RahXephon Series Review
Edit April 7, 2019 - I made a fan trailer for RahXephon. Check it out!!
The following review is for the full twenty-six episode series “RahXephon”, released by Studio Bones back in 2001 to mixed reviews. The 2002 film Rahxephon: Pluralitas Concentio was additionally watched following the end of the anime series, but that experience is not covered in detail here because I discovered (to my disappointment) that it was just a re-hash of the anime series crammed into a single two hour film. Even at the time of the original series’ release, though, most viewers and critics seemed to disregard RahXephon for one reason or another. While arguably Bones first hit, having drawn in thousands of viewers during its original run, most modern fans would scarcely recognize the title RahXephon today. I’m making this review to maybe change that. Moderate spoilers are abound in this review, but the bottom line here is this: despite its age, RahXephon’s aspirations and thematic messages will continue to resonate, and as such I implore you to give this series a chance despite its reputation because there’s really not anything else like this out there. Some aspects of the series lack modern polish, to be sure, but perhaps because of its age and lack of polish and the fact that this series flies so under the radar, so to speak; watching this story can feel like a breath of fresh clean air. There’s definitely a certain innocence and timeless charm to watching this series that a viewer is hard-pressed to find in more contemporary series.
So I have just finished this anime series, arguably Bones’ first and most unknown hit to date, and the single overwhelming emotion I leave this series with is…vindication. Not before or since RahXephon have I witnessed an anime studio reach as high as Bones does here. I am inclined to label this anime series as the most under-appreciated titles ever made, and I honestly do not believe I would be wrong in this presumption. RahXephon is not quite there since it stumbles over a couple nominal issues and there are a couple other special titles out there. (Birdy the Mighty Decode, Ga Rei Zero, and A Woman Named Fujiko Mine all come to mind.) Likewise, as fine a vision as RahXephon is, it bears the tragic burden of living in another series’ shadow. I will not do that series justice by naming it here. I’ve witnessed both series and without bias comfortably pronounce these claims to be more-or-less false beyond the most superficial of aspects like aesthetics, premise and a moderate amount of imagery. Rather than focus on addressing these falsehoods; I’d much rather focus on just what makes RahXephon great…independent of the many preconceived notions most viewers seem to have about this series without having gone into it. What I will say—and for that matter must be addressed—is that RahXephon takes whatever wrongs that the former title perpetrates and “rights” them in the very process of solidifying its own unique identity.
So lets begin.
The series’ premise and description are somewhat straightforward, if not intriguing right off the bat. The first three episodes play out something like this: a relatively stereotypical teenage protagonist named Ayato Kamina is home alone at his house staring fixedly at a meal his mother has prepared him, and seems to reflect on a somewhat cold relationship he has with his mother whom we learn is named Maya Kamina. He’s put under the crosshairs of some kind of enigmatic (but somewhat playful) figurine stalking him as he exits his house, (ignoring the prepared meal) and Ayato heads to school with friends Hiroko Asahina and Mamoru Torigai when the city of Tokyo seems to come under abrupt attack. The subway the three kids are riding crashes and Ayato’s friend Torigai is knocked unconscious. Leaving Horioko with Torigai to find help, Ayato instead finds himself in the middle of a warzone. Amidst the continued (traumatizing) destruction, however, he stumbles across a mysterious and beautiful figure whom he recognizes as Reika Mishima. Reika leads Ayato to a Mecha that is identified as the RahXephon. Reika starts singing, and in hypnosis Ayato pilots this strange mecha and single-handedly ends the fighting by tearing to pieces an opposing mecha (called a Dolem) which leads to the death of its ghostly pilot. Ayato regains consciousness the next day, attends school like normal believing the previous days’ events a dream, with Reika inserting herself into his reality and present for that days’ class. She later verifies what he experienced was not a dream by ringing his house phone from a dead number.
That night he finds himself in the company of his apparent stalker: a striking intelligence agent named Haruka Shitou. Haruka and Ayato had had a somewhat empathetic encounter when Ayato abandoned this agent on a subway line to stick to Reika right after Haruka had rescued him, ignoring Haruka’s frantic pleas to stay with her. Finally under her control and unwitting to let Ayato believe her the enemy, Haruka reveals that Tokyo is the base of an alien inter-dimensional race called the Mu, and together the two of them escape the dome in the RahXephon. Ayato’s own mother is revealed to be a Mu commander of some sorts, and rediscovered friend/newfound love interest Reika seems to be obliterated amidst the escape attempt by an opposing Dollum. Agent Haruka and Ayato spend the next few days right outside of the “Tokyo Dome” (with much exposition given to the viewer and Ayato in the meantime) before they are both picked up by a defense organization called Terra. From this episode onwards- Ayato has a internal and external odyssey, so to speak, that ultimately sees him determine the fate of the world.
Along the way, viewers will be delighted to discover an incredibly well-written romance and character drama. This is a long journey from here, and unlike **cough** certain other series **cough**cough** the viewer will actually care about this series’ core cast of characters to its end. The various romantic interests, in particular, are something to marvel at for viewers aching for well-integrated romance within the context of action series. There are precisely five romantic interests throughout the series: the after mentioned intelligence agent Haruka Shitou, the mysterious and beautiful Reika Mishma, Haruka’s little sister and fellow Terra member Megumi Shitou, fellow classmate (left back in the Jupiter dome) Hiroko Asahina, and finally the eccentric Quon Kisaragi (though to call this a standard romantic interest is something of a generalization, since this character is a critical part of the lore for RahXephon). The majority of the series is composed of Ayato combating the various Dollums periodically sent by the extra-dimensional Mu to retrieve him and the RahXephon. However, the obvious questions surrounding Ayato, the RahXephon, and why the heck there is an inter-dimensional humanoid beings are sending Mecha-esque clay Dollums to kill humans and retrieve Ayato in the first place are all revealed throughout the series. (Most questions are answered only by the very end.) It’s very psychological to the extent that this title differentiates itself from any other mecha: it’s often outright brutal with little glorification of the violence or pilots. One attribute that I cannot compliment this series enough for is how brutal the mecha fights feel, and how it handles some of its effects on Ayato and other secondary characters. While certainly dated: the Dollums often have their flesh ripped to pieces by Ayato’s and his RahXephon before exploding in a shower of blue blood. Ayato, for his part, has to come to the mental decision to even want to pilot the RahXephon and continue dealing with the politics of Terra in fear of being betrayed.
I can explain these joyful revelations to the series’ primary questions in this review: but that’d be both something of a disservice to would-be viewers (it’s not even a spoiler that is, so to speak, necessary to reveal in order to analyze the plot) but also a motivation to keep moving forward with the story. Fortunately, this series does have a payoff for having patience. Numerous payoffs, in fact. Would you like to know the reason why Ayato has so many love interests throughout this series? This isn’t a harem series after all. Though I certainly do love a good harem if I’m in the mood, I’ll go ahead and give you some idea what’s going on: the romances develop, and sometimes part of development is in accordance to external events. Basically, there are a lot of plot twists presented to viewers throughout the series and, most importantly, development! Can you believe it!?! While the writing for other secondary characters does leave something to be desired: Studio Bones’ roots of excellent character-building and world building and story outlining are on full display as Ayato is forced to navigate a series of very difficult options despite the fact he’s got arguably the most powerful mecha imaginable. Anyone saying this series is “light” or superficial is completely ignorant to the fact this series has, quite possibly, one of the most brutal deaths I’ve ever witnessed in any anime. Ever. (And that goes for the series-that-need-not-be-named.)
Then there’s situations like the end of episode 21, which feature well-planned repercussions and revelations (between Ayato and characters I hadn’t even thought were particularly important up to that point) that prove to me once and for all that Bones has possibly the best writers/director combinations in the entire genre. There’s a certain emotional connection established between the viewer and characters that’s rarely—if ever—seen in most anime. I won’t go into details of it: but between the breathtaking music and sharp directing and scriptwriting…well…I could go ahead and borrow some of the same descriptions I gave to you in my Ergo Proxy review, but that’s something of a disservice to the unique experience from every unique moment, character, and line of dialogue building upon itself to create the story that we know as RahXephon. It’s important for would-be viewers to recognize that, much like most other major hits of the late 1990s/early 2000s like Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, or Mushi Shi- this series is very much an episodic experience with many smaller components contributing to a greater whole. You can even look on the Wikipedia: but almost every other episode has a repeating cycle of directors brought in to give this series a unique feel, so to speak. Even if you find that, overall, the primary and most critical aspects of the series are more-or-less average; there really is a timeless quality persistent here in other aspects. One such aspect is how the series focuses on the characters in their downtime. As mentioned: this is mostly a character drama overshadowed by the fact that there is a military conflict going on with universe-shattering implications.
But aspects like the art quality and imagery really do hold up in surprising ways in how striking and beautiful it is, even as animation itself sometimes is stale. The ending, too, is still somewhat confusing and muddled and requires a light amount of outside explanation, as well as certain side characters and their motivations and plot arcs. I’m not by any means making the claim that this series is perfect. There’s definitely a unique lore and set of symbols for this world’s story—one based in sound to reflect heavenly or otherworldly ideals materialized, that’s a little quirky and definitely takes some getting used to. Not to mention the military organization, Terra, has so many less-than-dignified plot threads and shady characters that its sometimes hard to keep rooting for it. A lot of screen time is devoted to secondary antagonists in this series, but only some of those said antagonists come across as ones worth the time investment.
But then viewers get beautiful moments the end of the already-mentioned Episode 21, which I would say is my favorite moment of the entire series and the sole moment I've continually returned to at least a dozen times, stemmed and built upon from moments of pure brutality like Episode 19. Just the way this series creates connections and moments like this is what I continually look for in anime that I watch, which is why I’m so So SO happy I watched this series. I don’t really know how else to express this inner elation. Yes. The series definitely has moments where it falls on its face (particularly early on)- but once it hits it stride past episode 3, I ended up binging it like a near addict all the way until its concluding episodes past Episode 22. (Where things start getting confusing.) I’m proud to say that the series wraps itself up nicely. It leaves a lingering sense of vindication and fulfillment and, while it doesn’t nail its ending, the few new scenes provided in the recompilation film Rahxephon: Pluralitas Concentio build on this legacy to leave me quite content with my time investment and experience. It’s most unfortunate that the other 90% of the film is recycled and cut directly from the TV series…I really feel that they could have done something special with it. The character Quon, in particular, really only becomes prevalent in the concluding episodes where her context in the plot is confused by how much is going on and thrown on the viewers at once. And yet her lore is by far among the most interesting in the entire show except maybe Haruka’s in retrospect.
In conclusion: I’d say my best advice is to know yourself as a viewer. I recognized RahXephon as a potentially great experience with nominal research into it beyond the gut-reaction connotations that you’d find on discussion boards. I knew right away that there was a hole created by the former title, mostly disappointment, and that RahXephon could only improve on that for me. I knew I loved Bones, and even if the series was old I knew I’d have the patience to wear out its kinks to find the hidden gems housed within this 26 episode series and film. The first episode, as described, hooked me right in and the evolution of the series meant that I remained hooked until the concluding episodes, which as mentioned ultimately wrapped itself up very nicely. This series has quite possibly the best final scene I’ve seen in any anime given its context. RahXephon is a true anime classic worthy of the title.
Thank you for reading and happy watching!