RahXephon by Yutaka Izubuchi (Review)

You certainly can’t fault RahXephon’s creators for not being ambitious, because everything about RahXephon sets high goals for itself.

I would love to make it through this review without making a single Evangelion reference. Unfortunately, that’s just not the case, as I was constantly plagued with a sense of deja vu while watching RahXephon. And what makes it worse is that I really wanted to fall in love with this series. It has everything going for it: characters that have more layers than an onion, insanely cool mecha designs and battles, incredible production values, and a complex story full of romance, intrigue, and philosophical and metaphysical concepts so esoteric it’s insane.

You certainly can’t fault RahXephon’s creators for not being ambitious, because everything about RahXephon sets high goals for itself. Unfortunately, as the series progresses, it generates more loose ends than it ties up, gradually losing cohesion with each successive episode. It still remains a fascinating watch, simply because it is so high-minded. But when the final credits started rolling, I felt bewildered and more than just a tad let down. And yes, I always had this feeling that I’d seen this all before.

RahXephon opens with Ayato Kamina, who appears like your average high school student in the year 2017. That is, until strange craft start attacking Tokyo. During the ensuing conflict, Kamina escapes into the Tokyo subways with Mishima Reika, a classmate of his. Several “Men In Black” follow them, attempting to detain Kamina for unknown purposes. The two are rescued by Shitow Haruka, a feisty young woman with a mean roundhouse. To Kamina’s amazement, the agents all have blue blood. Haruka promises to tell him the truth behind the blue blood and the attacks, but Kamina’s in no mood to trust a stranger. He escapes on the subway, but he’s still shaken by the encounter.

Kamina escapes into Tokyo’s underground, along with the enigmatic Mishima, and comes across an ancient shrine in the deep caverns. In this ancient shrine is a giant egg, which begins to crack as Mishima approaches it. To Kamina’s amazement, the egg reveals a giant mecha with wings covering its face. Somehow, Kamina is able to pilot the mecha, and survives the battle.

Later, he’s contact again by Haruka, who promises the truth. While trying to escape, they find themselves returning to the underground shrine, where Mishima is waiting with the mecha. With the mecha’s aid, Kamina and Haruka escape from the forces, who are being led by his mother and who also has blue blood (after a piece of debris cuts his face). Unfortunately, Mishima, who is standing outside the mecha, is apparently killed during the firefight.

When Kamina comes to, he’s lying on a beach with the giant mecha on one side and an enormous red, swirling sphere on the other. Slowly, with Haruka’s help, Kamina learns the truth. Tokyo, as he knows it, has been placed inside the giant sphere in order to contain a dangerous alien force known only as “Mu” (because of the sphere’s swirling red exterior, it’s been given the name “Tokyo Jupiter”). None of Tokyo Jupiter’s inhabitants know the truth, having been brainwashed by “Mu” into believing that the rest of the world has been destroyed.

Mankind’s only hope against “Mu” lies in RahXephon, the giant mecha that Kamina was mysteriously able to pilot. Slowly, Kamina comes to grips with his new world, including the fact that time passes more slowly inside the dome (the year is actually 2031). He finds himself working with TERRA, an organization set up by the Earth Alliance and funded by the mysterious Barbem Foundation to combat “Mu.”

Populating TERRA is an interesting assortment of characters. There’s the tough yet tender Haruka (who seems to have some connection to Kamina); the tough-as-nails pilot Elfi Hadiat; the purple-haired Quon, who has a predilection for being ditzy and uttering cryptic predictions; Haruka’s bubbly younger sister, Megumi; and Kunugi, the stoic commander of TERRA, and his upbeat second-in-command, Souichi Yagumo.

Unfortunately, and you knew this was coming, “Mu” doesn’t make things easy, sending wave after wave of elaborate mechas (each looking like a piece of bizarre Persian sculpture) that only RahXephon can destroy. Meanwhile, Kamina begins uncovering the plots behind TERRA, the Alliance, and the Barbem Foundation. Each one challenges his perceptions of who (or what) he is, his role in TERRA, his relationship to RahXephon, and true nature of “Mu.” And believe me, each revelation gets more esoteric along the way.

Okay, so how many Evangelion similarities have you spotted so far?

I suspect part of my problem is the familiarity I’ve developed with all things Evangelion (and I suspect that may be a problem when ADV Films begins releasing RahXephon domestically). Just barely over a month ago, I went through and studied the entire Evangelion canon in detail to prepare for my review of The End Of Evangelion. That may explain why I saw shades of Misato in Haruka and Elfi, or saw Quon as a dippier Rei (her relationship with Kunugi also has interesting similarities to Rei’s relationship with Gendo Ikari). The whole TERRA/Earth Alliance/Barbem Foundation set-up has varying overtones of NERV and SEELE and “Mu“ s attacks have a very Angel-esque feel to them.

Ayato Kamina immediately struck me as a Shinji Ikari-lite from the very early episodes. He comes from a single parent family that’s just this short of being dysfunctional, is plagued with doubts about his true nature, exhibits similar tantrums, and undergoes much of the same emotional stress (especially when he begins to question his own humanity and is forced to confront old friends-turned-enemies).

All of this leads to the series’ conclusion, which, I must admit, had me rolling my eyes more than once. There was a moment when I laughed out loud at how similar its execution was to Evangelion’s controversial conclusion(s). The same type of earth-shattering language and imagery are tossed about with abandon, as a myriad of plot points, conspiracies, and outlandish theories about “Mu,” RahXephon, and Kamina’s ultimate destiny collide. The ending is the series’ most glaring weakness, and feels completely unoriginal. Worse yet, it’s just not very compelling, and Kamina’s final revelations seem very cloudy for all of the insight they supposedly contain.

There’s no denying that Evangelion was an incredibly complex series, and one that left many puzzled and flabbergasted. But Evangelion’s scope was so massive — delivering nothing less than a revolutionary vision of Mankind’s ultimate destiny as held by an emotionally-crippled teenage boy — that it was impossible to wrap up every loose end. Rather, the series’ ambiguity worked remarkably well; as I said in my review of The End Of Evangelion, it allowed us to “see something in all-too flawed characters forced to deal with forces and concepts that they don’t understand either.”

On the other hand, RahXephon merely seems convoluted just for the sake of being convoluted. As with Gasaraki, I wondered if I hadn’t missed an episode that contained a few key explanations. I was pleasantly surprised when one episode offered a brief history lesson during the opening credits, explaining the events surrounding “Mu“ s invasion, and had hoped that would occur more often. Alas, I was wrong. Frankly, I got tired of hearing another screwy theory about “Mu,” or some bizarre terminology about “Orins” and the music of the Doremu.

I did find myself wanting to delve more into the relationships between the characters, because that is one part where RahXephon does shine. Granted, many of the characters display some Evangelion-isms, but I still found myself fascinated with the bonds that develop between everyone. I had a particular fondness for Megumi, who strives to get out from under her big sister’s shadow, and can never seem to escape heartache. Watching her interactions with Kamina or her conflict concerning Souichi and her best friend Kim was particularly poignant. I guess I just hate seeing a lovable character like that get her heart crushed again and again.

All of this is a shame, because I was very excited to see RahXephon. This review seems incredibly harsh, but believe me, writing it is no easy task for me. Even looking back now, so soon after having completed the series, I remember so many flashes of brilliance (again, primarily in the characters’ relationships) that it’s killing me. I know that I’m not the first person who has debated the similarities between RahXephon and Evangelion, nor will I be the last.

I realize that this may sound hypocritical, unobjective, and not very critic-like — especially after spending so much time picking apart the series — but I still have to recommend RahXephon for serious anime fans. From a technical standpoint, it’s an incredibly well-done, well-animated series. The mechas were insanely cool, and the animation was nothing short of top-notch. There were times when I was genuinely moved, not by the series’ big, philosophical themes, but by the smaller nuances and relationships. Despite my gripes over the series’ storyline, it did have me captivated more than once. Above all else, it is certainly a very artistic and literate series. I just wish I hadn’t been made to go down so many rabbit trails.

I sincerely hope to visit the world of RahXephon again, perhaps when Evangelion’s shadow doesn’t loom so heavily in my memory (ADV is releasing RahXephon domestically in 2003). I look forward to seeing those things I may have missed. Honestly, this is one of those occasions where I can foresee my appreciation growing over time. At least, I certainly hope so. A theatrical movie has also been announced for the spring of 2003, which I’m keenly interested in, as it may also reveal additional answers and insights (or at least let Megumi find true love).

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