The Power of Juxtaposition in Episode 7 of Rahxephon

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Episode 6 of Rahxephon was perhaps the first to properly follow the structure of a super-robot animé episode, with its setup of an enemy showing its power, the creation of a plan to fight it and then the fight itself, in which the enemy’s unique ability caused setbacks which had to be overcome with special abilities from Ayato’s machine. Yet it was something more than that formula mostly due to the history within the setting ascribed to the enemy. Most super-robot series have a new monster each episode created at its start by the enemy to do battle with the hero, but the Dolem from episode 6 was shown to be a seasoned weapon of the Mu which had previously destroyed much of Australia. The episode was thus as much about Kim’s coming to terms with this and taking part in the fight as Ayato’s continued quest for acceptance and understanding his position.

Episode 7 picks up where episode 6 ultimately concluded; TERRA’s commanders are returning to their island base, with the journalist they met, Futagami, in tow. Seeing as the “secret” of the Rahxephon is out – despite all efforts to keep outsiders uninformed – TERRA are switching to a feigned openness, picking the most outspoken of their perceived threats and giving him a “tour” of the island. Commander Kunugi’s tone of forced levity and the awkwardness of the conversation during the flight makes it clear that there is an underlying deception going on here – and not enough is known about the parties involved to know whether it is justifiable. Indeed, the unsubtlety of TERRA’s actions here make the bumbling unsubtlety of the journalist seem suspicious – Kunugi is acting relaxed to seem accommodating, but is his opposite number feigning stupidity to ingratiate himself with TERRA?

Ignorance – feigned or real – continues to feature as the action returns to the island. Ayato is helping test a new device installed in the base to allow him to teleport to the controls of the Rahxephon from the main command centre by walking through a wall. Kim and Megumi seem confused as to how the teleporter works, and assume Dr Kisaragi knows – yet the next scene shows he is as ignorant of its function as anyone else. As Ayato enters the machine, he claims “she’s not here” – the confused conclusion of the previous fight, where apparently a vision of the late Reika snapped him out of his trance and allowed him to escape – still unexplained within the setting. Throughout the whole series, the amount known about anything by the characters and audience changes gradually; when everyone seems ignorant of something (not merely some characters keeping a secret from others) then it immediately seems more significant.

Elsewhere, the tension between ignorance and secrecy continues as Kunugi and his entourage meet Elvy and her new squadron, now assigned to TERRA’s main land base. Their meeting is a series of awkward moments; Futagami is tactless and flirtatious, while the TERRA officers are apparently cruel in their formality. The matter of the raid to rescue Ayato and the Rahxephon is raised, and Elvy is reminded by a Federation representative that she was the sole survivor of it. The first real sincerity comes when Kunugi is reunited with Souichi, apologising for giving him the added responsibilities of co-ordinating the fighting against the Dolem single-handedly and offering him a present. Their relationship is shown as almost familial – probably the most genuine friendship despite the significant disparity in seniority. As a result, when Souichi is asked to escort Futagami around the island it seems a reasonable request and is met far more pleasantly than when Megumi was asked to chaperone and host Ayato. For all Kunugi’s secrets – implied in his actions and tone – his use of his authority and stature around TERRA seem sincere. The real impression of Kunugi that is being built up is that for all his authority and secrecy – or perhaps despite them – he is really the only sincere character as yet in terms of his relationships with others.

Inside the Rahxephon, Ayato is undergoing further tests under Kisaragi’s supervision – yet in the control room the doctor seems unimpressed. He dryly (yet claiming sincerity) describes Ayato as “a young boy saving the world” – the kind of banal and slightly patronising description that really emphasises him as “just” a superhero. Here, a comparison with Evangelion in this common consideration of this genre tradition seems relevant. In both series – throughout parts of the opening arc of Rahxephon and right from the very start of Evangelion, the belief of the authority figures is that the protagonist should immediately and unquestioningly conform to a heroic ideal that crucially suits the genre of the fiction. Shinji and Ayato both have reservations about their suitability as pilots, but more importantly the fact they are subject to expectations from authority figures that they will fight. The thematic divergence here is what sets Rahxephon apart; the fact that it is Shinji’s father in Evangelion who demands he fights takes that conflict off towards themes of betrayal of familial trust roles. On the other hand the strained relationships of deceit involving Ayato, Haruka, Dr Kisaragi and even Kunugi are all based around shutting Ayato off from his family and trying to convince him both that he must fight, but also that he is not allowed to know why. This is a clear example of what makes Rahxephon so compelling; it is a series where here the audience, being probably genre-aware and now aware of plot details that Ayato is not (about how Kisaragi views Ayato’s role – and how this is the embodiment of a genre cliché) can see an impending conflict of interest.

Yet while Ayato is shown to still be something of an outsider – and in Kisaragi’s eyes simply a soldier – he is making an effort to fit in. He talks with Kisaragi’s partner about what Christmas presents to buy Megumi and Haruka, and the conversation returns to his family back in beseiged Tokyo – at which point he reassures her that he is quite come to terms with the truth of the matter. The theme of Ayato’s “duty” and forebearance appears again in the next scene as Haruka talks about how he is diligent, dutiful and co-operative; traits which well suit a super-robot pilot, or a soldier, but if they are all he is respected for (as is apparently being made clear) then he cannot be really claimed to fit in – or to be properly respected. This is not properly picked up on, though; Souichi’s return brings with it the spectre of Futagami, who has gone off alone to find his “favourite places” on the island. The truth of it is implied in the very next scene as Kisaragi talks with a Federation officer about the presence of observers like him, sent to spy on TERRA and monitor the Rahxephon. Although the viewer knows his conversation-partner is from the Federation, the fact the scene is juxtaposed with Souichi’s revelations about Futagami – and the viewer already being suspicious of him – is significant. Each of these short conversations slightly redefines the perception of a different set of characters – how Ayato views himself within TERRA, how Haruka views him, and how various characters view Futagami. Futagami himself, though, still seems to be playing the fool. He meets Ayato at a local shop in a scene almost paralleling the one where Ayato and Megumi finally opened up to each other, only this time it is apparently Ayato who is the knowledgeable and experienced one. That he then lies about his role – calling himself only an ordinary office worker posted abroad – confirms any suspicions the audience may have. Both sides are lying, neither convincingly – Futagami hides his role as a journalist (which may itself be a cover story for his role as a spy) while Ayato lies about his job as pilot of the Rahxephon.

Thus the first half of the episode ends with the arrival of a new Dolem; a complex interrelated network of different stories and facades has been built up which seems like it will inevitably break down in some way, and each scene has contributed in some way to increasing both the viewers’ knowledge of characters, but also their suspicions about how reliable that knowledge is.

Part 2 begins immediately with the fight against the Dolem; the Rahxephon now has a ritualistic start-up sequence in true super-robot style, set alongside footage of Elvy’s squadron sortieing. Its dramatic emergence from a pool of water (submarine bases or hangars a common setting feature within the genre beginning with Mazinger Z‘s storage beneath a swimming-pool) and heroic flight in formation with jets is presenting it in quite a different light to even the genre-aware previous episode. That was very much about planning and waiting, while now Ayato is acting more aggressively. Indeed, he is fulfilling the genre expectations that were implied in how Kisaragi talked about him. A cut to Kunugi exclaiming how incredible this all is – followed by confusion about military standard time among the TERRA bridge crew – subsequently shatters the illusion of competence and professionalism. It is an imperfect scenario and that ultimately makes it relatable and endearing. Indeed, as the scene plays out precisely how unprofessional and confused it all is is made clear – TERRA simply cannot even see the Dolem. It is so big it hides in the clouds with only spindly legs visible and so for all the preparations and apparently detailed tactical briefing that Haruka goes through, nothing of real value is communicated to Ayato.

Ayato’s fight is juxtaposed with another encounter – Futagami meeting Megumi’s uncle. Here again Futagami presents the affable facade he is defined by, as he circles around Ayato’s true identity in a way that seems to confirm the suspicion he is a spy. Yet the real focus is the Dolem, and the battle with it. Elvy orders Ayato to hang back as she attacks the Dolem – an act of attempted vengeance for those killed in the attack on Tokyo. The initial strike, intended to break its leg and immobilise it, turns out to be ineffective – what was assumed to be a leg was in fact simply a feeler and in reprisal the Dolem launches a swarm of smaller flying drones. A dog-fight between Elvy’s fighters and the smaller Dolems begins, at which point the action returns to Futagami and Megumi’s uncle. It is perhaps fitting they are shown playing at a board game – Futagami asks direct questions while Shougo (Megumi’s uncle) responds with guarded answers. Ayato is “one other”. His initial response to be asked if he lives alone is that he is unmarried. Again a suspicion of the viewer is thus clarified; it seems Futagami’s ruse of feigning affability is not as convincing as he expects.

As Ayato comes under attack from the Mu drones, he finds his usual tactic of brutal melee combat is completely ineffective in a dog-fight, yet once again the machine finds a way to save him. Rather than the supernatural aggression and destructive force the viewer is expecting, it instead produces a shield to block the enemy attacks. Yet despite this manifestation of the correct tool for the job, Elvy remains too proud and obsessed with vengeance to call Ayato into the fight proper – whereas in the previous episode Kim came to realise Ayato was needed to help her avenge her family, Elvy tries to fight alone. Just before the viewer can see the Dolem, though, the action returns to Futagami; he is coming dangerously close to working out the truth about Ayato and Tokyo. Shougo reminds the journalist that it is clearly impossible that the Ayato Futagami remembers could be the Ayato living on the island, presuming (or feigning) ignorance of the time-dilation effect. If anything it is this showdown between two older men which is both higher-stakes (for whatever reason Futagami has for working out who Ayato is seems unwelcome) and more tense (for all the viewer knows of Futagami is that he is not who he seems – they are kept ignorant of what he actually knows).

Elvy’s attack on the Dolem is an abject failure; she breaches the clouds around it and is immediately incapacitated by an apparently psychic attack which even affects the TERRA ground crew. Ayato proves able to neutralise the attack with a similar weapon from the Rahxephon, and saves her, yet the Dolem subsequently traps him in ice as the clouds freeze. Much like Episode 6’s climax, this is an exciting and very standard kind of super-robot battle – an enemy with bizarre powers versus a hero always one step behind. As the Dolem’s attacks superheat the trapped Rahxephon, a vision of Tokyo and his own thoughts of vengeance – especially for Reika – force him into a last burst of action. Although his machine’s legs are trapped, he is able to activate a gun in its arm and shoot the Dolem, destroying it. There is not the same visceral brutality here and – perhaps significantly – it does not explode completely into the blue blood that the others have but instead slowly disintegrates and crashes.

With the “main” fight thus complete, Shougo and Futagami’s game also comes to its end. Shougo asks if he will play again, and the reply is that the journalist will “come again.” That the last part of the conversation has gone almost entirely unseen – save for Futagami’s parting shot calling Shougo “Dr Rikudoh” – means that the crucial revelations – how much each side knows about the other’s motives – are still missing. Kunugi is then shown to be disciplining Elvy for her ill-judged attack – apparently harsh and a total reversal of tone after his more relaxed attitude around Souichi from the previous episode. However, the camera pans to reveal the Federation officer lurking in the background, and the implication is that Kunugi is keeping up appearances. Yet after this scene the truth of Elvy’s actions is revealed in a sequence that brings the episode around full circle to the idea of a pilot’s duty. She acted alone to protect Ayato from danger, resenting TERRA’s reliance on “a child they have kidnapped.” This is the total opposite of Kisaragi’s estimation of Ayato as a youth destined for greatness (under TERRA’s auspices) and it brings out Haruka’s true feelings – that the entire affair has gone out of control.

There is one final revelation to the episode which perhaps begins the spiral of revelations that has been hinted at throughout. Ayato meets Futagami again, and this time the journalist finds out his real name which leads into more pointed questions. Nothing is certain about Futagami’s loyalty at this time, but the juxtaposition of scenes depicting his tenacity in finding out sensitive information with scenes of the TERRA staff talking of loyalty and divided duties seems to heavily imply he is more than he seems.

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