Reviewby Zac Bertschy, Jul 17th 2003
Ayato finally sucks it up and pilots the RahXephon against the ever-growing forces of Mu. Terra struggles to keep the RahXephon a secret from the public at large, sending it out against some of the strangest new Dolem yet. Quon makes a few bizarre passes at Ayato, but the girl's puzzling speech patterns continue to leave him confused as to her true intentions. A visit to a shrine traps Ayato and Quon inside for days, and Mishima Reika reappears in Quon's vision, calling herself Ixtli and naming Quon an "Instrumentalist," one who will tune the world with music.
There's a whole genre of shows that advertise giant robot action and yet feature very little of it, focusing instead on mystery, intrigue, and character development. For the many anime fans who don't necessarily appreciate 26 episodes worth of robots beating the hell out of each other, these series tend to be a breath of fresh air (not to mention wild popularity, since they cross genres fairly well and appeal to mecha fans and non-mecha fans alike.) The most notable example of this genre would be the irrepressible Neon Genesis Evangelion, which featured giant robots but was really about sad people in a desperate circumstance and the clandestine, archaic functions that spelled out the end of their world. Now comes RahXephon, a series that builds on the Evangelion formula and aims to improve it. The second volume of the series makes it clear that this show could very easily eclipse Anno Hideaki's masterwork.
The storyline in RahXephon is, by far, the most intriguing part of the show, and while the first disc took a little time building things up and developing the main characters, the second disc gets right to the meat of the situation and starts to fully explore the myriad mysteries that surround Ayato Kamina and his robotic relic. The ads may show RahXephon in action, shooting yellow beams of light through some stone-faced monster in the sky, but the show doesn't linger on these scenes. Instead, we are treated to some of the most elegant character development ever written for the anime form. Here we have subtlety, slow growth, maturation, and ruminations on the nature of the human heart that surpass anything else in this genre. The characters are not stereotypes. Ayato resists piloting the RahXephon at first, but since his character is written with a realistic growth arc, he realizes his folly and decides to do the best he can when the situation is adequately explained to him. Even the hot-tempered butt-kicking Haruka is shown to be a multi-faceted character and is showcased in these episodes as a thoughtful, introspective woman with serious concerns. The most shocking revelation is that even the character seemingly designed only for fanservice--the large-chested Sayoko--is developed just as much as the other characters. Sure, she appears in a bikini later on the disc, but the screenwriters gift the audience with a few crucial scenes involving Sayoko and her relationship to the Earth Federation observer Makoto later in the episode, as if to apologize for the obligatory fan service. It's responsible writing that should be lauded for its brazen respect for the audience's intelligence.
Furthermore, the mysteries in the show are unveiled and explained at a reasonable pace. Where Evangelion threw out conundrum after conundrum and seemed to never fully explain anything, RahXephon seems to be a painstakingly planned affair. Each episode reveals a little bit more of the larger picture while obscuring pieces necessary to solve the show's riddles. Most of the mysteries are revealed through dream sequences, which provide some amazing imagery. The viewer isn't left totally in the dark, either; after each episode you'll have a better idea of what's happening but still be craving answers to the larger picture. RahXephon does not insult its audience by revealing nothing. Instead, it progresses along a carefully planned track, giving out just enough to keep the viewer as informed as they need to be.
Visually, RahXephon is a masterpiece. The character designs are lovely, the costuming (with the exception of Quon's silly hat) is above reproach, and there are moments of visual clarity and beauty that rival even the highest budget anime films. Ayato's dreams in particular are beautifully rendered. The music follows suit; simplistic and minimalist in most regards, the aural tone of the show adds another layer of atmosphere and mystery to the proceedings. The opening theme by Yoko Kanno certainly helps to bolster the overall quality of the soundtrack, but the instrumental composition is understated, pleasant, and entirely appropriate.
The dub track is your average mixed bag, although this one leans heavily towards the side of almost great. The female cast is, for once, excellent. In particular, Haruka's voice, performed with finesse by Monica Rial, manages to capture the many different emotions that the character displays. Sayoko is also impressive, avoiding the "dumb girl" voice from which the character could have suffered. The one major weakness is Ayato, who sounds a little more emotional and a little less strong-willed than he does in the Japanese version. He almost sounds like the English voice for Rurouni Kenshin, or even Tenchi Masaki. The result is almost the opposite of the introverted Japanese voice, which belies an inner strength despite being nearly monotone in performance. RahXephon boasts one of the best dubs ADV has produced in many years, and while it's hard to recommend it over the Japanese track since a series this complicated requires voice acting that truly captures the many layers of subtle meaning inherent in the dialogue, it certainly is worth a listen.
Overall, it's hard to think of a smarter show on the market today. RahXephon is proving to be a marquee release for 2003, and while the fervor surrounding it doesn't even come close to matching that which surrounded its closest cousin, Evangelion, the show's maturity suggests that a similar amount of fan excitement would tarnish the dignified and cerebral proceedings that the show has to offer. Here we have animation truly for adults. Don't miss it.
Overall (dub) : A
Overall (sub) : A+
Story : A+
Animation : A+
Art : A+
Music : A+
+ Excellent story, mature development, nigh-perfect screenwriting
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