Today, we're going a bit back in time to explore a series that I missed all those years back: RahXephon. It is arguably the thematic and literal opposite to Neon Genesis Evangelion that preceded it by seven years. The parallels in both series make for a unique review in my marathon, so let's see if RahXephon got it right.
As mentioned, the themes in both RahXephon and Evangelion are opposites most of the time. Where Evangelion was a psychoanalysis on depression and despair, RahXephon is all about revelations, the blending of science and art, and transcendence.
In a more literal sense, RahXephon and Evangelion are also opposites in more than one area. Where Evangelion used Christian symbolism, RahXephon uses Mayan lore. Where Evangelion's ending is bleak, ambiguous, and introspective, RahXephon's ending is bright, unambiguous, and filled with hope. Where Evangelion's protagonist has serious psychological baggage, RahXephon's is very calm and even competent.
Of course, in a strange twist, the shows are incredibly similar in their premise. Both star a flawed teenager whom pilots a mecha that isn't everything that it appears. Both series bank heavily on the teenager's struggles (both inward and outward) over the course of the series. Finally, both series feature an intense plot driven by strange creatures that attack our world.
For how similar they are, the shows are equally different. What follows are two series that feel like two sides of the same coin that both tried (and succeeded) in reinventing the mecha genre. Intentional or not, the differences in RahXephon and Neon Genesis illustrate two very different aspects of Japanese animation.
Ayato Kamina is the protagonist this time around. He is the usual teenager anime trope with the added motif of being an artist. Despite being the usual anime trope, he tends to have a cool and calm tenacity about him that most other protagonists like him don't have. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he makes a lot of good decisions and shows himself to be an extremely mature and competent young man.
Unlike Evangelion's Shinji, Ayato is shown to be very focused and ready to do what is necessary when the time comes. It is somehow very refreshing to have a protagonist that is actually good at being a protagonist. At the same time, Ayato has to grapple with the knowledge that his entire life has been a lie; this makes his story all the more interesting. It is a classic fish-out-of-water trope being used in the straightest way possible and it works.
Spoilers ahead, although they relate to revelations in the first three/four episodes.
The setting of RahXephon is pretty cool in its own right. While it isn't always clear what is happening (at least on your first viewing, we'll get to that), the world that the show portrays has more than a few interesting complexities. When we first start watching, we learn that Earth has been very much destroyed, leaving only Tokyo.
Oh wait, sorry, this is a case of unreliable narrator. The Mulians (weird blue-blooded people) have mind-screwed everyone in Tokyo to think this is the case, but in reality the city is sealed in a time-dilation bubble of sorts. Outside the bubble, humanity is chugging along after the first Mulian-Human war, albeit time outside the bubble is happening faster.
While it has only been three years for Ayato, the outside world has lived out over ten years. Oh man, this thing is ripe with possibility.
One of the reasons to watch RahXephon is to see the intricate and sometimes overly contrived plot unfold.
You'll watch it once: man that was cool!
You'll watch it again: wait, this all makes more sense...
You'll watch it one more time for good measure: that... was intentional? Holy cow.
And if you're really out there, you'll keep watching it and things will become very, very clear. I daresay that it is impossible to completely understand the story of RahXephon on the first watch. I had the benefit of keeping a log (because of the review marathon) that helped me connect the dots faster that most people, but even I went back to hit the first half of the series again.
You start to feel like a friggin' detective watching this series.
At the risk of spoilers, I must mention that the main romantic subplot of the series. The subplot has a very interesting degree of complexity because of the setting. This also manages to cross into heartwarming when you wrap your head around what the relationship is. It is tastefully done, and it almost morphs RahXephon into a show about romance rather than the other prominent themes.
Random aside, everyone who has seen the series is likely amused at my usage of this picture with this section. Oh don't worry for those of you who have no idea what I'm on about, once you finish the series, it'll make sense. Too much sense.
The character lineup can be underwhelming on the fringes of the cast (some of the supporting cast introduced later in the show are a bit confusing), but the core cast is pretty well done. Ayato is a great protagonist and the other characters directly surrounding him have a great depth to them.
The fights within the show are a bit of an oddity of course. The gross majority of the Dolem-Xephon fights are complete curbstomps (Dolems never stood a chance). That said, instead of making the battles about action, the writers made them thematic. Several of the fights involve Ayato getting mind-raped to some degree, which tends to cross over with some sort of reveal or a very unfortunate truth about something. They don't get stale and the second time you watch things, it will make even more sense.
The ending to the whole series is what I would call "great". It wraps up most, if not all, the remaining plot threads and shows us a bright new future. It is pretty heartwarming to see everything come together at the very end. Everything makes sense and...
Hey wait. Something hasn't been cleared up. The credits are rolling? You bastards! One of the giant emboldened mysteries in my logbook isn't resolved, are you going to tell me that I'll never know for sure what this means? I HATE YOU-
*after credits scene rolls*
...Oh, it all makes sense now. Huh.
Alright, alright let's see here. RahXephon's plot is contrived and deep. You must pay attention when watching to understand what is going on. Anything less and you'll start getting lost. Seemingly unimportant plot threads will suddenly become important and you might get lost if you weren't paying it any thought.
This sort of thing might be too much for some people. The depth of the series is sizable.
Hello sir, would you like a Deus Ex Machina today? Arguably the ending of the series exists in tandem with this trope. In fact, it is lampshaded by the show itself in a way. The way that the writers tried to mesh this plot device with art and science definitely will feel off to many viewers (although no more so than End of Evangelion, holy god) and it comes off as a bit strange sometimes.
RahXephon is an interesting companion series to Evangelion. The two series are very different, but at the same time it is very easy to recommend watching RahXephon if you watched Evangelion and at least partially enjoyed it, vice versa as well.
RahXephon has an intense and deep plot with a whole lot of interconnection between various plot points. You'll be right at home if you like being a story detective when watching these series. RahXephon is tale with plenty of fake-outs, red herrings, chekhov's guns, and plot twists. You'll probably want to watch it all over again to understand everything when you finish.
It has mature subject matter, so let's keep this one to late teenagers mmkay?
As usual, I claim no ownership of the images herein.
Next time I might branch out and review Date a Live, which I've been putting off since that'll be a weird review.
This is part of my Anime Review Marathon that I began in October 2013 to record my thoughts as I watch a variety of anime on my ever growing backlog. These reviews won't come out on a persistent basis, they'll come out when I feel I have seen enough of a series to pass a judgement on it.
You can see all my articles on Dex's Corner.