To call Rahxephon a, summarily captivating mecha adventure, or an existential science fiction drama, would be to sell the series short, excruciatingly so. This is the kind of show that defies rationalizations and explanations, it needs to be seen and experienced to be truly appreciated, no amount of superlatives, metaphors or fancy lingo can begin to hint at the amount of depth and feeling this series so masterfully encapsulates over the course of 26 episodes. Sure there’s action, there’s intrigue and more than a handful of natty looking robot mash “em ups, but Rahxephon transcends its “angsty mecha’ roots to become something so much more. Neon Genesis Evangelion may have beat it to the punch in the originality stakes, but if that series is a breakdown set to pictures then Rahxephon is the catharsis, the hope, and reconciliation that comes afterward.
To find RahXephon’s true appeal you have to look beyond the pretty visuals, the Evangelion comparisons and familiar mecha protrusions, as the series’ true beauty lies primarily in the writing. Not too surprising when you consider no less than six scriptwriters helped piece the story together, and scriptwriting wunderkind, Chiaki Konaka was amongst them. Despite her illustrious standing I’ve always found Konaka’s work to be a bit hit and miss, when she delivers, she really delivers – just look at the skilfully spun webs of intrigue that provide the framework for The Big O and Texhnolyze, but on occasion her lofty ideas can lapse into pretension, the badly judged conclusions of Devil Lady and BGC spring immediately to mind. I needn’t of worried, however, Konaka’s scripts are tight, intelligent, engaging and explicably straightforward throughout (compared to some of her other efforts at least) – and whilst there was still a chance the chronologically fractured narrative could have slipped through the grasp of some viewers, the screenwriters gently and expertly nudge the viewer toward each twist and revelation – even if you don’t realise it until after the fact, this is a series that lets you know what it wants, exactly when it wants to.
Everything has been so immaculately staged; a cryptic aside here becomes a full-blown plot twist there, seemingly unimportant characters go on to fill major roles, amazingly though, it never feels forced. This is a series that doesn’t sacrifice its cohesion for the sake of a few cheap revelations, everything has weight, purpose and import, I may have only seen the series once, but I’m willing to bet on a third or even fourth viewing I’ll be far from discovering all the little intricacies the series challenges the viewer to uncover. Therein lies the series timeless appeal – the questions, images and emotions, Rahxephon leaves in its wake will stay with you for a long, long time. Each open to thought, interpretation and elucidations, and that, I do believe, is the hallmark of a truly great series.
The ethereal, at times almost surrealist, atmosphere, RahXephon builds itself around derives a lot of its impact from the series’ befittingly dreamlike visuals. The Xephon’s first big reveal is perhaps the most striking example of which – taking place in a cloud speckled egg chamber, complete with its floating roman columns and azure waterfalls, it is an eye opening taster of just how unreal the visuals can be. At times the budgetary constraints betray the productions team’s more grandiose intentions, but the world they have created is one of unparalleled artistic beauty, discomfortingly like our own but with a tincture of the fantastical. The score too, is worth a mention; its lush orchestrations, fractured melodies and bizarre arrangements fit their respective scenes like a proverbial glove, and complement the soaring visuals perfectly
Esoteric, inexplicable but spectacularly enjoyable, RahXephon is unquestionably one of the finest anime shows ever produced. This is one series I can see myself coming back to time and time again over the years, and I daresay, given the chance you will too, in a word, essential.