The War of Misunderstandings in RahXephon

For the past few days, I’ve been struggling with how to explore the larger war in RahXephon.

Unlike other shows, RahXephon seems to be difficult for me to break into discrete chunks. Partially, it’s because of how familiar I am with this series. I know how the themes of the war between the Earth and the Mu will affect the later relationships and feed back into the smaller stories of the show.

That said, there are two pieces of dialogue from Episode 4 that serve as an entry point for analyzing how each side sees each other and what the larger war might mean.

Close up on Haruka's watch

For those people who haven’t watched the show in a while, I’ll give a quick rundown of the episode’s plot. Our hero, Ayato Kamina, is now on the Terra ship along with the RahXephon. (I can’t find a spelling of Lilylavitriak, so I’m going to embarrass myself in these parentheses.)

It’s here that we meet Jin Kunigi, the commander of Terra. The teen pilot and the commander immediately strike up a mutually antagonistic relationship.

The Earth Federation shows up and lays claim to the RahXephon. This sets off an argument between Ayato and Kunigi. The teen goes back to his room, while Kunigi discovers Ayato has Mulian characteristics.

(This is never explained well, but just because you’re from Tokyo Jupiter, you’re not necessarily a Mulian. I have a theory about this, but it’s not really pertinent here.)

Kunigi locks him in the room behind an exploding door.

Then a dolem attacks, Ayato realizes he’s been locked in. He’s able to escape into his fantasy world. This transports him to the RahXephon where he defeats the dolem.

What Quon sees

The highlight of the episode really are the interactions between Kunigi and Ayato. I still get chills whenever Kunigi says, “I would advise you to reset your wristwatch. It is not the time you think it is.”

But that’s not the line of dialogue I want to focus on. In fact, both of the lines come during conversations with Haruka. First during one between her and Ayato, and then between her and Kunigi.

You don’t think we’re people

The first line comes after the Earth Federation has loaded up the RahXephon and carries it off. Ayato has just had an argument with Commander Kunigi and Haruka is trying to calm him down. He turns to the computer screen where the headline reads: “Tokyo Jupiter Possible Nuclear Attack Plans.”

Ayato says, “At the very least, the people who wrote that don’t think we’re human in the same sense that they are.”

This is how the Earth, in general, and Terra, in particular, treats the people inside Tokyo Jupiter. They are not real people.

The paper shows

One of the things that struck me about the attack in the first episode was the sheer amount of collateral damage done. Whole buildings were knocked down. Train lines were crushed. We’re never told how many people died in that attack, but I would estimate in the low thousands.

(Just a side note: We never see anyone else on the road when Ayato is wandering the city, so it is possible that the only people who are in the city surround Ayato. But I don’t think so.)

This is really only a microcosm of Earth’s reaction to the Mu. When they stole Tokyo away, Earth attacked and they lost. We see the extent of the damage in Episode 3 as Ayato and Haruka wander through an empty city.

When Earth looks at Tokyo Jupiter, it sees a foreign invader and the people inside are less than human.

This is reflected in Kunigi’s interactions with Ayato. Nearly every one of his barbs urges Kamina to assimilate. He should reset his wristwatch. He should become aware of his situation. Essentially he’s telling Kamina to be less Mu and more Earthian.

Even Ayato comments on this in the same scene with Haruka when he says, “You outside people are really pushing it, and you have this stinking air of superiority like it’s your job to properly guide people like me.”

For the Earth, and everyone on it, Tokyo Jupiter is foreign, dangerous and destructive. People don’t exist inside Tokyo Jupiter, or at the very least, people don’t exist in a manner that matters.

All he does is sketch

What’s the other side of this? Well, we see it during a conversation between Haruka and Kunigi. Once she learns that Ayato has been locked in a cell, which will explode if she tries to force the lock, she begs Kunigi to let him loose.

“He doesn’t even know anything,” she says. “Please sir, he’s still a red-blooded human being just like us.”

“Really? He has no understanding of the situation that he’s in, and although the means to find out is directly in front of him, he sits there sketching instead,” Kunigi responds.

That second line further confirms Kunigi’s, and by extension Earth’s, bias and suspicion of the Mu. He’s basically saying that Ayato should be working harder at assimilating.

Even more, it shows how the Mu see Earth which is they don’t.

There is a thought experiment that often shows up in science fiction and in anime. The idea is even the most compassionate humans don’t think about all of the insects they may crush during their day-to-day lives. Whatever damage we may do, it isn’t out of malice. The insects are simply below our notice.

The girl in yellow returns

So what happens when an alien species arrives who is so advanced that people are like ants to them? Would they just destroy us without thinking?

That is how the Mu treat the Earth. The Earth’s desires and wants are below the Mu’s notice. This is a little better illustrated in Episode 6 when a dolem just randomly transports entire cities into some sort of null zone for no conceivable reason.

Ayato is not alone in this. The whole of Tokyo Jupiter is some kind of fantasy land where there is some sort of war going on but it’s far outside of anyone’s experience or notice.

What does it all mean?

There are a lot of ways to interpret this conflict, but for the purposes of this post, I’m going to stick with the most straight forward.

When I started talking about the conflict in this series, I tried to distance myself from talking about Eva. Because I don’t think it’s useful to compare a series without a central conflict to a series with a central conflict.

But at their heart, RahXephon and Evangelion are trying to confront the same basic problem. How do you get people with drastically different backgrounds and experiences to understand each other?

In Eva, this plays out on a very small stage. It’s focused on the singular relationships between the people at NERV.

RahXephon takes that question and puts it on a grand stage. It’s exploring what it means when nations don’t understand each other. At least at this point, the answer is that the more advanced society destroys the less advanced one and there is a lot of resentment from the loser.

What is interesting if how each side paints the other. Ayato sees the Earth and Terra as trying to tell him what to do and shape him into something he doesn’t want to be, and Earth sees the Mu in general, as indolent and destructive.

I’m sure this isn’t going to be the last time I bring this up, but for now, I think it’s a good starting point.

What do you think? If you’ve watched RahXephon, do you see this war as saying something about human interaction?

2 thoughts on “The War of Misunderstandings in RahXephon

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