RahXephon: Pluralitas Concentio (AKA RahXephon: The Motion Picture)
Have you ever done a Sudoku puzzle? It's 81 tiny boxes of sheer mathematical devilry. 9 numbers fit just one time each in every column, row, and 3x3 box. Easy ones give you plenty of numbers filled in already; those are simple to solve. The hardest ones give you just enough numbers to destroy your ego. You carefully fill in box after box, only to find out that somewhere along the line, you made a mistake. Unfortunately, fixing that error has a cascading effect, and suddenly, your near-perfect puzzle is thrown into chaos as row after row turns out to be wrong. That's why I stopped buying Sudoku books...turns out that one thrown at the wall at high velocity can leave quite a mark.
RahXephon was a flawed but enjoyable mecha show that emerged as the best of the Evangelion clones that followed in that infamous program's wake. Like many shows by BONES, it had strong, emotionally resonant characters who were far more interesting than the muddled plot in which they found themselves. Unfortunately, at times the character interactions gave way to the machinations of the storyline. The makers of the film version, RahXephon: Pluralitas Concentio, seem to understand this problem, and so they streamline character arcs and relationships while simplifying a few core plot points. Not a bad idea if you're going to condense 650 minutes of running time into 120, right?
But like that evil Sudoku puzzle, everything else surrounding those wise changes fell apart. If you watched RahXephon and wished for a stronger and more straightforward romantic payoff, you might be pleased. But far too much was lost in return -- and newcomers can forget it because, by itself, RahXephon: Pluralitas Concentio is nonsensical. (And if you want to avoid spoilers for the TV series, stop reading now and skip a couple of paragraphs. Or just skip the movie altogther...you'll thank me later.)
In this variant of the story, we get to see things we learn much later in the television show...right up front, our leads Ayato and Haruka are an item. While Haruka is out of town, the alien race known as the Mu invade and the Toyko Jupiter barrier comes up, separating the two. Outside, Haruka longs to get back inside to find her love. Inside, Ayato has become subject to the problem that plagues the Mu...namely, his memories are disappearing. He vaguely remembers a girl he once deeply cared for, but he isn't sure who she is or if she's just a dream.
Eventually, Haruka is able to break through the barrier and rescue Ayato, but he really doesn't know who she is or what's happened to Tokyo...and Haruka conveniently leaves out the whole part about being head over heels for him. That's not terribly surprising, since due to time dilation within the Tokyo Jupiter barrier, they are now separated in age by a decade. Haruka explains the rest of what's happened as best as she can, and Ayato becomes the pilot of the RahXephon, a mecha that might be able to defeat the Mu and "tune the world." The problem is, Ayato just might be a Mu or turning into one. If that's the case, the human government wants him dead. These star-crosses lovers will have to endure broken hearts, lots of mysteries, and tons of angsty screaming before the whole thing comes crashing down around them and they have some chance at happiness.
RahXephon is a wildly mixed bag when it comes to its technical aspects. It's a film, but it's presented in 1:33 ratio. That's because it recycles large amounts of the TV animation, much of which looks rushed in the first place. Some of the new animation matches the old; other segments look quite good. It's never breathtaking, sadly, and the differences from section to section are striking enough to be distracting. The music is OK, but they don't make enough use of the enchanting themes that I still remember from the televised version. It isn't motion picture quality; it's barely OVA quality in spots.
I've always been a Macross guy rather than a Gundam follower, and it's for one reason: I prefer my mecha shows peppered with love triangles and romantic entanglements. RahXephon TV attempted this with limited success. I never felt that the relationship between Ayato and Haruka was given the weight it deserved, and I'd guess from the film that BONES felt the same way. Truthfully, I loved this aspect of Pluralitas Concentio. Had they demystified the inscrutable bits of the television program, added in these further romantic elements, and left the rest alone, this could have been worthy of an A.
But for every bit that they corrected, they made four more huge errors. The mecha battles between the RahXephon and the Mu's dolems are an afterthought, and frankly, I've seen amateur anime videos edited together better. The story jumps from place to place without the slightest semblance of connectivity. Players that are huge in the series make meaningless cameos. The storyline may be simplified, but there's so little rhyme or reason to the events that occur that it doesn't really matter. The first fifteen minutes or so would draw a new viewer in and are quite clear; from there, it becomes a blur of half-sequences and references that alienate newbie and fan alike. I literally went back and forth between being intrigued by the deeper Ayato/Haruka relationship and wanting to shut the thing off for being unintelligible.
Perhaps the worst thing is that the creative team seemed to know that the relationships made the TV series as memorable as it was. Because of this, they leave major sequences in with Haruka's sister Megumi and Ayato's friend from Tokyo Jupiter, the ill-fated Hiroko. The problem with each of these scenes is that they are so compressed as to lose their impact. Episode 19, the pivotal point in Hiroko's story arc, is among the most devastating moments in the entire series. It's reproduced here, but without enough time spent on her complicated relationship with Ayato and the Mu, it not only doesn't move us, it doesn't even make sense. That they could screw up the one moment from the show that still haunts me really made me spitting mad. And don't get me started on the ending, which is actually far more depressing than the original. Bah, I say, bah.
Oh, and one last thing: when the protagonists aren't having quiet moments of conversation and introspection, the gig gets loud. And not loudness of the ten million rockets crashing into the sun variety, either. No, I'm talking about screaming...lots of screaming. Either they're whispering wistfully about romances that may not have happened or yelling OH MY NO THAT'S MY FRIEND YOU KILLED YOU MISERABLE WAAAA I'M IN PAIN MAKE IT STOP MY EYES MY EYES AAAAAH AAAAAH AAAAAH! Several times, I had to turn the volume up and down roughly ten decibels. Egad.
If there's one thing to be said in favor of RahXephon: Pluralitas Concentio, it's that it made me realize that a full year after watching the TV series, I'd be willing to return to it. Having given it a first viewing, I know I'd get a lot more out of it a second time. If I did, I'd miss the romantic bits they got right in the film...but not the rest. At best, this motion picture is a bitter pill that only the faithful can appreciate. From reviews around the web, I'd say several have -- but I'm not one of them.
RahXephon: Pluralitas Concetio -- mild profanity, violence, brief nudity, implied sexual situations off-screen -- C-