Sexuality and Standoffishness – Women in Episode 5 of Rahxephon

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It is the still-anonymous doctor, Quan’s brother, who is the closest Ayato has to a friend at this point.

Episode 4 of Rahxephon ended with the first fight between Ayato and a Dolem in the series after the revelation about Tokyo Jupiter and TERRA; it was a perfunctory and abruptly-ended affair which reinforced both how immensely powerful the Rahxephon is, and how uncontrollable it is. Thus it is fitting that episode 5 should begin with the other characters – those who spent the previous episode debating what should be done – trying to make sense of the mysteries.

While the viewer is apparently slightly better-informed at this point about the Rahxephon, if not the Dolems or the Mu, there are still far too many mysteries and secrets to properly hold an informed position. Furthermore, the episode begins with everyone stumped once the initial easily-understood facts are laid down – the Rahxephon is apparently turning to stone and all TERRA and the Federation can do is watch confused. Yet while the mysterious machines and aliens are the focus of the mysterious figures of authority – and Makoto aims to use Ayato’s victory as proof of why TERRA should keep control of both him and his machine – there is still the uncertainty at this point for the viewer of why things happen. The Rahxephon is apparently autonomous yet bound to Ayato – while the physical relationship of the two is a standard mecha cliche of robot and pilot, Ayato has hardly done anything. On top of this, the tests he is undergoing seem to suggest he is very similar to the mysterious girl introduced in episode 4 – both have unusual tattoos or birthmarks on their chests.

TERRA's junior officers seem to ignore Ayato and continue with a very personal line of conversation.

TERRA’s junior officers seem to ignore Ayato and continue with a very personal line of conversation.

Continuing the recurring structure of the series, where Ayato carries on as a kind of victim of circumstance and passive figure in the middle of the mysteries, the action cuts to his settling in on TERRA’s island base. It is presented as an idyllic paradise to look at, all tropical waters and flowerbeds inside, yet it is hard to reconcile this with the apparent corruption and secrecy of those who work there. Ayato is on the defensive, unwilling to accept anything at face value – even Haruka’s order to look after him. Yet this scene – which would be awkward and tense as it is, with Makoto’s superior Kunugi and his adjutant talking around Ayato in cold and professional terms, and the hostility towards Haruka – is given an additional level of awkwardness to highlight how Ayato does not fit in. The two junior officers, young girls presented immediately as more interested in what is going on around them than their work, talk about Ayato’s looks and personality as if he was not in the room. This appears to be a recurring theme in the series; the people outside Tokyo see Ayato as in some way inconsequential, and an inconvenience or curiosity to be studied and ignored. What is more, it is almost reminiscent of the girl in purple’s odd forthrightness from the previous episode – she seemed not to notice how awkward her behaviour was making Ayato feel, or what she was saying – much as these two young women continue a private conversation about him while he is in the room.

While the viewer does not know what Kunugi's aide proposes, it clearly offends Megumi.

While the viewer does not know what Kunugi’s aide proposes, it clearly offends Megumi.

The only person who does not is the doctor who has been performing the medical tests, and this seems to disquiet Haruka and the others. Kunugi’s aide apparently tries to release this tension with a mysterious request to Megumi, one of the junior officers, but her sudden shocked response suggests that whatever he suggested is off the cards. Seeing this very ordinary rudeness from the junior officers and Kunugi’s aide is ultimately the thing which I feel sets this scene as particularly unsettling and unexpected. Traditionally the characters of junior staff in mecha series – Dominic or Moondoggie in Eureka Seven, the bridge crew in Macross and even characters like Maya in Evangelion – tend to be friendly and the kind of mid-point between the out-of-their-element protagonist and the professionalism of the military. To have even TERRA’s lower-ranking staff showing apparent contempt to the outsider – not out of any political agenda or desire to use his expertise for personal gain, just because they apparently have no manners – presents it as more hostile than any of the actual outrages that he has been a victim of. The doctor may be cryptic – as secretive as Makoto or Kunugi about his intentions, in fact – but he apparently treats Ayato as an equal, talking to him about the Mu in a conversation that to a small extent fills in gaps in the viewers’ knowledge. He claims the Mu’s song has “nothing unnecessary in it,” and that “Mu” is possibly not really the name of the aliens.

Ayato's decision to leave with the doctor clearly distresses Haruka.

Ayato’s decision to leave with the doctor clearly distresses Haruka.

This is quickly followed by another revelation – that the mysterious girl is in fact his sister. Her initial greeting, however, is as ambiguous as anything she has previously said; it may be a joke, or it may be an example of her naivete. She claims that “the doctor here is stupid” and that she is being lied to about her wellbeing. The viewer of course knows that the doctor in question is her brother and Ayato’s new guardian – and that the tests are something to do with the Rahxephon or the Mu. This is completely glossed over (and the viewer is subtly reminded that apparently Ayato has not seen the doctor’s face, as the tests take place in sealed chambers) and the scene continues with the three joking about Ayato’s previous encounter with the girl, and an apparently significant anecdote. TERRA’s HQ is named for a Japanese mythological utopia, and comprises a floating city and an island on which are a series of ruins under investigation. The exposition continues – more frank and useful than anything except Haruka’s initial explanation of the state of the world – about Kunugi’s role at TERRA, apparently to protect Ayato and the Rahxephon. This attempt to humanise Kunugi, painting him as a concerned yet outwardly distant figure with his rare cherry trees, blossom-viewing parties and country retreat, is unconvincing simply based on what happened in the previous episode – he might be cold-but-caring, but there is little evidence that his caring side extends beyond the professional. Finally, as this scene comes to a close and Ayato is introduced to the doctor’s assistant Sayako, an expert in music and the Mu’s “song”, the mysterious girl is introduced as Quan. He lives alone with the two women, claiming Quan is uneasy around strangers and as if to continue the theme of others being distant and unwelcoming around Ayato, she seems to act strangely when he misconstrues their relationship as something other than a professional one.

After her frosty exit from the scene in the TERRA control room, Haruka’s reappearance is something more than a return to her expected character. There has been the implication she is irresponsible and forthright (being overly forward and indiscreet, with the implication that this is covering some insecurity, is something of a theme among women in Rahxephon – Haruka joins Quan and Megumi in this way) and now it is made plainly clear as she is drinking heavily over lunch with Elvy. The two women are, however, using the relaxed environment to resolve their past disagreement; Elvy reiterates how she feels she has been deceived by someone who she does not strictly need to answer to, and accuses her of in some way grooming Ayato as a puppet in a similar fashion. She goes on to claim Ayato must have been a failed experiment given their falling out, and that she needs to be a “good woman” not a “good person.” This implies that there should be a sexual element in the relationship – picking up on an implicit thread of intimacy that has been running through the scenes in TERRA with Quan’s asking Ayato for assistance with her clothing, Megumi and her colleague talking about Ayato’s appearance and an introductory shot of Sayako from Ayato’s perspective as he stares at her breasts.

The Tokyo Jupiter episodes impressed upon the viewer the importance of picking up on small apparently irrelevant contextual details, and as a result even in scenes that should perhaps be comic or character-driven there is now a suggestion that small interactions can suggest implicit things. The depictions of sexuality are very forward and physical – considered in light of Haruka and Elvy’s conversation, the nature of what Kunugi’s aide said to Megumi to elicit such a response can be reconsidered – and as the recurring theme of the tension between Ayato’s sexuality and the women he is surrounded with’s own behaviour (as it is an awkward mix of forwardness and coldness) suggests, openness of relationships is not a simple route to harmony. Even Sayako and the doctor seem to have their own secrets – Ayato’s misunderstanding about the nature of their relationship seems to change the atmosphere of the scene to a slightly frostier one that the doctor’s comments about Quan do not defuse. That it is characters with apparently much to hide who act so openly in a social context – and in Haruka’s case this is shown to be an attempt at reconciliation for a professional blunder – enforces the theme underpinning these early episodes of Rahxephon that everyone is engaged in a complex net of misdirection, using outgoing social faces to deflect attention from their secrets.

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One comment

  1. Xelestial

    I came upon this page completely randomly from Google but am impressed at the observations. I thought I understood most everything there is to know about RX when this post underlined subtle parts that I guess I somehow had noticed but didn’t really see before. Such quality of direction and writing is even more evident to me and I really think RX is a great example of a great work…this reinforces my desire to study it as a writer. Nice work.

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