Episode 1 of Rahxephon established a setting, and through its use of a steadily revealed mystery and stream of misdirections provided both strong contextual information and a number of unanswered questions to be built on. While comparisons with Neon Genesis Evangelion are ultimately only of limited use (the series share subject matter but differ in approach) it is worth considering how different the two first episodes actually are.
Evangelion has protagonist Shinji visit an abandoned city, and learn through first contact that unknown invaders – Angels – are attacking Earth. He is taken to a secret base and ordered to help fight back by his estranged father. The conflict is thus clearly defined – humanity, led by NERV, fight the Angels. Shinji will co-operate, or he will be abandoned to take his chance at survival. Rahxephon, on the other hand, keeps its hand much closer; it makes it very unclear who is on what side for almost the entire episode and the final reveal is not that humanity has a decisive weapon to fight against the aliens, but that the aliens have already won. Tokyo is completely under the thumb of the Mu; its armies fight other humans, it controls the Dolems which are its terror-weapons, and the final scene is the revelation of the Mu fortress in the sky. Ayato is encouraged to try and escape this occupation by the unknown woman in red, but rejects her offer and ends up at the Shrine of Xephon – apparently a Mu-built installation. Thus the difference is plain; Evangelion sets itself up as a man versus alien story, with the aliens as the invaders. Rahxephon is established as a story where at least some of Earth is already occupied and a technologically inferior force is trying to get civilians out of the warzone – Ayato, the Olen, is suggested to be someone who can help fight back for whatever reason.
It is thus interesting that episode two’s opening credits are completely contextless. Familiar characters – the young girl on the warship, Ayato, Reika and the woman in red – appear but with no explanation given. The viewer gets a clearer picture of the Rahxephon itself, free of its egg, and the Dolems from the first episode. It is doing what many anime opening credits do, and showing scenes and characters from throughout the series, but the series itself has not provided the context which these scenes will inhabit. It is even difficult to make any inferences from these visuals – at this point they simply exist as more clues which require filling in.
When the episode itself begins, it is with the closing scenes of the first episode from a different perspective. Again the viewer sees the egg hatch, but this time it is accompanied by a closeup of Reika – who from the way she has spoken and acted apparently knows much more about what is happening than any other character or the audience. Even the invading planes – currently fighting the Dolems – do not know what the Rahxephon actually is, and attack it instinctively to be annihilated in response. Yet the Dolems also attack it, and one of them is similarly destroyed – the previously impervious Mu terror weapon crippled in a single shot. The action, such as it is, is languid and suspenseful – the Dolem and the Rahxephon attack with almost-invisible beams of energy, and move by hovering around in an alien fashion. Traditionally, mecha anime is based on dynamic, highly-choreographed combat – blows traded and shots fired – but here that is replaced with a much more stationary style. Indeed, the Rahxephon itself still appears incomplete or inactive, its wings folded around it like a cocoon. The Mu fortress disappears again and the Rahxephon completely seals itself back up, powering down and marking the fight complete.
What follows is the fallout from this; the Olen (Ayato) has been recovered according to the Mu officers, and the secret service are completing the picture of what has happened. This sequence makes clear some of the uncertainties from the previous episode as a kind of recapitulation – the women in red is definitely working with the attacking army to try and save Ayato. Yet as Ayato is in hospital, looking for answers, more uncertainties appear – the nurses deny having seen Reika (despite her being with him in the Shrine). That he is apparently fine yet sent to the hospital makes sense in the context of the secret agents’ actions – they are still monitoring him – but the extent of the cover-up, and what will happen next, is the new narrative focus. Diegetic exposition in the form of a news-broadcast (from the Mu perspective) confirms the other plot point – that they control the city and see the human forces as “invaders” – and thus the picture of the setting is finally, apparently, completed. All that remains as uncertainty is the Rahxephon itself, and what will happen next to Ayato – until the very next scene. Ayato meets his absent mother for the first time and she seems to be dressed the same, and with the same hairstyle, as the leader of the Mu forces and co-ordinator of the Dolems. Her denial of having seen the Rahxephon – and guarded claims of being “far away” from the battle – make this seem quite likely, and suddenly there is very much a new question raised. Is Ayato one of the Mu, or a human?
Her affection for him is similarly guarded and suspicious; the viewer knows she lies about her work, and her role within the “enemy,” and so her asking him to rest (with the implication of remaining indoors) may well be part of the general surveillance operation that has been built up. Ayato is thus increasingly cut off – he has rejected his best chance of finding out the truth, his mother is living a double life and actively participating in a manhunt for him, and Reika refuses to explain what is going on or her role in it. When Ayato’s mother, still spying on him, tries to call Reika in order to find out who he has been talking to, though, the line is dead; again Reika has simply vanished. This ongoing mystery – someone who is apparently Ayato’s friend, who he has painted a portrait of and who he has spoken to on the telephone, can vanish and erase all evidence of their existence – shows no sign of being resolved soon, and is left hanging as something to keep in mind (as with the wristwatch in the first scene of episode 1).
Thus the viewer is now in possession of much more setting detail, and begins to consider subsequent scenes in a different light. When Ayato is at school, the question is whether the Mu are indoctrinating the students since the news-reports are clearly propaganda (at odds with what the viewer has seen through Ayato’s perspective). Then comes the biggest setting inconsistency yet; the schoolteacher claims that the world has been destroyed outside of Japan, raising the question of who is invading? It is seemingly a well-known and unquestioned fact that other countries do not exist in this setting, while a map on the wall highlights the city of Tokyo as worthy of specific note. The inconsistencies continue; Ayato talks with his friends about meeting Reika, yet her desk is vacant and they do not seem to know who he is talking about until she appears. Whenever Reika is about, people know her and acknowledge her existence, yet whenever she is not in the scene, she may as well not exist. While this is fresh in the viewer’s mind, her conversation with Ayato takes on a different light; as he doubts what he remembers happening in the face of everyone’s apparently blindness to it, she tells him “if you remember it” it must be true, and that if he wants to find the Rahxephon again, he will. This view of the world – that there is a conspiracy – is then corroborated by a letter (presumably from the woman in red in how it echoes her words) and a photograph of the Rahxephon that turns up in his house. What follows is a night of revelations to the viewer and to Ayato; firstly that the Dolem, apparently wrecked, is capable of regenerating and is doing so.
Then that there is a conspiracy, as is clear to the viewer. The woman asks Ayato how many people are living on Earth – he claims only 23 million are left, supporting the claim that much of the planet is apparently depopulated following the Mu invasion. The woman claims all six billion humans have survived, and takes Ayato back to her aircraft apparently to prove it. Ayato’s mother is subsequently revealed as one of the Mu, concerned about the whereabouts of the “Terran” aircraft – and what is more, Reika is once again at the shrine. The Mu are losing their control – of the Rahxephon and over Ayato, their Olen. What is more, Reika is exercising control over the Terran aircraft, drawing it towards the Shrine as all the pieces of the puzzle come together. Ayato is drawn to the Rahxephon – apparently known to the woman in red – and it is finally truly awakening. He is taken inside it as its wings properly unfold – and its eyes open. The truth of the Rahxephon is that it is apparently controllable, and it has chosen the Olen to command it. Ayato’s mother is injured in this sequence of events, the blue blood she sheds making it finally clear to both viewer and protagonist what has been suspected (that she is alien) and there the episode ends – again with a number of mysteries resolved, and many more raised.
This second episode is as dense as the first, providing generally diegetic recapitulation of the first episode’s revelations and using this to then follow the viewer’s logical train of thought. Each revelation poses further apparently obvious questions which the narrative comes to in good time while leaving the main mysteries – the identities of Reika, the woman in red and the Rahxephon itself – ongoing. Indeed, the greatest mystery of all is how many of the characters we have met are Mu? It is clear Ayato’s mother is, and so it is likely he is (although his father remains out of the picture). Reika has an affinity for the Rahxephon, which makes it possible she is as well. The only confirmed human is the woman in red and the other pilot given focus, because they actively fight the Mu.