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The conflict and goals are based around music.

RahXephon: Harmonic Convergence – Anime Review

Japanese Title: RahXephon: Pluralitas Concentio

 

Related: RahXephon (full version)

Similar: Ghost in the Shell

Ergo Proxy

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Action Drama Romance

Length: 1 hr. 56 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Comparable production quality to the series.
  • Several new scenes.

Negatives:

  • Shorter length removes the depth of detail in the series.
  • Without detail, many plot points seem unfinished and vague.

RahXephon: Harmonic Convergence is a perfect example in what happens when a complex story is crammed into too short a runtime. In my RahXephon review, I note how every scene has small details that go to explaining the characters and events – no scene was wasted. So, how did anyone consider it possible to condense nine hours into two without losing coherence? I am reminded of a fantasy epic novel adapted into a two-hour movie by Hollywood. That isn’t to suggest Harmonic Convergence is bad, but when compared alongside RahXephon, one can’t help question its value.

The core is the same. Enemy agent Haruka throws Ayato’s life in turmoil when she reveals the truth of his world. His life has been a lie and now he must to fight the aliens led by his mother, the god-like machine RahXephon his weapon. The key events are present, but with most in-between scenes cut for time, these events don’t flow together in harmony. An early case: after Ayato wakes to the truth, he is forced to pilot RahXephon. In the series, he is reluctant to cooperate with these strangers, distrustful of everyone. In the movie, it skips all that and he readily agrees to fight, which is incongruous with his character.

If the series never existed, I would look at Harmonic Convergence and think, “That movie has a great idea rushed to execution. With a longer runtime, I’m sure it could be something superb.” Harmonic Convergence looks like a first draft of a sci-fi novel before details are added and lore explained. To make the movie successful, they should have started the story anew; keep the lore, the idea the same, distil RahXephon down to its essence, but change the events to fit feature length, unreliant on a full series to explain everything.

RahXephon: Harmonic Convergence, ultimately, is for fans, as several new scenes give extra insight into the series. It is a much better effort than the Gundam summary movies, at least. Do not start with the movie, for it will reveal many twists without the worthy foreshadowing found in the series. Watch RahXephon instead.

Art – High

With most footage taken from the series, the art is the same high quality. Of course, a shorter runtime reduces visual variety.

Sound – High

Same quality acting and music; however, most storytelling through sound moments were sacrificed. Credits track ‘Tune the Rainbow’ is beautiful.

Story – Medium

It’s the same story as RahXephon, except without the detail that explains everything. For a concept as complex as this, detail is needed.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For fans of RahXephon interested in extra scenes, most before the invasion. Not worth it for anyone else; either watch the series or skip the franchise. The details are too important to the story.

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Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: None

RahXephon – Anime Review

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

Ergo Proxy

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Action Drama Music Mystery Romance

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Complex narrative and characters.
  • Lore rewards multiple viewings.
  • Excellent use of music and colour metaphor.
  • Superb acting.

Negatives:

  • 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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Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Deep NarrativeEngaging DialogueExtensive Character DevelopmentGreat MusicGreat OP or ED SequencePositive Recommended English Voice TrackStellar Voice ActingStrong Lead CharactersStrong Support Characters

Negative: None

Perfect Blue – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Perfect Blue

 

Similar: Paranoia Agent (same director)

Paprika (same director)

Millennium Actress (same director)

Serial Experiments Lain

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Psychological Horror Thriller

Length: 1 hr. 20. min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Tense, psychological narrative.
  • Great use of music to enhance the tension further.
  • Brilliant editing.
  • Disturbing to powerful effect.

Negatives:

  • Could have been a little longer. Act 2 jumps to Act 3 too quickly.

Perfect Blue is the first in Satoshi Kon’s line-up of films, and what a directorial debut it is. It tells the story of a woman pushed to the edge of her wits under the fanaticism of celebrity worship culture, taking the audience to increasingly disturbing places.

Mima is a pop star in an idol group, but after moderate success, she wishes to try something new, reach greater heights as an actress. However, her more rabid fans don’t take kindly to her change in direction. It isn’t long before the dead calls start. Then the threatening faxes (only in Japan would it be fax instead of email) and creepy letters. An online blog chronicles her every action, even impersonating her.

For the longest time, whenever I hear of a fan stalking a celebrity, Perfect Blue is what I think of. The feel of the show starts quite tame, by design, but one can always sense that unease, that certain something which indicates there is more below the surface. And sure enough, it isn’t long before Mima’s mind begins to break. She gets cast in a sexually charged crime drama, blurring the lines between reality and psychosis. Each scene seems somehow more disturbing that the last. Truly, if you are one who dislikes disturbing films such as A Clockwork Orange and Silence of the Lambs, this anime isn’t for you.

As the scenes grow more disturbing, so too does the editing; Kon, as a genius of editing, knows exactly when to cut the camera for maximum effect, his transitions on a skill level few directors can match. In several scenes, the narrative and music builds and builds, leading us to the scene’s zenith, but just before it reaches that point, Kon suddenly cuts to the next scene, yanking us in a different direction. This isn’t like a jump scare. Rather, it’s a shock to the emotions, yet well crafted that it doesn’t lose the audience. Each edit blurs reality further and further.

After I bought all that the store had of the anime Orphen, I had enough credit left for one more DVD and didn’t want just one DVD of another series, so I bought Perfect Blue, the one anime film they stocked. I was a fourteen maybe fifteen-year-old kid and I had no idea what I was getting into. With its sexual and violent nature reliant on psychology instead of gratuitous shock, Perfect Blue disturbed me and I couldn’t appreciate how good it was until years later. Now, I see it as one of the all-time greats.

Art – High

Though Perfect Blue doesn’t have the vibrancy of Kon’s later works, it is excellently animated and rendered. The editing is outstanding, an exemplar in how editing makes a difference to storytelling.

Sound – High

Great acting in Japanese. The English is decent, but not great. Some lines sound stilted – the actors recorded one at a time can be noticeable and the depth of voice placement in the scene is off at times. Little music outside of the idols’ pop tracks, unless in times of tension. The transition from silence to sudden, Hitchcock-like music is jarring in the right way.

Story – Very High

A commentary on celebrity obsession as an idol faces the worst her career has to offer. Tense, disturbing, excellent.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch unless you don’t enjoy being disturbed. Also make sure to check out Kon’s other anime films, Paprika and Millennium Actress.

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Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Deep NarrativeExtensive Character DevelopmentFluid AnimationHoly S***Phenomenal VillainStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

Legend of Black Heaven – Review

Japanese Title: Kachou Ouji: Hard Rock Save the Space

 

Similar: BECK

Interstella 5555

Detroit Metal City

 

Watched in: English & Japanese

Genre: Music Science Fiction

Length: 13 Episodes

 

Positives:

  • Stirring rock music sung in English, even for the Japanese version.
  • Psychedelic, yet fascinating opening sequence to get you pumped.
  • Humorous use of metaphor and innuendo to convey the narrative of a guy saving the galaxy through rock and roll under the guise of a TV show.
  • Has one of the greatest anime scenes ever in the Japanese track using an American actor.

Negatives:

  • Takes half the series to make the narrative core clear.
  • Despite the great opening, the closing sequence is terrible and not in theme with the rest of the music.

Oji was once Gabriel Tanaka of band Black Heaven, the biggest rock group around. Now he’s an office worker with a mundane life, a dull wife, and child – boring, everyday life. Enter Yuki, a voluptuous blonde and fan of Black Heaven, who gives him the opportunity of his daydreams, the chance to hold a guitar again without the glare of his wife and return to the nirvana that is rock and roll. Yuki needs him to play his perfect guitar solo to power a super weapon that can repel the oncoming alien invasion, while the world thinks the invasion is no more than a TV show.

Oji is an interesting character, varying between depression at his life and the zealous defence of his musical possessions. He hides his guitar from his wife, as she keeps trying to throw it out. Yuki and her band of undercover agents bring a nice dose of humour to Black Heaven. They go undercover to observe him, but are clearly not from Earth since they have no idea how to blend into the crowd. Black Heaven’s narrative is simple and focused on Oji’s boredom in life along with his struggle to regain his former rock star talent. The core of the plot isn’t clear until halfway through the series, so it may feel unfocused at first, but it’s worth bearing with it. It never quite explains why the ultimate weapon needs rock music to work, not that it isn’t a cool idea, but it would have been nice to have some lore on the weapon.

Black Heaven’s best aspect is the music. It has an excellent opening sequence and theme of rock ‘Cautionary Warning’ by John Sykes, sung in English even for the Japanese voice track. All of the guitar tracks are excellent; it’s clear the sound director was a fan of classic rock and knew to get a professional for the music. Each episode is titled after a famous rock song. The auditory let-down is the closing theme, a rubbish track that doesn’t fit the rest of the music – honestly, one of the worst tracks I have heard.

Legend of Black Heaven was a pleasant surprise, and is thoroughly underappreciated with a unique premise and a music angle rarely seen in anime. Lastly, there is this amazing scene:

Art – Medium

Adequate art and animation in the vein of Gundam Wing on a lower budget. Love the trippy opening art.

Sound – High

Fantastic guitar riffs and rock n’ roll along with a good Japanese voice track, but a mere average English one (outside the songs). Oji’s Japanese actor reaches a higher level of enthusiasm when he worked up, and Yuki is more seductive, whereas her English counterpart sounds a little flat.

Story – Medium

Simple plot laced with humour and a love for rock music. A bit slow to start.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: A must for lovers of rock and roll. Who knew a guitar solo could save the world.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

Great MusicGreat OP or ED Sequence

Negative: None