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.
There are, really, two approaches to discussing the comparatively unpopular Episode 39 of Eureka Seven. One can either focus on what actually happens and talk about it as a sports animé, or one can discuss what it “means” within the framework of the series. It is ultimately a very silly episode, filled with visual jokes and cartoonish visuals, and its characters even admit themselves it is entirely superficial to the plot – yet it at the same time is so blatant and explicit in its exposition of the series’ themes it can be seen as clever in its stupidity. The plot is entirely incidental, and pure super-robot fluff; Holland, on orders from Norb, decides the Gekko’s crew must play a game of football before continuing with their mission. It is reminiscent of the strange training regimes of Gen Fudo in the later series Genesis of Aquarion, a series which is only really memorable for those episodes (which variously entail cross-dressing, characters parodying each others’ mannerisms, running foot-races and, in one case, playing football) and has the same heavy-handed way of delivering a “message” (in Aquarion‘s case it is usually punctuated with a suitably-themed special move for the main robot.)
This article also includes discussion of the plot of the serial Nearer My God To Thee (Abnett, Harrison, Parkhouse), printed in 2000AD issues 1883-8.
If episode 17 of Rahxephon was about Ayato’s failure – his entirely understandable and thus all the more tragic moment of conviction based on faulty facts – episode 18 is his final descent and attempts to recover. It is densely packed with the answers he seeks – answers which even undermine the audience’s privileged position compared to the characters by giving a direct insight into the enemy’s plans – but offers little redemption or closure. Its final line is “where can I go?” as he escapes the Mu and flees, but without ever reconciling with any of those he has alienated in the process. It could even be seen as prophetic of future misfortune – he is rushing onward in the Rahxephon to do what he thinks is right, motivated only by a desire to do something.
Spectacle and tradition are key parts of the super-robot aesthetic; their presence and quality is what defines the action, and their absence is usually part of a key plot point (a good example is how a series such as Evangelion or Rahxephon will avoid showing the graphic methods of their “heroic” robots and instead let the reactions and consequences tell the story). Episode 1 of Captain Earth, a series written in part by Yoji Enokido (who also worked on Star Driver, Rahxephon, and the first Evangelion Rebuild film among others) ended with massive spectacle – a level of ridiculous scale that was quite a departure from the tone set by the episode’s buildup. Humanity’s defences against the alien Kiltgang were shown to be multi-layered and culminating in a network of orbital bases that together helped build a super-robot. Each step of its assembly in orbit increased its size dramatically, and the episode’s ending set it out as an immense, tall-shouldered machine with the bravado, elegance and machismo in its posturing of something like Star Driver‘s Tauburn or Gurren Lagann‘s later-series machines.
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.
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.
In the first of my series of articles about how GAINAX approach the traditional cliches and tropes of super-robot and space opera animé, I talked about Gunbuster‘s use of heroic sacrifices – and quite specific evocations of Space Battleship Yamato – to juxtapose a personal story and a traditional genre one. As Gunbuster progresses it takes the genre archetypes larger in scale with each battle; first Noriko’s desperate first fight in which Smith dies, then her first launch in the Gunbuster itself, culminating in a final battle where the super-prototype and the unified fleet come together to fight a last stand defending a yet greater superweapon. The escalation of the odds each time reflects Noriko’s development and her personal journey to excel.
The first two episodes of Rahxephon built its setting up through continually changing the goalposts of what information the viewer had; each answered question so significantly changed the perception of the setting that it created new ones in turn. Yet finally the viewer has the best possible picture of what they are dealing with; the Rahxephon itself is a superweapon similar in kind to the Mu’s other terror weapons the Dolems. Securing it – and its apparently chosen pilot Ayato, the Olen who the Mu are eager to track down – is the mission of a human strike force sent into Mu-occupied Tokyo.
In the previous article in this series I focused on one of the two main features of what I called the “underdog-robot” subgenre of super-robot anime – the technological disparity between mankind and its enemies. The genre is based on the subversion of the traditional inherently superior hero archtype – while traditionally in the superhero or super-robot genre, the protagonist is at least able to fight on an even technological or power footing with the enemies (setting them ahead of the “ordinary” characters who cannot), a series like the previously-mentioned Evangelion takes a different approach. In it, the “best” that can be put forward is generally shown to be inadequate in some way, or unpredictably effective. While in a series like Fafner this balance of power is skewed too far against the heroes to make their continued success and survival seem likely, when done well it forms the core of a genre based around innovative action and a different kind of dramatic tension to the norm.
Note: This article contains significant plot information about Rahxephon, especially Episode 19.