The Viewer Kept Off-Balance: Episode 1 of Rahxephon

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I have mentioned the series Rahxephon a few times in past articles as a good example of a supernatural science-fiction series in the vein of something like Space Runaway Ideon or Neon Genesis Evangelion. While it is a series which has earned a reputation for being thematically very similar to Evangelion, Rahxephon is very much its own entity and a highly intriguing look at what are arguably well-covered themes. This series blog, much like my articles on Eureka Seven, may not consider each episode singly but instead combine more broad-scale discussion of the series with detailed looks at significant episodes.

A series’ opening scene, if it is to open in media res, must communicate a lot about its setting and direction very quickly; if the viewer is to learn about the world they are viewing by context rather than by exposition (or even if there is to subsequently be some combination of the two) then a key part of this is using every possible detail to communicate information. Eureka Seven‘s entire first episode does this; environmental details, diegetic music and sound and even first-person narration come together to describe the world as the protagonist sees it. Rahxephon‘s opening is more cautious in its approach; the details chosen are carefully-picked to provide firstly hints of setting detail (for example a pilot’s watch showing two times and dates vastly different, or a final shot of an alien sky under which a naval force sails) but also not to explain any of it. While details like the characters featured in the scene (a number of military officers and pilots and one apparently civilian girl who seems to be clued in on the mission that is taking place) are kept vague, the closeup of the watch – claiming it is 7:56 on the 15th July ’04 in Tokyo but 16:27 on the 27th November ’24 elsewhere – is the detail which is shown to be important.

The scene cuts straight to an ordinary street scene, and a closeup of someone’s alarm clock says it is 7:58. Thus the scene is probably in Tokyo, where it is around 8am, twenty years previous to the aircraft’s mission. The next thing to be given focus is a painting of a girl in a landscape similar to that alien one from the prologue – and its artist, a young boy whose name is probably (by post-boxes) Ayato Kamina. He is shown going about his daily life, alone (as usual, apparently) owing to his mothers’ unusual working hours. There is a monologue present here, too; Ayato reflects on this state of affairs with a kind of weary acceptance as he sets about his routine. That the viewpoint then changes to what is apparently a CCTV camera trained on his front door seems particlarly strange – much of this opening sequence’s effectiveness is on the viewer paying attention to those things that make no sense. Pilots keeping track of times and dates twenty years in the past, CCTV cameras scrutinising an ordinary family’s house, a painting of an alien landscape. The camera turns out to be a handheld one as some observer keeps track of Ayato from a block of flats and then follows him on a train, resolving one mystery but creating another. Nothing about Ayato’s life – his eating breakfast alone, his painting (strange as it is) and his very ordinary friends – seems to justify his being stalked and monitored. Indeed, there is no clue given as to how long this process of surveillance has been going on, and he is shown to only be partially aware of it. His friends seem incredulous when he claims he is being followed, and in what is coming to thus be an ongoing theme in Rahxephon, the viewer must piece these contextual clues together and wait to see if their interpretation is proved right. The scene concludes with another piece of the puzzle being revealed – suited men, apparently secret agents, continuing their surveillance of the Kamina family by searching their house and showing concern that there has been a breach of security.

While the mystery of the secret agents and Ayato’s stalker is built up bit by bit, the mystery of who Ayato is is being resolved much more quickly – and in a way that seems to not tie up with anything else. For all the viewer knows he is an ordinary schoolboy, with unremarkable friends, who is an artist. These scenes, though, end up brought back round to the main plot of the mysterious secret agents and the alien landscapes as a newspaper clipping talks of mysterious invaders, and soldiers are seen patrolling the streets. When Ayato and his friends appear to be the miraculous sole survivors of a train crash, and he emerges to what seems like a warzone in a city that was only a few moments ago peaceful, it seems that the nature of these invaders is to become clear – they are the same type of aircraft from the initial sequence, launching an attack on the city where Ayato lives. As he is caught up in the battle, and his stalker from earlier pursues him, the unknown aircraft prove vastly superior to the defending forces and much of the city is apparently destroyed. In this scene of destruction, Ayato ends up in a scene exactly mirroring his painting, right down to the unknown girl’s presence – it was not of the alien landscape it seemed to initially resemble but instead was of the destroyed city. It transpires the girl, Reika, is a friend of Ayato’s, and neither of them know anything about the battle that is going on. That it is so strange to two people who have apparently lived in the city that there should be an air raid, and that the defence forces were so visible and rapidly mobilised immediately creates a tension and sense of doubt that the invaders we see are not the invaders that the city is used to.

That suddenly everyone hears alien music, and a new thing appears furthers this doubt – are the invaders the unknown aircraft, the angelic constructs that apparently fight them without any care for the city, or are the two linked? Again, Ayato is ignorant of what the new construct is – he assumes it is part of the defence forces, a suspicion cleared up to the audience when the secret agents return. They explain that the unknown thing is indeed a weapon deployed in the defence of the city, and continue their scrutiny of Ayato. The picture widens again to show the creature’s controllers, a faceless scientist in a military lab and a masked woman in an observation tank – and the reason for Ayato’s pursuit is made clear. He is apparently the Olen, someone in some way linked to the secret weapon who risks interfering with its operation, and is quickly apprehended by the secret service.

Just, however, as the picture is finally becoming clear – the giant angelic construct is a secret weapon intended to fight alien invaders while the secret agents (and the woman in red with the video camera) are trying to find Ayato, the Olen, and stop him inadvertently ruining the plan – it is again thrown into confusion. The woman in red attacks the secret agents, who it turns out are some kind of alien – they have blue blood. Once again the allegiance of the angelic construct is thrown into doubt – if it is an alien, fighting some other apparent aliens, why is it doing so? Is Ayato’s being the Olen a good thing? Has mankind made a deal with the angelic things to save it from another force? The woman in red apparently has the answers to all Ayato’s – and the audience’s – questions, but he abandons her, choosing the friend he knows and trusts rather than one of his pursuers who claims to be more trustworthy than the others. The train he ends up on takes him to the sinister-looking Shrine of Xephon, somewhere he had no idea existed containing apparently more of the secret weapons. A second one is deployed in response to Ayato’s intrusion, although their purpose, origina and function (beyond simply fighting) remains a mystery.

The Shrine itself is an illogical landscape dominated by a giant egg, and as the two angelic creatures (apparently called Dolems) gradually pick off the invading fighters – shown not only now to be piloted by humans but to be the same fighters from the opening sequence – reality apparently breaks down. A flying castle appears in the sky as Ayato explores the supernatural landscape of the shrine, and the egg in turn hatches with Reika’s assistance. What emerges is apparently the Rahxephon of the series title, an even larger angelic construct linked to the arrival of the flying castle. The collective name of all these unknowns – the blue-blooded aliens, the flying castle’s population and the angelic constructs – is given as the Mu, and with this revelation the whole setup of the first episode is subverted. The battle between the attacking aircraft and the fighters and tanks, and the the Dolems, was a precision strike against a Mu-controlled city intended to rescue Ayato, not an alien invasion of a free society.

Thus the whole of this first episode was scene-setting for the true start to the series – the revelation of the Mu’s control, apparently, of Earth. The ships at the start are apparently part of mankind’s counterattack against an alien occupation force – yet the nature of the Rahxephon itself, in its giant egg in the middle of the Mu territory – remains unknown.

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2 comments

  1. megaroad1

    Rahxephon really doesn’t get as much attention as it should. Too many people dismiss it as just another Evangelion clone. While there are indeed many similarities, I agree with your view that it is it’s own entity and develops some ideas quite well, not to mention that it looked absolutely splendid when it came out.

    • r042

      Sorry for the delayed reply but I completely agree – I think the biggest difference is how the first episode sets up scenes you think you’ve seen in Eva (Reika on her own in the abandoned city ala Rei, Haruka intervening ala Misato) and then stops with the parallel (Reika becomes important rather than just vanishing, Ayato doesn’t trust the suave, confident woman who’s saved him and runs away).

      I’ll probably write part 2 tonight, so keep your eyes peeled!

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