RahXephon 4-6

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.

A hot take for you: RahXephon is one of the most heartrendingly relevant shows to today’s dangerous situation created by a hotmi of terrorism and American intervention. Consider: Ayato is a kid in high school who is abducted from his home to fight the very same The rationale behind it is that they’re not human and Ayato reluctantly joins them because he thinks of himself as human. But are they not his home and country?

And in exchange, they insert him in a city where his humanity is constantly (and turns out, reasonably) questioned. His value as a person is measured entirely on how useful he can be and what beliefs remain from his life at Tokyo Jupiter. In fact, were it not because of his ability to pilot the RahXephon, Ayato would probably be treated as a prisoner of war, to be interrogated, isolated and maligned.

In a very real way, Ayato’s story is closely tied to the story of Superman, Hamilton and even Finn, from The Force Awakens. They’re all immigrants who have lost their home to the struggles of uncaring men and found themselves embraced by the culture and people of a different city that understands. Clark found in Earth people that looked at him with admiration not just at his accomplishments but at his values. They recognized his personhood. Hamilton (from the musical, rather than the very real Alexander Hamilton himself) is also an immigrant who is first evaluated by his skills but eventually finds in America a home. Finn escapes the First Order upon realizing that he has no place amongst killers. He finds in the Resistance a family, a group of people that understand that regardless of his indoctrination, he has no real desire to hurt others. Only to live in his own terms.

Ayato Kamina story involves a degree of dehumanization by his adopted country as he indeed suspected would happen. He’s held prisoner until the RahXephon himself transports him away from his cell to fight. He defends Terra’s ship and indeed Mirai-Kanai people even though they dehumanized him, although caring about their lives doesn’t seem to come into play so much as stone-cold survival. Not like it matters to Terra since he’s still adopted entirely based on his skills regardless of how he feels about them (Hint: it involves abstinence)

In a very real way, the story of immigrants has always been utilitarian in nature. For all of the lofty high-minded ideals about accepting peoples of all walks and kinds, there’s always been a definite goal behind it of increasing labor for relatively cheap. In other words, your value as an immigrant has to be measured before you enter this fine country. It doesn’t really matter where you came from or even how you feel or who you are. What matters is, ‘what can you contribute’. Your humanity is irrelevant.

The only place where Ayato isn’t dehumanized is in his true home: The Shitou Household. Among the Shitous, Kamina is accepted and treated as a human. Mocked by Megumi, loved by Haruka and adopted by uncle Rikudoh, his personhood is thoroughly validated.

Haruka’s love is very important to the series and really, Haruka herself is the key to the show’s codex. Above all of the high minded mayan-borrowing, classical music-dressed mythology, the story of RahXephon is the story of Ayato and Haruka, two persons who have found in each other, finally, reflections of themselves and someone who speaks their language. But even then, they’re still two different people and as such they have conflicts. In this episode, in particular, it’s about trust. Ayato distrusts the people who have brought him to Nirai-Kanai. They have used him and denigrated him. Haruka brought him here. How could she be any good? But he learns to trust her once he sees that she fundamentally wants the same thing for him he wants for him: to find a new home. A new place where he can be.

Of course he wouldn’t understand this if it were not for Megumi. I brought up Hamilton before (because it’s 2015) and if Megumi fits, it’s as a weird mix of Peggy and Angelica. She yearns for Ayato in a bizarre primal way, where she can’t really resolve her feelings for him (and I suspect her reservations are more cultural than anything else) but at the same time, Megumi exists to bring “the good side out of [Ayato]” and is relatively innocent to Haruka, whereas Eliza is not exactly more innocent than Angelica.

This is important because it means that Ayato’s attachment to Nirai-Kanai is not about just Haruka. It’s about the Shitou’s household showing him the kindness he has needed since the beginning of the show. He grew up with an uncaring, disbelieving mother. The closest thing to a family was the high school friends who never really nurtured his interests or talents because he never felt the need to share himself in that way. The Shitous saw his need for pure, unbridled support of his personhood and they provided it in stride.

When he understood that humans could be as loving as the Mulians he grew up with (and even more), Ayato started to start the value of what he was defending and the offense that the Mu had caused by trespassing on Earth. Which feeds into his decision to finally, accept his duties to pilot the RahXephon on the very next episode.

One of the most fascinating about TV as a thoroughly serialized artifact is that it allows for episodes like this to happen. Episode 7 (Obliterated Cities) is about a character who we know next to nothing about, but it asks us to buy wholeheartedly into her own inner life and pain and it’s hard to say no. Kim is an Intelligence Officer, just like Megumi, who lost her parents to the Dolem and the Mu. Her rationale for joining Terra is to contribute to and fight the things that killer her parents.

It’s a backstory not that different from Evangelion’s Misato’s. Which is not surprising since RahXephon is a direct response to Evangelion’s. But the key difference is how it feeds into the story of Ayato. Ayato decides to pilot the RahXephon and help Terra fight the Mulian threat. His rationale is not to avenge the dead. He decides he fights because he has these skills for a reason and he must use them somehow.

It’s a decision reminiscent of Rebuild’s finest moment: The climax of 2.0, where Shinji decides to fight not for the satisfaction of others but the satisfaction of his own soul. In other words, considering his clear depression, he’s someone who found an inner strength and motivation that ideally, would drive him forward. Not how it turns out there. But an interesting vantage point for here, where Kamina is not exactly depressive, but certainly lost. His family and home are gone. But in defending Nirai Kanai, he finds purpose. In Haruka and Megumi he finds reason. In Kim he finds a rationale connecting those two things.

This is probably the best part of RahXephon. It’s a show that takes its time building its status quo and decides to connect its protagonist’s motivations through characters and relationships. It’s a strong show that goes a long way towards smoothing out the rough edges that by definition, have to be there because of the first three episodes’ isolation from the premise and status quo the show intends to play with.

There are only a couple of final notes to play regarding these three episodes of RahXephon and they’re mostly related to sexuality. Ayato is constantly exposed to women and has to navigate these situations. It’s a common anime cliche that tries to satisfy nerds’ fantasies. But in RahXephon it serves character as well. And admittedly that makes for very little justification but it makes those scenes intensely more bearable once you understand how much of it is about how Kamina’s sexuality is a teenager’s, desperate for touch and recognition. And how much of that interpretation feeds into the central conflict, where Kamina is thoroughly dehumanized and othered by the people who have forcibly adopted him.

Overall, there are very few animes that are this thematically tight and these three episodes go a long way towards establishing the status quo that you’d expect from how this show is usually promoted or talked about. But they do it with a certain sense of deliverance and consideration for characters who are not Kamina or the RahXephon itself. Indeed, I believe there are only two fights with Dolems in these  three episodes. This sense of pace and curiosity in human nature is what puts RahXephon above many of its peers for me. And what  makes me come back to it every once in a while.