A gilded cage and the girl in the painting in RahXephon

As I started watching RahXephon, I struggled with where to start talking about it.

The themes in this show really are set in motion at the very start, and weave back onto themselves. There are moments I want to talk about later that will redefine these first few episodes, but I want to stay chronological with these posts.

Even though I know everything that will occur on a deep and fundamental level, I might have misremembered a detail that could send this whole post tumbling down.

So I’m going start at the beginning, or at least nearly at the beginning, with the first image we see of Ayato. A 17-year-old boy on his bed looking longingly at a painting.

The world he desires

In these first few shots, he is bathed in light, almost like he’s somewhere in between worlds.

When we get to see the painting for the first time, we see a young girl in a dress on a ledge looking into a vague and undefined horizon.

The fact that the horizon itself is only made up of the hints of shapes is important.

It’s the beginning of the world that Ayato dreams of. At its center is a girl.

Yes, I know what the picture means in the context of the overall show, but its significance starts right here in the first few episodes.

A Gilded Cage

I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that Ayato Kamina is 17 years old. In the pantheon of mecha leads, it is approaching ancient. Amuro Ray is 15, Hikaru Ichijyo is 16, Shinji is 14 and some dip into the pre-teen ages of 12.

However, Kamina is on the cusp of adulthood. While his future could be uncertain, it is fairly clearly delineated. The rest of the world is gone. The only thing that exists is within the walls of Tokyo Jupiter.

And it’s a startlingly mundane world.

I like this image

It reminds me of the part in the Matrix, where the robots explained they couldn’t build a world that was too perfect because people wouldn’t accept it. So they made a messy, flawed reality.

That is what the Mu do here. They made a world so normal that no one would blink an eye at it. They created a reality where Ayato is a normal teen, making his way through a normal high school and studying for normal tests. While we never see it, we can assume that he had a normal plan of going to art school.

Just to indulge talking about Dutch angles again. It’s significant that when something “otherworldly” occurs in Tokyo Jupiter, the camera shifts. This happens when the first dolem appears or when we see Maya in her hidden sanctum.

These things are so out of kilter for Tokyo Jupiter that it causes the world to slant figuratively.

But do you know what doesn’t cause the world to slant — when the girl in yellow, Reika Mishima, first appears.

That’s because she is part of Kamina’s reality, or at least she’s part of the world he wants.

The world he desires

There is a theme this show will come back to again, but I think it’s important to point out here. There is a tension between the world you want and the world you have, and to get to one you will need to shape it out of the other.

At its heart, RahXephon is a story about growing up. In some ways, it’s the closest I’ve ever seen a mecha show get to a true coming of age story.

Tokyo Jupiter is a mundane regular world that Kamina is comfortable in, but he is uncomfortably thrust into an adult world, which is confusing and disturbing. He’s pushed into that world through a combination of Haruka, Reika and Maya.

I like the framing on this shot

I don’t think he would have left without those three forces, but it starts to lay the foundation for what will come later. For now, Tokyo Jupiter, as he remembers it, is a safe place, but it’s not what he really wants.

What he really wants is a memory he never had. A world that is, at least for now, a fantasy. More than any other element, what propels him past the border of his world is a search for that world he desires.

What do you think? Am I off base here? How important do you think that struggle between the fantasy of what Ayato wants versus his reality is? 

As always, thanks for reading.

3 thoughts on “A gilded cage and the girl in the painting in RahXephon

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