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.
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.
Episode 19 of Rahxephon is the end of an arc – the moment where Ayato’s impulsive heroism is finally put to the test as he must come to terms with what “saving” someone actually means – and whether, in this world, it is even possible.
Note: Episode 19 is a particularly unique episode, and probably one of the best-written episodes in mecha animé purely because of how it sits within the wider plot of the series – as a result, the remainder of this article will be placed after this tag so readers may choose not to read it and see the episode without being spoiled.
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.
Take my hand,
I’m a stranger in Paradise
All lost in a wonderland
A stranger in paradise
If I stand starry eyed,
That’s a danger in Paradise
Mortals who stand beside
An angels like us
Tony Bennett – Stranger in Paradise
Episode 17 of Rahxephon is a fruitless, frustrating buildup to a moment of horrible catharsis divided into two parts that lay plain between them the mysteries of the series. These are mysteries that the viewer knows, or has worked out by inference, but which not all of the characters know to the same extent – and the ways in which they learn these things, in the worst ways at the worst times, set up a grim future for Ayato. The revelations in the episode are not really revelations to the viewer but instead to Ayato, and mark the point where he finally gets what he wants.
Episode 5 of Captain Earth was a good focus episode for Teppei, characterising him a little more than simply being the alien prince figure. At this stage in the story the question of Salty Dog trying to break up the surrogate family unit is more or less addressed, and the emphasis is far more on how the characters’ conflict against invading aliens proceeds. But ultimately, it remains a story about a surrogate family created out of military comradeship and authority, epitomised by Akari the daughter of the space station commander, and displaced children living together. Broken families predominate – Daichi is an orphan, Teppei and Hana have lived under observation as aliens fallen to earth and Akari’s parents are physically separated.
That Captain Earth takes the time to begin to explain itself in its fourth episode is refreshing; it does it through an episode with minimal emphasis on the super-robot aspects which finally brings the enemies forward in the flesh. Previously, the series has been interesting in how although the enemy machines are piloted, they have acted in the form of autonomous machines (with their destruction leading to a cube returning to base with the pilot within) – and there has been next to no characterisation via interaction. Thus an episode which has them directly attack GLOBE as infiltrators, and has them interact directly with characters such as Teppei will inherently clarify much of the world’s mysteries. However, as this kind of series typically offers, the details left unclear are equally interesting as those which are revealed.
After the “invisible” fifteenth episode of Rahxephon, the story returns to its main narrative after some time has passed; Elvy and the Vermilion are conspicuously absent, and the focus is still on the Bahbem children, now adults. Episode 16 is a dense episode, focusing on the delicately collapsing relationships of the main cast and culminating in a series of examinations of how the characters react to arguments and efforts to finally set the past lies aside. There is a constant tension between the expectations of maturity and openness that the younger cast have, and the ease with which adults – being positioned as authority figures – can lie, and need to lie. At its core, the episode’s actual progression of the story is minimal; it does not clarify anything about the conflict with Elvy, and its actual forward motion occurs entirely in the final scene. However, as a more self-contained episode, it shows in great detail the tiny events which all motivate the characters to move the plot on.
The second episode of Captain Earth was effectively formed of two parts – an action sequence which built up Daichi (literally, as his robot was constructed) and then tore him down as he was unable to fight when it mattered, and subsequently the fallout from this. Despite there being a significant number of observers to this – the audience joining a crowd of crewmen from GLOBE both on Earth and in space – the fight and its resolution were intensely personal affairs between Daichi and his companion – almost a co-pilot – Code Papillon. This isolation – the distance that being in space, in a one-man cockpit and indeed a one-on-one duel with an unknown enemy – is something that super-robot animé makes a focus across the genre. A robot needs a sizeable ground crew and infrastructure – as the Earth Engine’s combination sequence shows – but is ultimately powerless without the efforts of one person. That this person is rarely the ideal one for the job – and the conflicts that this results in – thus provides a core for the human tension that must counterbalance the action.