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.
OH MY GOD GATTAI YES YES YES YES YES ROBOTS YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS—
BasuP@伊織が好き (@BasuP) April 06, 2014
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.
Rahxephon never shies away from an opportunity for bathos in its storytelling; undermining the viewer’s expectations, often through undermining or challenging those of the characters, is a recurring conceit that allows it to clearly communicate how knowledgeable of the “truth” any given character is. For example, the conflict between Elvy and Haruka which came to a head earlier in the series was based around Haruka’s ongoing deceit being revealed. Resentment at being shown to be ignorant or ill-informed is a major driver of conflict, accentuated far more in Rahxephon as a continued plot point than in many similar series. This is because it is a series about ignorance and misdirection more than anything else; what seems to be conspiracy to some is in fact a simple lack of information, or a failed assumption that others know what is going on.
The emphasis of episode 14 of Rahxephon is – despite its opening with more cryptic conversations between Haruka and Futagami – almost entirely on the arrival of the prototype of a mass-production super robot, bringing together two sets of expectations. In mecha animé the prototype is generally the ace unit, and the new Vermilion unit lives up to this cliché with its red colouration and the fact it is piloted by Elvy, a character shown to be the most capable of the TERRA support pilots. Yet Rahxephon, being a super-robot animé, has its own set of cliches surrounding the arrival of a human-made robot – the viewer will likely expect it to be doomed to fail simply because it is piloted by a side-character.
Episode 12 of Rahxephon concluded with Ayato failing to destroy the Dolem; it retreated, implying that it will return but also crucially showing its intelligence. Exactly how much TERRA and the human forces know about the Dolems is unclear; there is little shown in terms of knowledge about how to fight them for the most common strategy, be it one of complacency on Kunugi’s part or genuine ignorance, is “let the Rahxephon do it” – an interesting comparison to the clinical, scientific approach taken by NERV in Rahxephon‘s inspiration, Evangelion. NERV almost always know exactly how to destroy the enemy; the Angels have highly visible weak points or predictable attacks – but at the same time they have an unreliable robot and pilot, and frequently neither the manpower nor technology to properly exploit the weakness. TERRA is always one step behind in Rahxephon, yet this ineffectuality is counterbalanced by the extreme firepower advangate they have – the Rahxephon itself does not need to identify weaknesses in its enemies, it simply destroys them.
Episode 12 of Rahxephon forms a visual mirror to episode 11, beginning with a scene that picks up the pervasive clinical imagery of TERRA supervising Ayato during his disappearance; this time, Quan is apparently dying. The subsequent scene, as she is observed, provides the viewer with private information – she is an “M-Type”, and of great importance. That she is not human, or at the least partially related to the Mu, has been made clear in scenes such as that within the temple previously – what this scene does is reveal that it is no secret to the Federation, and Kisaragi’s suspicious assistant. They play on the idea of surveillance, implying that they have been having sex in the observation room and wondering if Quan was actually watching them. Intimacy has previously been quite distant in Rahxephon and this scene picks up again on the dream-world of episode 11; there, faux-intimacy created a sense of the uncanny as characters usually frosty became incredibly affectionate. Here, the suspicious nature is presented openly; Sayako is told that the Federation are “honest” in their desire to help an unknown “him” yet they remain cagey about what exactly that are doing, or who it will benefit. Making any implications from this is hard; the characters by now have fingers in so many pies that about the only certainty is it is unlikely to be Ayato, who still has no real agency.
Episode 10 of Rahxephon focused on undermining its characters’ search for answers to their own questions, while informing the audience; each of the groups who moved around on the periphery of Kunugi’s personal life thought they knew the truth of his actions but were all subtly wrong. Not knowing the truth – or knowing only part of the truth – is central to the status quo on Nirai-Kanai (the “official” spelling of the island where TERRA is based’s name, according to the 2001 series companion Rahxephon Bible (Kadokawa)) and seeing the usually prophetic and uncannily knowledgeable Futagami himself undermined and proved wrong was a refreshing climax to his storyline so far. Indeed, that he can fail calls into question the apparent omniscience that has defined him so far.
As of episode 9 of Rahxephon, it seems that the established traditional super-robot arc is coming to an end; the mysteries about the supernatural, anti-technological aspects are coming to the fore and it is reveals there is something significant about Quan as well as Reika. In some ways the dream episode just seen could be unsatisfying; there is a mixture of pouring new mysteries onto those that are still not fully known, and almost-straightforward expository revelations. Yet this ambiguity – the way in which simply explaining something has been subverted by the cast – is ultimately the driving force of the plot.
Rahxephon consistently walks a line between predictable story structures of super-robot animé and the implied more complex plot in the background; from its opening arc, which laid out both short- and long-term mysteries, it has settled into a clear second act where Ayato has become a part of TERRA and now does his part by fighting Dolems. The Rahxephon is still inscrutable and alien, but it is technology that can be used and its unpredictability is (as shown by the climax of the previous fight) predictable. While it remains unknown how the Rahxephon gets results, nevertheless it does and a sense of complacency – of the expected invincibility of the super-robot (in deference to its roots in very superhero-like stories such as Astro Boy) – emerges. Episode 9 begins with a return to the spiritual from the militaristic, and apparently promises answers; Futagami is exploring the island some more and chasing rumours that an excavated shrine experienced apparent supernatural occurences described as a “god descend[ing].”
Rahxephon episode 8 begins with perhaps the expected endpoint of the story-thread established previously; Futagami is observing the Rahxephon itself under the supervision of Dr Kisaragi. As before, he jokes about in a way which implies he may be knowledgeable of it – comparing it to an idol in a shrine (as, of course, it was when it was first activated). He then sees the remnants of the Dolem destroyed in the previous battle, and is reminded of his actual status – a pure observer who must know what should be kept secret. The interaction between Futagami and Kisaragi is a welcome levity not based around Ayato’s outsider nature, a more comic take on the oppressive bureaucracy of TERRA.