Episode 10 of Rahxephon focused on undermining its characters’ search for answers to their own questions, while informing the audience; each of the groups who moved around on the periphery of Kunugi’s personal life thought they knew the truth of his actions but were all subtly wrong. Not knowing the truth – or knowing only part of the truth – is central to the status quo on Nirai-Kanai (the “official” spelling of the island where TERRA is based’s name, according to the 2001 series companion Rahxephon Bible (Kadokawa)) and seeing the usually prophetic and uncannily knowledgeable Futagami himself undermined and proved wrong was a refreshing climax to his storyline so far. Indeed, that he can fail calls into question the apparent omniscience that has defined him so far.
Yet at its heart, Rahxephon remains a super-robot story and episode 11 begins with (as episode 10 did) the robot front and centre. A Dolem is attacking, and Ayato is losing badly; it is emitting a field which has incapacitated the Rahxephon and uses this opportunity to grapple it and teleport away. Very little of the “fight” is shown; the emphasis is more on Haruka and Megumi powerless to stop events taking their course. A common visual cliché of super-robot stories, perhaps most recognisable to many fans when used in Evangelion but certainly common to others, is deployed well – remote observers watching the hero be incapacitated from the safety of their control-room, with footage of the machinery failing (rather than the pilot) used to show how entwined the two are. The Rahxephon is being attacked by the Dolem, and the footage of Ayato in pain and thrown from the controls show that he has no agency any more – but to the observers in TERRA, the two are one and the same. Crucially, what this detached scientific perspective shows is the nature of the enemy’s attack; it is creating the same stasis field as that which encloses Tokyo itself, clearly shown on graphs and charts as a spherical bubble of energy. Yet what the operators do not see is what the attack looks like – something far more symbolic. The final act of the Dolem is to use its wings to embrace the Rahxephon – restraining it, for sure, but in a supposedly loving gesture. Its entire aesthetic is far more angelic than those before – its stasis field takes the form of a halo, it has a high-peaked brow like a mitre and it has long angelic wings (also similar to those on the head of the Rahxephon – further enforcing the link between it and the Mu).
Thus Ayato is transported into “unknown space” – outside of the reach of TERRA’s technology. This can be seen as a brutish establishing of science versus religion, that an obviously angelic and supernatural entity has defied all science – indeed, this is a theme which recurs throughout the series. TERRA is trying to be scientific about things it does not understand, but it cannot well research the Dolems because it is too distant and opposed from them. Yet “unknown space” appears very familiar; the Rahxephon is an interloper in an urban scene that is apparently Tokyo itself. With this revelation, the episode’s title – “Nightmare” is shown. As Ayato wanders this unknown city, shown to be populated mostly by shadowed figures, he meets people from his past before discovering the world outside – his old schoolfriends. They seem to be living totally normal lives without him, and have indeed become a couple – yet they still recognise him, and life apparently goes on as if he never left. Normality apparently resumed, they set off for a day’s ordinary life, playing arcade games – and here Ayato sees where things are wrong. He has returned to the Tokyo of 2015 – travelled through the time dilation effect and so it really is as if he has never left. Here, as the realisation sets in, the dialogue cuts out; this silence save for music, and the visual effect of a reduced screen size (the action is literally framed in a black box as if being observed on a screen) provides a sense of distance. The sense of space in this world is increasingly breaking; characters disappear from scene without apparently leaving, then reappear in perfectly plausible places as if the viewer (and Ayato) is being toyed with. Hiroko, Ayato’s old friend, is equally acting unusually; her behaviour is like Quan’s in many ways, sexual yet distant. She is introduced being intimate with Ayato’s other friend, but quickly apparently seduces him, alienating him and driving him back into the city. He is repelled by this unwanted intimacy, running away and encoutering another strange vision – a balloon animal wearing Reika’s scarf which distorts and bursts, and then he finally meets a fixed point – Haruka.
She leads him into a bar, apparently staffed by TERRA operators, and he begins questioning what he is seeing – but getting no real answers. Her argument is as seductive as Hiroko’s forwardness; she tells him that an easy life is best, and that his dreams (if this is a dream) are surely more comfortable than reality. He is being taunted with what at one point was his sole aim – returning to an apparently peaceful life – but here the peaceful life is increasingly likely to be a fiction of his own creation, and he has realised this. Haruka continues to argue that “reality” is simply what he is perceiving at any one point, and that it is easier to just accept this and stop questioning. Indeed, this insistence that he stop questioning is what is making things more and more suspicious; Rahxephon has continually emphasised the dangers of secrecy and the ease with which people can be deceived; now Ayato is being told by someone he thinks he trusts to no longer question what he sees, and simply accept things at face value. It is during this scene that the truth is shown to the viewer – a truth they will likely have worked out, but now made clear. Ayato’s travels have been punctuated with clips of a naked figure on a white field (evoking Quan’s travels within the mysterious temple before) but as the clip becomes clearer it is obviously the operator of the Dolem – a masked figure wearing the same ceremonial garb as the other operators shown early in the series. The Dolem continues to wear at Ayato’s resolve by warping his sense of space and playing on his fear of intimacy; in the instant in which the viewer sees the Dolem operator, he has suddenly begun to ravish Haruka. Reality steps back in and he is repelled by his behaviour, but the Haruka-vision tries once again to tell him it is fine and he should “be a man.” He is consistently being told that his actions and experiences in this dream world – sleeping with Haruka, being the centre of attention and having Hiroko in love with him – are his subconscious desires and that he is being allowed to do what he likes. As he resists, the world continues to fight him, trying to find his weakness with constant questions – including asking if he has been “tuned”. He is thrown out of the bar and admits his real desire – he wants to go “home.”
This perhaps proves dangerous; the scene suddenly changes to him on a bus alone, and then left on the outskirts of town. He has been presented with his real “home” – the house where Maya and Ayato Kamina live. She welcomes him home and he is presented with another apparently idyllic life; not social popularity or sex appeal, but a proper home life, with a family. He comments on how his mother is far more maternal – cooking, which is quite unusual. Yet while it is apparently the welcoming life he wants, it is still framed in the harsh angles and shadows that made his initial domestic life seem unnatural and uncanny; the viewer is being reminded through the scene-setting that not only is this not natural in this instance, since it is a Dolem illusion, Ayato’s supposed dream of a home to live in is itself based on an unnatural lie; even in his dream existence he cannot talk to his mother normally. And then the dream begins to collapse; the television addresses him directly – TERRA has found a way to contact him within “unknown space” and he has a vision of the real Haruka, and Reika herself. That his mother suddenly turns off the television (and the image of the Dolem operator returns) shows that somehow, outside of this world, the fight is continuing. Now the illusion is fighting more fiercely; he is contacted again by his friends, who insist on an illusion of normality – and now he has apparently lost; he lashes out against the illusion and in so doing forces it to adapt. An easel appears, but before the picture is shown the action returns for the first time to the outside world. Quan is unwell, trying to communicate with Ayato, while Haruka and Megumi are beginning to lose hope as five hours have passed with no reply.
Inside the dream, Reika is trying to reach Ayato but his mother forms a barrier, getting in the way of any moment of epiphany with overbearing love and an embrace visually reminiscent of the Dolem’s wings from the initial fight. She tells him he is the “true instrumentalist” of the Rahxephon, its destined pilot specially raised to fulfil the destiny of the “score”, and that his disobedience is unwelcome. His “improvising,” defying destiny, is worrying the Mu – and the vision is now frantically changing. His mother’s cold logic is replaced by emotive pleading, and the scene returns to being framed in the smaller picture. Ayato finally reveals his true subconscious; he lays bare all the abandonment and distance he felt through his childhood, rejecting predestination and finally resolving his own issues. As he runs this time, he encounters Reika, and the screen shrinks once again; as he continues to reject the dream the illusion world shrinks in physical terms. Reika makes him a sincere offer, letting him know he must accept unpleasant reality in order to properly return home, and physically tears the Dolem’s influence from him. Perhaps predictably, he is returned to the Rahxephon’s cockpit, the dream rising up like curtains to reveal the crystal stuck in his throat was a representation of the Dolem’s own tongue piercing the Rahxephon’s. It awakens, as it has before, and the Dolem is destroyed to break the stasis field – its wings torn off and its body broken. As a reminder of what this means, the viewer is shown its operator being torn apart in the same fashion – each kill Ayato makes ends a real Mu life. Thus the episode ends, with some normality restored – although Quan now claims she feels “different” and the world has changed.