12/8/2003

"The world suffused with sound"

Just another show about giant robots, right? Pfft, as if.

Rahxephon is another of those shows that even though it includes giant robots, it still focuses on the people in the story, on their relationships and interactions, on their loves and their losses, and on their meetings and their farewells.

Ayato Kamina is just your typical high school student. Not particularly enthusiastic about his studies, he prefers to spend his free time painting and visiting with his best friends, Hiroko Asahina and Mamoru Torigai. On the way to school one day, however, the subway train he is riding in crashes, and as he emerges from the broken tunnel, he is suddenly thrust into a nightmare world, a city suddenly plunged into the throes of open combat.

In Ayato's world, there is only Tokyo. It is the year 2013, and the rest of the world was destroyed, leaving a population of only twenty-three million on the planet Earth. It comes as a shock to him, then, when he discovers that in actuality the Earth's population is six billion, and it is the year 2028. Ayato has been trapped in what is called "Tokyo Jupiter". An enclosed field where time moves more slowly than in the rest of the world. But why was Tokyo shut off from the rest of the world like that? What is the robot, called RahXephon, that hatched from the egg? Why do the dolems (other giant robots) continue trying to track him down and recapture Rahxephon? And why, above all else, is his own mother's blood blue?

Rahxephon is Ayato's search for the truth. The truth promised to him by Haruka Shitow, who came to rescue him from Tokyo Jupiter. The truth hidden from him by his mother, Maya Kamina. The truth behind the mysterious Bähbem foundation and their research. The truth underlying the robot Rahxephon's purpose. The truth that explains the existence of the strange yet musically skilled Quon Kisaragi. The series is drenched with intrigue, with everyone's loyalties being called into question at one time or another. Whom can Ayato trust? Can Ayato trust anyone?

Visually, Rahxephon is paramount. Fine detail is given to characters and background, creating a visually lush series. It was somewhat amazing, even just watching the first episode, seeing all the detail in Ayato's room, around Tokyo, and deep in the shrine of Rah. It is striking when Ayato, down in the subway, looks up the stairs to see Mishima at the top perfectly framed by a pair of pure white wings which are in a picture on the wall behind her. This is imagery which is repeated to great effect later on in the series.

"Sing Rahxephon, sing"

Ayato is told that he, as an Instrumentalist, must tune the world. Rahxephon and each of the dolems all have an ability to "sing", which signifies a release of energy and force, the strength and nature of which depends on the power and skill of their respective Instrumentalist. Sometimes the singing is a voiceless whisper, sometimes a strong, resonating tone. Music plays an integral role throughout the series. It builds up to match the intensity of action, and just as quickly ceases to a reverent silence, placing in sharp contrast the fortunes and misfortunes of our heroes. The melancholy compositions of Commander Kunugi's daughter, the poignant sounds of Kim's music box...these and others are starkly juxtaposed with the grand orchestration that accompanies the battles. The opening and ending themes seem innocent enough, perhaps trying to conceal the chaos hidden between them.

I cannot say enough about the wonderful performances in RahXephon. By far my favorite is Houko Kuwashima performing as Quon Kisaragi. This was not a large role by any means, but each line spoken, each phrase whispered or sang, is so important to the story itself that they could not afford to be done less than perfectly. The lead roles of Ayato and Haruka were performed by Hiro Shimono and Aya Hisakawa, respectively. Each did an excellent job, and I want to point out that the role of Ayato could easily have descended into whining and diffidence, like a certain other giant robot pilot from another anime, but strong voicework led to a spirited, excellent performance. Once again Jouji Nakata plays the strong silent type perfectly as Commander Kunugi, and let us also not forget Maaya Sakamoto (who also sings the opening) in the role of Reika Mishima.

Overall, this is not a series to be undertaken lightly. There are lighthearted and comedic moments here and there, early on at least, but the general tone is very serious. Characters drift in and out, their true purposes shrouded in deceit. Battles are fought, between robots, between hearts. There are many valleys, and seemingly too few peaks, but when all is said and done Rahxephon is brought to a definite and satisfying conclusion.

An excellent show? It redefines excellence.

-Larinon

Composite grade A+ (4.00)
Visuals A
Story A
Performances A
Music A
Overall A