Cacophony in Paradise: RahXephon & Accepting the World | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 26-episode winter 2002 anime “RahXephon,” animated by Bones, and both created and directed by Yutaka Izubuchi. 

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Prophecy & Lore: Angel Mu Attack 

His life was ordinary. Or at least, it was supposed to be. 

Three years ago, Japan was invaded by the Mu, beings from another dimension that look exactly like humans except for the fact they possess blue blood. Now, in 2015, Tokyo comes under attack by terrorist aircraft that are quickly driven back by a flying humanoid weapon called a Dolem. Amidst the disaster, 17-year-old Ayato Kamina spots Reika Mishima, a beloved classmate of his.

While trying to escape from the terrorist attack above, Ayato escapes to an underground subway but is cornered by government officials in black. Out of the blue, a short-haired woman named Haruka comes to his rescue, informing Ayato that she was sent to retrieve him by the organization TERRA. Still skeptical of the stranger, however, he flees from Haruka onto a train where he oddly encounters Reika once more. But unbeknownst to him, this train isn’t headed to safety. Ayato arrives in a bizarre, holy domain where a tremendous egg sits in the middle. Reika’s mysterious singing in Ayato’s presence causes the egg to tremble and a giant robot—the RahXephon—is hatched.

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Suddenly, Ayato’s mother appears atop the Dolem that had stopped the TERRA Invasion. When a cut to her skin reveals a shocking drop of blue blood, Ayato flees “Tokyo Jupiter” aboard the RahXephon with Haruka, bewildered and betrayed.

What unfolds next is a story of grand proportions. Prophetic lore and Aztec legend weave together in a larger-than-life tale about what it means to understand others. As the future of mankind rests on the shoulders of one unsteady pilot burdened with a heavy fate, a young boy must decide whether the love for himself and others outshines the dark realities of the world.

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Classic in its Own Way

Obvious point out to get behind: There are many, MANY comparisons that can be drawn between RahXephon and its “spiritual prequel,” the grossly influential 1990s Neon Genesis Evangelion. I mean, clearly, one was inspired by the other. As such, I’ll try my best to appreciate RahXephon for its own merits. It may be more obscure, but there are reasons why the fans that have seen it regard it as a classic.

Starting with my criticisms, RahXephon‘s plot definitely rushes to the finish line come the last couple episodes. There’s also a seemingly misplaced (yet ridiculously crucial) backstory episode early on when the viewer still has yet to distinguish the adult characters, and much of the underlying prophetic forces require immense focus—and even then, reading in between the lines, so to speak.

But my biggest issues don’t accurately reflect the plot’s numerous strengths: RahXephon centers itself around the concepts of time, music, intrigue, mystery, and romance. Its powerful character dynamics, deep introspective forces, rich philosophical views, character and mecha designs, and influences by Mesoamerican culture and Japanese folklore carefully intermix to create a profound, satisfying story with little to no plot holes by the end. All pieces of the puzzle connect towards a final answer which works out so well. Eventually, everything connects. 

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The Struggle to be Human 

Very few anime dare to feature such a dense network of complex human relationships between characters, let alone do it this well. Each week, the TERRA crew encounter a new Dolem that must be met with a different fighting strategy, meaning that everyone on deck is constantly interacting with another.

As a result, not all talk is about work. Unnecessary rumors spread. Drama starts. Realistically, co-workers get frustrated, confused, angry, and jealous at one another, and these attitudes manifest in cut-off communication, the “silent treatment,” lackluster performance, or total inability to come to work one day. To make matters even more devastatingly real, each of the characters struggles to be human in their own ways, which is often reflected through thoughtful monologues or, worse, actions that harm another.

Self-care is such an important element of RahXephon. The series especially convinces us how difficult it can be to maintain connections with others through its most important plot line: the unusual relationship between Ayato Kamina and Haruka Shitow. And oh boy is it a messy one. Although Haruka appears to be some badass adult stranger to Ayato at first, we come to realize that their bond runs much deeper than even he was led to believe.

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Ayato constantly struggles with expressing what he wants. His inner conflict to understand his own desires often clashes with the many “professional” relationships he must maintain as the RahXephon’s pilot—female relationships to be specific. As such, his complexity becomes the leading force in this very much character-driven story about being useful to others. It sounds simple enough, but it’s much harder to live up to others’ expectations than we give the act credit for.

There are forces out there much bigger than ourselves—than our own petty problems—that we must respect. As Ayato comes to grip with the situation fate has bestowed upon him, it takes every ounce of ownership and bravery the human spirit can muster to accept such a weighty destiny. Though he pisses a lot of people off (sometimes even the viewer), I was always on his side. He’s an admirable lad, albeit a bit blind to his own heart at times, and I quite enjoyed his depth and perseverance.

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Transcending Technique: A Mecha to Last Decades

While the anime was created in 2002, studio Bones at this point had yet to experiment with the early 2000s 3D CG that popularized this period of anime. That said, it is probably one of the last mecha shows to utilize computer animation without creating fully 3D CG mechas. And it shows, because for the most part, RahXephon‘s animation holds up incredibly well.

Specifically, the characters are animated with such solid consistency that every character close-up is worthy of being key art in itself. Because the RahXephon is just as strangely mystical as the Mu are divine, the fight scenes and combat abilities are always captivating to watch. If RahXephon’s animation was designed as a callback to the earlier mecha anime of the 70s, I’d believe it.

However stunning the animation may be, the show’s color palette is on the duller side. The island backgrounds feel washed out, and it sometimes causes nothing in particular to stand out. This leads to many of the conversational moments (which are quite abundant) to occasionally feel stagnant and uninteresting. Aside from the RahXephon’s brilliant cobalt and gold, pale grays and blues dominate much of the landscape. On the RahXephon, though—man, what a beast, so unique and cool-looking. The spectral wing motif hails as one of the series’ greatest icons, and now I get why!

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Add a Little Jazz: Ambiance & Expression

Ichiko Hashimoto’s soundtrack is simultaneously exactly and nothing like anything you’ve ever heard. Specializing in jazz, vocals, and the piano, Hashimoto provides RahXephon with introspective trance music fit for the story’s ambiance. She uses a large amount of harmonic dissonance to create cacophonous tracks fitting for those more disturbing moments in the series, which also ties in to the theme of music. Lots of electric guitar, too.

Almost intrinsically, her orchestral works (like the final episode’s “Before You Know”) stir the heart and the mind, while her more abstract brass and percussive pieces add layers to the complexity on screen. She even dabbles into epic Richard Wagner operas for classical inspiration, which is awesome.

The series has its own intensely iconic battle preparation themes, one of my favorites being “The Chariot.” And when TERRA members are just taking a lunch break at work, that’s where the jazz music (like “Their Daily Lives) lifts the atmosphere. Of course, for all those emotional and moody moments, Hashimoto’s got a “rainy day” solo piano track for that, too (“Solitudes” and “A Few Memories”). Altogether, it’s an expressive OST that feels so very 90s that it’s impossible not to call unique. In case you’re curious, my favorite track is “Adolescent” from OST 2 for its calming strings air of catharsis.

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I’d also like to extend my biggest hugs to English dub director Matt Greenfield and his fantastic crew from ADV for their incredible work on this series. Ever since Eva, I’ve never been disappointed by his style—the guy certainly knows how to direct a good dub.

Bonus shoutout to Chris Patton for his take on the lead, Ayato Kamino. Patton’s been praised for how natural his teenage boy voice is—plus, I mean, he’s just really freakin’ good at acting—but man, Ayato is easily my favorite role of his! It’s a shame that more older English dubs don’t sound this stellar.

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To Weather the Storm 

From beginning to end, RahXephon is a storm of emotions. Some of the characters get their happy ending; others do not. Some characters are also significantly more frustrating than others. But it’s the complexity of their relationships and inner turmoil that make this great cast so realistically flawed. It may provide more psychological headache than heart-pounding action, but considering its themes of connection and isolation, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

RahXephon boasts a daunting cast size, and although the focus becomes strained as we bounce from one perspective to the other, the series never gives up in its pursuit to weave these stunningly complex lives together to form a multifaceted, absolutely compelling narrative—just how a series of these proportions should be.

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In a world where everything is about to change, what point is there in trying to continue? I don’t know, and yet that is what each and every one of us survivors must do—that much is clear. In spite of everything, the human animal must fight to live on. — Jin Kunigi


Afterword

There are so many things going on in RahXephon it’s NUTS, but I’m so glad to have finally watched this series—and for the 2019 V-Day special no less! I may review the movie if I find something in it especially worth talking about, but otherwise, that’ll conclude everything I’ve got for now. Man, what a fantastic find, an artifact absolutely worthy of any psychological anime fan’s catalog, or perhaps any mecha fan’s collection. Speaking of collection, as per the tradition, I allow myself to splurge on the series’ physical release as a token of completion. Not only was this one fun to hunt for, but I settled on what will likely be the BIGGEST collector’s edition box set I’ll own. Plus it was CHEAP. Stay tuned for details.

If it didn’t already need to be said, RahXephon is officially on the “Caffe Mocha” menu, a rating reserved for only THE best of shows. That said, it’s certainly not for everyone. If you don’t like psychological or mecha anime, look elsewhere (it is weird, but easier to digest than Evangelion, hahaha). Also, it’s a slower burn, so don’t be expecting climactic end-of-the-world fights every episode. Otherwise, I encourage you to check it out for sure!

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If you have seen RahXephon, now’s your chance to boast your knowledge and passion (or criticisms) for this classic series down in the comments. I’d love to here your thoughts on either the show or this review, so if you could impart your feedback, I’d greatly appreciate it. I had an all-around wonderful experience unearthing RahXephon, and I’m excited to see what next year’s marathon will offer. ‘Till next time my friends, thanks for reading!

– Takuto, your host

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Ebb & Flow: Taking Life Slowly With ARIA | OWLS “Self-Care”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s  ninth monthly topic for 2018, “Self-Care,” I kinda wanted to break away from my typically structured review + reflection post and do a bit of free-writing about my own mental health. (Although I do not have any mental health illnesses, I do know what it’s like to be incredibly busy under pressure.) And what better a way to pull back the reins on my recently-rushed and unmotivated life than with one of the most soothing, slow-moving anime about enjoying every second of the present—Aria The Animation.

In favor of positivity and good mental health, we will be exploring the importance of self-care. Sometimes, we are lost in our thoughts and emotions that it can cause a negative impact on our lifestyle and our relationships. We will be exploring the mental health of pop culture characters and how their mental health affects their environments. We will explore the dangers of mental health illnesses and how it might lead to self-destruction and/or how one has the power to overcome their demons. In addition, we will share our personal stories and struggles about mental health and discuss positive ways in handling mental health issues.

Rather than gazing straight into the mindset of mental health, I’d like to flip the topic inside-out a bit and show how the environment affects mental health instead—specifically, how we can shape our mindsets to ease tension and better our lives. Thanks Lyn for the topic!

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A brief, spoiler-free discussion on the 13-episode fall 2005 anime “Aria The Animation,” Hal Film Maker, directed by Junichi Satou, and based on Kozue Amano’s manga of the same name. This will also include a glimpse into my life, and how “Aria”  provides healing to those who need it. 

Tired, Stressed, & Tired of Being Stressed

If you came to my blog two years ago, you would’ve found it abundant with reviews and updates, and rich with a comments section that was always in full-swing. My my! That’s a bit hard to believe considering that within the past couple months, I would go weeks at a time without posting so much as a peep into what’s going on, save for the monthly OWLS post (like this one, which would go out, and then I would hibernate again). “What brought you to this level of stagnation,” you might ask? My need to write about every single series that I finished, rather than just the ones I really wanted to talk about, became a ritual that crushed my motivation. Even just thinking about all the shows I’ve missed coverage on from these past couple seasons makes my stomach hurt a bit.

Not only did I consider dismissing writing reviews, but I also wanted a break from blogging. Just a short one. It didn’t even have to be announced, and so I didn’t announce it. But once you have a small taste of “freedom” (even though I love blogging), all you want is more of it. And so one week became two, two became three, and so on.

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It didn’t help that my life always seemed to be swatting my blog away This past summer, I worked two jobs simultaneously and was busy with music-related things on the side. Now, I am a full-time student at university (a sophomore, to be exact) clocking in 18 hours, including a position as a student success coach (I work with freshmen during their first year experience), ALL of my never-ending music nonsense (which keeps me as busy as a year-round sport would), and a part-time job. I tease myself (and am teased by others) for being generally lazy and procrastinating, but to call myself “inactive” would be far from the truth.

By 8 in the morning I’m at school, and I don’t get home until about 3 . . . only to go into work most days at 4 or 6 in the evening and return home at around 9:30 pm. After homework, I watch an episode or two of whatever I’m following this season, then go to bed at around midnight. Call it me complaining about how stupid my schedule is, but I thought telling you all about my life would help you understand why I’m constantly tired, stressed, and tired of being stressed. To top it all off, my OWLS deadline was approaching rapidly, and I had NO IDEA what to focus on. That’s where the self-care part comes in—when a package arrived on my doorstep one monotonous, unsuspecting day.

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And Along Came Aria

I actually watched Aria’s first season back in the summer of 2017 in a mad dash to justify whether or not I should participate in RightStuf and Nozomi’s Kickstarter campaign for a dub and Blu-ray release of the property. Safe to say that, even though I didn’t enjoy it to its fullest potential during my initial rushed watch, the first season alone was enough to tell me that I’d enjoy everything the franchise had to offer. So I pledged heftily at the Prima Tier and a year later . . .

My Kickstarter awards arrived on my doorstep just last week. As I sifted through the box of goodies—which I will share in an upcoming post—I instantly recalled the calming allure of Aria. Eagerly and impulsively, I plugged the first disc in, feeling a rush of utter wonder and joy at hearing this year-long project payoff in the form of its fantastic English dub cast. From Choro Club’s vibrant yet chill acoustic soundtrack to the flowing canals and charming watercolor artistry of Neo Venezia, I was reminded of not only how much I loved Aria, but intriguingly, how much I truly needed it in that moment.

For just 20 minutes, I had blocked out the world and my obligations to truly enjoy time to myself, and it was wonderful. Then it hit me: “Aria. I could talk about Aria, and how slowing down is the first step to understanding self-care,” which brings me to now, and the last part of my short little story.

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Finding Inspiration Starts with Slowing Down

During these past six or so months, I have struggled with finding the inspiration to write. I think it’s no use hiding it anymore, for if I truly loved blogging I would make the time to do it. I constantly got behind on comments and reviews, and it seemed like the only game I was playing was the “Catch-Up Game” (of which I am STILL a major loser, haha). Everyone around me would be celebrating the now, while I was reflecting on then, and I felt kinda lonely.

But I think my biggest fault lies with my understanding of inspiration. Previously, I would try to forcibly (and desparately) “jump start” my inspiration by traveling down nostalgia lane with older titles I love ( like rewatching Negima!?, Danganronpa, and yes, ALL of FMAB) or reading/watching from people who used to inspire me in the past. Is this something only I do?? I treated inspiration as a source, tapping into all of my resources that had already gone dry long ago, and in the end I just grew sad at how things used to be and what they’ve become. (Call me a romantic, or just depressed.)

After taking all this time off, however, I learned that inspiration is not a source, but a wave—an ebb and a flow that comes, and eventually goes. As frustrated as I became with my lack of passion, I first had to accept the fact I was experiencing a lull. With my last post, everything came to a halt, and I left the keyboard until the wave washed upon my aching feet once again.

And then along came Aria, a show that is as healing as the so-called “Iyashikei” genre gets. Heck, you could call it one of the firsts. Quiet, episodic, and slow enough to thoroughly enjoy the scenic gondola ride, Aria is warm soup for the soul. In rewatching Aria, my heart beat physically slowed down, and I found myself incredibly contented and, finally, relaxed.

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You need time to relax in order to recharge.Alicia

As Inexplicably Wondrous as it is Wonderful

Aria is unique because it takes sci-fi from a very mellow perspective. Messing with gravity, terraforming Mars, and unexpectedly waltzing through time holes into the long-lost past would leave viewers watching any other show confused and questioning all the plot holes. But with Aria, it works because the science fiction elements are just devices that lead us to understanding the bigger picture: What it means to enjoy life and all that it has to offer. The same applies to the element of drama in Aria—situations never get too intense or bitterly poignant because, as Aika would always remark, “NO SAPPY LINES ALLOWED!”

In many ways, Aria is a prime example of how magical realism can construct characters with very much real emotions and tell stories about them living in a world that is as inexplicably wondrous as it is wonderful. Every single minute of the series is filled with simple expressions of love, and as the seasons roll by, we see that how we live our lives must change, too. By being able to slow down and assess how the world outside is changing us from within, we can better understand how to take care of ourselves.

Slowing down between all the busy, anxiety-filled moments in my life allowed me to rediscover my inspiration. Slowing down allowed me to admire the little things I missed out on. And most of all, slowing down allowed me to remember that the things I can do here, on this blog, truly are enjoyable—I just need to take the gondola ride at my own pace, and remember that everything will be alright in the end.

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Take whatever comes and change it inside yourself. Make everything something you enjoy . . . It’s truly such a simple thing, to enjoy what you do. But everyone always seems to forget it. — “Grandma”


Afterword

Rewatching this “Caffe Mocha” title and writing this reflection post was one of the best things to happen to me all year. It won’t go down as one of my most professional posts, but I’ll be able to look back on it as a snapshot of my emotions—how and why I felt the way I did, exactly at this time. And that is one of the greatest joys of blogging, to be able to archive moments like these and share them with others, good times and not-so-hot times alike. After writing this, I’m actually really looking forward to the next post, and the one after that, too! As Aria would say, “Thank you for spending this wonderful moment, together!”

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This concludes my September 14th entry in the OWLS “Self-Care” blog tour. Matt Doyle (Matt Doyle Media) went right before me with his own insightful, cautionary tale on hitting rock bottom which you can read right here. (That makes two of us for this tour, buddy!) Now, look out for blogger buddy (and one of my own inspirations) Lita (Lita Anime Corner) on Saturday, September 15th! Thanks for reading, and until next time, take it easy on yourself!

– Takuto, your host