Biblical references have always found their way into modern culture. One of the more famous ones would be the four horseman of the apocalypse in the form of conquest, war, famine, and death. You may be asking yourself why conquest is there and not pestilence. This is because conquest is an actual horseman, while pestilence is an aspect of death. In modern times people have replaced conquest with pestilence because it was thought that conquest and war were too similar and pestilence has a nice impact in and of itself. In a story where we must send heroes out to stop the end of humanity as we know it, we often need more than basic crimes and the thrill of adventure to believe that people would risk their lives on a treacherous journey. Extinction and oppression are common themes that come about through apocalyptic concepts that have been around since ancient times. Today we will be looking at four different shounen manga where each one displays one of the characteristics of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
We all fear a tyrannical entity that will take away our freedom. We see the horseman of conquest brought to life in Shaman King. Many of us enjoyed the journey that Yoh and his friends set off on in order to stop the powerful shaman Hao Asakura. Leaving your normal life in order to fight in a battle that leaves many dead and more injured requires true conviction. Our main cast of characters give their own reasons to win be it helping their loved ones or handling a family matter, but when we reach the last arc of the series where many of our members know that they will not win, there has to be a greater purpose in fighting. The road has its bumps in which the most notable ones involve encounters with the would be tyrant king. As the reality of Hao winning becomes ever more prevalent, the aura of the group begins to change. The focus begins to be stopping Hao at all costs and this becomes truly important in the final part of the story. Yoh and the others fail and we watch Hao become one with the king of spirits. The final option for our heroes in presented to them when they are told that the five strongest members must tame the elemental spirits and fight the now powered up Hao. Just imagine being told that the guy you just lost to got a huge power up, you are now working with partners that you have no experience with, and it is time for round two. Who would ever think that this is a good idea? If the individual goals of our heroes, one such goal involving being a great comedian, were the only motivation left, no one would want to risk death once again. However, now that they are faced with the apocalypse, and the freedom of the world is at risk, the only answer to the question of whether or not our heroes should continue fighting or not is a resounding yes.
War is always a sign of bad things. Death, destruction, and many more irreversible things occur when one group decides to wage war against another. Psyren is unique with the fact the get to see both the war itself and the results of not winning the war throughout the series. Our hero Ageha is brought into an alternate world where he must survive in a hostile wasteland in order to get back to his normal life. Although he chooses to return to this horrific place due to his curiosity regarding Amamiya, this in and of itself is not a believable incentive for fighting in a war that has proven itself too tough to win. When we find out that this alternate world is actually the future, that good has lost and the apocalypse is a reality, our heroes must fight smarter. Ageha and the others must jump back and forth in between the past and the ever-changing future in order to gain from the future in order to change the past. With the danger of death far too real in both worlds, one must ask why these powerful yet inexperienced youngsters would risk their lives in order to win this war. When you look at the future world where people live in hiding and struggles are still prevalent, one sees something that must not be allowed to happen. So, when the time comes to fight and attempt to win a war that has historically not been kind to the side of good, the fear of the apocalypse is what truly drives our heroes.
Famine is not always as result of there not being enough to go around, but is sometimes a result of a lack of the distribution of resources. In Bleach we learn that the land outside of the capital city is full of poverty and famine. We often see the horrible reality that the people in charge of Seireitei refuse to help the people outside of the wall which has led to many catastrophic situations. Be it a direct assault from those on the other side like what happened in the Bleach movie Fade to Black or the Quincies getting back at a corrupt government, we see an entity that believes itself to be in the right feeling the ramifications of uprising. We see soul reapers that have escaped the slums and ascended to great ranks, but turn their back on their corrupt origins. We see a vicious cycle of pushing our problems under the rug and receiving punishment for doing so. Our story is not a direct assault against famine, but retribution against a corrupt government that has brought about horrible things such as the famine in Rukongai. Some may call it a stretch, but I call it a more direct translation of the horseman of famine. The four horsemen of the apocalypse are a sign of tragedies to come and the showing of famine in Rukongai appears early and often when greater chaos is in motion. Seireitei suffers because it does not fear the ramifications of its corruption.
Death is something that most people fear. Many of us have experienced the helplessness that comes along with watching a loved one suffer from cancer and death by disease is always a possibility. Even in a series that was cut short, Double Arts introduced us to a losing battle being fought against an epidemic in the form of Troy. Troy is a disease where toxins build up inside of the body until they become to great for one to handle and the person begins to have seizures. Once the seizures start, a slow process in which the person disappears takes place. This sounds horrific and it is the unstoppable illness that fuels the adventure that Kiri and Elraine undergo. The only way to treat this illness is by taking sisters, young girls that are less effected by Troy, and having them take in some of the toxins from a patient. This is not a cure and the sisters do eventually die from the illness themselves. I am starting to depress you and that is the point. Death in the form of pestilence is a sign of the apocalypse. A boy named Kiri holds the power to possibly cure Troy, but not everyone is as excited as the sisters that the world may be free from this epidemic. The Gazelles are an organization that has hunted the sisters for years and it is implied that they have had a hand in spreading Troy and want it to kill as many people as possible. We see a great link to the four horsemen of the apocalypse in this situation. We have a group that is facilitating the chaos much like the horseman of death himself.
Shounen manga thrives on apocalyptic scenarios. The four series above are but a small sample of the crazy things that our heroes fight in order to save the world from concepts that have been around for thousands of years. It is astounding how entertained we are by impending doom and a quest to prevent it. Be it reading about a situation going down, theorizing with your friends how to handle a zombie apocalypse, or getting ready for the great judgement of God and the second coming of Jesus Christ, events of great impact will always have a spot in our imaginations and will continue to be used as concepts in the stories that we read.