Rahxephon never shies away from an opportunity for bathos in its storytelling; undermining the viewer’s expectations, often through undermining or challenging those of the characters, is a recurring conceit that allows it to clearly communicate how knowledgeable of the “truth” any given character is. For example, the conflict between Elvy and Haruka which came to a head earlier in the series was based around Haruka’s ongoing deceit being revealed. Resentment at being shown to be ignorant or ill-informed is a major driver of conflict, accentuated far more in Rahxephon as a continued plot point than in many similar series. This is because it is a series about ignorance and misdirection more than anything else; what seems to be conspiracy to some is in fact a simple lack of information, or a failed assumption that others know what is going on.
The emphasis of episode 14 of Rahxephon is – despite its opening with more cryptic conversations between Haruka and Futagami – almost entirely on the arrival of the prototype of a mass-production super robot, bringing together two sets of expectations. In mecha animé the prototype is generally the ace unit, and the new Vermilion unit lives up to this cliché with its red colouration and the fact it is piloted by Elvy, a character shown to be the most capable of the TERRA support pilots. Yet Rahxephon, being a super-robot animé, has its own set of cliches surrounding the arrival of a human-made robot – the viewer will likely expect it to be doomed to fail simply because it is piloted by a side-character.
Episode 12 of Rahxephon concluded with Ayato failing to destroy the Dolem; it retreated, implying that it will return but also crucially showing its intelligence. Exactly how much TERRA and the human forces know about the Dolems is unclear; there is little shown in terms of knowledge about how to fight them for the most common strategy, be it one of complacency on Kunugi’s part or genuine ignorance, is “let the Rahxephon do it” – an interesting comparison to the clinical, scientific approach taken by NERV in Rahxephon‘s inspiration, Evangelion. NERV almost always know exactly how to destroy the enemy; the Angels have highly visible weak points or predictable attacks – but at the same time they have an unreliable robot and pilot, and frequently neither the manpower nor technology to properly exploit the weakness. TERRA is always one step behind in Rahxephon, yet this ineffectuality is counterbalanced by the extreme firepower advangate they have – the Rahxephon itself does not need to identify weaknesses in its enemies, it simply destroys them.
Episode 12 of Rahxephon forms a visual mirror to episode 11, beginning with a scene that picks up the pervasive clinical imagery of TERRA supervising Ayato during his disappearance; this time, Quan is apparently dying. The subsequent scene, as she is observed, provides the viewer with private information – she is an “M-Type”, and of great importance. That she is not human, or at the least partially related to the Mu, has been made clear in scenes such as that within the temple previously – what this scene does is reveal that it is no secret to the Federation, and Kisaragi’s suspicious assistant. They play on the idea of surveillance, implying that they have been having sex in the observation room and wondering if Quan was actually watching them. Intimacy has previously been quite distant in Rahxephon and this scene picks up again on the dream-world of episode 11; there, faux-intimacy created a sense of the uncanny as characters usually frosty became incredibly affectionate. Here, the suspicious nature is presented openly; Sayako is told that the Federation are “honest” in their desire to help an unknown “him” yet they remain cagey about what exactly that are doing, or who it will benefit. Making any implications from this is hard; the characters by now have fingers in so many pies that about the only certainty is it is unlikely to be Ayato, who still has no real agency.
Episode 10 of Rahxephon focused on undermining its characters’ search for answers to their own questions, while informing the audience; each of the groups who moved around on the periphery of Kunugi’s personal life thought they knew the truth of his actions but were all subtly wrong. Not knowing the truth – or knowing only part of the truth – is central to the status quo on Nirai-Kanai (the “official” spelling of the island where TERRA is based’s name, according to the 2001 series companion Rahxephon Bible (Kadokawa)) and seeing the usually prophetic and uncannily knowledgeable Futagami himself undermined and proved wrong was a refreshing climax to his storyline so far. Indeed, that he can fail calls into question the apparent omniscience that has defined him so far.
As of episode 9 of Rahxephon, it seems that the established traditional super-robot arc is coming to an end; the mysteries about the supernatural, anti-technological aspects are coming to the fore and it is reveals there is something significant about Quan as well as Reika. In some ways the dream episode just seen could be unsatisfying; there is a mixture of pouring new mysteries onto those that are still not fully known, and almost-straightforward expository revelations. Yet this ambiguity – the way in which simply explaining something has been subverted by the cast – is ultimately the driving force of the plot.
Rahxephon consistently walks a line between predictable story structures of super-robot animé and the implied more complex plot in the background; from its opening arc, which laid out both short- and long-term mysteries, it has settled into a clear second act where Ayato has become a part of TERRA and now does his part by fighting Dolems. The Rahxephon is still inscrutable and alien, but it is technology that can be used and its unpredictability is (as shown by the climax of the previous fight) predictable. While it remains unknown how the Rahxephon gets results, nevertheless it does and a sense of complacency – of the expected invincibility of the super-robot (in deference to its roots in very superhero-like stories such as Astro Boy) – emerges. Episode 9 begins with a return to the spiritual from the militaristic, and apparently promises answers; Futagami is exploring the island some more and chasing rumours that an excavated shrine experienced apparent supernatural occurences described as a “god descend[ing].”
Rahxephon episode 8 begins with perhaps the expected endpoint of the story-thread established previously; Futagami is observing the Rahxephon itself under the supervision of Dr Kisaragi. As before, he jokes about in a way which implies he may be knowledgeable of it – comparing it to an idol in a shrine (as, of course, it was when it was first activated). He then sees the remnants of the Dolem destroyed in the previous battle, and is reminded of his actual status – a pure observer who must know what should be kept secret. The interaction between Futagami and Kisaragi is a welcome levity not based around Ayato’s outsider nature, a more comic take on the oppressive bureaucracy of TERRA.
Episode 6 of Rahxephon was perhaps the first to properly follow the structure of a super-robot animé episode, with its setup of an enemy showing its power, the creation of a plan to fight it and then the fight itself, in which the enemy’s unique ability caused setbacks which had to be overcome with special abilities from Ayato’s machine. Yet it was something more than that formula mostly due to the history within the setting ascribed to the enemy. Most super-robot series have a new monster each episode created at its start by the enemy to do battle with the hero, but the Dolem from episode 6 was shown to be a seasoned weapon of the Mu which had previously destroyed much of Australia. The episode was thus as much about Kim’s coming to terms with this and taking part in the fight as Ayato’s continued quest for acceptance and understanding his position.
The fifth episode of Rahxephon built up to a series of guarded revelations that both explained more of what the future holds for the story and also explained how powerless Ayato actually is within it; the conspiratorial confusion that defines the action is given a more cruel, personal aspect in how it is denying him apparently simple answers to genuine and reasonable questions. It is clear he is being used to the audience, and his realisation of this is the main dramatic conflict within the episode. Yet it ends with some measure of harmony; while his life with Megumi and her uncle is a strange one based on necessity over genuine friendship, the way it is visually framed in the cliches of young love suggests there is hope for the future. Episode six begins some time after this, immediately revealing its core conflict. The personal is apparently being set aside for the human-versus-alien war that one might expect from a mecha animé.