Wednesday, December 5, 2007

RahXephon versus Evangelion: An Analysis

So last Friday in his Answerman column, Zac Bertschy talked about how the fandom for Eva has shrunk over the years. And at the end he mentioned RahXephon (still my favorite series) and how it compares. This reminded me of all of the debate surrounding the two series, which basically boils down to one question: Is RahXephon just an Eva clone?

I'm going to offer my analysis on the two series and, hopefully, prove that RahXephon is a work that can be considered on it's own, as well as in the shadow of Eva.

Warning: This will contain spoilers. If you haven't watched these two series, I suggest you do because they are that good. In fact they're both arguably classics and deserve to at least be rented. Okay, so that's done.

Generally when anyone brings up the "clone" argument they use the similarities between the series to prove it. They draw parallels between Misato and Haruka, between Ayato and Shinji, between Megumi and Asuka and between Rei and Quon. On the surface all of these comparisions seem legitimate. And in the case of Rei and Quon they're pretty close. But the fundemental argument relies on one assumption: Yutaka Izubuchi is a hack.

Now let's assume that he isn't a hack and those comparisions are not accidental. They're far from perfect. Let's face it, if Misato and Shinji had the same kind of relationship as Haruka and Ayato, we'd be having a very different discussion here. And while yes, both Megumi and Asuka are foils for the main character, they come to drastically different conclusions. Megumi is able to move on with her life and keep struggling. Whereas Asuka collapses and even in the brief moment that she manages to recoup, she still collapses and ultimately fails. And with Rei and Quon, even with the strength of that comparison, they're still different characters. Rei is cold and distant, a souless copy of Gendou Ikari's wife. Whereas Quon is a stunted child, but more of a spiritual guide for Ayato.

So why are those comparisions there in the first place? Didn't Izubuchi know that his series wouldn't be taken as seriously as Evangelion? The answer is simple: RahXephon is a response to Eva. It takes similiar elements and comes to exactely the opposite conclusion.

The central idea in both series is the question of self? How is self defined? How can people connect with each other in meaningful dialogue? Can the self understand other selves?

Evangelion says that self is defined by two ways. By what the self thinks about itself and what others think about it. This is shown pretty strongly in those scenes where Shinji is sitting in the room with the light across the side. In those vaguely dreamy scenes, when Shinji is speaking with himself or other selves, he's told that there is the person that he thinks he is and the person that Asuka or Rei or Misato think he is. And they can never know each other because of it.

That is the fundamental premise of Evangelion. No matter how well we communicate we'll never really know each other. One of the best scenes with this, is when Shinji is going to leave NERV in the beginning of the series. When he decides to stay he's standing opposite of Misato (his foil) on the train platform, while Misato is standing on the other side of the tracks below him. They're seperated by the fence and the train tracks, like staring into a mirror.

(On an additional note: Arguably Misato's counterpoint in RahXephon is not Haruka, but Dr. Kisaragi, but either argument can be made)

So what does RahXephon say about the self? It says that the self, is the self. No matter what other people say about you or think about you or want from you, the self remains the self. To borrow, Souichi's words, "You are you." Also that just by the nature of being human, we are all connected to each other. There are a couple points where this comes up, but the most memorable is when Quon and Ayato are standing on the bridge in the last episode of the series and they are watching the television and Ayato is hearing what people have to say about him. Even with their opinions, they still accept him for who he is, not what their perceptions of him are.

There is a counterpart scene in RahXephon to the one I mentioned in Evangelion (actually there are two of them, but I'll just go with the first one.) In episode three, when Ayato and Haruka are standing at the edge of Tokyo Jupiter. They aren't seperated staring at each other, but both standing next to each other staring at the thing that connects them.

So there it is. I could go on about where I think the connections between the two series are, and who is a counterpart for who. But I think the comparisions are a bit muddy for that. In the end though, I think they both pose interesting questions and radically different answers. And so saying RahXephon is a copy of Evangelion does a disservice to both series.

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Agree or disagree? Leave a comment below or e-mail iniksbane@gmail.com

11 comments:

IKnight said...

I'm not convinced that the clone issue is really the key one: RahXephon could be a clone of Eva and still be good, and it could be perfectly different and be awful. But your suggestion that they pose similar questions with different answers is plausible and well-argued.

To be honest though, if RahXephon's answer is a tautology ('You are you') it's even more unsatisfying than Eva's.

Cameron Probert said...

That is what I've thought. As far as the answer to RahXephon's question of self. But honestly I think it's a reaction to Anno's "you are both you and the sum of the perceptions of you."

In the end, what RahXephon proposes is that people's perceptions of you don't divide you from other people. And that through shared action/emotions you are united with people. I suppose I should have put that part in too. :)

Michael Huang said...

RahXephon is definitely more polished and arguably more coherent than Evangelion (though I think Eva, properly understood, is coherent enough). However, it definitely owes its thematic and stylistic existence to Eva, as does most every "arty" anime that has come out since then. That doesn't have to be a liability in the least; if, as you argue, RahXephon is in a way of response to Eva then I think it largely succeeds.

As for me, I find the raw emotionality and psychological insight of Eva appeals to me more. I agree with iknight that "You are you" is a rather unsatisfying conclusion, as opposed to the more realistic point that EoE makes, that we can't help but be with others even if they misunderstand and hurt us. Or, the Jungian point that "you are both you and what others see about you."

--Mike, Anime Diet

Cameron Probert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cameron Probert said...

Mike -

I've always found that Eva's answer is probably closer to the truth. But on the other hand, I've always found that RahXephon told a better story. Where I think Eva failed was when Anno tried to make everyone like Shinji. As a point, I think it's interesting, but as a storytelling tactic, I think it really wasn't very good.

But I don't think anyone can deny Eva's effect on anime. I doubt that we'd have Lain or Texnolyze or even Haibane Renmei without Eva and probably Ghost in the Shell and Akira.

I do think that RahXephon approaches self in a more humanistic way. Saying that through the sum of our experiences and actions we reach self-actualization. (I think that's the whole thing with the world being tuned).

Although that wasn't quite what I got out of EoE. I got that once we rid ourselves of those perceptions that's the only way we can truly be understood. Although I do think your part is in Eva.

kauldron26 said...

i really hate this argument. it never ends. i will defend the greatness of rahxephon till the day i die. years after seeing it its still on my top 5 anime and i still listen to the soundtrack on my way to work/class. i disagree with you guys on the fact that rahxephon is an existential analysis of self. i have always viewed it as a love story between ayato and haruka transcending time and space.

i saw eva first, but rahxephon stayed with me for a long, long time. Even the animation and sound of rahxephon still puts many new anime to shame.

and rahxephon still has one of the best endings i have ever come across in and fictional platform.

braincraft said...

Raxephon is Eva less most of the emo wank.

michael said...

I always say that I am at heart a romantic. I did not understand as well as did not care to Mayan mythology or the different philosophies pervading the show.

In the final analysis, it told a beautiful story of a timeless love, at least for me.

It's not a debate between Descartes' 'I am and it is only I who truly and certainly exist' or Marcel's 'To be a self is to be with others.' I didn't see it that way.

I just found that love is such a harrowing and yet beautiful feeling.

Great arguments, btw.

-Michael, animeotaku.animeblogger.net

Cameron Probert said...

Kauldron - I think it's because of the strength of the series' that the argument never dies. And I think it can be both an existential examination of self and a beautiful love story. In fact, I'd almost say that beautiful love story is at the center of it's examination of self. But... I'd still agree that it's a great story, and just viewed as a great story is fine too.

Braincraft - Yeah, you could say that too.

Michael - Glad to see you over here man. Thanks for commenting. I agree that it's a beautiful love story.

kate said...

I can't see why RahXephon can't be an expression of "You are You" and a love story. In fact I would argue that only because RahXephon takes the stance of you are you can it be a love story.

Evangelion takes the stance that you can never truly know anyone and therefore all the characters shun or reject love. Because none of the characters are ever truly able to understand one another they are always isolated.

One of Rahxephon's main themes is connecting with with people despite the distance and learning to connect with people despite being different people. Only due to this major change in the general Evangelion model are we able to have the love story between Ayato and Haruka.

On a somewhat related side not I tend to find whether you prefer Evangelion or Rahxephon comes down to how much either show matches your personal philosophy. It seems like an obvious statement but it's not exactly obvious unless you think about it.

Anonymous said...

I think what you're trying to say is that rahxephon does is serve as more positive counterpart of evangelion, not a clone. Rahxephon is a reflection.

Evangelion is a story that explains anti-socialistic behaviors and the darkest part of the human nature that hides within all of us.
However rahxephon is a story where it shows how even if we have differences just being here is the deepest connnection to feel alive and as a whole.

Maybe people should watch evangelion then rahxephon.

Watching evangelion makes someone cry and look at them self. Reflect the differences of others and hate them.
&Watching rahxephon recovers that was seen in evangelion.

The creator of rahxephon most likely wanted to create a "what if" version of evangelion...and I appreciate this a lot more.

% lets admit, the end of evangelion is pretty traumatic.