Religion in the Sci-Fi Anime Neon Genesis Evangelion

Science fiction spans many medias, like poems, stories, and movies. They also show up in other formats like video games, comic books, and mangas (mature Japanese comics). There are many science fiction stories that come from the media called anime. One of these mature Japanese created cartoon shows is called Neon Genesis Evangelion. This show deals with an apocalyptic future that involves alien creatures called “Angels”. This is one of the many religious symbols that occur in the anime. Neon Genesis Evangelion has numerous religious symbolisms that make it a fascinating piece of science fiction.

Firstly, we must understand what anime is and than you can begin to know what Neon Genesis Evangelion is. Anime, pronounced (an-NIH-may), is a word created that means Japanese animation. These animations are more mature than American cartoons. Whereas American cartoons are more for children, Japanese animation is aimed at children, young adults, and adults. Some common things about anime that has become their signature are big eyed characters, over exaggerated expressions, big busted female characters, and exotic hair colors to name a few. Early anime drawers would take inspiration from Disney cartoons and Betty Boop. Those characters had big eyes; especially the well endowed Betty Boop that inspired the anime norms even to this present day. American cartoons are usually comedies; anime has comedies, dramas, sports, action, horror, Hentai (anime porn), fantasy, romantic, and of course science fiction genres just to name a very few.

Neon Genesis Evangelion falls underneath the science fiction genre, among others. It has to do with the end of the world. I miserable future in 2000 where mankind’s population has been cut in half in what is called “Second Impact”. It is common knowledge that a meteor hit Antarctica and caused the world to be in turmoil. The real truth is that people caused the catastrophe by coming in contact with an alien called “Adam”. Fifteen years later, in 2015, the world is yet again on the verge of destruction with sightings of alien creatures called “Angels”. If they come in contact yet again with Adam, all life will cease to exist on Earth, which is called “Third Impact”. They come looking for “Adam”, who is supposedly held in captivation in Tokyo-3 in a fortress city created by humans in Japan. It is up to 14-year old Shinji Ikari, with the help of other 14-year old pilots, to save the world from these creatures. He pilots Eva Unit 01, a giant mechanized robot, as he shoulder’s the fate on mankind and fights off “Angels” in the process. During the run of the entire series, Christian religious material is thrown in to add a deeper layer to an already rich and meaningful story.

Let’s start off with the naming of the angels in the series. The first and second angels were called “Adam” and “Lilith”. In the bible, Adam is said to be the very first human that God made. In the anime, he is considered God and Angels and humans want him for their own reason. The main reason in the end is to be with Adam; to be with God as people wish for in real life. Apocryphally, in the Dead Sea Scrolls anyway, Lilith was supposedly Adam’s first wife but left the Garden of Eden when God threw her out for not submitting to Adam’s will. Hefner writes, “While by the Red Sea Lilith became a lover to demons and producing 100 babies a day. The angels said that God would take these demon children away from her unless she returned to Adam. When she did not return, she was punished accordingly.” She is made to seem like a whore and prideful in the Bible and shines some new on Lilith from the NGE (Neon Genesis Evangelion abbreviated). The way the other Angels are attracted to find Lilith almost seemed like they lusted over her. The giant robots that only 14-year olds can pilots are called “Evas”. This makes reference to and sounds a little like “Eve” which, in the bible, was Adam’s first wife and which is made from Adam’s ribs. Technically, Eve was Adam’s second wife according to the Dead Sea Scrolls. Eve was docile and seemed subservient, which gives more meanings to the roles of the Eva’s. The Eva’s pilots can be considered masters over their own Evas and they intern follow what the pilot says, much like Adam and Eve’s relationship. Though the Eva’s would go berserk and do what they wanted sometimes. This ideally is what a relationship should be; to be equal in power over one another.

The angel’s names are taken from angelology, which is a list of angel’s names, meaning, and what they do. There is an angel called Ramiel which is an octahedron floating shape that attacks using high powered laser beams. His name literally means Thunder of God and is the Angel of Thunder. There is another angel called Leliel and is a giant spherical shadow that consumes anything it deems a threat to itself. It name literally means Jaws of God and is the Angel of Shadows. Finally, Gaghiel is a giant fish-like creature with a huge mouth lined with sharp teeth. His name literally means Roaring Beast of God and is the Angel of Fish. The word “Angel” that the aliens are called come from the Bible as well. Angels are creatures with white wings that are from heaven; they help humans and fight off demons. There are instances in the anime where Adam and Eva Unit 1 sprout angel wings but they are followed by some type of destructive act. These angelic creatures are good in the scriptures, mostly, but in the anime they are a menace to human salvation.

The cross plays a prominent role in the Bible and in the anime series. The cross is the symbol of Christian religion. It is two lines that intersect each other together to make the cross. It signifies that Jesus Christ died on the cross to save mankind and absolve their sins. Wearing it around your neck shows that you are of that religion (or think it’s a fashion statement to some). Performing the hand gesture of the cross on yourself is supposed to be done for a prayer or to protect against demonic attack. The cross was also used by the Roman to torture and kill people in the old times. They were placed on the cross with nail driven through the hands and left to die of dehydration, pain, or suffocation. There are many meanings to the cross as seen here. It is a symbol for death and torture but also for salvation and rebirth.

In NGE, it mostly means the bad parts of the cross. For instance, there are two angels in the anime named Sachiel and Zeruel. They have powerful laser attacks that come from their eyes respectively. The weird thing about the attack is that every time it is shot out, it forms the Christian Cross. The destruction to the city and killing of innocent people is all done with a powerful beam that makes the shape of the cross. There are many instances where a shadow or an object will take the shape of the cross in the background. For instance, there is a character named Gendo Ikari, Shinji’s father, and he talks about how he wants Third Impact to happen. While he is talking, the sun setting and pieces of metal in the building make the shape of the cross behind him. It foretells that he is willing to sacrifice humanity for a selfish reason, hence the cross. It is found out that Lilith and not Adam is being held underground in Tokyo-3. Shinji is taken down there by another main character name Misato. She shows Lilith crucified on the cross. Her hand nailed into place while a spear is pierced through her stomach area and she bleeds an ocean of fluid. Actually, the fluid is called LCL and used for the Evas so the pilots can synchronize with the robots. So basically, Lilith might be sacrificed on the cross just for this selfish purpose.

The torture and pain that Christ had when just before he died is still felt today. Open wounds that Jesus Christ suffered on the cross like the bleeding hands that the nails made and the wounds left for wearing the crown of thorns. Even the intense pain that he felt on the cross is felt by some people today. This ailment is called Stigmata and is the pain and marks that people suffer at times from what happen at the Passion of Christ. In NGE, something similar happens to the main character. During the Third Impact, something happens while he is caught in the middle with the end of the world. While in his Eva, he looks down at his hands and sees them start to bleed. He later cries at the sight but I believe that he might have been suffering the pains of Stigmata, both physically and mentally. This paranormal disease can strike anyone and are signs that something other worldly is happening.

After Christ died, there were some that didn’t believe that he was dead. A roman centurion by the name of Gaius Cassius Longinus decided to see if he was dead or not. So he pierced the side of Christ and he did nothing from the blow. Fluid did come out though which was water and blood. The spear is now called the Lance of Longinus, the Holy Lance, and the Spear of Destiny. It has many names but is revered as a holy relic. The lance is proof that he was dead. It’s also valuable because it touched a holy figure, Jesus Christ of Nazareth. It’s a holy relic also because he was dead when he was pierced but later resurrected and became something godly. The spear has been in the hands of major historic figures over the millenniums. The earliest know user of the lance was Attila the Hun who carved a path of destruction that made is empire prosper. The last major person to have the Lance of Longinus, supposedly, was Hitler during World War II. By that time, there were stories that the lance had magical properties. There are stories that the lance can change the fate of the future. Another legend is that the user is granted unrivaled power and defense from bad luck befalling them. The last legend is that it can make an army invincible. The lance has many names, legends, and owners but it still considered priceless to Christianity and hold a significant role in Neon Genesis Evangelion.

In the anime, the Lance of has major roles during the entire run of the series. The Lance of Longinus has an immeasurable power to it. It is considered a weapon to even be able to tame God if needed. The lance is two spiral pieces of metal with a prong shaped piercing head. It is made to look like a chromosome when it is idle. When it is used, it twists itself to become one single edge and can propel itself with little effort. During the anime, the lance was used to attack and destroy an Angel that was in outer space when thrown from the ground. The Lance of Longinus has even the power to pierce AT Fields. AT Fields (Absolute Terror Fields) are invisible shields that protect Eva’s and Angels from conventional weapons like bombs, guns, etc. They dwell within every living creature; even humans. It is later found out that AT Fields are the light of the soul. One character even goes as far as to say it is a sacred territory that no one can enter. The lance can easily pierce the most powerful AT Field and destroys anything with a touch. The lance was found where Adam was first found. The lance also was an integral part in the Second and Third Impact. It was used to pierce Adam and make contact with him, which woke him up. It was used on Lilith to fuse Adam with her and caused Armageddon in the process. The lance is used to control Adam and Lilith, especially Lilith when she was pierced by it on a cross. The spear that I talked about earlier was none other than the Lance of Longinus. The wound where the lance pierced caused Lilith to bleed the ocean of LCL, just as Jesus bled water and blood!

The Dead Sea Scrolls play an important part in real life and in the Neon Genesis Evangelion. The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in a cave by the Dead Sea. These priceless pieces of writings were found hidden in jars. These writings are important because they hold early versions of the bible, new stories concerning Jesus Christ, future premonitions, rules for living, and even lists of buried treasure. The finds are priceless because it gives new information on the Bible and shines some light on things that might have been iffy in the Bible. The Dead Sea Scrolls in NGE were found near Adam when he was found. They list in detail what is going to happen in the future. They foretell the appearances of the Angels and when and where they will show. The even give names of important figures that will help shape the future of the world.

The soul is touched upon in the series as well. The soul is the essence of a person that survives after the husk of the body rots and disappears. Usually, when a person thinks of their own soul, they think of themselves as clear version of their body and with a halo over their head. They can see everything that is happening in the real world but can’t interact with it. If the person was a good person, the soul would ascend to heaven for an afterlife of bliss. If the person committed sins, the person would be sent to hell where the soul would be tortured for all eternity. In Neon Genesis Evangelion, they have their own special roles and appearance. Souls are shown throughout the series as a burning blue flame. A person essence is in it and light radiates from the blue flame. These images come from the minds of the characters. They are capable of speech but nothing else. They can even talk to main characters even though they are dead and just a soul. During the Third Impact, the soul is seen in its true form. When people’s AT Fields are negated by the awaken God, everyone sheds their bodies. The bodies all turn into LCL and the spirit is freed to join God. The soul is shown as a tiny red ball. These red balls are collected like marbles and are absorbed by God. The soul might have different perceptions of what it might look like but it is still very important to each and every one of us.

God is important in religion just as it was important in Neon Genesis Evangelion. People wonder what God is and even if he exists. People that are religious hope that he is there and pray to him. They pray for guidance, good fortune, worries that need to be told, and etc. God is the one true being. It is the creator of everything and no one is higher than God. God is the major subject of the Bible as it tells stories of his/her benevolence and vengeance. People tend to want to be close to God; to be filled with joy and love in his presence. Neon Genesis Evangelion is no different than in real life but adds some new twists. God is sought after by some people for their own reasons. Some people want to destroy the whole world just to be one with God. Gendo Ikari, Shinji’s father, wants to be God. It all started when Gendo lost his wife. After her death, he lusted to try to find a way to reunite with her. His plan is to fuse himself with Lilith using Adam, turned into an embryo of his former massive size, to turn into the new God. His plans backfire as it is when people try to be God. People made the Eva series of robots in the vision of God. Since Second Impact when they woke Adam, they wanted to harness the power Adam generated when he was awakened. The Eva robots were made from the DNA of Adam and Lilith to destroy the Angels, which is killing its own kind. When God is awaken in its new form during the Third Impact, it is nothing less that an amazing sight. God turns itself into a giant sized young, nude female girl; one of the girl pilots of another Eva to be exact. Her name is Rei and her body is a terrifyingly bright white color. Her body can be seen from outer space; it is seen towering over the Earth. Apocalypse is now set as the last thing absorbed into God is Shinji and his Eva Unit 1. He is given the choice of continuing the process of Armageddon or stopping it. Basically gaining the power of God and he momentarily is God. He end up choosing to reject being with God and it is halted. In the end of the series Shinji is with another love interest named Asuka, another pilot of an Eva. They are the only two left and basically mirror being the new Adam and Eve except they are not in Eden but a ravaged Earth.

In conclusion, Neon Genesis Evangelion is one fantastic piece of Science Fiction. It has a rich story, memorable casts full of flaws, alien creatures, questions about the soul, and who and what is God. The religious material is messed flawlessly with the story. It gives religion and the bible a nice coat of paint that makes it lovely and reinvigorating. It makes the series be known as the greatest anime ever. It also makes people want to read more about the Bible and learn more about their own religion. All in all, Neon Genesis Evanglion and it’s religious overtones make it a memorable entry into science fiction.

Annotated Bibliography

Bible Probe. “Search for the Real Holy Lance” 2002-2008

Encyclopedia Britannica. “Cross” 2008

Hefner, Alan G. “Lilith” 2004

Knight, Kevin. “Mystical Stigmata” 2008

Sanchez, Frank. “Neon Genesis Evangelion Library” 1997-2002

University of Michigan Japanese Animation Group. “What is Anime” 2001

West Semitic Research Project. “Dead Sea Scrolls” 2000-2008

Wikipedia. “Angel (Neon Genesis Evangelion)” 2008

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Comments 5 comments

She Boy 7 years ago

I remember whe i had seen this anime at first time. I was really exciting!!!

EvaFan 7 years ago

Yeas i agree with you man. This Anime is really great.

Marcos T 6 years ago

You have made a very interesting analysis from the religious symbolism perspective. However, I think there is yet another perspective that may enlighten NGE more: Freudian and Lacanian Psychoanalytical theories. For those who are interested, here you can read a very interesting essay by a former law student of Harvard University

Marcos T 6 years ago

By the way, EternalSin, it seems you made a very profound research before writing this. Congratulations on your work :D

Barry 4 years ago

Although I dislike religion and religious beliefs in general this is a great anime.

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