Sep 26, 2007 - 04:01 PM
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Rahxephon: The Motion Picture
 Christian Nutt  rates it:    

For me, the RahXephon series has been problematic at best. I don't think the problem lies with me, however. The series has troubles of its own. The very existence of this movie, in fact, proves that -- because, from the perspective of how it was actually put together, is an attempt to rectify the weaker elements of the series, to refine them into something approaching cohesion. Entire plots and characters are dropped, key events are kept, and story threads written, scenes added, and a new ending created -- but the result is, hardly surprisingly, still not exactly perfect.

The digest movie is both a fairly frequent and often unfortunate attempt on the part of anime filmmakers to expand series that were left completed but, perhaps, unsatisfactorily so. The most famous example may be Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death and Rebirth, which compresses the events of the first 24 episodes of that series into a nonlinear nugget and slaps on the first chunk of the end of the saga, The End of Evangelion. The comparison bears trotting out not just because it's a useful frame of reference. One of my least favorite aspects of RahXephon is its aping of Evangelion in many key story and stylistic facets. One thing that's nice about RahXephon: The Motion Picture is that a lot of these moments have been unceremoniously sliced out.

Unfortunately, unlike the sumptuous (if a bit whacked) Utena movie, the creators didn't have the money to completely start over from scratch. That means you're dealing with recycled TV animation and new TV-caliber animation. Now, RahXephon is a very pretty show, the brainchild of the lauded Bones animation studio, so that's not a crippling blow. Still, wouldn't some theatrical quality RahXephon animation go down smartly? Too bad.

RahXephon: The Motion Picture, rather than starting in the thick of things, paints a new and much more sensible intro for the series. Young Ayato Kamina and his high school sweetheart, Haruka Mishima, are in love. (Those who have seen the TV series but not yet the film will be going "huh?" Yeah, you just have to accept these changes.) Ayato's mom, cold-faced Maya Kamina, doesn't seem to think this is the best move. It's all made moot, when the Mu, a mysterious society of humans in floating palaces, invade Tokyo and enclose the entire capital in an impenetrable shield. You see, Ayato's inside -- but Haruka, who was on an out-of-town vacation with her folks, is trapped on the other side.


This change goes a long way to rehabilitating one of the biggest problems with the original TV series. Instead of being fixated on the mysterious Reika Mishima, Ayato's motivation for piloting RahXephon, for defending against the Mu, and for all the sacrifices he makes, is to protect Haruka Mishima, wherever she might be. When the plot twists as it did in the TV version, this time, the tragic love story at the core of the series finally has presence and bite. This version of RahXephon doesn't ring hollow, like the last.

Being a digest movie -- with added scenes, no less -- there was a lot dropped from the original 26 episode TV show. A great deal of it was dross, and is rightfully forgotten. Frequently in the original series, Ayato uses the towering RahXephon to fight the mysterious Mu invaders, the Dolems. Like Evangelion's Angels, the Dolems are impervious to conventional weaponry, pitiless, and utterly inscrutable. That's as may be, and nothing wrong with it. But whether or not they were derivative of Eva (some were, some weren't) the mecha fights in RahXephon had a sad lack of oomph. Most of those have been consigned to the cutting room floor, leaving the sticky issue of originality and tedium deftly sidestepped. Of course, this results in a movie that's a bit bereft of action, but probably the better for it.

But not everything was lost. Interestingly, what I feel is clearly the best episode was salvaged almost entirely, which implies that the creators of the film feel much the same way I do. But what I'd characterize as the second-best one, which served no real narrative purpose but was heartbreaking -- a background piece on one of the series' least likable seconday characters, Makoto Isshiki -- was dropped completely. The mysterious Reika Mishima, who was so key to the original show, has all but disappeared. Quon Kisaragi, the mysterious young girl who seems to share a bond with Ayato, has been transformed from a character to a plot point. It's sort of sad, but on the other hand, she could be a bit dopey. Character-wise, the biggest loss is probably Elvy Hadhiyat, the spitfire TERRA pilot; on the other hand, we lose the utterly detestable Sayoko Nanamori, whose subplots in the TV show are irritating and incomprehensible almost to the point of actual pain.

Nips and tucks elsewhere help the narrative immensely. Like Evangelion (yeah, I know, but bear with me here) RahXephon is a series about psychologically raw people trying to fight a war against a completely incomprehensible enemy. It's an ensemble piece and one built block by mysterious block. Confined to a movie, the scriptwriters clearly felt the pressure to make everything make more sense: there's less cryptic dialogue and more concrete explanations of just what the hell is going on.


I know it seems hypocritical to criticize the original RahXephon show for being incomprehensible that while invoking the name of Evangelion, but I'll digress for a second and explain myself. With Eva, its characters and scenario were visceral and exciting even before you delve into the mysticism. For me, at least, understanding of the show came out of a desire to get closer to the material, which I found utterly fascinating in its own right before that. On the other hand, many of RahXephon's characters fell flat and the grind of its scenario didn't inspire much curiosity, despite some initially awesome ideas (like the walled Tokyo Jupiter, where time passes much more slowly than in the rest of the world.)

Why? I don't know for sure, but I suspect it's because Chiaki J. Konaka is the scriptwriter behind the lion's share of RahXephon episodes. He's also responsible for serial experiments lain and Texhnolyze's writing. Now, those series are warped and feature freaked-out, David Lynch style characterization. But when you're trying to build a cast of sympathetic, realistic, interesting characters, as with RahXephon, that shit don't fly. The best episode in the series, 19, which is guttingly tragic and touching -- as well as staggeringly creative -- was the work of another writer: Hiroshi Ohnogi.

Back to my point: while there's too much cutting and chopping to result in a movie that feels cohesive and retains all the best parts of the original TV show, the creators have done the best they can with the material, shoring up the leaks in the works with new scenes and re-recorded dialogue. The result hobbles a little, but basically briskly gets you to the end with the RahXephon vision in tact. And the ending -- oh, the ending. The TV series had such a confusing non-ending. It was sad, but it was also empty. The movie does go for the End of Evangelion style metaphysical, world-bending climax but carries it off, too. And the last scene is very touching. It's a big improvement over the TV show.

And apropos of nothing, I'd like to take my hat off to Ichiko Hashimoto, the show's composer. She's done a fantastic job not only with the soundtrack, which encompasses moods from panic to pathos, but she also does a frankly disturbing, yet somehow touching, job as Ayato's creepy mother, Maya Kamina. The woman needs more work on both fronts. As to the rest of the cast, it's solid performances all around: Aya Hisakawa, who's skirting dangerously close to overexposure, turns in another admittedly excellent performance as Haruka Shitow. And I'll give credit where credit's due: though he's prone to freakouts, Ayato is no Shinji-alike, and Hiro Shimono does a great job with the difficult emotions such as ambivalence and resignation.

In the end, RahXephon: The Motion Picture isn't exactly a modern classic of anime, all the same. As far as series that desire to comment on, emulate, or mimic -- whatever -- Evangelion, I personally feel that Brain Powerd is the superior product: it may not be as sexy, but it features a more heartfelt and original story. Be that as it may, RahXephon: The Motion Picture goes a long way towards correcting (or at least sweeping under the rug) the flaws in the original TV series, and I think, thanks to that, I've finally made peace with it. It's a distilled vision of a series that seems to have somehow previously lacked one, bringing depth to something which once seemed like a shallow, if beautiful, reflective pool. Just do me a favor -- after you're done watching it, take care to rent volume 5 of the TV series and see the expanded tragedy of episode 19. It's truly heart-wrenching, riveting stuff. A series of that and I'd never have complained in the first place.

Added:  Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Related Link:  ADV Films
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