Authors Note: Kamen Rider Ex-Aid is taking a break, since its typical time-slot is preempted by a golf tournament this weekend. But we here at Capes and Cool Scarves Inc. strive to consistently bring you quality even if Toei is slacking. So in the typical recap’s place, this is part two of my four-part series on Ultraman Nexus. If you haven’t read it already, check out the first part here:
We’ll be back to our regular schedule next week, same Ex-Aid time, same Ex-Aid channel!
I advertise myself as a science teacher with a background in Biology, because those elements of my expertise tend to be more relevant when discussing superhero shenanigans. Doing weekly recaps of a show literally about computer viruses becoming real viruses that try to take over the world, I find myself discussing Immunology and Genetics more prominently, in general.
But something that doesn’t come up as often is my second degree – okay fine, it’s actually a minor – in Religious Studies. Going to Catholic school for twelve years then spending about another five years studying Judeo-Christian tradition and comparisons to Eastern mysticism and religions tends to leave an impact. I drew on some of this knowledge when writing about Agito, because that series hits some pretty deep cuts into Gnosticism, but I discovered some other neat parallels with religious tradition when watching through this second arc of Ultraman Nexus. More specifically, the tradition of Apocalyptic literature.
Everyone’s heard of the Apocalypse, I assume. Fire and brimstone, the end of days, meteors crashing into Earth, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria, etc etc. But while we typically only associate it with the book of Revelation in Biblical canon, there’s a much wider tradition of Apocalypses – yes, plural – some of which are canonical in mainline Christianity, some of which aren’t. There are a few elements that tie these narratives together into a single genre of religious literature that scholars recognize.
What also may be surprising to some readers is the fact that, while we tend to associate “apocalypse” with great disaster and tragedy, the genre is intended to be hopeful. Apocalypses were written in times of great strife and upheaval – the Babylonian Exile, the Diaspora, Roman persecution of the early Church – and such stories were meant to show how their current struggles were the result of greater cosmic forces. In reflecting the conflict of metaphysical Good vs. Evil in our own world, it was meant to provide hope that evil would be vanquished and those who fight for the side of Good would triumph in the end.
In fact, the word “Apocalypse” itself means “revealing” or “unveiling”. It derives from the Greek apo kalypsis which literally translates to “uncovering”. In this case, uncovering the pattern of this continued battle throughout history and into the contemporary battles that the faithful themselves participate in.
In order to illustrate this model of the universe and be considered an “Apocalypse” in the same genre by scholars, the story generally has to present most of the following elements:
- Urgent expectation of the end – things are coming to a head, and fast. This could happen any day now.
- Cosmic catastrophe – the urgent end will result in some sort of obvious, destructive event
- Deterministic – the end has been decided in advance and nothing will prevent or change it
- Dualistic and Exclusivist – there are good and evil forces at work, and only the ones on the side of “good” will be victorious
- Hidden Knowledge – the story uses cryptic language and symbolism, usually communicated by visions, to convey this message of the end
- Angels and Demons – spiritual forces actively at work in the physical, material world
- Expectation of the “Kingdom of God” – the coming world will be a better, more perfect one than its current state
- Ultimate Mediator – the presence of one responsible for judging who will be saved and enter the new world, and who will not.
Now, obviously since this isn’t specifically a religious work, it’s missing quite a few of these elements. But many of them are still incorporated, either explicitly or indirectly with the progression of the plot through this segment of Nexus.
Before I get into the nitty-gritty though, let’s do a brief recap of the major players, following the climax of the first story arc:
Komon has lost Riko, his one grounding anchor to direct his motivation as a member of the Night Raiders. Now without that guide to keep him focused on his ideals, he finds himself lost and struggling to continue living his life, let alone how to work as a Night Raider with the rest of the team.
Nagi is still harsh, but begins to empathize more with Komon following his loss. In his loss, she sees a reflection of her own motivation, her childhood trauma, that defines her role on the team. She also fears for Komon because she intimately knows that trauma of having her ordinary life ripped away by these beasts. Instead of just berating him for weakness, she begins to try and guide him, in order to give him renewed purpose.
The other characters are more or less the same as before. Shiori and Ishibori still remain background elements of the team, and ill-developed with that lack of focus from the plot. Wakura’s conflicts between his own idealism and his duties as the Captain become a bit more of a concern as this arc continues. (It doesn’t really become an important point until past the mid-season though.)
And then there’s Jun Himeya. He’s still Jun – questioning the purpose of his power, but still driven to use it to protect others regardless. We’ve heard bits of his backstory, but since he bears one of the two dualistic, supernatural forces at play in this Apocalypse, that history becomes a more central part of the story at this point.
The major conflict that opens this section, to set the stage immediately following Riko’s death, is Komon trying to deal with the tragedy. Seeking direction, he comes to the zoo again. Riko of course is no longer with him. but he does meet a family with a daughter coincidentally named Riko. This encounter simultaneously brings him the same return to reality that she provided, but also a reminder of the kind of happy, normal life he can’t live within any longer, with the knowledge and experiences he now has.
At the same time, Nagi is worried about Komon’s directionless time off, because she fears that Mizorogi may show up to try and tempt him the same way he did with her. So SURPRISE, GUESS WHAT HAPPENS.
(Something I learned in between writing my last Nexus article and this one, the actor that plays Mizorogi here in Nexus also is currently playing Shido, the leader of the Extermination Squad in Kamen Rider Amazons. It makes watching Season 2 incredibly weird)
Mizorogi shows up to offer Komon a deal with the devil – quite literally. He can give Komon that illusion of a happy life with Riko back, if he lets his guilt and despair over her death overwhelm him.
You think I’m joking about a literal deal with the devil?
But what cuts through the fear and despair that Mizorogi uses to entrap Komon again is the light of Ultraman itself. Much like the first arc of this series, this is all about Komon and the other characters learning to overcome the darkness they find themselves surrounded by. That is, darkness created by Mizorogi’s manipulations, and the despair and hatred stoked by that manipulation. The light that Ultraman provides serves both a literal way of destroying despair as a physical force to counter Mizorogi/Mephisto’s power, and metaphorically as an example for others to follow to inspire hope.
This little interlude provides a microcosm, an encapsulation of the major elements that I’m going to touch on in this article. We have the dualistic battle of Good vs. Evil. We see how it reaches out to influence and affect the characters of the story, and how their fight parallels the metaphysical struggle between that Light and Darkness. Both the Light and the Darkness seek to reveal the true workings of the world to the characters, to cast themselves as the ultimate and pre-determined victor in this struggle, but in the end the Light overcomes its opposite, providing hope to the other characters.
Sounds simple on paper, right? But you wouldn’t expect a climactic battle between the ultimate forces of Good and Evil to be easily won, would you?
As I said earlier, Nexus doesn’t hit all of the elements of a Apocalyptic narrative, but it does strike some of the most important facets of the genre. Specifically, numbers three through six in the list I made above, with some elements of numbers one and two, even if the threats are largely confined just to a small region in Japan.
This story arc echoes a lot of themes established in the first twelve episodes, but the expansion into a wider supernatural conflict between good and evil forces is what makes it unique, as I’ll explain:
Duality of good vs. evil
Darkness vs. light, savior vs. Satan, hope vs. despair. The amount of dualistic imagery in this series could fill several articles on its own. Really, this is true of the imagery in Ultra series in general, considering how literally they tend to play these major themes. But more importantly than just having these terms being thrown around, we also see the more central element of Apocalypse stories incorporated into it – and that’s how the supernatural struggle between Good and Evil is played out by characters themselves on a physical level, struggling with choosing better ideals over “darker” temptations.
The most explicit portrayal of this struggle is in relation to Shinya Mizorogi, of course being our stand-in for Satan. At this part of the series, we start getting more backstory for Mizorogi, his former place on the team and relation to Nagi. Before his fall from grace, he was considered to be the best at fighting and the other members of the Night Raiders highly valued his skill. But in Nagi’s flashbacks, we see the source of his own motivation, what drives him to be such a strong soldier in the first place.
Contrast this with Jun, who was willing to throw away his life to protect others, and lost his perception of the value of that life when he felt that he failed in his mission. One prizes his life above all others, one prizes all other lives above his own.
That fear of death and desire to protect his own existence above everything else is what attracts Mephisto to him, in the same way that Nexus sought out Jun because of his desire to protect others.
He sees the truth of the universe as survival of the fittest, he gathers strength because he feels that survival and domination of others is the most important end in life.
But at the same time, if he’s so focused on only survival, why does he constantly seek to convert Nagi to his side? Why does he want to show off that power instead of simply crushing her?
Well, obviously he’s lonely.
He claims that he simply wants survival, and to prove his existence as more valuable than others through sheer strength, but at the same time he was willing to sacrifice himself to protect Nagi in the mission immediately before he became Mephisto. There’s a contradiction here, a sign that the evil power he possesses is not his actual nature.
Apocalyptic stories deal in absolutes in the sense that all struggles in the universe can be traced to a larger narrative of good forces vs. evil forces (either you’re with us or against us). Mizorogi here is sway to the evil forces, but the show does begin to illustrate that he’s not intrinsically evil, merely too weak to resist this temptation of power.
We can think of the first arc of the series as dealing with Komon’s initiation rites into the mysteries that underlie the setting and its conflicts. His entry into the Night Raiders, and learning how to adjust his expectations and motivations in order to continue fighting is the central focus of that story.
Those mysteries start to deepen during this arc of Nexus, but the focus shifts slightly away from Komon. Instead, we begin to see others stumbling upon the truth as well. All of these individuals find themselves seeking the truth of strange events going on in Japan, by following the tracks of Himeya, the star photojournalist who mysteriously disappeared.
In Apocalypse stories, there usually is a guide of some sort, an angel or another prophet or messenger that visits an individual and leads them to observe the workings of the universe. In this case, Jun serves that purpose unwittingly, but what attracts others to him – his light – is also what led Nexus to him in the first place. That is, his own drive to uncover the truth and use it to help others.
We see it in a seedy investigative journalist trying to make a big scoop, Jun’s former co-worker and editor who is worried for him (and obviously more than a little in love with him), an amateur trying to make it big who looks up to him as a role model and ideal. And then finally the TLT itself, which captures Jun to experiment on to find the source of the light that allows him to become Ultraman.
Remember, in the first arc of the series, Komon discovers the truth of the universe, not that it’s cold, harsh and brutal, but that relationships between others and the ideals that they share can overcome that darkness and save others. As more characters stumble onto the existence of these awful, destructive secrets, they also find themselves guided by the same light that Komon discovered. In this way, we have a bit of a paradox, it’s both Jun’s own personal example, but also the light he bears as Nexus that draws others to him. The two are one in the same – as above, so below.
This symbology is made even more obvious in the final fight.
SPEAKING OF FINAL FIGHTS….
The most obvious element of Apocalypse stories that everyone recognizes is the occurrence of a final showdown between good and evil that takes place to decide the fate of the universe – where the forces of good and the forces of evil assemble to do battle. In these narratives, such a battle happens in a predetermined fashion, and this is where the Apocalypse allusions get REALLY obvious as Mizorogi intentionally sets up the battlefield where they will meet.
While this article was intended to look at Apocalyptic literature in general, Mizorogi is wholesale ripping off Biblical canon in setting his trap. First of all, we see a special battlefield set aside for this time – in the Bible this is “the plains of Megido”, and the word for it becomes our modern term “Armageddon”. In this case, it’s termed “The Land of the Dead”.
We also have an explicit reference to “seven seals”. This is a direct allusion to the book of Revelation, where each of the seals represented a new disaster that would strike the Earth. When all of them are broken, they will establish the end of the current age and the beginning of the new one.
And of course to make it even more obvious what they’re alluding to, look at what the computer program is called in the upper-left hand corner there w-
Wait a second there is no “s” at the end of Revelation you amateurs! John only had one of them you could’ve at least called it th- er sorry, personal pet peeve of mine right there.
Anyways, it’s in this final fight that Jun and the others become aware of the nature of the “light” that he received.
Remember what I said about these revelations coming from a supernatural source or guide? In this case, even though Jun is the light that others have followed, the light itself has a will and speaks to him through Sera, the orphan whose death drove him to abandon his career in the first place.
And yes I’m posting screencaps for the whole conversation because this is one of the most powerful moments in the whole series and a reason why I highly recommend watching this show for yourself.
This revelation comes at the point of his own death though, as Jun has pushed himself and endured so much damage and pain while fighting as Ultraman that his body literally can’t handle the transformation anymore. This fight is his last, and both he and Mizorogi know it.
So we have the final showdown between Good vs. Evil, predetermined in order to give Evil a crushing victory over the forces of light and goodness. Unfortunately, as you may have discovered in reading all of my articles, the fact that the heroes fight for their positive ideals, that recognize the value of others and affirms that goodness, means that they attract allies that then add to their strength. The villain always fights alone.
Or as Nexus summarizes it, “The light is the bond” .
Get used to hearing that a lot.
Thus it takes the bond of the entire Night Raiders squad working together with Jun in order to defeat Mizorogi once and for all.
The light is the ability to see the worthiness in other human beings, that’s what creates those bonds in the first place. By taking his photos Jun was giving light – revealing – the humanity in others that would otherwise be unknown or forgotten. Now he also fights to protect that existence, and the light that other characters have followed also drives them to fight alongside him. This is further symbolized by the way that the Night Raiders help him fight – they reflect his own light to give him enough power to overcome Mephisto.
Ultimately, as I said, the purpose of Apocalypse stories is to inspire hope, to show that current struggles are not permanent and are not the true state of the world. To give assurance that good will eventually overcome the present evil.
That’s almost always the main theme of Ultraman stories as well – despite overwhelming odds and the tremendous destructive power that evil holds, the light will always be strong enough to defeat it. In fact, as I noted in Mebius, the power of that “light” is usually the direct manifestation of the good ideals that the heroes fight for in the first place. Komon’s love for Riko allowed her to break her brainwashing as Faust, and the team’s faith in Nexus and each other here is enough to let them fight alongside him to defeat Mephisto.
Even though it results in Jun’s death – yes death, I was shocked that they didn’t back down from that – the final victory of Good over Evil is brought about because-
Oh wait, did you really think this was the final battle?
Of course not, we’re only halfway through the series! We haven’t even gotten close to uncovering the real mysteries of Nexus. In fact, I’ve left a lot of foreshadowing for those mysteries out of this article because those hints are’t delivered on until later on.
Throughout this whole section of the series, there’s a lot of symbolism related to Apocalypse stories, and as we see in the build-up to the showdown between Nexus and Mephisto, a lot of that imagery is intentional on Mizorogi’s part. He’s repeatedly manipulated monster attacks and other events during the series up to this point to provoke the other characters and precipitate their slide into darkness. He sees this conflict as a way to create the ultimate despair – taking an event that should be the triumph of good over evil and using it to crush that light utterly.
But Apocalypse narratives are not just about destruction and calamity as I’ve mentioned, they’re intended to provide hope.This story-line ends with the assurance that even though Jun is gone, the light remains, and the bonds they shared will continue regardless of who bears that light next.
In fact, it’s the person the light chooses next that sets in motion the REAL forces at play behind these events…