The End. (Episode 26 of Rahxephon // Conclusions)
Any finale for Rahxephon would, after the revelations of the ending arc, be a personal rather than action-filled one. There is no sense of a war any more; humanity is annihilated and forsaken, Ayato has had his chance to embody the machine, to become the saviour of humanity, and turned away from it. It is hard to say this is turning away from a duty, because what duty did he have at this point? He is a Mulian, he has been all but rejected and used by humanity, and so it is almost inevitable he would not seek to be their saviour. So, the conflict that remains is between what remains emotionally of Ayato, what human touch he picked up in his life on Earth, and the insecurities which fuelled his sudden abandonment of Haruka and Megumi. He took action, but it was action with unknown, uncertain consequence – and now almost limitless power is in the hands of someone who does not know where he belongs or what he should do with it.
Thus the episode begins with Ayato in crisis. He is sealed away in a private dream-world, in an immobile Rahxephon, oblivious to the people on the ground who did care for him and for whom getting him back is the only “victory” that could possibly remain. Haruka finds her determination and sets off to save him – her own moment of rash defiance evoking, in a scene that will come later, her trying to “save” him from the Mu back at the start of the series. Back inside the dream (this episode uses a letterboxed aspect ratio much as the previous dream-sequence used varying picture dimensions to show the distance from reality), Ayato is now questioning his own resolve. He acted unpredictably, but now has to accept consequence. He claims “no-one knows me, and I don’t know anyone” as he ends up with his only “friend” in the world – his fated partner in godhood, Quan. Quan, in return, claims “you pretend not to see to avoid knowing” – turning his perception of himself as an abused outsider into a self-perpetuating coldness that fails to see people trying to help. It is an intervention. Quan is, in this instant and throughout the episode, a cold hard conscience to try and break him out of “the cage [he] created.” The emphasis is on making him realise he is not alone, never has been alone, and that while people might be flawed they are still, in some way, there for him. Eventually he sees this, claiming “I was afraid of knowing, so I ran away.”
This is a redemptive episode, it is Ayato put on trial and forced to change – and to make this clear it sets this introspection against the epilogues for all the other characters. The last few survivors of the conspiracy story kill each other off futilely until only Futagami and Bahbem remain, and after Bahbem describes how – contrary to all evidence – things are proceeding as part of his plan Futagami kills him. Rahxephon is not now, and I would argue never has been, a story about scientific hubris in the vein of Ideon or even a story about someone breaking and being redeemed in quite the same way as Evangelion. Ayato is not broken in the way Shinji is and he is not redeemed in the way Shinji is. The Rahxephon’s escape from human control is not the same as the Ide’s curious machinations – it is simply power that has been contained and vaguely used being handed unrestrained to someone at their lowest point, as opposed to a malevolent intelligence utilising others. Any hint that this is a story about Ayato’s successful manipulation is removed by the utter defeat of TERRA, the failure of the entire conspiracy, Bahbem’s inglorious death and Ayato in one shot – when his god-Rahxephon finally acts – killing Haruka and Maya. It is a story about the world being reduced down in a sea of blood to two people, one trying to help the other. Only by removing everything, all hope, all outside influence, and then bringing it back suddenly, can this intervention succeed. Ayato has to begin to doubt himself, and then be pushed over the edge.
This happens in the form of a phone call from Megumi, followed by Asahina and Elvy and Souichi – and images of Haruka being shown to him. He is being shown that while he convinced himself nobody could be trusted, because some people could not be trusted, there were those who were if not blameless less actively hostile – and those people were the ones whose loss motivated him to this anger. Quan is, arguably, sympathetic to his losses – yet using those losses to show that his reaction to them was counterproductive. He has to know what potential there is in the world for the next phase of his redemption to occur – the true ascension to godhood. His last words before this moment are “I found myself,” – and that is enough to bring the series to its conclusion. He has been taught what the world has to offer for him, and now given the opportunity to fix it.
Here it is worth considering Evangelion‘s handling of what are, in honesty, similar themes. Its final scene begins with Shinji considering that he, too, can form his own world and being told by everyone that he must do this. The recurring theme is perspective and perception – that Shinji must create a world that is good for him. Fuyutsuki claims “Your truth can be changed simply by the way you accept it” – and an analogy of how one perceives the weather versus how one can act on a rainy day presents it almost as a simple pep talk. Shinji has to, effectively, buck up and be the change he wants to see. When Gendo claims he is “unused to what it is like to be liked by others” it is worth noting this is the line of argument Quan begins with – Shinji’s claims that “the others hate me” are, effectively, Ayato’s claims that he was “afraid of knowing” and actively sought isolation. Shinji is told the fact he “hates himself” is why he “cannot love” – and here is where Ayato’s redemption is different. Ayato’s crisis is not as simple as a lack of confidence, it is the culmination of an erosion of his trust and an inability to come to terms with grief that comes from the pressures of those trying to use him for their own agenda. He spends much of the series not trying to run away from responsibility but seek agency, stand up for himself and not be used or exploited. He begins by wanting to trust and is betrayed, as opposed to beginning a recluse and becoming more reclusive. Shinji and Ayato’s last words before they break the world are similar – “My life is worth living” versus “I found myself” – but the context is fascinatingly different. Rahxephon is a story about Ayato’s effective decline into an almost petulant rejection of everyone, even those who cared for him. Evangelion is a story about someone starting at rock bottom and being given minimal chance to improve.
It is perhaps because of that the two absolute final scenes differ so much. Evangelion builds to everyone applauding Shinji for finally realising he can function as a person, overcoming his neuroses and confidence issues and finally surrounding himself with friends. Rahxephon has Ayato physically destroy the Earth and reshape it from a more enlightened perspective, rewriting his entire life and the lives of everyone he knows to give them happiness. It does not have the motivational speaker-ness of everyone saying “congratulations,” it is a straight fast-forward to the typical epilogue of a super-robot anime. Ayato is now living married to Haruka with his daughter Quan, attending the school reunion of Asahina and Mamoru. He is an accomplished artist and academic in a peaceful world where Tokyo is not trapped under alien rule – and, as the very final scene shows, the girl who throughout the series was always Reika, the guide to his fate, is now Haruka. Ayato “wins” the war against the Mu, the fight to protect the smiles of those he holds dear, but his final battle is shown in this episode to be one fought against himself. He took the power to win the war in episode 25, and this episode is him learning how he must use it.
This process, of writing episodic blog posts for Rahxephon, has made me consider the series – and, perversely, Evangelion and many other anime, far more closely that I ever would have before. I went past thinking about whether or not I liked the series, how it stood as a piece of science-fiction, and set out to look at it as a piece of televised fiction. I tried to pay attention to its visual language, its allusions to other series, its symbolism – and tie them in to its story, which I feel I understood all the better for it. It has been a tremendous experience, and now what remains is to continue to process with the final episodes of Eureka Seven – a project which my general lack of free time has sadly put on hold for several months.
I hope these articles both communicated what I love about Rahxephon and what it does well – giving hopefully fresh insights to people familiar with it, but also, maybe, convinced someone to try it themselves, to watch it for the first time. Thank you for reading.
Well now I have to rewatch the whole damn thing all over again! Great series, and a great series of analysis. Thanks for putting this up.
That comment made my day, thanks!
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading your series of posts on Rahxephon. Well argued and well written. Thank you.
It’s such a shame that this show is so underrated by many. It simply gets written of as an Evangelion clone, while it really has a lot to offer.
It’s interesting how watching it made me reconsider Eva so much; recognising the differences made me more critical of what Eva tries to do, and for whatever reason as this post suggests I found the “Congratulations” scene just didn’t have the emotional power I remembered.
I am considering watching the Rahxephon movie and End of Eva and writing about them, at some point.
I have just finished watching Rahxephon, as well as reading your final episode review, which I immensely enjoyed. Your insight helped me appreciate more this show which was already dear to my heart, and so I thought the least I could do was write this comment. Reading a blog in 2018 is a welcome change of pace in this era of endless YouTube videos. I also appreciate reading at my own pace and chewing food for thought rather than trying to keep up with a fast-paced narration.
I first watched Rahxephon during its initial broadcast on the French channel Game One, back in 2005. Somehow the majority of the show stayed very fresh in my mind for the following years and I could easily remember what happened in most episodes. I was fourteen and with almost no critical thinking ability, and yet 1) the similarities with Evangelion were extremely obvious and 2) I quickly realized that this show was its own thing and grew very different from Eva so the comparison was ultimately of little revelance and reductive.
One thing I thoroughly enjoyed in Rahxephon and want to see more of is how the writing handles the characters, their personalities, conflicts and relationships. Rahxephon avoids the usual cliché anime tropes. I’d be hard pressed to cite concrete examples, but I trust you can see what I mean, they way some anime characters and scenes are written, they rely on otaku culture and seem removed from what real people and relationships are like. Rahxephon doesn’t set out to pander to anime fans but rather does its own thing. As a result the dialogues between characters feel like a huge breath of fresh air and wouldn’t be out of place in a live TV show. The dialogues are concise and never feel pointless. When Japanese writers think outside the “anime” box they can come up with some very delicate, almost poetic dialogues you can take seriously and not cringe at. Also the mysteries established early on do get satisfying explanations at the end, whereas some other stories either never address the mysteries or poorly explain them. Rahxephon gives you answers, not with overly dramatic reveals but through dialogues. It can be confusing but in fine it all makes sense. That is responsible storytelling that manages to answer the questions it hooked the viewer with at the start. It doesn’t bail on you. Also characters like Sayoko and Makoto, although ultimately non-pivotal, are given enough screen time and characterization. If anything I would have loved to see more what life in the Mulian civilization is like, but I guess you can only put so much content in 26 episodes. By the way the fifteenth episode is one of my favorites.
Another thing that Rahxephon does brilliantly is aesthetics. From the character design to robot design, Mulian architecture and color schemes, it has a strong visual identity. The dolems are very unique creatures (I love Allegreto) and Rahxephon is one of my favorite mecha designs. Reika and Quon are both mesmerizing in their own ways. And the artwork done by Yamada Akihiro is incredible.
The music is equally unique and wonderful. The opening and ending themes were so good the people at Bones understood they didn’t need to replace them halfway through. Maaya Sakamoto’s voice is heavenly and a joy to listen to. The soundtrack is very creative and seems like something that someone who’s not interested in anime would still be able to appreciate.
Yutaka Izubuchi said he wanted to set a new standard for mecha anime with Rahxephon, but I feel that since then very few shows have actually lived up to that standard (I can only think of Eureka Seven, but I might be missing other works. Does Fafner count?. Gurren Lagann is great but too different to be considered a successor of that standard). The current mecha show, Darling in the Franxx, while entertaining is very derivative. There is a drought in the mecha realm and I’m still waiting for the next groundbreaking hit. An anime adaptation of Xenogears would be the closest thing to an Eva/Rahxephon-tier show but that won’t happen.
I’ll conclude this long-winded praise of Rahxephon with a curious observation: the Arabic word for musician or instrumentalist is “aazif”, or depending on how it is placed in a sentence, “aazifon” which sounds similar to Rahxephon. Coincidence? 😉
Thank you so much for this comment – it’s great to see someone else who gets as much from the show as I did.
I’d agree few shows have hit the same highs since – Eureka Seven is a good candidate, I’d also suggest Diebuster (which is in my opinion vastly superior to Gunbuster).
I have a tricky relationship with Fafner – I deeply love what it sets out to do with the role of the awful parents and Hester is as unpleasant an authority figure as Isshiki, but the series as a whole fails to grip me.
As to the language connection, I’d venture it’s intentional. Hell, I watched the whole show never twigging why Nirai-Kanai was important as a name until a friend pointed out it’s a reference to Okinawan/Ryukyu shinto.