After the revelations of episode 19 of Rahxephon, the expectation – the anticipated progression of a traditional narrative which has just reached its tragic mid-point climax and is surely beginning its turnaround to eventual victory – would be that there would be some focus on Ayato’s response to the tragedy he has experienced. It would be catharsis, after the fight that has just occurred, a clear sign that the story is unlikely to go lower and will begin its narrative upturn. Losing someone close to them is usually the catalyst for a protagonist to toughen up and get some vengeance, but this is shown in narrative terms by showing how they respond to their grief – it is their story, and they response matters. There is no catharsis in episode 20 of Rahxephon. It glosses over, in explicit terms, Ayato’s response to episode 19. He has got over it. How and why is not shown.
Episode 19 of Rahxephon is the end of an arc – the moment where Ayato’s impulsive heroism is finally put to the test as he must come to terms with what “saving” someone actually means – and whether, in this world, it is even possible.
Note: Episode 19 is a particularly unique episode, and probably one of the best-written episodes in mecha animé purely because of how it sits within the wider plot of the series – as a result, the remainder of this article will be placed after this tag so readers may choose not to read it and see the episode without being spoiled.
If episode 17 of Rahxephon was about Ayato’s failure – his entirely understandable and thus all the more tragic moment of conviction based on faulty facts – episode 18 is his final descent and attempts to recover. It is densely packed with the answers he seeks – answers which even undermine the audience’s privileged position compared to the characters by giving a direct insight into the enemy’s plans – but offers little redemption or closure. Its final line is “where can I go?” as he escapes the Mu and flees, but without ever reconciling with any of those he has alienated in the process. It could even be seen as prophetic of future misfortune – he is rushing onward in the Rahxephon to do what he thinks is right, motivated only by a desire to do something.
Take my hand,
I’m a stranger in Paradise
All lost in a wonderland
A stranger in paradise
If I stand starry eyed,
That’s a danger in Paradise
Mortals who stand beside
An angels like us
Tony Bennett – Stranger in Paradise
Episode 17 of Rahxephon is a fruitless, frustrating buildup to a moment of horrible catharsis divided into two parts that lay plain between them the mysteries of the series. These are mysteries that the viewer knows, or has worked out by inference, but which not all of the characters know to the same extent – and the ways in which they learn these things, in the worst ways at the worst times, set up a grim future for Ayato. The revelations in the episode are not really revelations to the viewer but instead to Ayato, and mark the point where he finally gets what he wants.
Episode 5 of Captain Earth was a good focus episode for Teppei, characterising him a little more than simply being the alien prince figure. At this stage in the story the question of Salty Dog trying to break up the surrogate family unit is more or less addressed, and the emphasis is far more on how the characters’ conflict against invading aliens proceeds. But ultimately, it remains a story about a surrogate family created out of military comradeship and authority, epitomised by Akari the daughter of the space station commander, and displaced children living together. Broken families predominate – Daichi is an orphan, Teppei and Hana have lived under observation as aliens fallen to earth and Akari’s parents are physically separated.
That Captain Earth takes the time to begin to explain itself in its fourth episode is refreshing; it does it through an episode with minimal emphasis on the super-robot aspects which finally brings the enemies forward in the flesh. Previously, the series has been interesting in how although the enemy machines are piloted, they have acted in the form of autonomous machines (with their destruction leading to a cube returning to base with the pilot within) – and there has been next to no characterisation via interaction. Thus an episode which has them directly attack GLOBE as infiltrators, and has them interact directly with characters such as Teppei will inherently clarify much of the world’s mysteries. However, as this kind of series typically offers, the details left unclear are equally interesting as those which are revealed.
After the “invisible” fifteenth episode of Rahxephon, the story returns to its main narrative after some time has passed; Elvy and the Vermilion are conspicuously absent, and the focus is still on the Bahbem children, now adults. Episode 16 is a dense episode, focusing on the delicately collapsing relationships of the main cast and culminating in a series of examinations of how the characters react to arguments and efforts to finally set the past lies aside. There is a constant tension between the expectations of maturity and openness that the younger cast have, and the ease with which adults – being positioned as authority figures – can lie, and need to lie. At its core, the episode’s actual progression of the story is minimal; it does not clarify anything about the conflict with Elvy, and its actual forward motion occurs entirely in the final scene. However, as a more self-contained episode, it shows in great detail the tiny events which all motivate the characters to move the plot on.
The second episode of Captain Earth was effectively formed of two parts – an action sequence which built up Daichi (literally, as his robot was constructed) and then tore him down as he was unable to fight when it mattered, and subsequently the fallout from this. Despite there being a significant number of observers to this – the audience joining a crowd of crewmen from GLOBE both on Earth and in space – the fight and its resolution were intensely personal affairs between Daichi and his companion – almost a co-pilot – Code Papillon. This isolation – the distance that being in space, in a one-man cockpit and indeed a one-on-one duel with an unknown enemy – is something that super-robot animé makes a focus across the genre. A robot needs a sizeable ground crew and infrastructure – as the Earth Engine’s combination sequence shows – but is ultimately powerless without the efforts of one person. That this person is rarely the ideal one for the job – and the conflicts that this results in – thus provides a core for the human tension that must counterbalance the action.
Spectacle and tradition are key parts of the super-robot aesthetic; their presence and quality is what defines the action, and their absence is usually part of a key plot point (a good example is how a series such as Evangelion or Rahxephon will avoid showing the graphic methods of their “heroic” robots and instead let the reactions and consequences tell the story). Episode 1 of Captain Earth, a series written in part by Yoji Enokido (who also worked on Star Driver, Rahxephon, and the first Evangelion Rebuild film among others) ended with massive spectacle – a level of ridiculous scale that was quite a departure from the tone set by the episode’s buildup. Humanity’s defences against the alien Kiltgang were shown to be multi-layered and culminating in a network of orbital bases that together helped build a super-robot. Each step of its assembly in orbit increased its size dramatically, and the episode’s ending set it out as an immense, tall-shouldered machine with the bravado, elegance and machismo in its posturing of something like Star Driver‘s Tauburn or Gurren Lagann‘s later-series machines.
The first episode of the 2014 animé Captain Earth promises, in its title card, that “everything will be obvious soon” – indeed, compared to its natural comparison-points in studio Bones’ other mecha animé Eureka Seven and Rahxephon it is forthright and straightforward in its worldbuilding and conflict. Enemies – Approaching Earth Objects – have attacked Earth in the past and are doing so now, and this time humanity has created a machine to fight them on an equal footing. From this introduction to the concept there are hints of a more in-depth plot – factions exist within the human governments who seek a solution to the alien problem other than using fighting-machines (the “Ark Faction”), and the motivations of the enemies are still fairly uncertain – but as an introduction to a new world – and indeed a new take on a very established concept – it takes an approach that proceeds at a rapid pace to build up its revelations.