RahXephon: Pluralitas Concentio
Ayato Kamina had been separated from the girl he loved, Haruka Mishima, when everyone outside of Tokyo had apparently been killed in a catastrophe. But one day, three years later, invaders suddenly attack the city, and it is then that he meets a mysterious woman who tells him that she will give him the truth about the world. It is the beginning of a series of strange events, which involve his activating a giant machine called RahXephon, finding out that many people, including his own mother, have blue blood, and learning that he has actually been living in an encased dimension in which time moves slower than in the outside world.
Note: This review assumes some basic familiarity with the original television series and contains mild spoilers regarding it.
I rather liked the original RahXephon. Yes, a few parts of it felt derivative of Neon Genesis Evangelion, and I'll admit that it sometimes bothered me. Once I got past that fact, however, I found that the series had a wonderfully fleshed out cast as well as a stirring story, one which it managed to stay on top of even up until the very end. It proved to be an entertaining, intelligent, and gorgeously drawn show, and when I heard that there was a movie retelling, I, as a fan, sought it out. Now sometimes, a retelling can do a lot of service to a franchise, either by streamlining a good but flawed story or by introducing a fascinating alternate possibility, and the Rebuild of Evangelion series is, in my opinion, the perfect example of that. The RahXephon movie, sadly, is only a retelling done wrong, a ridiculous and incoherent mash-up of a far superior series that will confuse first-time viewers and only irritate fans of the original.
Now to make a good film out of a television series, one has to do much more than simply push all of the episodes together, and that, sadly, is what BONES chose to do with this movie. Transitions, if not entirely absent, fly past at breakneck speed, and many scenes bleed into each other uncomfortably and clumsily. The film, meanwhile, has not an inch of breathing room, and as soon as one pivotal event completes, we’re suddenly jerked around to face the next one as if we are riding a roller coaster designed only to dizzy its riders. Possibly to its credit, Pluralitas Concentio does attempt to include all of the major developments from the series, and yet the cursory manner which with they are treated simply makes them come across as stupid gimmicks. In the original, for example, Ayato arrives at TERRA’s base and then spends several episodes there, the time being used effectively to show us his settling into life and the development of his initially frosty relationship with Megumi into something valuable. In the movie, however, he shows up, gets along with her almost instantly, and is whisked back to Tokyo Jupiter less than 20 minutes later. The scene is over before you know it, and rather than feeling poignant, it just feels absurd. Those who haven’t seen the series won't understand a word of this, and indeed, the perpetual “RahVangelion” joke may best be used to compare Evangelion’s infamously confusing story to the headache this movie brings.
Part of the reason that Pluralitas Concentio is so confusing is that it rests uncomfortably between wanting to retell the original verbatim and wanting to discard it, and my advice to the director would be to pick one path and stick with it next time he attempts a retelling. The movie, unfortunately, cuts out important sections of the series while leaving other parts virtually intact (including, perhaps unsurprisingly, most of the fan service), and many of the remaining scenes include now-unintelligible references to the outtakes. On a minor level, we lose a moment where Haruka, amidst the ruins of Tokyo’s suburbs, discovers and adopts a cat, and yet we still see that cat in a few shots near the end of the film. On the grand scale, Makoto Isshiki, the series' most despicable character (and arguably one of its best), is absent for most of the movie, and yet he still appears to perform his “grand operation” to destroy the Murians, even having his same reaction of manic glee that, in this context, comes across simply as an idiot laughing without reason. In the series, we become familiar with his schemes and his background and thus get an effective buildup, but in the movie, the scene falls entirely flat, and while I didn't know whether to laugh or cry at the inconsistencies, I did know that ineptness was on display throughout.
In the course of streamlining, meanwhile, virtually all of the mecha battles disappear, which, in my opinion, is a rather strange move for a film advertised as mecha anime. More importantly, however, most of the show’s quieter moments vanish as well, turning an intelligent and well-paced story into the equivalent of an angsty summer blockbuster deprived of its action scenes and rendered impotent as a result. I won’t say that Pluralitas Concentio is boring, since it does maintain enough drama to at least keep the viewer’s eyes on the screen, but it is endlessly frustrating to watch, and the absence of the humor found in the original does not help either.
What bothers me most about the film, however, is how poorly it treats the show’s fantastic cast of characters. People such as Kim, Sayoko, and Johji disappear entirely, their absence depriving the film of the emotional impact their relationships with Ayato delivered and Johji's absence necessitating an absurd and entirely different climax. Others, such as Sou and Elvy, are reduced to redshirt roles, and Doctor Itsuki, originally an interesting antihero, is turned into a violent, impulsive, and pathetic idiot. The movie, even more depressingly, entirely bungles one of the original series’ best creations, and I really just don’t see the wisdom in completely rewriting the character of Kisuragi Quon to be a bland and useless “princess” figure, one who, to top it all off, spends two thirds of the film doing nothing but sleeping. Her lack of screen time both deprives the movie of all she brought to the series and makes it necessary to entirely change the ending, but the most damning thing is that the filmmakers abruptly bring her back into play at the end, and with all of the changes brought about, her presence feels entirely redundant. None of the changes make sense, and the beautiful ending of the series simply falls to pieces, the filmmakers unsure of whether they want to embrace their new, absurd manner of conclusion or keep some wisdom and maintain the integrity of the original.
But truly, the film’s downfall is the fact that it is no longer Ayato’s story. Yes, he’s physically present for most of it, and the story is, ostensibly, still at least vaguely about him. Pluralitas Concentio, however, is Haruka's film through and through, and while I understand the desire to try a new viewpoint, the execution need not be as clumsy as it is here. Personally, I quite liked Ayato and found his good-natured and yet somewhat troubled personality to be perfectly suited to the original story. The movie, however, turns him into a bland and, for the most part, useless figure, with most references to his painting disappearing and pivotal moments, such as his first, tense encounter with Isshiki, being cut out. This, combined with the loss of his quiet and reflective moments, serves to make him into an irrational and angsty idiot, and the plot is instead thrust entirely onto Haruka’s shoulders. The movie chooses to focus on her psychology and make her the star of the ending, and while I have no problem with her character, the combined fact that her scenes are essentially rewritten versions of Ayato's musings and that they steal screen time from him makes this potentially interesting change simply annoying. Worse still, the film actually goes back to his viewpoint several times, making it seem as if the filmmakers have no clue as to whom they actually wanted the story to follow. It’s like watching an artist shift styles mid-painting without realizing she needs to change the rest of the piece to reflect that shift, and quite frankly, it's infuriating. The power in the story is gone, and the result is simply a vapid "what if" scenario that might have fared well in better hands but that entirely slips with the inconsistency and weak storytelling.
As surprised as I am to say this, the RahXephon movie is a waste of time. It looks and sounds exactly the same as the original, and yet it has none of its skill and good storytelling, instead playing out like a recap episode (a very poorly-handled one at that). Fans of the series will get nothing out of this besides a dreadful and joyless bastardization, and the only thing it will manage to do is remind them of how good the original is, likely driving them to re-watch that instead. If you’re encountering the franchise for the first time, meanwhile, my advice is to skip this drivel and watch the excellent TV series instead. That’ll actually teach you the truth about this world; this will simply make your brain hurt.
I considered giving this a second star out of fondness for the original, but in the end, this movie pays it so much disrespect that I just couldn't do it. — Nick Browne
Recommended Audience: Like the series, this movie contains violence, some rather pointless fan service, and a small amount of non-sexual nudity. There is also one implicit sex scene that, while consensual, may disturb some conservative audiences since it involves an underaged boy.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD (Viewed in Japanese with English Subtitles)
Review Status: Full (1/1)
RahXephon: Pluralitas Concentio © 2003, Bones
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