If episode 17 of Rahxephon was about Ayato’s failure – his entirely understandable and thus all the more tragic moment of conviction based on faulty facts – episode 18 is his final descent and attempts to recover. It is densely packed with the answers he seeks – answers which even undermine the audience’s privileged position compared to the characters by giving a direct insight into the enemy’s plans – but offers little redemption or closure. Its final line is “where can I go?” as he escapes the Mu and flees, but without ever reconciling with any of those he has alienated in the process. It could even be seen as prophetic of future misfortune – he is rushing onward in the Rahxephon to do what he thinks is right, motivated only by a desire to do something.
The episode offers the strongest insight into the character of Maya, Ayato’s mother, to date; she has always existed somewhere between strict, demanding parent and loyal soldier of the Mu, but episode 18 blurs this distinction to horrific sameness; strictness becomes abuse and stringing Ayato along with lies and fake affection is playing directly into the Mu’s hands. She claims “It was for you that this world existed, Ayato” – that he, and the Rahxephon, were instruments of the Mu and that her role as parent would eventually turn into that of commander. Here it becomes clear precisely how distant from its inspiration Evangelion Rahxephon has become; Maya in these scenes is the absolute takedown of Gendo Ikari as a character. There are superficial similarities; both are demanding parents who betray and disparage their recalcitrant children, and who create robots for them to further the aims of some all-powerful organisation. Both are, crucially, single parents, replacing the “balance” (implied as some kind of ideal) in a family with an absolute, single-perspective authority figure. The very earliest episodes of Rahxephon paint Maya the mother as absent, distant and strict – and Ayato as thus self-reliant. Not having a father figure present is reflected in how the arrival of Megumi’s family on the scene is so transformative for Ayato – yet at the same time nothing changes. He goes from having only a mother to only a surrogate father in Megumi’s uncle Shougo, and one set of pseudo-parental authorities to another. Rahxephon is a series comprised almost entirely of broken families; Kunugi with his estranged daughter, Megumi living with her uncle Shougo and with Ayato as a step-brother, Quan’s strange sibling relationship with Dr Kisaragi and now the total breakdown of Ayato and his mother’s familial bond in the name of the Mu plan. While it does not outwardly condemn them, it focuses almost entirely on the difficulties they present tied to upheaval and unfamiliarity; a non-standard family makeup can work (as Megumi and her uncle and sister show) but displacement and dishonesty are more crippling in an already divided family.
Thus one can argue Maya Kamina is similar in some way to Gendo Ikari; yet there is one explicit, obvious difference that shapes the respective series completely. Gendo is a member of NERV, the “good” organisation (or rather the organisation ostensibly fighting to stop the apocalypse) in Evangelion. His “abuse” of Shinji is a way of toughening him up and making him into what he wants him to be on a level far beyond the human (as the series’ later revelations show), a ridiculous version of the coach from hell archetype. Eva plays with the distance between parental expectation and the need to fight as a soldier, often in clever ways; but it is as far from Rahxephon on this matter as it is possible to be. Maya is the leader of the Mu, the “enemy” in her series; she claims she has created a perfect, artificial world to raise a son into what she wants him to be, and – as shown by her actions – can destroy it just as easily to break him into obedience. Much of episode 18 of Rahxephon has Ayato traumatised and broken by the idea his mother has lied to him – and its ultimate revelation is that she is not his mother biologically despite seeing him as a son (when it suits.)
She draws him in with the doubt that would mean something to a runaway – that someone at home cares for them – and then destroys it completely in a very harsh scene at the start of episode 18. The visual framing of the bathroom scene, with Ayato picking up almost immediately from episode 17’s denouement and reduced to a crying wreck with his impassive mother looming over him, evokes visual language of abuse very differently to Gendo’s glasses and dark-room scheming about SEELE and super-robots. Rahxephon‘s handling of the sincerity of intimacy has always been cynical – feigning care is a tool of men and women to abuse the trust of the vulnerable – but yet Maya’s actions in this episode – as she strokes her son before drugging him into compliance, or gives him “reassuring” messages while framed behind a broken shower as Ayato cowers from her – are almost more uncomfortable to watch still. Thus when, as the episode proceeds, she explains important details to a catatonic Ayato it becomes an exercise in dominance; he is being browbeaten at his nadir with information about the futility of what he has brought on himself.
Visually this is paralleled in the action of this episode; as Ayato screams and resists his mother’s control, the Rahxephon moves to save him, being knocked back as he is knocked back and fighting as he resists. Much is foreshadowed or confirmed in this – and set alongside more cryptic revelations. Hiroko, Ayato’s childhood friend and the one figure in the world who has apparently resisted Mu conditioning, claims that the Mu can change “the colour of [the] blood”, set afterwards alongside Maya’s claiming the Mu are “people”, but a “blue blooded race” who can synchronise with the Dolems (there is perhaps an Evangelion nod here, the Angels in that series are claimed to be blue-blooded.) Thus there is the possibility that one can be selected as a Dolem controller – which is then set in its own premonitory context when Hiroko – cut and bleeding blue – is convinced her blood is red and asks Ayato for reassurance. Hiroko is here being presented as a kind of opposite and yet complementary figure to Ayato; she has also been given a look behind the veil of the world the Mu have created, and wants out of it – that she is acting like he has at the start of the episode while he is now set on escape and action at any cost shows the effect of his confrontations.
The blue-blooded Mu depicted in this episode – Maya, Hiroko and Ayato’s other friend (and now conditioned agent of the state) Torigai – are all Ayato’s closest companions and relatives back in Tokyo, neatly showing how far Maya is going to break her “son”. She is turning everyone he cared for against him; his friends (even if Hiroko does not know it yet), his family and – indirectly, through her driving him to abandon TERRA – his allies. It is interesting to see this as a kind of humanising the enemy; Maya is saying, unsubtly and plainly, that the enemy are not just like humans, they are fundamentally identical. But it is impossible, almost, to humanise and make sympathetic an enemy who are as amoral as humans can be. What incentive is there to sympathise with a force – as the Mu represent – who act apparently inscrutably and whose spokeswoman and leader in Maya is so amoral she will create an entire mind-controlled world to make a boy believe he is her son and obey her.
Thus when Ayato escapes Tokyo Jupiter it is hard to find much relief or catharsis; he has taken Hiroko with him, for sure – escaping Maya’s influence – but all it has done is simply filled him with more insecurities and hatred which may in turn cloud his judgement further. Given Maya’s willingness to let him hate her before, and toy with his emotions, it is not even out of the question to surmise that this planned leaking of information – getting Ayato properly angry with the Mu, and Maya specifically – is just another step in turning him against everyone and making him make mistakes.