RahXephon Part 1: The Meaning of Home

This is part of a series of essays on RahXephon. This particular essay covers episodes 1-3. I do not summarize plot on these essays as they are meant to be […]

This is part of a series of essays on RahXephon. This particular essay covers episodes 1-3. I do not summarize plot on these essays as they are meant to be running commentary, meaning that if you are interested in penetrating these rambles and rants, I strongly suggest you watch the show along with the essays.

Most stories are about the meaning of home, if we expand that definition to mean “An emotional place of contentment” as well as “Place of origin”. Most fictional characters are either desperately looking for the earlier and trying to run from the latter. In most cases, these two goals are correlated. That is the particular case of RahXephon, probably one of my very favorite TV shows and my nomination for “Greatest Anime of All Time”. RahXephon follows the story of Ayato Kamina, a young student who dabbles in painting and finds out that the city he calls home (Tokyo) is actually an alien colony as he’s exfiltrated by the resistance fighting from the outside to retake to Tokyo.

In the first three episodes of RahXephon, we watch Ayato cope with his reality unraveling and his perception of identity being thrown completely out the window. He’s no longer a student in Tokyo, uninterested in school classes and painting in his free time while longing to spend time with his workaholic mother. He’s now an expat, recruited by the resistance to fight against the people who he thought to be his peers, rather than his oppressors. Unlike The Matrix, which places its main character in a rather similar situation, RahXephon is more concerned about the inherent conflict created by the notion that the friends Ayato made previously were still people he trusted and who he was fond of. In other words, unlike Neo, Ayato was in a place of relative contentment, regardless of its lack of authenticity, hence his inability of letting go vs Neo’s relative easy acceptance of the nature of the Matrix and his place in Morpheus’ plans.

The first three episodes of RahXephon are largely introspective and about Ayato having to deal with deception consistently and from all sides. People ostensibly on his corner often decide to tell him information in bits and pieces or outright deny his own experiences in order to protect him from the truth and either ease his transition outside of Tokyo (such as Haruka Shitow, his rescuer) or actually stop him from seeing beyond the veil created by the Mulian, Earth’s invaders and colonizers. One of the funny things about this dynamic is that it’s not different in method between the Mulian and humans. They both use manipulation and outright lying to direct Ayato towards their desired goals. Ayato’s journey is essentially a long-winded search for independence from these forces.

In the meantime, RahXephon is not afraid to show its protagonist at his weakest and most exasperated at being yanked by everyone who has a vested interest in him. This is probably the most obvious inherited trait from its spiritual predecessor: Neon Genesis Evangelion  I know this is a pretty tired comparison but I definitely feel that RahXephon works much more strongly in the context of Evangelion (although it’s definitely a powerful standalone) Where Evangelion can be downright intolerable with its mix of deeply depressed characters who ramble incoherently about human nature while being trapped in a reality that’s not quite dream but not quite real, RahXephon is straightforward without sacrificing the oneiric imagery, Lynchian surrealism or Kafkaesque torture of its characters. It’s a high wire act the series nails by basically taking its characters seriously without making overt displays of subtext becoming text.

The main virtue of these three episodes is their nature as overture. Each episode literally throws Ayato on a new milieu, showcasing its main conceit of being a series about adaptation and adoption. This is a series about a group of characters who were displaced from their home and their previous lives who must rediscover themselves in a new environment as they try to regain what they lost, sometimes at the cost of the spiritual, mental and physical wellbeing of those around them. Indeed, characters in RahXephon can be cruel, selfish and terribly human. That’s the real beauty of the show to me. This is a show about many things, for sure. But in the end it’s about our relationship to home and what we do in order to preserve that perceived status quo in which we find peace.