RahXephon

[Spoilers abound!]

RahXephon (2002)

Today I’m starting with a thank you to In Search of Number Nine because I think that without these great posts, I would not have been introduced to a classic mecha show that I’d somehow missed over the years 🙂

As fans of RahXephon certainly already know, narrowing the series down to just a couple of genres, say ‘mecha’ or ‘science fiction’, clouds the fact that the anime is one of those killer shows with variety – and it’s happy to slow down and explore its characters through romance, intrigue and betrayals.

Now, I know I was already pre-disposed to enjoy RahXephon because I like Chiaki J. Konaka’s writing a lot, but also because this series has a mystical/ethereal feel, and I think those elements are pretty interesting to see in mecha. I was quite transfixed by hints of mysteries not explained in the narrative too.

One of the other aspects I really enjoyed was the tension-building throughout – which, unsurprisingly, is linked to the characters, many of whom have motivations that are kept from the viewer for many episodes.

Thinking about the series now, months after I finished that first time, I realise that as much as the action sequences do stand out in my memory (for their otherworldly nature especially) they’re mostly memorable due to how connected they are to the characters who go through them.

Here, I guess I’m thinking mainly about Hiroko’s death or maybe Elvy’s dogfights or even when Haruka is trying to defend and impress Ayato in those opening episodes, because especially upon second viewing, these moments with her strike me as quite sad. It feels like everything she tries in order to recapture the past just falls so flat.

RahXephon can feel down-beat – but there are moments of levity and action and mystery to go with it; and also some great detail to the Mu and the connected world-building. It’s exactly the kind of series that I reckon you’d enjoy even more upon a second viewing.

As I sometimes do, I want to quickly jump to some random dot points:

  • In a great cast, I found Ayato’s mother to stand out – especially when she was speaking the Mu language, as it’s this really disconcerting mix of unnerving and soothing.
  • The Futagami reveal was cool; I should have known he’d be a ‘higher-up’ 😀
  • I’d have loved a bit more time spent expanding upon the villains, as their role in the ending wasn’t quite as impactful, perhaps. On the other hand, it really allowed some of the main cast to take on highly antagonistic roles too.
  • Maybe all of Quon’s dialogue doesn’t land for me… but it’s still an important part of the show’s tone.
  • The design of the RahXephon is one of my favourite mecha designs out there, and the dolems are striking too. Related, I thought the use of song/voice added to the eerie nature so well – those first couple of episodes, where the viewer is just cast into conflict with little idea of who is who, one of my anchors was just how different it all was.
  • Loved Ayato’s 1970s-style outfit in the abandoned department store.
  • The ending theme perfectly evokes the feel of the show and it was always interesting to hear the variations.
  • Useless trivia: My DVD set has really nice illustrations (likely by Akihiro Yamada) on each disc, ones that I think were taken from earlier single-disc releases or maybe posters? But sadly, because my copy is an ‘ex-rental’, glue from the stickers that the store had used on the discs was jamming up my player. I had to use the ‘orange’ cleaner that folks in the retail industry might recall – it’s strong but not insanely so, and deals with sticker residue really well… when used on plastic surfaces, that is. When used on printed discs, it can erode some of the image itself, so a few of my discs now have what look like ‘scrape marks’ 😦

In terms of the production context, obviously Bones was a fairly new studio around 2001 – but having evolved from Sunrise, they had plenty of expertise to draw upon.

RahXephon was maybe their third TV series and they’d had a few films out already, one of which was the Cowboy Bebop movie, so it certainly feels like things were going well. The anime is also the only one (so far) to be directed by Yutaka Izubuchi, who was well-known as a designer. I really wish he’d direct again/be given the chance to direct again – but I’m glad they gave him the chair in those early years.

Back then, Bones had two teams, but I don’t know if any of the current five teams have made anything quite like RahXephon? But that could well be my ignorance at play – and in fact, if anyone knows of something approximately similar from Bones, I’d love to hear about it! [I’ll quickly add that maybe Un-Go and probably more so Xam’d are vaguely close].

It’s now been 18 years since RahXephon was released, and 25 since Neon Genesis changed so much about the genre, and I know the two shows are often compared. There are obviously aspects that are similar in tone and character but I never felt like I was watching a cut-rate clone. And in my reading for this review, I found that other folks mention Megazone 23 and Brave Raideen (1975) as being closer.

(And Yutaka Izubuchi feels the same about Brave Raideen, about wanting to bring a different sense back to the landscape of giant robots.) So naturally, I’m now curious to see a few episodes but that’s a long-term project. My knowledge of 1970s-era anime is pretty much limited to Lupin, Space Battleship Yamato and a handful of films.

Anyway, getting back to RahXephon I’ll try to finish this one with a recommendation. I think, if you’ve seen other works penned by Chiaki J. Konaka then you’ll enjoy this for sure. If you like post-EVA mecha stories with a bit of angst, then yep. Also maybe, if you’re the kind of fan that follows studios, and maybe have a soft spot for ‘early Bones’ productions, then take a look at RahXephon.

And finally, if you’re the kind of viewer who likes to be left with a few questions at the end of a series, then definitely watch this one – not sure who is streaming it at the moment, but it’s still around I’m sure!

5 Stars

Gallery time! I took around 300 screencaps and of course, have had trouble deciding which pics to highlight. Here’s some with the occasional thought here and there in the captions:

We see two shots with a lot of space between characters fairly often, from memory – and it certainly suits all the secrets it seems everyone is holding.
I like the ‘beehive’ kinda look to the edges of Ayato’s vision when he’s piloting.
There’s another shot of Quon which has me half-convinced that they gave her the umbrella (in part) because it would add to a distinctive silhouette.

And finally – the costume I mentioned earlier, which I liked well-enough for a temporary outfit, but Haruka did not:

Doamayger-D

Doamayger-D (2015)

Okay, so Doamayger-D fooled me for a moment at first, because I thought I was watching a show produced in the ‘70s but which had been released with extra notes onscreen for modern audiences 😀

But it was made only a few years ago of course and it’s clearly a loving tribute to (and parody of) 1970s mecha.

Everything from the ‘scratchy’ look to the character and robot designs and the battle scenes, down to the acting and narration, it all has that feel. It’s incredibly compact storytelling too, with each episode being about 2 minutes long, with the perfectly on brand ending theme stretching the overall running time a bit.

ILCA maybe wanted to make something truly regional, since aside from the ‘70s mech tropes, the show features baking and sweets common to Kyoto, and it makes me think the episodes are tv spots, or at least able to function as fun little promos for tourism?

Anyway, if you’re curious this won’t take long to check out and if you’re familiar with the tropes and aesthetic of older mech, then you might enjoy Doamayger-D.

3 Stars

Note: Doamayger-D is definitely fun and easy to digest, but I’d try to watch it via disc if possible, since even short load times between 3 minute episodes can feel like a bit much (but that’s no deal-breaker precisely).

Promare

Promare (2019)

Whenever folks complain about CGI in anime (as I sometimes certainly do) it’s not about this level of application and integration, I hope.

Promare looks amazing, and some scenes are burnt into my memory I reckon – two of which I’ll mention below. There is definitely a lot to like if you’re a fan of Gainax, Trigger or mecha in general, or I’d add, even the neon aesthetic of the 1980s.

For a change, I’m going to include a short summary of the premise (from Wikipedia) though I imagine there aren’t tonnes of folks who aren’t at least vaguely familiar with the film:

The planet Earth suffered a calamity known as the Great World Blaze, where the fires from mass spontaneous human combustions killed half the world’s population. Certain ones developed pyrokinetic abilities during and subsequent to the event, and became known as the Burnish.

Thirty years later, Galo Thymos lives and works as a member of the firefighting group Burning Rescue, in the city of Promepolis. He responds to incidents involving the purported Mad Burnish, a group of liberating terrorists [led by Lio Fotia].

One thing that struck me, especially in these times, is that it was nice to see fire-fighters as heroes as opposed to say, police, which to be honest I couldn’t stomach at the moment. But getting back to Promare, I really enjoyed the dynamic between the leads (two hot-heads in a way) – since it was a little different from the classic kid must pilot mecha to save the world.

And while comparisons between Promare and Gurren Lagann (especially re: Galo and Kamina) can be made, I think it was fun to have two heroes who start off as adversaries work together to take on the glittering facade of a true villain. That’s a trope that I’m enjoying a lot lately, so I guess it spoke to me when I cheered Galo and Lio on.

Another thing I really enjoyed was the way the film balanced itself to appeal to a range of audiences, and in a way it really felt like Trigger nailed that ‘commercially-successful but-still-artistic’ project really well. (I may have said this before, but I’m not a huge fan of those two things being set up as opposite ends of a quality spectrum actually).

So, if you’re on the fence about watching or purchasing this I think that Promare has that real blockbuster feel, with a fun blend of action, character and comedy, and for me it definitely had enough reveals to be interesting, pay-offs to be satisfying and both likeable and understandable characters to keep me hooked.

What I will mention is the visual aspect – the colour palette is extremely 1980s (or even Vaporwave if you’re younger, I guess) and that might wear some folks down – in some action sequences there maybe wasn’t enough definition between moving parts to really track what was happening, so I think it’d be worth watching more than once in that respect.

Elsewhere, the hard lines and solid colours also kept things distinctive – in a way, it kinda brought Ben 10 to mind, but that’s not a good comparison tone-wise. Promare is definitely anime.

For the two moments I mentioned at the beginning of the interview, I wanted to find images for both but I’m not sure the internet will provide what I need… but there are a few shots from (beneath) an ice lake that are perfectly serene, and there’s also a fantastic range of styles compressed into Lio’s volcano scene that I think fans of animation should see at least once.

You could watch it here of course, but in the context of the whole film it’s obviously better

Okay, that’s about it! Basically, I really enjoyed Promare and I think I’ll grab a copy one day, but I was lucky that just last week Animelab randomly decided to put the movie up for streaming across a three day period!

5 Stars

More screen-time for Ignis needed!

Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet (Suisei no Gargantia)

Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet (Suisei no Gargantia) 2013

Once again, I’m going to fight my urge to ramble here – so, that means just a few paragraphs now, focusing on Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet this time.

If you’ve never come across this series I think I’ll mention that it stands out in the mecha genre a bit, in no small part due to the amazing setting. For me, I could have watched ten extra episodes more in line with the first half of Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, which had a fun slice-of-life feel at times, as the characters go about their business upon a verdant and vibrant, connected fleet of ships. Likewise, I could have enjoyed the scenery just as long – it’s bright and textured, yet didn’t feel repetitive; I left off sure that we could have explored a lot more.

The show delves into the requisite fan-service at times, but the main focus in Gargantia… (aside from the eventual re-emergence of the science-fiction) is probably pilot Ledo’s faltering attempts to understand a new culture. I really enjoyed seeing his trials there, both with language and ideology, but for action fans you’ll be given more battles and violence in the last few episodes. There, a lot of the warmth is jettisoned, along with lead character Amy’s role but I suppose in exchange for that you do get some development from a different character – the somewhat dubious Pinion.

In some ways this is like two halves of a longer series condensed into one short series, where the ‘science-fiction space war’ part is mostly placed aside as the hero adapts to his new circumstances. Seen that way, I think Gargantia… has a fair bit in common with the First Contact sub-genre, only it’s one kind of human meeting others.

The anime looks great of course, with Production IG at the helm, but if you were hunting down the works of Gen Urobuchi don’t expect something like Pyscho-Pass… though there is a sub-plot featuring a cult here that would have fit into that dystopia. If you like mech design for salvaging as much as for fighting, and if you want some comedy and a fresh setting to go with your science-fiction, then I reckon you’d enjoy this despite some uneven aspects for me.

3 Stars

Ah, yes – the time-honoured tradition in anime of having animals resting on the heads of characters.

Revisions (Rivijonzu)

Revisions (Rivijonzu) 2019

Sometimes I find myself being a little harder on recent shows if they don’t break a whole lot of new ground. It’s something I don’t like doing actually, I feel like I have to fight that impulse both as a viewer and when reviewing a series, because I don’t think that Originality is the most important metric available.

Instead, I’m more interested in whether I was drawn into the world, whether I responded to the characters and whether existing tropes and conventions are refreshed or handled in an interesting manner, whether the art style, design or settings chosen make me stop and recognise just how beautiful or impressive they really are.

And so having said all that, I still found myself in two minds about Revisions.

It definitely echoes Neon Genesis and other classics specifically in some ways but on a smaller scale. Elsewhere it’s more ‘generally familiar’, from character design (that Voltron-esque colour scheme of the body suits) to other common mecha tropes, but the time travel aspect added a nice complication to the plot. Having the main character Daisuke both suffer a hero complex and be ridiculed for it allowed extra conflict between the young heroes, though that aspect of the storyline kinda swung a little violently from polar opposites in the short span. Maybe the manga spreads that aspect out more smoothly?

Still, the pacing was brisk and the animation itself kept me watching; especially the designs of the Civilians and the suits/the String Puppets themselves all felt both ‘on brand’ for the genre but also distinctive enough. I did find the occasional close up here and there to reveal that cel-shaded look to the CGI that I’m not a huge fan of, but it was nothing glaring.

Great music throughout, especially the ending theme and with a few satisfying twists in the story, not too many instances of ‘out of place’ fan service (I guess) and overall I did enjoy it. The writing was pretty effective at showing the unsurprising cowardice contrasted with the welcome heroism of humanity in a largely dystopian setting. It also pulled back away from the kids and their struggles to spend a bit of time on managing a city on limited resources, which I found interesting, though would hardly be everyone’s key memory of the series 😀

3.5 Stars

Eureka Seven AO

Without having seen the first series I was able to come to Eureka Seven AO without expectations and so I suspect I enjoyed it more than folks who’d seen Eureka Seven and were disappointed with its sequel series.

Eureka Seven AO
2012

I was in the mood for some mecha when I came across Eureka Seven AO and the battles were certainly great, the animation too; but I probably enjoyed the Okinawan setting most. The show did deliver the occasional twist, but something about the characterisation felt a bit ‘off’. Maybe it was because the motivations weren’t always made clear enough for me to ‘go along’ with some of their choices – Naru especially comes to mind here.

What I suppose I didn’t enjoy was the lack of time spent grounding the viewer in the world re: the alien aspects, and one of the main villains ‘Truth’ felt a little generic but near the end, I remember being pretty thrilled by a homage* to the opening of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. (Another fun aspect was the use of some fourth wall(ish) humour.)

Still, even with a great soundtrack and elements I mentioned above, I’ve definitely enjoyed other mecha shows more.

3 Stars

*Below, I whipped up a quick side by side – and even though there are clear differences (and I also changed the sequence of one shot), you can see how Eureka takes time to offer a fond homage to Nausicaa.

On the left, there’s Nausicaa and the right Eureka: we start with an establishing shot of a ruin, then our viewpoint characters burst inside, then they attempt to lift a crumbling toy/notice the corpses of the previous inhabitants (in both texts they have succumbed to a spore-like sickness).