And so an unprecedented little thing came to a satisfying conclusion ten years ago today. Even when it was by no means a runaway hit, as a TV anime, it was the kind of high romantic/artistic response many just didn’t see coming. In a year where former Patlabor mecha designer, Yukata Izibuchi is undertaking the mother of all anime remakes with the cross-media event, Yamato 2199, it might be great to also celebrate his first foray into anime direction, RahXephon– A series many seem to have forgotten, but in many ways put a nice, eloquent bow on a most interesting run of experimental (and occasionally broken down mid- process) shows that began with Shin Seiki Evangelion. Taking pages from Yusha Raideen & Megazone 23, RahXephon told the tale of 17-year old Ayato Kamina, and his travels beyond the confines of his once-thought-to-be comfortable life, and into a larger world (literally). Sharing many of the tropes of the ever-reliable “boy fights alien threat with pop’s robot” plot, the series is also very notable for taking many narrative cul-de-sacs, and is more interested in the lives of its characters than merely mecha fighting. It was a series with a large pedigree behind it, and yet was far more novel-like in minutae, and elegant in presentation.
With Ayato suddenly thrust out of the world of Tokyo Jupiter, he is soon acquainted by a number of individuals claiming to be part of a paramilitary initiative combatting alien invaders known as the Mu. This shocks our protagonist, as he had long thought the world nearly completely depopulated, and Japan one of the remaining nesting grounds for humanity. And in his shock, many within his previous life are suddenly suspect as the new world he is beginning to understand seems primed to strike at the bizarre sphere now surrounding what was once Tokyo itself. Alongside operative, Haruka Shitow, and various others, Ayato must come to grips not only with his “destined” place as the operator of a mysterious mechanical god, but of those he loves left behind within Tokyo Jupiter. An often beautiful, and beguiling mixture of eastern and western myths, and a paen to human expression, Izibuchi’s collaboration with writers, Chiaki Konaka and Yoji Enokido remains something of a last remnant of TV anime’s previous generation.
During, and immediately after its initial run in 2002, it was more than easy to see why so many viewers would have dismissed it despite its ambitions. Firstly, as previously mentioned, Evangelion had only ended a few short year before, and was easily the first thing that came to the minds of many upon first glance of this series. Second, it was presented with an unusual color and line palette that was unusual, even when anime budgets were suddenly beginning to rise after years of decline. And third, for a mecha drama, it certainly lived up to the “drama” part of it’s general label. There was indeed a dedicated following on both sides of the Pacific, but it in no way came close to what many would consider a runaway success- cable TV runs, or no.
But beneath the similarities between RahXephon, and the aforementioned television phenom, lies something that while casual anime fans might not catch, tends to hit others square in the heart; an artistic response with a lot on its mind about Anno’s final analysis. What comes together in RahXephon, is something of a directly converse retort by way of revealing the value of acquiantance. Togetherness & diversity versus self-imposed isolation, and additional themes of a collective need for inspiration play heavily throughout. There is a certain pluralism that acts as a mirror, thereby offering up the reasons why certain works find themselves capable of transcendence. And it also (personally speaking) remains a television series capable of inspiring a sense of awe.
So did Izibuchi succeed in what he initially set out to do with RahXephon? Yes, and no. Anime has been playing matters almost wholly safe for the last several years. And even as certain shows flirt with becoming more than mere product, it’s been a long time since any series has been able to reach well beyond the familiar to tell a uniquely human tale. More often than not, the best shows of the last several years have been either too remote, or too knowing of their inspirations to reach that raw barrier. Even Izibuchi has had to do a straight-up remake. Which isn’t to say that it isn’t still possible to deliver both the ability to absorb, and provoke discussion.