the lyrics are quite sad. The lyrics “It all comes tumbling down” are sung in happy tune. The moment has come when humans have lost everything, not in terms of personal possessions but in terms of their physical form, their constraints, everything that binds them to this Earth. They now are truly free to evolve. Yet their memories, symbolizing the “self” remain and are carried on to the new state (“I know we can’t forget the past”).
The whole series contains references to sacred prophetic texts of various cultures such as Christian (The Old and New Testaments), Persian (Zoroaster), Jewish (Kabala) and Gnostic (Apocrypha). Here are some examples of some the symbols present in the series. The SEELE (German world for “soul”) logo is an inverted triangle with seven eyes. This symbol appears in various locations throughout the series, the most noteworthy being on the mask that is shielding the face of the Angel imprisoned at NERV, Adam, at Terminal Dogma. This symbol refers to the Lamb of God, from Christian texts, representing Christ, which appears in the Book of Revelation as a seven-eyed divinity. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the deity Yahweh also has seven eyes. Adam has a spear impaled in his chest making reference to the Spear of Longinus, the roman soldier who impaled Jesus Christ after being crucified and later converted to Christianity. The appearance of the angel itself, crucified, is deeply disturbing, but also strangely divine, inspiring both fear and awe.
We later are informed that this angel is actually Lilith, the first wife of Adam, the prototype of humanity. According to the Hebrew Scriptures, Lilith is the wife of Adam, before Eva, and was created out of filth and mud, unlike Adam, from dust. She later abandons Adam because of his carnal form and chooses the demons, creating the ‘Lilim’. At some point in the series, one of the Angels, Kaworu, refers to Shinji Ikari as a ‘Lilim’ hinting at the beliefs of the angels and reasons of their attacks. The humans, with their physical form, are corrupted, mortal and considered to be the offspring of the fallen Lilith.
Another iconic appearance in the series is the one of the “Systema Sephirotica” from the Jewish Kabala. This is a representation of the Tree Of Life which indicates a pathway from the material, physical realm to the spiritual, non-physical realm. This all may seem strange, especially coming from a Japanese mass culture product.
Yet, the history of Japanese post-war anime and manga are linked to the cataclysmic events of the past. The two atomic bombs dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 brought a catastrophic conclusion of the Pacific War, and their devastating effects have created recurring motifs in all of Japan’s visual arts from then until the present day. Japan witnessed a new rebirth through rapid modernization, industrialization, accelerated development in technology, all of which having contributed to the rise of the anime and manga culture.
In the end, the work of Hideaki Anno is actually a postmodern retelling of the myth of Genesis, as implied by the title itself. The myth is complete with its own cataclysm, struggle for survival, apocalypse and transcendence. Neon Genesis Evangelion manages to encompass the vision of major apocalyptic writings of the transformation of society from an unavoidable demise to a state of bliss.
Article by Mădălin Găgeanu published in Otaku: End of the world (2009)