The world around Tokyo has disappeared, destroyed by invaders. The citizens of Tokyo have continued living, remembering the history of the world and knowing that someday the invaders will return. When the Invaders finally return, young Kamina Ayato begins to question the people and the existence around him. He is soon confronted by Shitow Haruka, a woman who claims to have the answers he seeks. On the run, Kamina is drawn to a temple where the RahXephon awaits him. He is confronted with the possibility that the world he has known all his life is a lie, and the only connection he has with reality lies with the RahXephon and the secrets that Haruka can tell him. Kamina must now confront the secret of the Mu and what really happened to the rest of the world!
ADV looks to take the world by storm once again with yet another high-energy, action packed giant robot series. Following in the footsteps of other classic Sci-Fi robot shows, RahXephon shines in its first volume, working to establish the main characters and the overall plot of the series. RahXephon mixes exciting visuals, a strong soundtrack, a vibrant plot line, and interesting characters to produce a series that breaks new ground for an almost stagnant giant robot genre.
RahXephon Orchestration 1: Threshold fits into what has become the norm for most ADV releases. Presented in a standard TV format, the first volume contains the first five episodes for the series. The extras include the standard clean versions of the opening and closing animations, as well as a special Japanese promotional trailer. An image gallery is included, featuring music from the show and a timed slide show. To make the first volume even more special, ADV has produced two versions: the regular DVD version and a Collector’s Edition, featuring the first DVD, a nice box that will hold the entire series, and a T-Shirt.
On the animation production side, RahXephon develops its look and feel from the creative minds at BONES. RahXephon’s visual style comes across as bright and almost cheerful. Considering the ominous feel of the plot and much of the tone of the first few episodes, this brightness helps keep RahXephon from degenerating into yet another typical giant robot show. The bright designs work from the character designs all the way into the mecha designs. While most of the military machines are very mechanical in practice, the robots strike a balance between near-organic forms and machine elegance. The color scheme chosen for RahXephon seems to pay homage to one of its forebears in the giant robot genre–while still making for a solid original look.
The soundtrack for RahXephon comes in two flavors: 5.1 English and 2.0 Japanese. Both soundtracks feature the same music and sound effect tracks, keeping a consistency between the two. The English track does a good job of keeping up with the original Japanese script, making allowances for lip flaps and some stronger phrasing. ADV has pulled in some familiar names to voice many of the lead characters, such as Chris Patton as Kamina Ayato and Monica Rial as Shitow Haruka. While Chris is in familiar territory with his performance, Monica fits well in a role very different from some of her quieter work as Hyatt in Excel Saga and Karika in Noir. Overall, both casts do a great job of creating characters to which an audience relate easily.
While some will look at RahXephon as yet another “boy finds robot, saves world” type show, it’s actually a series that manages to combine a lot of likeable plot points and tries to build an original story for itself. The viewer finds herself on a journey with Kamina as he discovers the world around him isn’t what it seems. While most other shows could quickly build into a lot of action, with non-stop robotic fighting, RahXephon continues to build on the mystery it has established in the first two episodes.
RahXephon proves to be a series with a lot going on. On the surface, there are the typical stereotype characters, such as the reluctant teenage hero, the mysterious girl, the boisterous woman and the enigmatic captain. Below that is a back-story that is slowly revealing itself to the audience. All the while, the characters begin to show depth and life to keep the series from degenerating into a simple action/sci-fi adventure. There is quite a bit of action, especially in the first episode, in which most of the actual combat between the giant robots is concluded quickly, often with very little difficulty on the part of the protagonist.
Balanced against this are the simple needs to move the story forward and provide the necessary background information. The audience is clued in to major revelations at the same time Kamina learns about them. Unfortunately, there are a few times during this process that the viewer simply wants to shout, “Get on with it!” While a bit much for the more action-oriented members of the audience, this slower pacing helps develop the personalities of the major players in this series. Much of this character development, especially in the last few episodes of the disc, help bring out the positive side of things, and show that the characters are still human despite the overwhelming odds they face. While there is still much left to be revealed in future episodes, RahXephon so far manages to hold back the dark tones of its driving plot by allowing character development that moves away from a simple degeneration and destruction of personality. There is hope and humor among the main characters, and it doesn’t come across as simple fan service.
RahXephon should prove to be a strong title for ADV. While a bit slow, the first release does help show off an exciting array of visuals and a well thought-out plot. While not exactly a strong balance, the action sequences and plot development work together to create a solid and consistent storyline filled with character development. Action fans may want more mecha action, but believable characters help establish the credibility of a good story. Orchestration 1: Threshold will do a good job of drawing in an audience and leaving them clamoring for more.
Overall (dub) : A
Overall (sub) : A
Story : A
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : A
+ Strong visuals and a deep plot leave much of the audience clamoring for more
− Slow pacing and few revelations may leave some of the audience feeling out of the loop
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
− A little fanservicey, Ayato’s dub voice is pretty lame.