animefringe june 2003 / reviews

RahXephon Vol.2: Tonal Pattern
Format: bilingual DVD, 4 eps., 100 min.
Production: ADV / BONES / Yutaka Izubuchi
Comments: An interesting show that's still in the exposition stage.
Animefringe Reviews:
RahXephon Vol.2: Tonal Pattern

A while ago, we featured RahXephon in an article comparing it to Evangelion. Thus, before we get going, I want to warn everyone that I'm not going to do that here. I don't really judge every show I watch against Eva, anyway - even if I did like the earlier series quite a bit.

In essence, what we have here is a giant robot show. Naturally, mysterious elements must be added to any giant robot show nowadays, otherwise there's nothing to separate one series from another save the color of the mechs. It's safe to assume that not many details have been revealed yet, and there probably won't be more than a handful of revelations until this story is at least halfway done.

In the beginning of the series, teenager Ayato discovers that there is far more to his reality than he ever suspected. He unwillingly flees his home after finding out that he has the ability to pilot the RahXephon, a gigantic alien artifact humanoid in shape with vast offensive potential. As an orphan in unfamiliar (and potentially hostile) territory, Ayato is taken in by the military not so much because of their excessive hospitable nature but for his gigantic fighting machine.

If you haven't watched the first disc yet, you may want to skip this paragraph because it spoils some of the general plot points of the series. Part of the show's allure is seeing where the creators will take you, and knowing what's on the way isn't as much fun as discovering the truth on your own. Prior to Ayato's escape, he lived in a spherical construct called Tokyo Jupiter. Before he left, he believed that there were only a handful of humans left on the planet, and that his home was the last refuge of a mankind besieged by alien invaders. Everything he knew was wrong. As it turns out, Tokyo Jupiter is the only place on Earth that is completely under the control of the invaders, called Mulians. When he leaves, he finds out that not only was the truth distorted from what he knew, but that time was distorted as well. Time passes faster outside of the sphere, and there was a twelve-year gap between his time and the time of the people who helped him escape. This presents some very intriguing implications in this volume, for as we discover, there are some people (like Haruka Shirow) who were born the same year as Ayato, even though they are now twelve years older than him. Okay. That's the end of the plot points. You should be safe from now on.

As mentioned above, few details have truly been revealed to the viewers at this point. So far, it's very hard to tell who Ayato's friends are and who his enemies may be. Cryptic dialogue filled with an endless supply of possible allusions dominates the series, but the characters are all interesting enough to keep me glued to the screen. While there is a very prominent emphasis on the obscure mystery playing out, the show is still fun to watch and appealing enough to actually make me want to see the answers to some of the questions the series has posed.

Characters like the spunky older sister figure, Haruka Shitow, with her keen wit and warm heart, really breathe life into this mechanical show. Her younger sister, Megumi, spends a lot of her time with Ayato, though so far it may just be because his new home is next door to hers. Perhaps most intriguing of all is Quon Kisaragi, a young woman with a tendency to add "ra-ra" randomly to her phrases. Quon speaks mostly in riddles, and time will tell whether she's a little loony or has incredible prophetic powers. For those keeping track, I'm leaning towards the prophetic powers.

The interactions between these characters is an interesting mix of personal and professional, for while they're all associated with the paramilitary group, TERRA, they all live close to each other and spend much of their free time together.

Aside from the great cast of characters, the other large part of the show's appeal for me is the outstanding animation RahXephon exhibits. With animation handled by BONES, the studio made of former Sunrise members that created their own group after animating Cowboy Bebop, this is a very attractive show to view. Interesting character designs are put into motion with surprising fluidity, and CG use blends in well with traditional animation. Some computer editing techniques were used to create movie-like camera movements, and BONES pulls the effect off rather well. For another example of BONES's excellent animation, check out Cowboy Bebop: The Movie (otherwise known as Cowboy Bebop: Knockin' on Heaven's Door), due out on DVD later this month. I can't wait to see what BONES does next.

The technical designs are equally eye-catching, from the giant robots to the aircraft used by TERRA. Ships and robots move in ways I've never seen, and while such actions may not be very realistic, they're undeniably interesting.

The music is almost as impressive as the animation. The opening theme was written by Yoko Kanno (another Cowboy Bebop alumni, though her credentials go far beyond that one series) and performed by Maya Sakamoto, who doubles in this series as the voice of the enigmatic Reika Mishima. The background music is the appropriate blend of symphonic, traditional, and contemporary music one would expect of such a show.

Voice acting on both tracks is pretty good. ADV's dubs tend to stand out as some of the best recordings available, and this one holds true to that distinction. I still get the feeling that the English sounds more melodramatic than the Japanese, but both are here, so watch what you want. The English track for this release has been mixed in 5.1 surround sound (whereas the Japanese remains in its original 2.0 mix), so there's a little something extra for those viewers that want to hear the show in English. I'm still not happy enough with English to care much about a surround sound mix, but again, it?s there for those who want it.

The extras on the disc include production sketches, clean opening and ending animations, and an interview with the English cast. Even though I'm always more receptive to the Japanese language track, it's nice to see the people behind the English voices. Fans of dubs should be especially pleased by this interview's inclusion. Perhaps most welcome is the high-quality informational booklet included with this disc. Just as in the first, it contains artwork, character profiles, and a few pages of interviews with various voice actors and other members of the Japanese creative staff. The second volume has a relatively expansive set of liner notes as well, and it's about time we started getting these more regularly in anime releases. Sometimes, the true depth of a series can be overlooked simply because we lack the cultural awareness to understand the significance of certain scenes. With cultural notes included on the disc, there's a chance viewers will get even more out of their anime experience.