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Anime Reviews: RahXephon
Top-notch visuals and gorgeous music aside, RahXephon contains a handful of phenomenal episodes adrift in a sea of mediocre ones.
Series Length: 26 episodes
Air Dates: 1/21/2002 to 9/10/2002
Age Rating: 13+ (mild violence, dark or disturbing thematic elements)
Summary: The year is 2015, and an alien race called the Mu have launched a devastating assault on all the world's nations. With Tokyo as the last great city in a world where the population has dropped below 23 million, the government has funded a large barrier to be erected in order to keep the Mu threat at bay. Within the city, Ayato Kamina is your average, slightly underachieving Japanese high school student. When he and his friends are caught in a subway train accident, Ayato leaves to get help, only to find himself in the middle of an enemy invasion. To make matters worse, two suspicious government thugs single him out to take into custody, but yet another stranger makes an appearance--a mysterious woman who saves Ayato from the men, whose blood is of a strange color, and demands he go with her instead; to fulfill his destiny and to learn the hidden truths of the world.
The Good: Looks and sounds great; occasionally flirts with brilliance
The Bad: Loses its drive and focus several times; long stretches of mediocre episodes; the Mu are never given much development or purpose
The Ugly: Often bares an uncanny resemblance to another otherworldly-invaders-attack-Tokyo-and-only-one-machine-can-fight-back series...
Giant robots and big fat conspiracies. Why do they always seem to go hand-in-hand? Well, whatever the reason, it seems like every student puts out at least one, so Bones decided to make one of their own! My first experience with RahXephon actually wasn't at a convention or on the internet; it was actually on the Noir DVD bonus trailers. The trailer consisted of animation from the first 2 episodes, and dear God, was it a beautiful trailer. Now, if that doesn't pique your interest, then nothing will! But is it worth having said interest piqued? Let's find out!
First off, as you can plainly see from that trailer, RahXephon is a good-looking show, especially during the first 3 episodes where it's freaking gorgeous. The character designs are down-to-earth while remaining unique, the color scheme is nothing short of perfect, and the use of CG-assisted shading for the action sequences is nothing short of genius. Where Last Exile used completely CGI airships and it looked out of place, they use CGI only as an enhancer to the traditional animation, and the effect is many, many times more pleasing to the eyes. It must be said that a great deal of creativity and imagination is likely at work here, because it most certainly looks that way. Even though some of the mechs (our titular RahXephon included) look a little goofy, it still makes sense in the series' overall style.
While this series looks great, its auditory department is no slouch, either. From opener "Hemisphere" to soft, calming "Solitudes" to the intense "The Chariot," there's very little wrong the soundtrack can do, and the same can be said for its Japanese voice crew, which includes big names like Aya Hisakawa, Houko Kuwashima, Kenji Utsumi, and Toshihiko Seki in some of their best roles to date. The English cast is a tad mediocre (typical ADV dub), but we do get some great performances from Chris Patton, Monica Rial, and Vic Mignogna. Regardless of which version you prefer, your ears will thank you most of the time.
With all that said, the series' best point is the first 4-5 episodes, where it seems like the sky's the limit and anything is possible. The show makes big promises of game-changing revelations and intense action, and much like that other show, it never quite reaches the great heights it seduced us with--that is, until the last episode, which takes a surreal approach and concludes with one heck of a powerhouse ending. There's one other point in the series where the quality skyrockets to tremendous effect, and that is the 19th episode. Trust me when I say that it'll hit you like a ton of bricks. It's such a shame the episodes around it are so flat and uninspired.
And really, that's where RahXephon falls apart: the episodes that aren't 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 19, or 26. In nearly every episode that is not those particular seven, the pacing is plodding and sloppy, the main characters get little development, the side characters feel flat and lifeless (except Futagami, he rocks), the story is either brain-dead obvious or beyond baffling, and it's hard to maintain interest. The reason for the large amount of meh episodes is likely that Bones had no clue where the series was going and they didn't know which plot line to focus on (a situation strangely similar to 2003's Wolf's Rain, made by the same studio...). It also doesn't help when there are entire stretches of the show that are dull and uninteresting, like episodes 20 through 23.
You know what else is a major kick in the face? The fact that, for the vast majority of the show, there is no clear villain aside from the Mu. And what are the Mu, anyway? All we're told is that they invaded Earth in 2012, and then...they...you know, did stuff. And they're totally out there, guys! DOING BAD THINGS!! In terms of the story, that just means they send in a single, solitary Dolem to kill off our heroes before it's swiftly blown to pieces. Our terrifying alien(?) threat, ladies and gentlemen!
Do we ever learn more about the Mu? Well, having completed the series, all I know is that they have blue blood, they're creepy-looking, they're sometimes metaphysical and sometimes not, and they sing arias a lot. And they apparently make giant death robots with eerie faces that explode like Tetsuo from Akira. And they...produce...humanoid children...? It's never made clear what they are and what their motivations are. At least in Evangelion, the dumb, drooling alien monsters have an obviously specific goal (blow up NERV, reach Lilith, party it up during Third Impact). Here, they want to blow up the world because that's what evil aliens do.
Man, this series is just a mess. Maybe it's because I'm so used to seeing anime of much higher quality, but RahXephon was a major letdown and, more often than not, a tremendous bore. Sure, it's beautiful and its soundtrack is great and it has moments of absolute brilliance, but I wouldn't recommend wading a sea of mediocrity just to find those gems. Just grab the soundtrack and download a few wallpapers and walk away whistling.
Final Score: 6 out of 10. RahXephon's eye-popping visuals and ambitious setup promised us a revolutionary modern classic, but it doesn't take long for its furious momentum to fizzle out.