RahXephon is an anime from 2002 which has some things going for it, and also some things going against it, mainly the required comparison to Neon Genesis Evangelion. Another aspect of the series that will require mention and discussion is the use of sound and music in the series, which quite overpowers the series in its beginning, but thankfully its part and vehemence grows smaller as it goes on.
This is a “Things I Like” post, and as such, it’s not a review per-se, but my thoughts on the series. Spoilers should come as no surprise, this post will have moderate amount of spoilers. Surprisingly little, if you ask me.
Let’s begin with music. The series definitely puts a lot of emphasis on music, with the dolems (basically golems, a mecha variety) use sonic attacks, which are basically singing, and are named with names such as “Allegreto”, “Fortissimo“, and other terms from the musical world. In fact, the show’s version of “The Instrumentality Project” is “Tuning the world”, and those who pilot mecha such as the titular RahXephon are “Instrumentalists”.
Sadly, in the beginning of the series, the music does not supplement the action, but overpowers it. The sound is strong, always present, and rather than highlight the action, it becomes the focus. I found it especially jarring in the bizzare dream sequence in one episode, with the totally funky jazz music (or the jazz during the fight in episode 20). Luckily, as the series went on, the music had become not only more subdued (in both volume and beat), but it more and more supplemented what was going on in the show, and we’d seen more and more of repeated tunes, which are less noticeable on a conscious level as something that should divert our attention from the series.
Here is a very nice scene from episode 19, where someone dies. It is spoiler-tastic, but I love it. The choreography and directing of this scene are quite brilliant, with each strike in the fight releasing a wave of light that carries a message, and the sound… it is also quite a tear-wrenching scene, especially if you’ve actually watched the show.
If you’re wondering at the strange voice (and slight lisp) of Ayato’s mother (Ayato is the main character of the series), Maya Kamina, it’s because the seiyu is Ichiko Hashimoto who composed the soundtrack for the series, and is not actually a professional voice actress, but a professional musician.
The OP of the series is quite interesting, music-wise, even if it’s nothing truly special. It also shows that in animation wise, the series is quite nice, but it’s not as sharp as what I’m mostly used to these days. It’s more like Visions of Escaflowne and other late 90s series that are.. not as sharp. The last few seconds of the OP with the two faces traveling across the screen also make me think of the OP of Visions of Escaflowne. That last bit would also be something you’ll understand differently after watching the series to its conclusion.
Something else that somewhat bothers me with the animation of the series is the heavy use of yellow in the palette. Blue also shows up quite often, but with so much blue, the feeling of the series is slightly surreal and sickish. Or maybe it’s just my aesthetic (over-)sensibilities.
I’m pretty sure the ending is sung by Ichiko Hashimoto. It’s the regular much more quiet and subdued as endings often are. It also fits the theme of the series much more, though rather than talk directly of the series, it speaks more of music. It has some beautiful bits, like when we see Quon, and hear “Ah, RahXephon”. For those curious, it seems the dubbed version of the song is sung by the same singer (and if not, it’s a damn good impersonation), and can be found here, so you can also understand the lyrics. You can also hear the almost lisp I spoke of earlier.
Now we’re going to discuss what the series did right, and what the series did wrong:
What the series did right were the characters and their interpersonal relationships. We have a full cast of characters, that even if they do immoral things, and even if they are hurtful and vengeful, above all else, they’re human. They’re all people we can relate to, sympathize with, and care about. A relatively large cast, but aside from each of these characters being done well, their relationships are intricate and believeable.
The voice cast is more than up to the job, and features more than a few known names, which I’m sure you’ll recognize if you’ll listen to the series, and a couple you probably won’t recognize by sound alone, such as the actress of Haruka’s sister, Megumi. Haruka is the main female character of the series, in more ways than one as you’ll find out.
What the series didn’t do right were the conspiracy and mystical background. The series begins and not only do we not know what is going on, we become more bewildered as the protagonist fights the wrong side, talks to someone that may not be there, etc. The time spent on conspiracy is small compared to the time spent on the interpersonal relationships, but even that not too large amount of time is to the show’s detriment.
We have real life mythologies and occultism thrown in, Mu is a pre-historic culture (ala Atlantis) discussed by, or invented by James Churchward, who’s actually mentioned in an easy-missable bit in the series, we get to hear sentences such as “Ollin, you’ll achieve Ixtli in Yolteotl, your true heart,” and in case you’re wondering, Ollin, which is how Ayato is referred to by the Mulians, the alternate-dimension aliens who invaded our world, refers to Ollin Tonatiuh, a Sun God, and if you know anything about your western mythology, you should recognize “Rah” as the Egyptian Sun God. Even the sentence in the final segments of the series, “The obsidian butterfly finds a song in the cerulean forest,” is but a reference to mesoamerican mythology.
Not only that, do you remember River from Firefly, and how indecipherable some of what she said used to be? Quon for much of the series is like that, a (hot, nice) girl who speaks what appears to be nonsense, and is almost a prophet to those of us who watch from beyond the fourth wall. It also appears that she speaks in riddles and half-nonsense in order to keep things “interesting”.
This is where we get into our comparison, even if short, to Neon Genesis Evangelion. In NGE, we had a grace period where we didn’t really see anything was up, and then we got hit by a mystical “Bang!” to the face, had time to digest it, and then the next bang. As time passed by, the time we had to digest between such “Bangs!” grew shorter and shorter, which caused not a small amount of people to grow exasperated.
In RahXephon, we get to hear things from the first and second episode, and rather than answer them or even drop hints as to their answers, for most of the series we keep meeting the same questions again and again, in case we’ll forget them. Answers, to what is actually answered, are given in the last few episodes, and even these are not enough. The answers provided truly are enough, but that’s the problem. A lot of what is said is pseudo-mystical techno-babble. It isn’t really technological, but you know what I mean. Many of the “explanations” which we receive do not truly answer what they purport to answer, and only open dozens more questions, because they make use of other terms and ideas which weren’t truly explained.
Likewise, if we truly compare to NGE, we get our “Adam and Eve” battle, we have a “Body of light” with wings which reach to the heavens, you get to see in the OP above a landscape littered with red crossed (and another Escher-like landscape filled with clocks), and so on and so forth. And it is my stance that whenever the comparison is made, it is to the detriment of RahXephon. Perhaps because NGE came before, but in most conspiracy cases, even if we feel RahXephon has more internal logic, it is also much more obscured from us.
Synopsis: The personal relationships were well done, the characters were believeable and intricate, and I enjoyed watching them. That scene above is one of the most well done in my memory. The conspiracy and mythology in the series is quite opaque, and is detrimental to the series. Luckily, the role of the relationships is much larger (and this also explains why “so little” occurs for much of the series, because the focus is on characters rather than events). The animation is nice, but I’d have liked it to be crisper, and less yellow-centric.