Friends and Outsiders – Family in Episode 5 of Rahxephon

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The first half of episode 5 of Rahxephon was heavily focused on establishing Ayato’s position within TERRA – the outsider, saying the wrong thing to some people and ignored by most. It built on episode 4’s cryptic introductory scenes and made clear through implication and passing interactions not only what the other characters think of Ayato but how their own behaviours might be fronts for if not secrets but insecureties. The only characters who really emerge as sympathetic are the doctor and his sister Quan; both may have secrets but they act in a way which does not exclude or apparently set out to deceive Ayato.

Ayato and Megumi's reaction to the news they will be living close together somewhat mimics her reaction to the order from Kunugi.

Ayato and Megumi’s reaction to the news they will be living close together somewhat mimics her reaction to the order from Kunugi.

The second half thus begins with Ayato setting out to his new home. He remains cynical of their intentions, calling it a “concentration camp”; while the doctor has been the human face of the organisation and reached out to him, the audience are very much in his position, uncertain about anyone’s true motives. Indeed, the doctor’s attempts to reassure him – talking about Kunugi’s supposed human side – seem very unconvincing. The commander apparently lives in an opulent, isolated mansion and invites others over largely for formal gatherings, which really says little to reassure anyone that he is a well-meaning person. The identity of Ayato’s new host, however, serves in its own way as a conclusion to a small mystery from the first half – he is staying with the junior officer Megumi and her uncle and this was clearly what Kunugi’s aide asked her to do. While it is not the same kind of imposition that perhaps Elvy’s conversation with Haruka implied, it explains her shocked response. The doctor teases the pair of youths, continuing to try and present himself as someone personable and sympathetic, but it is a kind of forced, awkward friendliness that (much like his interactions with Sayako earlier in the episode) simply exasperates others.

Megumi's uncle's inkstone punctuates all his scenes until the point where Ayato is properly a member of the family, making him seem distant.

Megumi’s uncle’s inkstone punctuates all his scenes until the point where Ayato is properly a member of the family, making him seem distant.

This idea of pretence and uncertain future prospects continues as Ayato meets Megumi’s uncle; he tells him to “pretend [he’s] staying at a relative’s place,” something which simply reinforces Ayato’s status as an outsider – he is not even integrated in this new world enough to stay as a guest, but instead as a pretend relative. In turn, this causes more awkwardness as Ayato admits he has never had the chance to visit any proper relatives. As if in response, Megumi’s uncle tells her to show Ayato around – again making him feel an outsider and imposition on the family. Each attempt to help Ayato fit in instead reinforces how he cannot do so – he does not know the area, his lodgings are simply a result of being forced on one of the junior staff as a result of an order from high command, and he is socially out of his element.

The composition of the scenes of Megumi "showing Ayato around" make it quite clear there is little friendship there.

The composition of the scenes of Megumi “showing Ayato around” make it quite clear there is little friendship there.

There is an intriguing callback in the subsequent scene to Haruka and Ayato’s exploration of the ruins of Japan – Megumi leads him silently around apparently unglamorous places such as a wind turbine and a main road, as if out of duty, and even when he tries to make conversation she is initially abrupt. Yet when he explains how unwelcome he feels, and threatens to go, she apparently becomes more sincere, not wanting to be blamed for driving him off. Yet her exact words and body language in this scene show it is anything but honest; she is not looking at him and the claim the she doesn’t want him to go “because of a fight with me” suggests as much a fear of failing in her duty to Kunugi as a superior officer than a fear of failing to bond as a true friend.

A boy and girl sheltering from the rain together would, in a romance anime, be a chance for intimacy.

A boy and girl sheltering from the rain together would, in a romance anime, be a chance for intimacy.

Even a scene which in many anime with young characters getting to know each other would lead to a kind of forced intimacy – the pair sheltering from a sudden downpour in a shop – is awkward and based around Ayato’s outsider status. Megumi asks if he will buy anything, and he has to remind her he has no money from the outside world.

What follows is a strangely voyeuristic scene – not in the awkward, teenage, sexual way of Ayato looking down Sayako’s top, but a series of point-of-view shots of Megumi’s feet and shoulders as the rain drips from her. She notices this and is naturally offended; Ayato’s offer of a handkerchief for her to dry herself with does not break the tension as she calls it unwarranted familiarity. Unwanted or unwelcome familiarity and the associated imposition, be it physical, voyeuristic or social, is coming to define this episode – Megumi uses the threat of her older sister sharing a house next door to warn Ayato off from entering her personal space, but then the pair’s own space is invaded by two other girls asking if Megumi is playing truant to date Ayato. It is this – an act of social violation of privacy – which causes the breakdown of the tense scene in the shop. Ayato asks if Megumi has left school to work at TERRA, and she snaps – which drives him to continue with his own moment of assertiveness. He reminds her that even if he is an imposition on her life, she has a routine and a family around her, while he does not, before retreating into his own space.

While previous scenes involving Megumi have shied away from presenting her endearingly, her moment of reconciliation with Ayato uses a camera angle almost specifically intended to show deference.

While previous scenes involving Megumi have shied away from presenting her endearingly, her moment of reconciliation with Ayato uses a camera angle almost specifically intended to show deference.

It is this – a moment of decisiveness and a desire to withdraw (if anything, what Megumi has been trying to elicit with her coldness) – that brings them together as she asks about Ayato’s hobbies. They talk about his home life, and the spectre of returning to Tokyo Jupiter is again raised – he admits he misses his old life and would like to go back, but has also come to accept he cannot. This conversation – the act of catharsis that it serves as – is what ultimately brings Megumi round to realise Ayato’s position, and she finally apologises for her rudeness. The scene ends with them sharing a drink together – the kind of friendship that the setting of the scene implies as inevitable – and, as they are now finally together in understanding, this is reflected in the weather with the sun coming out.

Again, forwardness and confidence - especially sexual confidence - is made uncertain. Elvy is drunk and acting irresponsibly.

Again, forwardness and confidence – especially sexual confidence – is made uncertain. Elvy is drunk and acting unprofessionally and embarrassingly.

Back at the house, Ayato discovers the final piece of the puzzle of his new life – Megumi’s older sister is Haruka, who is with a quite drunk Elvy. Yet the fact that she comes to him – not the other way around, which was what initially drove him off and towards the doctor – is what allows for reconciliation. What follows is a scene bringing together all of the disparate plot elements of the episode – Ayato’s desire to fit in and have somewhere to live as a family, Elvy’s insistence that he should be seduced and his relationship with Haruka. That he is given his own name-plate to go on the house’s door marks the completion of this cycle of acceptance, visually evoking the very first scenes of the series where his old house – with its similar name-plate – featured heavily. The sub-plot of the Rahxephon’s stasis and petrification ultimately proves to be a kind of misdirection into science-fiction; it enforces the idea that the machine responds to its pilot (for as Ayato is finally relaxed and properly a part of the outside world it resets itself) but really proved a red herring in the context of this section of the plot.

Conversations with a next-door neighbour through the upstairs window, much like the scene in the shop, are a hallmark of romantic  or comedy anime that Rahxephon uses in its own way.

Conversations with a next-door neighbour through the upstairs window, much like the scene in the shop, are a hallmark of romantic or comedy anime that Rahxephon uses in its own way.

A closing montage of harmony – Ayato finally in a traditional anime-cliche relationship with Megumi complete with neighbouring upstairs windows to talk through, Kunugi reassured that he is settling in and Quan playing the piano for her brother – is, however, interrupted by a return to the strangeness that defines the setting.

The warmly-lit intimacy between Quan and Dr Kisaragi seems almost incestuous.

The warmly-lit intimacy between Quan and Dr Kisaragi seems almost incestuous, the scene developing in unexpected ways.

Quan asks the doctor to comb her hair, but begins to strip off as he does so in a scene that would be very sexually-charged if it had not been made plain they are siblings. Much as she talked about red and blue blood in the previous episode, here he talks about Kunugi’s trees, with their blue blossoms – just after saying that the superstition goes cherry trees have red blossoms traditionally associated with blood. Dr Kisaragi’s closing words – “What kind of people are buried in his garden…” – and the fact that he is drinking a red drink while Quan a blue one implies significant mysteries remain about TERRA and its relationship with the Mu. The viewer knows Ayato is at least partially a Mu, and now knows that he has the same markings on his skin as Quan. From this, the logical assumption is that she – and her brother – are in a similar situation.

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