Family in Episode 13 of Rahxephon
Episode 12 of Rahxephon concluded with Ayato failing to destroy the Dolem; it retreated, implying that it will return but also crucially showing its intelligence. Exactly how much TERRA and the human forces know about the Dolems is unclear; there is little shown in terms of knowledge about how to fight them for the most common strategy, be it one of complacency on Kunugi’s part or genuine ignorance, is “let the Rahxephon do it” – an interesting comparison to the clinical, scientific approach taken by NERV in Rahxephon‘s inspiration, Evangelion. NERV almost always know exactly how to destroy the enemy; the Angels have highly visible weak points or predictable attacks – but at the same time they have an unreliable robot and pilot, and frequently neither the manpower nor technology to properly exploit the weakness. TERRA is always one step behind in Rahxephon, yet this ineffectuality is counterbalanced by the extreme firepower advangate they have – the Rahxephon itself does not need to identify weaknesses in its enemies, it simply destroys them.
Yet the episode does not dwell on this failure at first; instead, more is learned about the nature of the Mu and Quan. Haruka is at a museum concerning the first Mu attacks, providing a form of diegetic exposition which is supplemented by a private recording she is listening to. Apparently Quan is allegedly a survivor of one of the first Mu attacks at Sendai, but this story does not hold up. That Haruka is now having her doubts about the secrecy of TERRA – when she has herself been part of it – is suggested as being in part a response to the increasingly inexplicable events surrounding Quan. The episode’s title is “Human Specimen 1 – Sleeping Beauty”, creating an obvious tension; the viewer, in possession of information that many of the characters do not have, is already doubting Quan’s humanity. Interestingly, the first scene of the episode after this title card does little to allay any doubts; Haruka claims she was in her childhood home of Nara, yet no clear information was provided as to whether or not she is lying, or if so how greatly. The geographic vagueness of Rahxephon works well in a story all about deception; it is obvious that Haruka is being cagey in her words (since her visit to the museum was to pick up information gathered covertly about Quan) but how much of her cover story is true – and whether or not this will come to matter – is unclear. The scene is a return to the amusing, youth-comedy animé ones seen earlier in the series because it is the show’s traditional odd-family team together – Ayato, Megumi and Haruka. There is still the off-putting, weirdly pubescent use of visuals, though, that was particularly obvious in episode 5; there is a kind of shot/reverse-shot nature to the conversation between Ayato and Haruka yet the first focus is on her breasts as she speaks. When Rahxephon does use POV shots – as it is reasonable to assume some of the other oddly-angled scenes have been – they can maybe be thus considered as characterful ones. Ayato has been defined as a character as being a little intimidated and awkward around Haruka, yet also attracted to her, and so his POV of her avoids face contact and is often intrusive and masculine. The scene is also defined by a petty argument about a kind of “humanity” – Haruka’s strange taste for eating natto with sugar. Megumi has been well-established as an opinionated yet not particularly curious character, easily derisive of the unusual, and her sparring with Haruka about this question of taste seems a neat restatement of the episode’s apparent “theme” about Quan.
These domestic scenes have been increasingly uncommon as the super-robot aspects of the series have received more prominence, but they have previously been the grounding aspects of it; a super-robot story needs a strong non-combat plot and Rahxephon uses this downtime to advance its mysteries and agendas. Scenes such as Ayato at the beach, or the Christmas episode’s shopping scenes, offer a chance to learn about the characters in their own terms; Ayato as someone other than the uncertain robot pilot, particularly. His initial arrival at Narai-Kanai offered a chance for a new life once the initial secrecy was over, on the condition he worked. This latest scene, in which he listens to Haruka’s suggestion and tries her apparently strange tastes for himself to Megumi’s surprise, places them both as somewhat alike figures – the humour is not (as in perhaps the case of the closest inevitable comparison of the apparently carefree surrogate parent in this genre of animé, Misato from Evangelion) a result of a mismatched pair but instead of a more sincere family. There has not been the continued focus on Ayato and Haruka’s coming closer, but it has clearly happened. Yet while Ayato has become more “human” in his interactions, since Quan’s experiences she is being considered less so; Dr Kisaragi is monitoring her ever more closely and discussing how she managed to enter the Rahxephon as evidence of her inhuman nature. As the conversation continues, Kisaragi talks of both Quan and Ayato being “incomplete”; they apparently have changes to undergo, which in Ayato’s case are to do with piloting the Rahxephon. Equally interesting in this scene is Kisaragi’s blatant lying to, and exploitation of, Quan; he feigns intimacy and familiarity while selling her out to the Federation as a test subject while apparently being a blood relative of hers. Conversely, the previous scene has shown that finally harmony has settled in within the known-to-be-fake, surrogate family unit of Ayato and Haruka. It is Ayato’s sincerity in trying to fit in – his respect for Haruka, as shown in the subsequent scene – that makes him so convincing a protagonist. It is rewarding for the viewer when his sincerity is rewarded with truth both from a storytelling perspective (that the viewer is now in possession of vital plot information) and from a more microcosmic character-development perspective (Ayato is a relatable character acting sensibly and credibly, and being shown to prosper as a result).
The episode then changes tone with the expected arrival of a Dolem; it is not apparently the same one as before, instead being a seemingly-inert creature waiting high in the sky. Kunugi is reminded that TERRA, under its official classification as a “research agency” cannot attack without orders or provocation. Seeing as the creature is in orbit, humanity is stumped; none of their weapons, ineffectual as they may be, can even be tried against an enemy that is simply impossible to reach. Haruka and Elvy’s conversation on the subject provides – as many of Elvy’s scenes do – a wry note of genre-savviness. Haruka assumes the Rahxephon cannot fight in space, but as Elvy points out, nobody has actually tried it. It serves as another reminder of how unready humanity really is; Ayato is the hero of the day because somehow he is able to get useful results out of a machine that is completely not understood. Genre-savviness is a hard thing to do well in a genre as formulaic and based on tradition as super-robots; too much self-awareness and there is the risk of parody or not properly wanting to engage with the source material and past works, too little and it is hard to tell where the unique catch is.
Rahxephon works in this regard because it supports a self-aware script with an art style that encompasses both a clinical plainness (for even allegedly quite sexual characters like Elvy and Haruka are not depicted in a particularly sexualised fashion) and exaggerated caricature-like expressions. The most self-aware characters in Rahxephon are the highest-status ones, and their actions are only genre-savvy because they are acting appropriately to their station; Kunugi is a commander of a military unit hampered by inconstant personnel, unpredictable equipment and restrictive rules – all the hallmarks of typical conflicts in a super-robot series – and so his acting “around” these rules is well-characterised in his position as the apparently intractable yet well-meaning commander.