Much happens in episode 24 of Rahxephon; the series has built to a climax and now the final act begins in earnest. Episode 23 could be seen as, in effect, the motivating force for this climax – the destruction of the heroes’ base, the loss of a much-loved character – and now, with this episode, the events of the ending begin. Yet it is a subdued episode, a fitting and mature response to the death that defined the one before – and that if anything shows how the series has progressed since Isshiki’s removal from TERRA. The characters are given a chance to grieve for a lost comrade in their own ways, and this is shown to be important. It is a restrained – at first, anyway – response to a heroic sacrifice which sets a very different, more elegaic tone to how the episode proceeds.
Sacrifice motivating brash heroism is a common plotline in super-robot anime. The loss of a valued mentor figure or love interest is what it takes to drive the protagonist and those around him to new heights of anger and skill – one grieves in macho ways, demanding vengeance and eschewing shutting oneself away. But machismo does not suit Rahxephon, which has always shown it to be destructive and isolating; when Ayato does “man up” and fight in a fit of justice-fuelled rage, he simply ends up causing more problems. In this episode, he is able to – in a way the other tragedy he was a witness to never let him – talk through his loss. He says “Commander Kunugi’s voice – I heard it when I was inside the little shrine. He said protect” – and is saying he now has a duty, a reason to fight. It is a crystallisation of the duty he has held himself to all along, but now it has a new sense of purpose – he has seen what true dedication entails and as a result, come the episode’s end – when the Bahbem Foundation reach out to him and try to subvert his purpose to their own ends – he is resolute in wanting to fight on his own terms for what he feels to be important. Of course, it was a similar self-reliance that led to the tragedy of episode 19; he had found someone to protect then, and ended up losing them. But then he was trying to reject the bigger picture – he was using the Rahxephon almost selfishly to protect his ideal, ignoring the fact that the person he wanted to “protect” was unable to properly confide in him. At the same time he was kicking out against his larger duty – the protection of humanity – to save one life.
The prevailing themes of Rahxephon are responsibility, openness and communication; secrecy and immaturity are the barriers to the world’s protection, the things that ultimately drive Ayato into his destructive isolation. Here, on the eve of the final battle, with the toxic influence of Isshiki apparently gone from TERRA, there is proper reconciliation in a very mature and deft form. Through the openness of previously enigmatic characters, everyone is allowed to mourn Kunugi in the way they want to – and with this ability to finally be honest, other revelations emerge. Kim admits her affection for Souichi in a touching scene where he promises to fight and return safely for her (dialogue archetypal of a character in this genre about to die, but at the same time his words are picked up on by Ayato in a later, similar scene). Megumi does something quite unexpectedly mature – she admits that while she once felt affection for Ayato, she does not any more because she knows Haruka loves him.
Haruka in turn confesses her love for Ayato – a strange love caused by time dilation, first love at fourteen turned into a relationship between a teenage boy and an older woman, but Ayato himself says he loves “the current you”. This scene should not be understated; not only is it a romantic coda to the relationship that ultimately defines the show – that between the strange, confident, military woman who will break the rules for Ayato and the boy himself, alienated and angry – but it is a sincere, romantic declaration of love. Not only this, it is from the woman who was introduced in a way which evokes the utterly irresponsible and dysfunctional Misato in Evangelion. This is consummate evidence of how Rahxephon, in its strongest moments, is utterly rejecting its inspiration – the archetype is taken and dispensed with, turned on its head as, previously, Evangelion turned expectations around. Haruka has had her insecurities, but – alongside Ayato – has matured and come to terms with them. In this way a sincere, romantic kiss becomes a significant, heroic scene, a sign of how far both characters have come from hating and distrusting to genuine love. Previously, the series has used sexual inexperience and puberty to show Ayato’s insecurities and flaws – his dream-sequence has him attempt to assault Haruka sexually, while early scenes of him around women present (through the visuals) him as hyper-sexed and yet unconfident. Thus, when in the final scene as mentioned above the Bahbem Foundation try to take control of Ayato’s destiny, he refuses – and it is a refusal now informed by a much greater understanding of the stakes, and one which awakens the true potential of the Rahxephon. This is shown in figurative terms, too; not only does the machine “evolve” into a massive, divine form, Ayato finally accepts the visitations of the ghostly Reika – and they become one entity, a very literal and visual act of moving on. There are love-confessions and personal vows to improve and succeed throughout this episode, but the enduring scenes are those which, through his actions and words, show how far Ayato has come and how ready he finally is to fight.
Who is fighting, and what they fight for, however, remain less clear the more revelations are provided. The series has throughout teased at information – and made it clear that being “in the know” is the most powerful thing possible. Not knowing things leads to tragedy and misunderstanding. Yet on the eve of the climax, it is revealed everyone is lying or ignorant – even the supposedly knowledgeable figures. A procession of almost unbelievable revelations are offered – some from known duplicitous characters like Maya and Kisaragi, for sure – but they come at a time when no-one has anything left to lose and so are lent weight. Megumi’s uncle is Maya’s father. Isshiki is Kisaragi’s twin and they are both clones of Quan. Futagami is actually a spy called Juumonji sent to keep Isshiki in check. Quan is Maya’s sister. Bahbem is a Mu defector (apparently) who may have created the Rahxephon. All previously assumed family trees and relationships become worthless – and suddenly the promise of a great “retuning”, someone setting this insane world straight, becomes very welcome.