Director: Yutaka Izubuchi
Genre: Drama, Mecha, Psychological, Romance, Surrealist
There is no such thing as originality nowadays. If there is an idea out there that is either being produced or contemplated, it is likely a version of it already exists. I remember reading in English class during my senior year of high school, a book called “How to Read Literature Like a Professor” by Thomas C. Foster. I recall this text pointing out comically how there is no such thing as an “original” story, idea, or concept. Apparently, every original idea takes after an existing one, especially in writing. I assumed back then, and I’m sure now that Mr. Foster wasn’t limiting his statement to books and novels, but also included film and television as well. Going by Foster’s analysis, one can overlook the fact that RahXephon borrows from different titles for its own structure, yet it’s still original enough to stand alone.
RahXephon was conceived as an original idea by studio Bones, responsible for hits such as Wolf’s Rain, Full Metal Alchemist (original adaptation & 2009 remake), Kurau: Phantom Memory, Ouran High School Host Club, and many others. I mentioned that text by Thomas C. Foster because RahXephon is an anime that takes after a wide variety of sources in order to materialize itself. I’ll go ahead and mention some of the animes that RahXephon is inspired by, these are; Brave Raideen, Megazone 23, Evangelion, and even Revolutionary Girl Utena to an extent. Having said that, RahXephon also borrows heavily from Mesoamerican culture and civilization, philosophies of time travel and existentialism, and the reputable James Churchward.
The premise of this anime is as straightforward as they come: Ayato Kamina is a 17 year old high school student who lives in Tokyo. One morning while heading to school with friends, Ayato happens to find himself in the middle of an attack from a mysterious creature who specializes in harmonic attacks with its voice. Among the confusion, Ayato meets a mysterious young woman named Reika who leads him underground to find answers about the hostile entity, himself, and the world around him. Ayato finds the RahXephon but it comes with a heavy price. It turns out that Ayato is living in an encapsulated version of the real world, and a lady named Haruka Shitow (who was stalking him earlier) is responsible for escorting him outside. Once there Ayato sets out to find more answers about himself, his “new” life and world, and whether he’s suited to pilot the awe-inspiring RahXephon or not.
Perhaps I shouldn’t say straightforward, because that is the only thing RahXephon is truly not. In fact, RahXephon is one of those animes that constantly requires the viewer’s attention. You must be alert more than 99% of the time in order to fully grasp whatever is transpiring on-screen at that particular moment in time. It’s not only because of the preposterous layers and levels of depths this anime is submerged in, but also because of the workmanship surrounding the aura of this title. Take the first episode for instance, it actually begins with a classical opera by Richard Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. This operatic piece sets the tone and bar high for this tale of intrigue and mystery, mired in dazzling music.
Music also plays a huge role in RahXephon as it is one of its driving forces. The original score is handled by Ichiko Hashimoto who wasn’t relatively known (at least not here in the West) before working on this anime. Hashimoto’s score certainly helps in elevating the overall presence of music deep within RahXephon’s crackling shell. The score for the most part sounds jazz heavy, which also weighs into the enigmas and intrigue found deep within this anime. However, certain pieces Hashimoto has crafted such as Before You Know, The Chariot, The Fate of Katun, My Soundscape, Second Sorrow, and The Egg of the Dream (Yume no Tamago), contribute greatly to the foundation and raison d’etre of RahXephon. The Egg of the Dream (being the ending theme) particularly pitches in quite plenty of thematic exposure, while speaking trance and poetry in its spellbinding delivery by Ichiko Hashimoto herself and her sister Mayumi Hashimoto. I haven’t even covered the opening theme Hemisphere, composed by the immortalized Yoko Kanno. Performed by Maaya Sakamoto and composed by Kanno, Hemisphere changes tempo several times throughout, and accompanied by it in the opening video are a rapid-fire succession of marred surreal images that become more and more bewildering as the sequence progresses. Hemisphere is the perfect instrument for introducing this puzzling story that interestingly enough is largely described in the opening sequence which it follows.
In this opening sequence, we can appreciate several factors and images that are key components of RahXephon’s nuts and bolts. At some point, we see Ayato trapped inside an egg, Reika sitting on top of what seems to be the RahXephon, blue blood, a floating city in the sky, Haruka standing among a field of broken clocks, and a cracked egg with wings on it and water dripping from it. All of this imagery might not make sense at first, though in the long run it will as the plot thickens. Having said that, several of these images can be linked to their respective inspirational works. The blue blood for instance is from the fact that Mulians are the enemies of mankind, a plot element seen in Brave Raideen. The concept of Ayato trapped inside an egg shell harkens back to Megazone 23, and the fact that Ayato isn’t living in the “real” world, but an illusion of it. This can also be attributed to the student council’s motto in Revolutionary Girl Utena and how they must break the world’s shell in order to “revolutionize” the world. This is to be expected after all, from some of the writers involved in these shows.
I know for a fact that Yoji Enokido (head writer of Utena) and Chiaki J. Konaka (head writer for Serial Experiments Lain and Big O) were both involved in writing an episode or two of RahXephon. Enokido and Konaka’s signature can be sensed not aesthetically, but thematically within the heart of this series, which is why this doesn’t surprise me. Mitsuo Iso, who later went on to write and direct Denno Coil, made his directorial debut directing an episode of this anime. If any of you are acquainted with these anime, RahXephon should be familiar ground you’re stepping on. Moreover, take note of the existential themes engraved within RahXephon’s story and characters. Ayato “awakens” in a reality unbeknownst to him. In a world he doesn’t accept, a place in which he feels he doesn’t belong. He takes on the role of piloting the robot because he feels this will give him a purpose in life. Ayato, Reika, Haruka, and many other characters who compose the cast are also not living in the present, but find themselves stuck in the past, whether literally or figuratively. They live either in memories of their past because it’s easier for them than to cope with the now, or because their concept of reality and truth has been compromised. The concepts of time and fate are prominent in existentialism, and both play major roles at the heart of RahXephon’s story. The ideas presented here are endlessly intriguing, yet they also increase the similarities between this and Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Which brings me back to my original point: no story is original from the moment it’s conceived, despite the fact that RahXephon feels like it is inspired a bit too much by Evangelion. I found several elements similar to Revolutionary Girl Utena and Serial Experiments Lain, though unsurprising knowing Enokido and Konaka’s involvement here. Still, Evangelion is the one that I saw more through the cracked mirrors, egg shells, water droplets, opening eyelids, swaying feathers, and plenty of other imagery found here. Especially from the overall blueprint of it. To summarize, Ayato loses his grip on what’s real and what’s not, he finds an older woman who helps him restructure his life back, he begins to pilot a robot for an organization named TERRA (in Evangelion it’s NERV), he confronts cryptic enemies known as Dolems of unknown origin (Angels in Evangelion), and Ayato himself becomes the key that will lead to a world-changing event to come. I even found Ayato’s strained relationship with his mother Maya, quite similar to Shinji and Gendo’s dysfunctional father-and-son-scenario in Evangelion.
Despite it all, RahXephon manages to impress with its competent use of all these elements by combining them together into a hodgepodge of astounding ideas. Recall how I mentioned that it is inspired by the writings of occultist James Churchward and his theories of a lost continent home to the Mu. Aside from that, Mesoamerican culture can be seen in Hashimoto’s Fate of Katun track as well as the Mulians mother tongue, Nahuatl; the language they speak in the anime. Katun is also a measurement of time in the Mayan calendar. Ayato is referred to as “Ollin,” a Mayan term used by an enigmatic woman named Quon. Additionally, the title of the anime itself deserves analysis. Rahxephon can be read as Rah, the Egyptian sun God. In addition, RahXephon employs visual arts in its surrealist vision. You can notice the influence of Salvador Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory” within the opening sequence’s dreamlike scene of broken clocks.
If RahXephon is guilty of copying ideas then consider me a copycat lover. I found the combination of ideas here to be extremely clever, regardless of where it’s inspired from. There are certain scenes which merit criticism; specifically one that is copied frame by frame from a scene in Evangelion. The scene in question involves the Xephon shooting down an enemy Dolem from outer space… It’s a carbon copy of a scene in Evangelion. That’s when it goes from pastiche to uninspired silliness, and fortunately it is the only scene I found that was exactly copied from elsewhere (at least to my knowledge). Notwithstanding, RahXephon is still an excellent series boosted by its deep plot and intriguing characters. It does take quite some time for all the characters and their relationships to be fully explored and explained, though the emotions involving all are simply brilliant.
RahXephon manages to stand tall and defend itself quite well, mostly thanks to its director, Yutaka Izubuchi. Izubuchi borrowed from several sources, but surely he keeps the anime from being watered to a pulp. He also keeps the mood mature, and the direction smooth and unpredictable. Now, the unpredictable portion is the oxymoron here; RahXephon weaves an entire story full of mysticism and familiar elements in-between, and still feels original in its own right. That is the main reason why it works. Even if RahXephon came to being from different ideas combined, it still works primarily due to its writing. Also because Yutaka Izubuchi melted so many different ideas together without it feeling sour or tasteless. RahXephon still feels like it has a soul of its own, and this sets it apart from shameless banality.
Note: I will be critiquing the film which followed this series, so stay tuned for the continuation of this review in the near future.