When I was writing about Evangelion, I said the angels don’t matter. Perhaps it could be better stated that the angels are only important to the story when they tell us more about the four main characters.
For example, we have an angel who splits into two separate bodies because the writers wanted to put Shinji and Asuka into conflict. The design of the angels is completely contingent on what the plot and the themes need them to do.
They range wildly in design and weaponry from extremely inorganic to humanoid.
There is mythos to explain these differences, but it’s telling that all of that mythos is largely explained outside of the show.
At the time, I was surprised to reach that revelation. I don’t have an encyclopedia of mecha anime stuffed into my mind, but it seemed unique to me. It reminded me of the more cartoonish villains of the super sentai shows which would invent a new monster each week for our heroes to face down.
In a lot of ways, it’s a brilliant structure. The angels showed up like clockwork at about the 12- to 14-minute mark. This is a similar pattern to The Big O, and I assumed other robot shows and creates a sense of familiarity.
On the other side, when you take away the meaning from the bad guys, then you’re left to focus on the heroes. That is what Eva is all about. It’s about the pilots (and Misato) and understanding the human condition.
You might be asking, “What does this have to do with RahXephon?” and “Will you ever stop comparing it to Eva?”
The answer to that first question is pretty simple. If Eva had bad guys that don’t matter, RahXephon has a giant robot that doesn’t matter — the RahXephon.
The quiet moments
The kernel of this post came from a tweet from Thaliarchus, a former blogger who I am friends with on Twitter. He finally got around to watching RahXephon last year and shared a really astute sentiment.
The best moments in RahXephon are the quiet moments.
This show is filled with those quiet moments. Just to name a few of the more pivotal moments in episodes 12 and 13, we see Helena having a conversation with Babhem, he is talking to a small Helena that only she can see. This cements Helena’s feeling of dread and the power dynamic between the two.
Another moment comes in episode 13 after Ayato sees Itsuki kiss Haruka. The episode starts with Haruka and Ayato sharing similar condiment preferences (sugar on fermented soybeans, butter and soy sauce and mayo on rice.) When we reach the conclusion of the episode, we see a similar dinner scene and Haruka grabs the mayo, puts it on the rice. Ayato doesn’t follow suit.
Then we get this shot of Haruka, which is frankly brilliant and tells an entire story by itself.
These are the moments that RahXephon does well.
You know what it doesn’t do — giant robot battles.
Remember when I said Eva would introduce the angel somewhere around the 12- to 14-minute mark. I’m 13 episodes into RahXephon, and I remember this part of the show being the part with the most giant robot battling.
There’s just not that much of it.
If a dolem shows up in the show at all, they rarely get more than a few minutes of screen time. The battles generally involve trading a few punches, and then it’s over.
The few times when a dolem shows up early, the fight is never what is important. One of these moments comes in episode 13 when the dolem shows up at the 12-minute mark. When I saw it, I thought, “No way. Is this show going to subvert my expectations here?”
Yes, it did, but not in the way I thought it would.
What’s amazing is the crux of the conflict in the episode Ayato trying to rescue the Queen of the Pixies herself, Quon, from the giant floating egg that showed up in the RahXephon cockpit. The battle was merely there to give that struggle some sort of stakes.
While the RahXephon is beautifully designed, it could be nearly anything else. It could be a magical sword or a clarinet or a bag of marbles. The fact that it’s a mechanical giant does not matter.
What does this say about the dolems?
Why did I resurrect the ghost of Eva here, especially after I did so much work to try and distance RahXephon from it?
The answer is pretty simple. If the mecha at the center of this show is unimportant, what does that say about the dolems?
I’ll be honest, I’m struggling with this question. There are a few really strong points in favor of them not really meaning anything. The first is that they simply don’t get any real screen time. The struggle between the dolems and the RahXephon isn’t given any weight, and Ayato is never in any real physical danger.
On top of that, while they have a more cohesive aesthetic, they are by no means uniform. They reflect what the characters are going through rather than the values of a culture.
These points lead me to think the dolems themselves don’t matter in the same way that the RahXephon doesn’t matter or the angels don’t matter. They could be easily replaced with some other means of force sent to recapture Ayato.
While all of that is true, the dolems bear one major difference to the angels. The dolems have a purpose. They are trying to recapture Ayato, and that is important to the plot and themes of the show. The angels on the other hand simply are there to provide an antagonist for Shinji et. al. to struggle against.
What do you think? Are the dolems meaningless, or does having a purpose and a nation make them more than the angels in Eva are? Do you think RahXephon is even a mecha show?
As always, thanks for reading.