If you asked me who my favorite character was in RahXephon, I would be torn between two choices.
The first one is pretty obvious — Jin Kunigi. I wrote an entire post about his bluebird and the underlying tragedy of his daughter’s death. He is a character who is torn in a lot of different directions by a lot of different emotions, yet even as he is about to die, he tries to be a better person.
This is the type of character I would be drawn to because everyone likes the damaged hero who is seeking redemption. I could name half a dozen of these characters that I enjoy anywhere from Alex Rowe in Last Exile to Holland in Eureka 7 to some of the more enjoyable iterations of Captain Harlock.
This is the character we’re supposed to root for and when he meets his inevitable fate we’re supposed to cheer him on and feel sad at the same time.
My other choice is more complicated. I really like Makoto Isshiki. Just in case you don’t remember who he is, he is this guy.
The truth is that he’s not a particularly likable character. When we’re introduced to him early on, he just generates conflict for seemingly no reason. As the series progresses, we learn that he’s pompous, arrogant and has the kind of smarmy tactlessness reserved for people who know they’re in power.
I’m not a big fan of these types of characters in other shows, and for the most part, I would expect anyone to write off Isshiki.
At least until Episode 15.
A boy and his pet rock
When the show does dip back into the past of Isshiki, Kisaragi and Helena, we get a very different picture of Isshiki. Here we see a boy who just wants to belong, and really wants to be special. He is paired with two children who are far more special than he is.
There is something that makes him unique though. He can control a manmade dolem that is lurking under the mansion. He doesn’t need to be compared to Itsuki or Helena here. His pet rock makes him special.
What does he do with his pet? He does what any child would do. He invents a history for it. It was birthed somewhere, so it had parents. Isshiki is certain that he had parents.
When it’s about to be destroyed, Isshiki saves his pet, and he and Kisaragi try to ride out of the mansion on the back of it in search of both of their parents.
He soon learns the error of his ways though. The rock crumbles underneath him, and he and Kisaragi go flailing to the ground.
As he’s lying unconscious, the child Isshiki has a vision of dozens of clones that look like older versions of him. The audience learns that Isshiki is version 3.20, and he will live longer than the others. As if they are a Greek chorus, the Isshiki clones say “Poor thing.”
This episode sets up the primary conflict for Isshiki. At his core, he is a golem, much like the creature of clay that was under the basement. He was created to serve another person’s agenda, but what he really wants is to be special. He is Pinocchio dreaming that he will one day be a real boy, but without a Geppetto to return to.
What we get at the end of the episode is Isshiki holding a piece of his pet rock that had fused with his hair.
It’s a final sign that he and his pet rock are tied together thematically. Neither he nor his rock can thrive outside of the protection of the Babhem Foundation.
I initially considered writing about Isshiki after episode 15, but I thought it would be far more interesting to talk about him after his eventual downfall in Episode 22.
(I just want to take a moment to point out that he names the operation that leads to his imprisonment: Operation Downfall. It’s a little on the nose, but I like it nonetheless.)
To be honest, I struggled with understanding how Isshiki’s arc fit into the overall themes of the show. RahXephon is a show about accepting yourself and seeking your own path, and Isshiki was doing both of those things.
It wasn’t until I started thinking about Hiroko Asahina’s tragic death that I started to see things more clearly. She was someone who tried everything to escape that part of herself, but she just couldn’t. Her lack of knowledge was her flaw, and instead of being honest, she tried to pretend that everything was all right.
Isshiki, on the other hand, has all of the knowledge. Much like his childhood friend, Itsuki Kisaragi, the White Snake was let in on all of the machinations.
We see this with any number of lines between the two of them. He suggests that Itsuki try to board the RahXephon because he is Ayato’s brother after all.
What does he do with all of this knowledge? He uses it to wheedle himself into a position of power. He seduces Nanamori with promises that he can protect her beloved Itsuki. Then he betrays her trust to get evidence that Quon has awakened. This puts him in an advantageous position and Itsuki in a worse position.
He continues to use people and push them out of the way as he climbs to a higher and higher position.
What is his endgame? Why it’s to do the one thing no one has been able to do — defeat the Mu.
This is the heart of Isshiki’s hubris. He believes he’s figured out a way to prove that he is superior to everyone. He’s going to do the one thing no one else can do, he’s going to do it by himself and he doesn’t care who gets hurt along the way.
That last bit is where he really reflects the show’s themes. RahXephon is a show about accepting yourself and seeking your own path, but not at the expense of others.
We see this echoed several times. The RahXephon is not a weapon of war, it’s a literal instrument to bring about peace. Kunigi needs to learn to see Ayato as a human before he dies. Sou tells Ayato that they are all here together.
In the end, all of these characters are learning to accept and rely on each other.
The show is not preaching an individualism that dismisses others, but an individualism where you leave the world a better place for being there.
That is truly what makes Isshiki tragic. All he wants is for others to respect him, but everything he does makes others hate him instead. When he makes his big mistake of letting the Mu into the world, no one is willing to stand by his side.
Because that’s what you get for being a jerk.
As always, thanks for reading.