Rahxephon Episode 8 – Predictable Referentiality

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Rahxephon episode 8 begins with perhaps the expected endpoint of the story-thread established previously; Futagami is observing the Rahxephon itself under the supervision of Dr Kisaragi. As before, he jokes about in a way which implies he may be knowledgeable of it – comparing it to an idol in a shrine (as, of course, it was when it was first activated). He then sees the remnants of the Dolem destroyed in the previous battle, and is reminded of his actual status – a pure observer who must know what should be kept secret. The interaction between Futagami and Kisaragi is a welcome levity not based around Ayato’s outsider nature, a more comic take on the oppressive bureaucracy of TERRA.

Traditionally, in a super-robot animé, the episode’s conflict begins with the enemy trying to exploit some observed weakness in the heroes; in series with a stock enemy-group of sentient generals constructing weapons this comes from observing past failures or devising new technologies. Rahxephon does not have this human face to the enemy – while the Dolems are weapons deployed by the Mu, no information about how they function or are made has been provided. They are thus a strange mid-point between the purely bestial enemy type (as, for example, Evangelion’s Angels are) derived from kaiju giant-monster science-fiction (the grandfather of which is Godzilla) and the very mechanical mecha-anime foes such as Mazinger Z‘s Mechanical Beasts. The “plans” of the Dolems seem long-term ones, not simply reactive strategy intended to overcome a new superweapon deployed by the heores, but instead to simply weaken TERRA. This is most clear in the case of the city-destroying Dolem from episode 6, which in its recurrence affected Kim emotionally, but in this episode it is seen again. Kisaragi is attracted to a crystal set within the Dolem’s remains and takes it from the laboratory in secret. This is clearly raising flags of suspicion for a viewer; the powers of the Dolems have been shown to be immense (including the ability to regrow damaged parts, or to have secondary cores and use deceptive designs to trick attackers) and so an apparently incongruous crystal within the wreckage, designed to be noticed, seems a likely candidate for some kind of contingency weapon. Again, this is touching on genre familiarity; a common device in super-robot animé is an apparently easily-defeated foe which returns stronger after the heroes examine the remains. Such is the strength of Rahxephon; it rewards genre knowledge while avoiding an overreliance on references. One does not even have to know much about super robots to see that stealing a sample of alien material is a bad idea (indeed this kind of scientific hubris is a seed for many alien-attack stories).

From this exchange in the lab the action changes to Ayato on the beach, taking a holiday with his new companions. Megumi seems to be opening up to him, but he is still on edge and seeing causes for remaining shy; when she asks what he is drawing he sees it as a distraction rather than a chance for conversation. The ultimate revelation from this exchange, though, is that Ayato has a strange tattoo or birthmark on his chest – he asks if Megumi also has one and she responds badly in a way which makes the answer unclear: “Of course not! You can’t see it!” The mark itself is clearly not a random natural one, shaped as it is like an eye and sun symbol, and it seems to evoke the imagery around the Rahxephon’s original shrine. It is another mystery among the many around Ayato (although this one has a reasonable theory already associated with it – it may be the mark of his Mu ancestry) but at this time it seems relatively unimportant and the focus of the episode is still not on the overarching conspiracies. It is very much a release of tension even if it is introducing new plot aspects, although it stands out from expectations. The beach episode in most animé would be a chance for risque humour, but in Rahxephon it is a very unsexual affair; Megumi, as the obvious counterpart to Ayato, does not flaunt her sexuality and he remains distant and does not pursue her. Similarly Haruka, who previously has been forward and apparently promiscuous in intent now remains modest and works throughout her holiday. Rahxephon’s approach to sex and relationships is thus again shown to be a complex one; crucially, its characters are shown to have dimensions beyond their predominant personality traits and simple romantic comedy is often avoided.

Kisaragi’s arrival on the scene brings with it another revelation; it is Christmas (suggested in a previous episode, albeit with no clear timescale) and he is holding a party. The others seem distinctly lukewarm about the idea as it seems to be purely a TERRA employees event, and Kisaragi is presented as the over-enthusiastic employee inviting his colleagues to an office Christmas party. The awkward inability of anyone in Rahxephon to properly separate work and leisure is a recurring theme, linked as it is to exploitation and secrecy, and so Kisaragi’s apparent enthusiasm for what is ultimately a social event based around artificial relationships stands out as unwelcome. With this, the first part of the episode – the establishment of the situation leading to the conflict – is complete. The turning-point is Kisaragi giving his assistant Sayako the Mu crystal as an early Christmas present – now, all the pieces of the episode are in place. The TERRA staff are relaxed and off-guard, on holiday. Kisaragi has stolen the alien artifact and given it to his friend, placing her at the centre of what will inevitably be a Mu attack (based on the genre traditions so heavily being hinted at).

Then begins the second act; it begins snowing. Hardly anyone at TERRA has experienced snow because the island’s geography gives it a usually tropical climate, and so what seems a reasonable, if sudden, change in weather is highlighted as something notable. As the characters discuss the snow, Futagami meets with the Federation officer and they discuss the difference between religious observation and faith. The question of superstition and predestination is an interesting one for the viewer at this point, since it comes at a time when the series itself has established itself as acting in very predictable, predetermined ways in its narrative structures. As Futagami talks about a superstitious fisherman giving away a lucky knife after seeing a bad omen, only to die on his next voyage, a kind of parallel emerges with how Rahxephon presents its own premonitions of future events in its use of narrative cliché. The humour that was perhaps absent from the beach scene also returns as the episode changes tone; Ayato’s outsider status is shown visibly in his lack of suitable winter clothing, and he is reduced to wearing a dress to stay warm. Meanwhile Megumi, equally unused to the cold, complains at Haruka’s strict mother routine.

The next step of the main plot comes as TERRA begin to realise the Mu remains they have may not be completely dead, while Kunugi talks of visiting a mysterious man (possibly the same person as introduced in a previous secret meeting). Meanwhile Megumi opens up a little to Kim about her own private life; outside of the comedy in her interactions with Haruka and Ayato she is actually feeling something of an outsider, self-conscious about her height and resentful of Haruka’s good reputation around TERRA. Hearing Megumi’s speech here, where she claims Haruka’s immaturity is a private thing kept within the family in turn presents her as apparently unaware of the situation; the viewer has already seen Haruka acting up with Elvy, for one. Yet Megumi’s impression of her sister turns out to be immature in itself; she sees Haruka as pathetic for keeping an unsent present intended for a former boyfriend long after they parted ways. Kim’s response is diplomatic, trying to hide apparent subtle disapproval and to get some answers about Ayato – but Megumi is distracted by the sight of Souichi. It is revealed she has feelings for him, but is worried that he prefers the more confident and adult Haruka. As the scene changes back to TERRA, the implied plot developments about the Dolem are confirmed – there is either a second Dolem, or the initial one has revived itself. Here Kisaragi is placed on the spot (for it has been established he stole part of the sample) but he avoids responsibility by playing the dispassionate scientist.

Here, the deceptions begin to fall apart; Haruka sees the necklace, and Sayako tries to hide it. Meanwhile Kisaragi has to explain why Quan is apparently indisposed and Ayato is being tested alone. The episode began with the ingredients of the crisis being assembled and now they are all beginning to resolve; the next scene shows Sayako’s necklace beginning to grow and a mysterious ghostly figure appearing behind her. The snow begins to thicken, and it turns out it is centred on Sayako; she has been possessed by something within it and accuses Kisaragi of “not warming her” before apparently leaping to her death from the top of TERRA. It transpires she has somehow survived the fall, and begins to freeze the water around her – in so doing cutting off TERRA’s power. Here the mistake made in the initial act of the story has created the monster for the second act; from the crystal has grown a new Dolem made of ice. As expected, the Rahxephon launches to re-fight the thought-destroyed enemy, and the true crisis of the episode emerges. In the completion of the stock super robot plotline, Ayato must fight the Dolem without harming Sayako, who is trapped in the ice. The conflict between utilitarianism and compassion in this kind of hostage situation is used in the genre to usually show both the inflexibility of authority and the intuition of the protagonists – and TERRA’s commanders seem aware of this genre trope. Ayato is reminded if he wants his way he will need to find his own miracle and this hesitation leads to his apparent defeat. The Dolem taunts him, calling him “one loved by none” – and in this moment of crisis again the supernatural forces at play save him; Reika appears, and the Rahxephon powers up again with a literal light from heaven supplemented thematically by the hymn-like soundtrack. He is able to, by attacking the Dolem, break its possession of Sayako and allow her to escape before it is destroyed – and as a result the weather returns to normal. The continued return to shots of the TERRA commanders’ satisfied expressions at Ayato’s ingenuity and success (apparently against orders) strengthens the idea that this episode – and the series as a whole – is very self-conscious in its use of cliché. By presenting the expected utilitarian facade, what they did was encourage Ayato to fight for something more personal.

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Thus the episode moves into its third act, the return to normality. Kisaragi throws his party, Sayako reconciles herself with him and he learns his lesson about hubris. Meanwhile Megumi and Kim complete their sub-plot involving a date with Souichi, and the final piece of the episode’s other puzzle is revealed. A pair of gloves given to him by Haruka, which helped him stay warm while the Rahxephon was frozen by the Dolem, were in fact the gift for a former boyfriend that Megumi talked about in the episode. Thus a complete, very standard super-robot story is told obeying the genre’s three-act structure. Rahxephon stands out, in fact, in its use of this by juxtaposing the expected with subtle changes, and constantly hinting that the characters are acting in such a way as to manipulate via these cliches.

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One comment

  1. danholloway

    just wanted to say thanks for the comments. I can appreciate the frustration with lack of context/definition but what i can’t really say in the comments is I was under strict instruction to repeat absolutely nothing I’d said in previous articles anywhere. Maybe I should hae dropped things in as asides more but I decided to use links instead so I have to accept the consequences – but I agree, it’s a huge shame you can’t have a discussion of the ideas behind something as opposed to the surface without having the pseud card played. Cheers

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