I'd been meaning to watch this show for years, and finally a buddy group came along, and I eagerly joined that. I knew people compared it to the much-discussed Neon Genesis Evangelion, but frankly, I just expected a cerebral mecha show. Instead, I got to watch an incredibly boring, tedious and underwhelming anime about a group of incredibly uninteresting characters and a mysterious mecha with fugly wings on its head. Riveting stuff. Really.
While I can see some similarities between the two: like a rather convoluted plot, emotionally unstable characters, unorthodox mecha designs, themes (Christianity in EVA and music in RahXephon) tacked on for no other discernible reason than 'why not?', clandestine organizations and odd prophecies, they're pretty different apart from that. Whereas I felt that EVA was made with passion and its characters -- partly because of all their faults -- felt so very human, RahXephon is just full of dreary, dull characters that are hardly deserving of praise, and the show has a cold and calculating air about it. Every obfuscated detail, every mystery that eventually gets its revelation and every riddle from Quon just seems to serve one purpose: to give it a sophisticated and mysterious veneer while making as little actual effort as possible.
The plot, humanity standing against a monolithic alien (in every sense of the word) threat, never really changes, nor do all the mysteries or sudden reveals add anything to it. At first it was fun to be able to add more pieces to the puzzles, but when I realized that ultimately there is never really anything tying them together with each other or the overall plot, but rather that they are incredibly independent of each other. I started to despise how every trite mystery it presented to us just left me wanting, only to be supplanted by another, equally esoteric and asinine problem that you could perhaps ponder on, but the answer is usually incredibly outlandish, and the show will reveal the answer sooner or later, so why bother?
Even at the end, when the show starts rushing us with answers there is very little that actually deepened or enhanced my appreciation for the show. Every revelation feels like it could have been chosen by the way of lottery. That's how cohesive and plotted out this felt to me. The facts and explanations the viewer receives really don't interlock much with each other. All in all, I got a rather straightforward mecha show (and a bad one at that) combined with a lifeless drama about people living rather droll and unnecessarily labyrinthine lives.
Not only did I find the plot severely wanting, the atmosphere of the series is incredibly weak. Never once did I get the feeling that humanity was under attack by a vastly superior force, and the fights just came across as a haphazard attempt to add a more bleak and desperate tone, but the overwhelming majority of them ended up adding nothing of substance to… anything, really. RahXephon in a nutshell.
I have already stated my dislike for the characters, but I want to expand on it for a bit. They are all rather plain and shallow, and the dialogue is incredibly off-putting at first. After a while, I either got used to it or it improved. It's hard for me to tell. They scheme and plot, fall in love with each other, have fights and sometimes even joke with each other, but it all felt so artificial. There are no explanations as to why they fall in love with each other, nor do any budding relationship ever get developed properly.
Ayato and Haruka, our two main characters, are far a far cry from being interesting to follow, and neither comes across as very likable. Their friends and co-workers, Megumi, Kim, Quon, Souchi, Itsuki and commander Kunugi, are all handled rather badly, and they really do not add any variety or depth to the show. Makoto is smug and scheming, but he feels more like an archetype, or maybe like a chalked outline of a character. The same goes for Quon and the fighter pilots, but to an even greater degree. They really got nothing more than whatever paltry scraps of ideas that were left over when the rest of the cast were being chiseled out.
What they all have in common is that they are in desperate need of fleshing out in terms of motivation and characterization, that they seem to be written as plot devices first and foremost, and if they accidentally ended up with any humanity it was just a bonus, nothing more.
Now, how does RahXephon look, and what does it sound like? The music is a mixed bag, some tracks are unbearably horrid or tasteless, others are forgettable and some are genuinely good and fitting of the mood. The opening and ending were very fitting as well. The Japanese voice acting was, as far as I could tell, good, but no performances struck me as memorable. I only watched about one episode's worth of the English dub, so I really can't comment on that other than to say that the dialogue was as outlandish in spoken English as it was in written English.
The visuals are better than the music, though the quality was varying even here. The backgrounds were nice and captured the sci-fi mood well, and the enemy monster designs were unorthodox, but also rather limited in variation. The eponymous mecha looks okay if you can ignore the wings on its head (a hard sell, I know) but the fights were beyond terrible. Being largely static affairs, and with not even an ounce of tension to be had, the fights never managed to be interesting or imaginative. Frankly, I wonder why they even bothered with them.
The colour palette can go from a warm, yellow tint to a pale eerie glow, and a lot of pastel colours are used, giving it a washed out feel at times. It is used fittingly and usually enhances the scenes, and it adds to whatever little bleak atmosphere the show has. Still, I am glad that most anime that are newer or older than this don't employ such a colour palette as this. I prefer it when my anime has a more distinct look.
The character designs are kind of plain and minimalistic, but they aren't offensive to the eyes and they were quite varied. Sure, some of the outfits were rather ugly (I think some of the outfits were in vogue at around when this show was made) and the TERRA uniforms felt very sexist: the men get pants and the women dress in miniskirts. It made it feel like it was made in the 60's rather than the 00's. The characters rarely did anything extravagant, instead just going around their daily lives, but for the most part the animation was good when going by TV anime standards. What they did excel at was drawing Quon's lace underwear in great detail, showing it off by expertly utilizing what is referred to as the 'male gaze'. This obviously made up for the embarrassingly incompetent fighting scenes. Glad to see that someone at Bones had their priorities straight.
I know there are people that liked this well enough, but I didn't find much of substance here, nor was it never anything other than average, and that only for brief periods of time. For the most part, it was just a hodgepodge of ideas that might have worked had they cared enough, but alas, RahXephon will forever be nothing more than a colossal waste of time for me.