Rahxephon Episode 6 as a Super Robot Anime

snapshot_dvd_13.16_[2013.04.21_00.03.37]

The fifth episode of Rahxephon built up to a series of guarded revelations that both explained more of what the future holds for the story and also explained how powerless Ayato actually is within it; the conspiratorial confusion that defines the action is given a more cruel, personal aspect in how it is denying him apparently simple answers to genuine and reasonable questions. It is clear he is being used to the audience, and his realisation of this is the main dramatic conflict within the episode. Yet it ends with some measure of harmony; while his life with Megumi and her uncle is a strange one based on necessity over genuine friendship, the way it is visually framed in the cliches of young love suggests there is hope for the future. Episode six begins some time after this, immediately revealing its core conflict. The personal is apparently being set aside for the human-versus-alien war that one might expect from a mecha animé.

The initial scene of some unknown force – reasonably presumed to be a Dolem – attacking cities with a kind of land-melting effect cuts in predictable genre fashion to the progress of Ayato and Megumi; they are again arguing about trivialities of daily life, framed in a way which makes a discussion about local food appear to be a series of innuendos. The scene is used to introduce Kim, Megumi’s comrade and co-worker at TERRA – and again enforce how powerless and inconsequential Ayato is. Kim already knows who he is, and why he is here – and in order to try and regain some control of his own life, Ayato claims he is never going to fight again. This is the kind of personal crisis that defines super-robot animé as a take on the superhero story; the protagonist is not the personal owner of great power but the wielder of it, answerable to its custodians and reliant on machines and their support crews to succeed. Resisting this natural hierachy and sense of duty is a commonly-used device. Yet in this episode of Rahxephon the device is both used in its expected form (Ayato’s rejection of his duty in the eyes of TERRA) and presented from a different angle in the next scene, as TERRA is itself under scrutiny for its bad practices. The conflict around the attempted appropriation of the Rahxephon by the Federation – the kind of disregard for authority and rules that is usually endearing in a super-robot series but here was shown to be a shambolic affair where no side appeared sympathetic – is now leading to the press turning against them. That TERRA continues to deny the existence of the Rahxephon – and thus downplays Ayato’s status to “officially non-existent” – goes some distance to justifying his resistance and scepticism.

snapshot_dvd_05.26_[2013.04.20_23.54.26]

Yet continued attempts to deny the existence of the Rahxephon seem impossible to maintain as the Dolem’s attack is all over the news, and TERRA must respond. The creature attacks by erasing vast swathes of land from existence, carving Mu symbols into the earth, and presenting an obvious and unignorable threat. This political tension continues to be juxtaposed with standard super-robot smaller-scale dramas; Kunugi is unable to return to TERRA and leaves the inexeperiences Souichi in command to face an enemy with apparently unstoppable capabilities. What follows is a combination of world-building and continuation of the main plot; the Dolem is a known specimen previously responsible for the destruction of much of Australia – immediately presenting a credible and immense threat. Previously the Mu have been shown to attack with spectacular and powerful yet ultimately focused weapons, their intention to destroy the Rahxephon and suppress the population. This creation, however, is shown to attack population centres with a mysterious intent (carving the symbols in the earth) which has an immense human cost as well – indiscriminate destruction as a side-effect of some other purpose.

snapshot_dvd_06.59_[2013.04.20_23.55.36]

Ayato’s confusion at the simple human scale of this kind of a weapon – six million dead in its attack on Australia fourteen years previous when to him that figure represents a quarter of the entire population – does little to endear him to the others at TERRA. That he then rejects his role as the person who must stop this creature from repeating its carnage seems both reasoned in context of how he has been treated by TERRA, but inhumane and petulant when set in comparison to the human cost of inaction. Even in the context of this potential disaster, the truth of the matter turns out to be different; Ayato’s refusal to fight not only represents an insult to TERRA’s hospitality (limited as it is) but a personal one to Kim, whose family were killed by the Dolem in its last attack. While this news seems to invigorate Ayato and encourage him to reconsider, it also alienates Kim from TERRA; her personal investment in the fight makes her unsuitable for the operation in the eyes of Souichi. Here, though, TERRA’s love of undermining its own authority and working against its best interests for some short-term benefit results in Dr Kisaragi subtly letting Kim remain on the operation staff; he has her run an errand to Haruka, ensuring she remains close to those at the centre of events.

From here the action cuts suddenly away from the impending destruction to a look at a wider – and as yet mysterious – picture. TERRA’s senior staff meet with a “Lord Bahbem” to discuss some long-awaited event or plan forty years in preparation. Kunugi explains the status quo of TERRA’s relationship to the Federation to Bahbem, establishing his importance as an undeniable thing yet leaving its nature vague. All that is known, ultimately, is that he is a backer and probable founder of TERRA, with a vested interest in their relationship with the Federation and use of the Rahxephon. While the emphasis is still on the past, the audience see Kim reminiscing about the last time she saw her parents, and how she apparently cut herself off from grieving. Here, Quan’s inhumanity – or rather alienating behaviour – is again made plain. She cannot understand why Kim is sad, and the viewer is by now unsure if this is because she simply does not know about the events in Australia, or if she is simply viewing the world from her strange, emotionless perspective. What is more, when she listens to the music Kim has been listening to – revealed to the the Dolem’s call – she seems to almost be able to translate it, giving what is apparently a clue to its next objective.

Without much explanation save for what could be implied by a genre-familiar audience (that he was moved by Kim’s past tragedy), Ayato is shown to have found his nerve again and decided to fight. Yet it is apparently only a simple test and it is because of this he pilots again; Dr Kisaragi uses his rebellion against him in a patronising fashion, and in a private conversation with his assistant explains that Ayato is being duped. For Kisaragi, and apparently for everyone at TERRA, lying comes naturally; he claims that “there is a significant difference between happiness and truth” and reminds his assistant this is natural adult behaviour.

As the action returns to Kim, continually reliving the past – and fighting herself in what way she can in order to “be a good girl” and avenge her family – the truth of her past is revealed. Megumi’s tactful boiling it down to a simple revenge-story is shown to be a useful lie intended to get Ayato back in the cockpit and avoid emotional complications, while the audience is given the full picture. Kim’s relatives looking after her were unsympathetic to her loss and rejected her – and what seemed at first like stoicism was in fact a result of this lack of any kind of support. This moment of reflection in turn leads to the revelation that if the Dolem’s call is plotted as a wave – using Quan’s cryptic “translation” as a starting-point – it allows TERRA to plot the creature’s course. Again, this kind of breakthrough bringing together all the fine character-details of the episode to reveal something crucial to the machine-versus-alien conflict is a super-robot genre staple, deployed quite subtly by Rahxephon and given power by how unexpected its use is. To see straightforward episode structures used in this way – and dressed as more complex plot points – stands out in a series which apparently eschews simplicity. Even Souichi’s resigned response to her insubordination is the precisely expected one in a story of this kind – and the story continues as expected with a massing of military force on the strength of the tip-off. What transpires, from the ranks of armoured vehicles in preparation to Haruka and Elvy’s messing around, and then the ultimate destruction of the tanks and the deployment of the Rahxephon, is a straight homage to classic super-robot stories and fight choreography.

Even the denouement of the fight – with Ayato being initially beaten back, then tearing into the Dolem before it trapping him with its unique attack – is a genre staple. It is followed by a flashback to Ayato and Kim talking about why he chose to fight again – and he denies the heavily implied reasons that the episode has presented. He claims it is not a matter of revenge or sympathy for Kim’s past, but an acceptance of duty – and him finally realising that piloting is his talent. This seems hollow and unconvincing – for the viewer knows well that Ayato does have his own revenge-drive in having seen Reika die at the hands of the Mu. That it is a vision of Reika which allows him to escape the Dolem’s trap supports this idea – and the end of the fight is a quite different affair to its beginning. The Dolem is shown to be almost afraid of the Rahxephon, which has awakened in similar fashion to previous fights – running away and eschewing its weaponry to simply try a ramming attack which shatters it against the Rahxephon’s shield. It is a development of the previous sudden shifts from indecision to carnage. The episode thus ends with some sense of normality restored through this employment of genre staples – Kim has avenged her family, and set the past behind her, Ayato now “belongs” at TERRA and Kunugi has returned, congratulating Souichi for his unorthodox plan.

In relying heavily on the structures and plot-points of a traditional super-robot episode, episode 6 of Rahxephon effectively shows how the story has developed and how it is finally settling down; the narrative pacing and structure mimicking the narrative subject. There are still mysteries, but they are mysteries increasingly framed within a known setting.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s