Rahxephon never shies away from an opportunity for bathos in its storytelling; undermining the viewer’s expectations, often through undermining or challenging those of the characters, is a recurring conceit that allows it to clearly communicate how knowledgeable of the “truth” any given character is. For example, the conflict between Elvy and Haruka which came to a head earlier in the series was based around Haruka’s ongoing deceit being revealed. Resentment at being shown to be ignorant or ill-informed is a major driver of conflict, accentuated far more in Rahxephon as a continued plot point than in many similar series. This is because it is a series about ignorance and misdirection more than anything else; what seems to be conspiracy to some is in fact a simple lack of information, or a failed assumption that others know what is going on.
Thus the anticlimactic move away from Ayato and Elvy’s conflict (which defined the climax of episode 14) in episode 15 to a cryptic flashback, apparently quite distinct from the ongoing story of the war with the Dolems, is both powerful and in some ways predictable. The series had reached a climax where it appeared that some honesty and frank confrontation would occur; that this is deferred makes the interruption immediately seem important. Yet episode 15 is “skipped” in the series progression, with episode 14’s “next episode” narration specifically referring to what happens in 16 by name – in the DVD release of the series, unless the episode is specifically selected from the menu it will not play. That the episode is so consciously set aside from the main story – not even given its place in the viewing order – puts the audience physically in the place of the series’ characters, kept out of the loop of what transpires to be crucial information. Here is an example of a television series subverting the expected chronology of the medium – sequential broadcasting of episodes to tell a linear story – to support the thematic aspects of the story itself. The episode is a flashback, which comes to reveal uncomfortable truths about the setting – and it is, in a literal sense, locked away as a secret with every effort taken to make the viewer gloss over or ignore it.
It is set apparently some years before the story, with three young children – one of which is Helena Bahbem, introduced in the main chronology with the mysterious Bahbem Foundation – under the tutelage of Makoto, the Federation agent who has always been the most enigmatic and apparently powerful character in the series. Through the scenes of the children’s childhoods, the viewer learns both about the Foundation itself and what an informed viewer would recognise as humanity’s early dealings with the Mu. The adversarial relationships that are by now well understood are immediately undermined – previously, the meetings between human and Mu were considered signs of betrayal and subterfuge but through the young Dr Kisaragi’s interactions with what is recognisable as a wounded Dolem the nature of the enemy is redefined. The Dolem is presented in damaged form, a small stone creature which gains strength from pieces of rock Kisaragi believe he is “feeding” it, and is both sentient in itself and controlled by – or at least responsive to – a grey-haired child’s singing. Crucially it is never made precisely clear if the singing is directly controlling the creature (suggesting that control of Dolems is not purely the preserve of Mu) or the creature simply recognises something similar to control stimuli and reacts to it. What, however, is clear is that without some kind of external stimulus the Dolem is docile and indifferent to humanity – it will act in self-defence in a limited capacity but when later the military attack it, it does nothing until the child sings.
A cast of children – acting against their teachers’ and guardians’ wishes to secretly help a wounded enemy – makes it impossible to consider the information provided by this episode as authoritative. They are inherently unreliable and powerless protagonists, unable to interpret what they see or understand the context of it (and the viewer’s own context is by now lacking as everything that has been presented about Dolems is now undermined), thus all this supposed revelation does is provide ground for speculation. Concrete fact comes in the form of the actions of adults; it is scenes with Bahbem himself and his accomplice Makoto discussing the Dolems that clarify the situation. The Dolem is apparently a creation of humanity – if the viewer is to believe Bahbem and Makoto are human – one experiment among many to create living creatures from stone. It dies as the children try to help it escape, apparently a recurring theme among these experimental Dolems – Makoto is shown with a backdrop of dead creatures including one whose damaged face resembles the first and second creatures Ayato will fight in the Rahxephon. It has been implied in Rahxephon that maybe humanity in some way aided or colluded with the Mu – but the implication that the Dolems, presented previously as the terror weapons of the Mu, their equivalent to Raideen’s Fossil Beasts, are in fact a human invention creates a hard-to-reconcile dissonance. It has been established that Ayato, being part-Mu, can operate the Rahxephon because he is an “instrumentalist” – but Makoto calls the children under his care “instrumentalists” too, and obsesses over their “bloodlines.” The implication is thus – and this is substantiated by the Dolems – that Makoto is a Mu, or that the Bahbem Foundation is in fact linked to them.
Here it is worth focusing on an aspect of Rahxephon that has been slowly developed over the episodes, and comes to a thematic head in the revelation of the artificial Dolems and Makoto’s talk of raising life from clay that accompanies this. While it is indeed possible to compare Rahxephon to Neon Genesis Evangelion on a genre level – a quite cynical and self-aware super-robot story with supernatural, uncontrollable aspects and a plot heavy with conspiracy and uncertainty – it is building aesthetically and in many ways thematically on one series in particular; 1975’s Yuusha Raideen. Raideen concerns a robot aesthetically similar to the Rahxephon – complete with face that uncovers as it activates – that comes from the lost continent of Mu, fighting an ancient empire’s Fossil Beasts awakened from statues. It is a very formulaic super-robot animé of its time, which gives a foundation for Rahxephon‘s evocations of the genre – not only is the series a reflection of modern developments in super-robot animé with its self-awareness and more complex story, it is constantly reflecting back on – with some respect rather than cynical deconstruction – what has gone before. This is made most clear in Rahxephon’s trademark weapons – a wrist-blade and shield, a bow-and-arrow and a psychic scream which all featured as part of Raideen‘s arsenal. Even the means by which Ayato boards it – by phasing through a special section of the robot – is a direct homage to Raideen‘s “Fade In” launch sequence.
Thus arguably Rahxephon is a contemporary response to the 1970s roots of the super-robot genre – it has direct visual and thematic references to Raideen and the genre more widely (for Raideen is a largely archetypal series of its kind, albeit one with a noteworthy staff including Gundam creator Yoshiyuki Tomino and character designer Yoshikazu Yasuhiko). Curiously, Raideen would in its own way influence Evangelion, too – its leading women are “Rei Asuka” and “Mari” (the names of the three women who pilot robots in Evangelion). From these roots it builds its own story, making something of a genre seen widely as simplistic and formulaic by manipulating the viewer’s expectations and understanding both via narrative devices and – in episode 15 – physical deception.