August 23, 2005 on 9:19 pm | In RahXephon | Comments Off on RahXephon

Great sci-fi anime should polarise everyone, raise arguably more questions than they answer and have you gripping the edge of your seat. RahXephon is to some a great anime, but to me it’s only good for one reason: it only fulfils two of those criteria in my eyes.

RahXephon is about Kamina Ayato, a boy who lives in Tokyo Jupiter. Naturally, as with all teenagers in the midst of conspiracy, Ayato has no idea that Tokyo Jupiter is not part of the real world. Shitow Haruka breaks into Tokyo Jupiter to bring Ayato back to the real world to fight the war that rages between the blue blooded Tokyo Jovian Mulians and the red blooded people of the rest of the world.
What ensues is a variety of conspiracies carried out by an incredibly large cast of characters involving mysticism, cloning, Mayan religion and practically everything else you might care to mention in science-fiction anime.

RahXephon is the directorial debut of Izubuchi Yutaka, an accomplished character designer and veteran of Studio Nue. Izubuchi is one of the geniuses who is seen caricatured in the delightfully out there Assemble Insert.
It is noted that this is his directorial debut simply because of the vast scope of the project, spanning more than fifteen years of alternate time plains, and the almost insanely ambitious cramming of so many different concepts into one series.

A tradition of science-fiction anime is a large cast, and Izubuchi treats most of the characters as primaries regardless of how much screen time they get. The problem with this vast array of characters is that it is very difficult to keep track of all their names and, in some cases, even what their job actually is. Kunugi, leader of TERRA looks like a slightly younger version of Watari and they serve largely the same purpose. Most characters have to be given their time to shine, which leaves the series feeling crowded and certain damaged characters, such as Nanamori, less sympathetic than simply psychotic.

For a series that is supposed to be about mystery, although the staff says it’s not so much a mystery as things left unsaid, far too much of the plot and characterisation is telegraphed. There are few surprises because Izubuchi leaves no room for them, revealing things to the audience so far in advance of revealing them to the pertinent characters that there is no impact to them. The episodes that are “difficult” are at the hands of one man: the legendary Chiaki J. Konaka. Konaka can write straightforward material but frequently likes to make his scripts overly dense and obtuse. He can write a twist well, but perhaps too well for the tasks that he has at hand.

When it comes to the ending, my usually dormant cynicism meter went off the roof for the last disc. Izubuchi throws everything in anime history at the audience in an endless barrage of twists and turns, including the very obvious influence of Evangelion – which I swore that I would not compare this series to when I began to watch it – and, more surprisingly, Lupin III.
I almost packed it in at this wild narrative rampage, but that would have been unfair to all that had come before; amazingly, Izubuchi manages to absolve himself completely with the series’ final scene which is arguably its one moment of perfection.

RahXephon takes its inspiration from Mayan mysticism and from the ancient civilisation of Mu (seen in the excellent Super Nintendo game Illusion of Gaia), which is slightly laughable. I got the distinct impression that the writers were simply throwing names in to give weight to the project, in the hope that people would have a difficult time remembering and discussing them.

“You are Ollin,” says Mishima Reika, one of the series’ two mystery girls.
“What is Ollin?” says Ayato.
“Ollin is he who goes through Ixtli to attain Yolteotl.”

It’s exactly like that: technobabble for a new age … or an old one.

With BONES as its production team, RahXephon is fairly good but feels too SUNRISE at times. While in the past I have said that as a good thing, SUNRISE can feel extremely cookie cutter in its aesthetic and this does not entirely suit RahXephon. For a series that is trying not to be overly generic, it fails in this regard.

The OP is a nice piece composed by Kanno Yoko and performed by Sakamoto Maaya that perhaps captures the essence of the series’ theme better than the series itself does. The score itself is composed by Hashimoto Ichiko. Hashimoto has a distinctive voice that she uses to play Maya, Ayato’s mother, to just the right level of ambiguousness.
The rest of the cast is good with Hisakawa Aya shining as Haruka, and several veterans padding out the rest including men who got their start in Magical Witch Girl Sally, the first ever magical girl anime. That essentially means RahXephon is backed by more than forty years’ worth of talent.

RahXephon is good, but does not conform to my stylistic expectations. With mysteries too telegraphed and a conclusion ridiculously derivative of more stories than can be counted, the disappointment factor is mild. Despite this, the characters of Ayato and Haruka are just warm enough to carry this over the line. It’s not a near miss – if I gave ratings, I’d probably give this 75% (and, if I’m being arbitrary, I’d give 80% the lower limit of what I really enjoyed) – and that’s more than a pass in anyone’s book.

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