Episode 23 of Rahxephon is a very, in many ways, typical episode of mecha anime and yet as a result, for this point in the series, a very atypical episode of Rahxephon. As a result, it is disarming, and poignant, and a very strange counterpoint to the crushing anticlimax of the previous two-part story about Makoto’s failure to implement his plan. It closes off a character’s arc in truly heroic style, yet constantly undermines the aesthetic expectations of the audience to make it less simplistically hot-blooded. Furthermore, it hints at tragic ironies but never makes them clear, not spelling out how one character’s doubt and inaction could have prevented another’s tragedy and leaving the doubt in the viewer’s mind of whether or not what happened could have – or should have – been prevented.
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.
Over time, and several viewings, I have reconsidered my attitude to the classic 1988 OVA Aim for the Top! Gunbuster. It is a well-constructed, entertaining and aesthetically spectacular piece of television, but precisely what it represents – to me, anyway – has changed as my knowledge of anime of its time has increased. Most viewers realise from the major genre shifts throughout that Gunbuster is a wide-reaching pastiche of numerous anime genres rich in visual homage, metatextual humour and made with a dear love of animation as a medium. It is a bildungsroman of sorts which uses genre and narrative scale as a way of depicting the maturation of someone who is almost a neoteny – a series that goes through the ages of anime history while its protagonist remains an eternal child.
Were Eureka Seven’s 42nd episode to be the beginning of its immediate end, the setup to a resolution of the whole plot in episode 43, it would be a fitting and powerful ending. As the introduction to a longer final arc it is just as powerful, and definitely the point where for all its superficial resemblances, the series moves far away from Gundam via a damning exploration of the same themes. It is – in a series built on build-and-release moments of emotional intensity – a long-deferred moment of emotional power for every character, not simply a barometer of Renton’s maturity or Holland’s coming to terms with his past, but absolute closure for plot threads which have been running for 41 prior episodes. Emotional release – the climaxes of past arcs, the moments of revelation and resolution that have preceded this point, implies a build back up, a temporary moment of clarity from which lessons are learned and the next conflict will build on. The whole focus of episode 42 is on moving on in the most physical sense, driving forward and looking to definitively close the past off.
Last time I wrote about Yawara, I was only a small way into the series; even now, around a fifth of the way through its 124 episodes, there is still some distance to the main “event,” the Olympic Games which every episode counts towards. If anything, the series’ pace is slow and all the stronger for it; 25 episodes is the same length as some entire animé which tell a full story, and yet Yawara is just beginning its journey. Enough time has passed to settle nicely into the characters’ roles in this story, but enough time remains (over eight hundred days – over two years of these characters’ lives to follow) to leave things incredibly open for a change in focus and plot.
Episode 41 of Eureka Seven is the point where revelations about the true nature of Sakuya – the being at the Great Wall who the Gekkostate have been moving towards, and will fight to the end to protect, are laid out. Who she is – and why she is important – is told via a narrative that stands as a parallel to Renton and Eureka’s own story, turning the events of Eureka Seven‘s opening arc into a kind of replaying of an in-setting myth. Sakuya, being a Coralian much like Eureka, exists as a parallel Christlike figure (for as I have mentioned previously it is hard not consider the Corals’ ambassadors as children of the divine sent to observe – and even judge – the mortal world) but one who, as Norb suggests, failed to cross the Great Wall and could not complete whatever cycle needs completing.
After the revelations of episode 19 of Rahxephon, the expectation – the anticipated progression of a traditional narrative which has just reached its tragic mid-point climax and is surely beginning its turnaround to eventual victory – would be that there would be some focus on Ayato’s response to the tragedy he has experienced. It would be catharsis, after the fight that has just occurred, a clear sign that the story is unlikely to go lower and will begin its narrative upturn. Losing someone close to them is usually the catalyst for a protagonist to toughen up and get some vengeance, but this is shown in narrative terms by showing how they respond to their grief – it is their story, and they response matters. There is no catharsis in episode 20 of Rahxephon. It glosses over, in explicit terms, Ayato’s response to episode 19. He has got over it. How and why is not shown.
Further to an online conversation about the virtues of Barakamon, an interesting point was drawn to my attention about a similarly-themed (in certain ways) comedy animé airing at a similar time; Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun. Nozaki is about a girl who ends up forming an eccentric friendship with the artist of her favourite comic, a young man employed writing girls’ romance stories despite his crippling lack of knowledge of the subject (and, as the series suggests, talent outside of certain very limited spheres). It is a comedy about art and artists – as, ultimately, Barakamon is. The humour comes from the clashing of artistic temperaments and thought processes with a less whimsical outside world – in many ways it is even a fish-out-of-water comedy, as Nozaki is ill-suited to the world of girls’ fiction, and Chiyo is unsuited to the artistic, high-stress world of comics-writing.
Gundam: Reconguista in G, or G-Reco, is the first “typical” Gundam series on TV since the very unpopular Gundam AGE (discounting the sidestory OVA Gundam Unicorn). “Typical” here means a full-length televised program, with a science-fiction plot (for although Gundam Build Fighters is now in its second series, it is nowhere near comparable to other franchise entries being a “games” animé taking card-game animé cliches and applying them to miniatures gaming). Yet, three episodes in, G-Reco is interesting in a way few Gundam series really are; it would have been easy for it to rest on its laurels with franchise recognition, to go through the motions in uninspired ways – as parts of AGE did. AGE too often dressed interesting concepts in uninspired, predictable execution that robbed dramatic turns of any emotional impact and made much of it feel empty. It was unable to, arguably, properly stand as its own series and simply repeated – via its three-arc structure – expected developments in increasingly ineffective ways.
Fish-out-of-water comedies – the city man in the countryside, the country yokel in the big city and any number of other examples – all focus on someone who has been brought up strongly within one society ending up trying to fit into a very different one. They generally gently mock the displaced person by showing how they do not fit in, and often resent the need to fit in, and simultaneously poke fun at the new society they are disrupting. All generally ends with one party or the other changing their ways to pick up the best of the disruptive influence; the stuck-up city folk will learn some homespun country wisdom, or the stressed-out professional will learn to relax. A good example in recent animé was Rowdy Sumo-Wrestler Matsutaro; its protagonist was a single-minded idiot with a heart of gold who gradually learned to put his violent and blinkered thinking to good use in mentoring an inept trainee sumo-wrestler. He took the consequences of his actions (a pleasant change from some series with violent anti-heroes where their escaping justice is just another quirky facet of their character)