Breathtaking Arrogance – the Downfall of Makoto Isshiki in Rahxephon 21-22

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Episodes 21 and 22 of Rahxephon form an elegaic two-part story which drives the story forward significantly; through conversation, the characters make their peace with each other and through action, the different factions – Mu, TERRA and Bahbem Foundation – each begin their master plans. The protagonists – Ayato and Quan – are almost sidelined in all of this, diminished to “actors” in their respective “directors’” plans. Quan, previously the powerful yet enigmatic figure who has driven Ayato forward, is reduced in the opening scenes of episode 21 to a sexualised object, felt around by Bahbem and told to “play” for him. The change in outfit here – to a formal black dress and lingerie as she is paraded before an old man who “inspects” her – is obviously exploitative and puts someone who has previously been not so much vulnerable and distant as clearly a victim. Ayato is outplayed by the manipulative Mamoru, the Mu infiltrator who waltzes across Nirai-Kanai mocking all he meets and taking advantage of Megumi.

Episode 21’s scenes focusing on Ayato build up the events of episode 22; he is forced into confrontation with Mamoru, forced into reconciliation with Megumi and ultimately, in the subsequent episode, driven away into solidarity with the equally exiled Kunugi and Haruka. The first half of episode 22 is a calm before the storm moment, and that its tone is far more funereal than hopeful puts the coming events (and the personal crises that capped episode 21) in a very different context. Considering these episodes separately, they would seem disjointed; 21 ends with Ayato confronting Mamoru and being told his “time as a human” is coming to an end with the rebirth of the Olen, while 22 focuses strongly on the preparations for, and execution of, Makoto’s plan. Yet considered together, this disjointedness makes sense; every character is being played in some way by a higher power and the focus is on showing who knows and who does not. Haruka’s being “fired” from TERRA – foreshadowed in 21 and concluded in 22 – becomes her way of escaping Makoto’s plan and being there for Ayato when he needs her. Ayato’s painting – made first under Mamoru’s gaze and then under Haruka’s – is given its part to play in the events surrounding the awakening of the Olens. Once everyone has sorted what they needed to, the main events begin; Ixtli meets the Olen, the Rahxephon awakens and Makoto begins his plan to destroy Tokyo Jupiter.

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These are rich episodes, dense with plot advancement and revelation; the nature of the relationship between Ixtli and Olen is finally made clear (and there is the implication that one of Quan or Ayato is a backup, a second Olen and a second Rahxephon there in case one fails) but at the same time their most interesting aspect is their being a character portrait – and narrative climax – for Makoto Isshiki. Isshiki has been presented in the past as unpleasant, officious and dangerously in control, an arrogant rules-obsessed military man who inveigles his way into TERRA, destroys Kunugi, forces Ayato to act rashly and then crushes him at his lowest point and ultimately wants to scheme his way to absolute power. He apparently succeeds in this arc. Episode 21 begins with him, and Haruka and Souichi, explaining TERRA’s plan – “my first operation as Commander of TERRA… I also intend for it to be my last operation.” Using high-tech weapons, the same technology that began the entire plot by permitting Haruka and Elvy to breach Tokyo Jupiter, Makoto will destroy the barrier, unite the two worlds and attack the Mu militarily.

It is a breathtakingly simple plan, based around blunt science and destruction. So simple, and so scientific, it cannot succeed in the world that Rahxephon is. Conventional arms have been shown time and again to be inefficient or ineffective against the Mu; even if Makoto’s plan, involving multiple superweapons simultaneously attacking the sphere in a sequence resembling the Electric Net Wires versus the Vogler Sphere in Giant Robo meeting the giant sniper rifle scenes in Evangelion, actually destroys the barrier (which, in a moment of surprising catharsis in episode 22, it does) he has no plan beyond this. Destroying the Barrier will destroy the Mu – but Makoto has no Rahxephon, no Vermilions, and nothing that can actually do this. The scene in episode 21 of him grandstanding to Haruka about how she will be Governor of a liberated Tokyo is a moment of glorious arrogance that all but assures his failure in narrative terms. Corrupt authority and conventional science can never prosper in a super-robot setting, because they are antithetical to justice and courage. Makoto simply espouses genocide – justifiable, one could argue (had one not seen Hiroko die), given the Mu’s modus operandi – but unsubtle and reliant on pure violence when everything about the weapons for the job – Ixtli and Olen, the song of Ra – is about retuning the universe, restoring balance (perhaps even between species.)

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Makoto’s sense of imminent victory comes from his surrounding himself by sycophants; he is in absolute control, calling all those serving under him “actors” who must obey unquestioningly, pretending to acquiesce to Ayato’s desire for time to “compose himself” because it is delivered in a way which clearly puts Makoto on top. He has an army of yes-men, has manipulated everyone from his junior staff to world governments, and he has what he believes to be an unstoppable weapon. That his plan has no nuance or actual practicality – that it goes from “remove barrier” to “rule a liberated Tokyo with the Mu all dead” – completely escapes his notice. Thus his failure – the foreshadowed arrogance turning into utter defeat – is all the more effective. His master plan does destroy the barrier in one shot – and all it does is let the Mu complete their invasion, landing ships in every world capital simultaneously. Parallel to this, Ixtli reaches out to Ayato and Quan to begin the “retuning” – and abandons Makoto. It has perhaps been obvious who Makoto’s new “aide” is – she is a doppelganger of Reika, the “Ixtli” who has haunted Ayato – but the moment of epiphany for Makoto is a wonderful, if brief (given its context in the midst of a full-blown Mu invasion that he has caused) moment of release.

“Actors need only act as the director instructs them to!” – Makoto Isshiki, Rahxephon episode 21

“You will manipulate the others as you please…” – Ixtli, Rahxephon episode 21

As Makoto rants about how “Haruka” would never abandon him, how he wants to not be alone, Souichi steps back in as the voice of reason and arrests him – regulations and proper authority stepping back in when one man oversteps his bounds. Makoto’s master plan was nothing more than a Mu plot to manipulate him into releasing the barrier, and in the face of that him merely being arrested (as Ayato’s confrontation with Ixtli seals the Rahxephon away, and Quan apparently summons a new one) is satisfying yet pointless. The military plot is “resolved” insofar as the “right” people are once again assuming control of TERRA – the age of logic, and genre-aware reason that Kunugi’s administration offered is implied as returning – but it has left the series careening into its final arc with the stakes higher than ever, as the Mu apparently near victory and Ayato rejects his role as the “Instrumentalist” who can resolve the whole situation. The downfall of the intractable, misguided military man is a very stock storyline in super-robot anime; Rahxephon makes it both refreshingly predictable (with the composed Souichi laying down the law that Makoto has previously abused) and heartbreakingly pointless (because for the moment of catharsis to come, Makoto must have already begun and failed what he wanted to do.) Makoto is introduced in episode 21 as a guardian angel for earth, standing in front of TERRA’s angel logo such that he has wings himself. With an entrance like that, it is clear that his fall is soon to follow.

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