Japanese Title: RahXephon
Related: RahXephon: Pluralitas Concentio (alternate movie – watch series first)
RahXephon Interlude: Her and Herself/Thatness and Thereness (OVA)
Similar: Ghost in the Shell
Watched in: Japanese & English
Genre: Science Fiction Action Drama Music Mystery Romance
Length: 26 episodes
- Complex narrative and characters.
- Lore rewards multiple viewings.
- Excellent use of music and colour metaphor.
- Superb acting.
- Complexity leads to niche appeal.
RahXephon holds a fond place in my anime history. An image, a sound, a name, all trigger my memories of this excellent series – the chance discovery at a convention, the first purchase, the long wait between volumes, rewatching all so far in the meantime, checking new releases after school too often, cursing three episodes per DVD, such memories.
RahXephon is an oft-misrepresented series. If you have heard of it, it must be with comparisons to Evangelion, but to say they are the same displays a lack of understanding in both RahXephon and Evangelion, a look at merely the superficial – ah mah gaaaad, a kid with a giant robot against giant monsters! It’s like saying The Dark Knight and Avengers are the same because both feature superheroes. RahXephon is closer to The Matrix than anything, with touches of Inception and time compression.
Ayato lives in a world where all was destroyed by invaders save for Tokyo – billions down to twenty-three million. However, when enemy agent Haruka comes to capture him, claiming his world is a lie, Tokyo as an illusion, his life is thrown upside down. He is the key to defeating the true invaders, blue-blooded Mulians that control Tokyo, for he is an Instrumentalist able to synchronise with the god-like machine RahXephon. He finds himself in a foreign land, his friends, school, life, still trapped inside the illusion of Tokyo. As if that wasn’t bad enough, his mother leads the Mulians.
Ayato is the archetypal reluctant hero forced into war with little explanation, treated as a child despite the importance of his role for humanity. Unlike other ordinary out-of-water characters that end up dull, owing to an ordinary personality as well, Ayato has his mind pushed to the edge, his choices and trials enough to break any man.
He feels the world is against him. Of course, this isn’t true, as it would be rather dull to have a singular-minded cast. No, RahXephon’s cast is a varied gathering – the jealous, the greedy, the naïve, the mysterious, the tenacious, and the kind. Every character is interesting with shades of good and evil. Spending time with them gives the impression each has a complete backstory to call their own, even if appearing simple at first. Furthermore, this backstory isn’t offloaded onto the audience, much of it subtle, requiring close dissection to uncover. Each scene has something of significance – a passing comment here, an unusual reaction there. If you don’t notice these details, the characters still work, but those details truly bring them to life. The romance alone has enough to dissect through several viewings.
Character is so important to RahXephon that even the action is character driven, to the point where it intrudes on the physical side of action scenes. When a threat appears, the real fight is within the psychology, and not always Ayato’s, which makes for engaging conflict. However, once the mental battle is resolved, the fight ends a little too quickly, sometimes in a single attack. It would be nice to see a little more in the physical spectrum, especially with the interesting artistic design and spectacle. The enemy Dolems are constructs of living clay and named after musical notation in Italian – Allegretto, Falsetto, Fortissimo, etc. They are strange in design and power, with one Dolem able to sink entire cities into nothingness with a mere song.
The music motif is significant throughout the series, used to great effect to convey psychology, often unsettling the audience; the soundtrack itself tells a story. Music controls the machines and changes the world. Song is power.
Every element of RahXephon works in harmony to create such a deep and complex narrative, I feel it will alienate many viewers, as though The Appendices were woven into The Lord of the Rings. But like Tolkien’s work, for those who enjoy such detail, RahXephon is a rare treat. With each viewing, I find something new; I discovered three new details for this review – and that must have been my twelfth viewing, at least, of RahXephon.
Art – High
RahXephon looks great in stills with its Egyptian and Aztec aesthetic influences; however, during motion, it can get a little ‘slidey’ when RahXephon flies across the screen – his wings could do with movement. Close-ups are well animated, but long shots need more motion detail. The character and element design is creative, each construct and character telling us a story in their appearance – RahXephon is my favourite mech design. Great use of colour to build atmosphere and amplify character psyche. Gorgeous OP.
Sound – Very High
RahXephon has the best soundtrack in anime. From the ethereal opening “Hemisphere” (my most-listened to song) to the tense track “The Chariot,” RahXephon boasts a wide array of music: romantic, uplifting, mysterious, unsettling, powerful, frenetic, calming. The piano, the violin, the brass, the opera, the choir, all lend heightened emotion to the narrative. The voice acting is superb in English, the actors a perfect fit for their characters. The English script has slight tweaks that improve on the original Japanese as well.
Story – Very High
The Matrix with mechs and monsters. Deep, complex, and rewarding. Attention to lore detail far beyond the norm, possibly too far beyond.
Overall Quality – Very High
Recommendation: Despite my very high praise, I can only recommend RahXephon to those who love complexity. If you are the sort to read The Lord of the Rings Appendix, then RahXephon is for you.
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16 thoughts on “RahXephon – Anime Review”
Well, I thought I would give it a try (not being a reader of the lord of the rings appendix and all)
I had to give up, I did not enjoy this personally. You review is spot on saying it’s niche, turns out my niche must be something else entirely. I just thought “I enjoy robots, lets have a look”….
Still, if you don’t try you don’t know. I would agree that this is one of those anime that I am sure many will like and many will dislike. A bit like Marmite…
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Well, at least you gave it a try.
I’m a Vegemite man, myself. Not the easiest thing to get people to try!
I watched RahXephon ages ago and I loved it! I’m watching a second time now.
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Always great to hear of another fan!
I’m gonna be that guy, but… they don’t make them like this anymore. The current mecha landscape is saddening, to say the least. I’m excited for the Full Metal Panic sequel but it’s a story that was done ages ago. There isn’t much innovation in the genre nowadays. Going back to rewatch Rahxephon makes this even more blatant to me. It’s definitely in my top 20 anime, and I’ve watched a lot. The visual and musical artistry at display is timeless and the mecha design unique and fascinating. I just wish we saw more of the Mu society, but apart from that the delivery of the story is masterful. Have you checked the articles dedicated to Rahxephon on the blog “Ideas Without End”? The author does a great job of examining the plot, characters and how mecha tropes are consecutively celebrated and subverted. Great review by the way, I’m happy that someone appreciates what Rahxephon does well.
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It is theorised that idol anime have led to the decline of mecha anime. With the increasing cost of anime production, studios have to go where the merchandising lies and idols sell. Mecha used to sell like crazy beyond the anime, allowing niche titles like RahXephon to exist. I too am saddened at the shift. However, everything happens in cycles, so mecha will rise again one day.
(I will check out that blog.)
I just finished this anime and wow is it good! Definitely niche as it is quite artistic and introspective, but for those of us who love auch anime, it’s damn near perfect. It is definitely an anime that benefits from rewatching.
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Glad to find another fan!