What is RahXephon?
RahXephon is an award-winning post-apocalyptic sci-fi mecha anime series set in an alternate future in the year 2012.
The story centers on 17-year-old protagonist Ayato Kamina, a high school student and artist living a relatively normal life in the last bastion of civilization called Tokyo Jupiter – until he’s one day whisked into an interdimensional war by a mysterious woman who seems to be watching him from the shadows.
A race called Mulians launches an attack on Tokyo Jupiter, attacking the city with jet planes, tanks, and monster-machines called Dolems, who unleash vocal sonic wave-life attacks from their mouths.
A series of events leads Ayato to the haven of the RahXephon – a more organic mecha born from an egg deep in the ruins of old Tokyo. He merges with it, discovering his powers as an instrumentalist – one who can pilot the mecha.
The show drew a lot of comparison from anime fans to 90s hit anime Neon Genesis Evangelion, with both series focusing on a young male protagonist with the ability to pilot a giant robot. While it does clearly have some influence from the series, themes, characters, and plot line differ significantly.
Studio Bones, the studio behind Wolf’s Rain, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, and Mob Psycho 100, animated 26 episodes for the tv series, which aired from January – September 2002 on Fuji Television during its original run. It had a successful run in Japan, drawing in tens of thousands of viewers, and sold well once on DVD.
Ayato is a normal teenager with a penchant for art, particularly painting, living a normal life inside Tokyo Jupiter, a sort of dome resembling the planet Jupiter from the outside in which the last remnants of humanity and society live. He meets up with a classmate for an outing, but their meeting is interrupted by the Mulian’s sudden assault on the city with jets, tanks, and mecha called Dolems.
Mulians are dangerous because they look exactly like humans, with the exception of having a “Mu Phase,’ which gives them blue blood. Mulians have a history of nuclear war with earth, after their floating cities appeared over Tokyo and Sendai in the year 2012. The Dolems, much like their sound-alike namesake golems, are made of clay and powered by music. Piloted and powered by Mulians, Dolems are sometimes bound to human hosts known as “sub-Mulians”, controlled remotely by Mulians. The human is necessary to bound the Dolem to the human world, but if a Dolem is destroyed, it not only destroys the host, but the Mulian controller as well.
Ayato ventures out into the city and meets Reika Mishima among the rubble, a mysterious girl who may not be what she appears. The first dolem, which Reika seems to recognize, appears, and continues its assault on the city.
Later on, shadowy men in suits and sunglasses attempt to abduct Ayato, but he is saved by Haruka Shitow, who is later revealed to have been the woman stalking Ayato. She later kidnaps him herself, telling him to keep quiet and ride along if he wants to know the truth.
He later escapes, feeling inexplicably drawn to the RahXephon, where he merges with it and has his first battle against the Dolem Fortissimo. Haruka Shitow is later revealed to be an agent of TERRA, a government agency whose main goal is to defeat the Mu.
TERRA has targeted Ayato because he can pilot the RahXephon, and is reluctantly recruited in their anti-Mu efforts. As the stakes mount throughout the series, it becomes clear that there’s far more to the characters than meets the eye, to say nothing of Ayato himself.
Ayato Kamina – our protagonist. At the beginning of the story, he’s just turned 17, living with his mother, Maya, in Tokyo Jupiter. He’s got an artistic bent, but he finds himself drawn to depicting a girl looking out toward the sea from upon a cliff, which is the position Reika Mishima is standing in when he meets her. The story centers around his inner struggles as they relate to others around him, as well as his role as the instrumentalist. As the story progresses, we learn that his birth was no accident – it was engineered by Ernst von Bähbem, “The Designer,” the head of the Bähbem Foundation, which sponsors TERRA.
A 29-year-old woman with a mysterious past connection to Ayato and a captain in TERRA’s Intelligence Division. She initially gets Ayato out of Tokyo Jupiter. Haruka has a tense relationship with Ayato, mostly due to the fact that she clearly cares strongly for him, but their relationship is initially fraught with mistrust, with Ayato thinking he’s only of use to her for his ability to pilot the RahXephon. Later on we find out Ayato and Haruka knew each other as young teens, but were separated in 2012 when the Tokyo Jupiter barrier was first erected. Due to the time dilation inside the dome, Haruka aged significantly faster than Ayato, hence their age difference.
Reika (voiced by Maaya Sakamoto, who sings Hemisphere, the opening theme) is a girl about Ayato’s age who seems to have some kind of connection with the RahXephon. She is the one who leads Ayato directly to it in the aftermath of the Mulian’s attack on Tokyo Jupiter. It becomes clear that Reika may not quite be human – altering the memories of those around her and making her shadow appear at will. She’s revealed to be the soul of the RahXephon – Ixtli, and is in fact Ayato’s muse, the girl he’s been drawing, influencing Ayato to trust her to strengthen his connection with the RahXephon as the instrumentalist.
A quiet, artistically and musically inclined pink-haired teenage girl who communicates mostly in song and short, cryptic bursts of words. A fellow TERRA test subject herself, she and Ayato find a quiet commonality and connection with each other, mostly through affectionate platonic touch. She’s later revealed to be a Mulian, as well as Ayato’s biological mother.
The RahXephon, a bird-like humanoid mecha that towers over 160 feet that can fly and unleash a variety of projectile and energy attacks. The RahXephon must be piloted by the instrumentalist, to which it is wholly and deeply connected for optimal functioning. When the RahXephon is injured, the host is shown to react in the same way. It was created by Ernst von Bahbem to re-tune the world – that is, fix the time dilation problem. For this purpose, an ideal host, the instrumentalist, had to be created.
Being a teenager on the precipice of adulthood, Ayato’s story also focuses on his struggle to come into his own – something reflected in the lyrics of the excellent opening song by Maaya Sakamoto and Yoko Kanno.
Tokyo Jupiter, the starting location of the series, is revealed to be an alternate dimension where time moves six times slower than in the outside world – A Tokyo Jupiter year is equivalent to six years in real-time. Why Jupiter? The dome Tokyo Jupiter is encased within resembles Jupiter’s swirls on the outside. It’s this barrier that separates and creates the time dilation.
There are a lot of musical themes at work here: the Dolems are named after musical terms – Fortissimo, Arpeggio, and Falsetto, to name a few, and their mecha designs reflect something like porcelain dolls meets action figure. Ayato is revealed to be the instrumentalist, a person who has the capability to “re-tune” the world by merging with RahXephon. If the world is re-tuned, the time dilation problem would be fixed.
An orchestral, wind instrument-heavy score by Ichiko Hashimoto accompanies these musical themes quite nicely, shifting adeptly through the dramatic, comedic, and sometimes romantic moods the series goes through. Rahxephon’s soundtrack also features fast paced, whimsical improvisational jazz sections to go along with its government agency-focused action sequences, somewhat akin to the jazz sections in Cowboy Bebop or Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex.
Where To Watch RahXephon
The entire 26-episode tv show is available to stream in both English and Japanese on vrv.co. There’s also an alternate manga adaptation available, though the plot and characters do diverge a bit from the anime’s story. A movie version, RahXephon: Pluralitas Concentio, was released in April 2003.