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ADV Films presents
RahXephon #1: Threshold (2001)

"What's going on?"
- Ayato (Hiro Shimono)

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: March 23, 2003

Stars: Hiro Shimono, Maaya Sakamoto, Aya Hisakawa
Other Stars: Houko Kuwashima, Ichiko Hashimoto, Hirofumi Nojima, Yumi Kakazu, Yuu Sugimoto
Director: Yutaka Izubuchi

Manufacturer: MOFC
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for 15+ for violence and brief nudity
Run Time: 02h:05m:00s
Release Date: March 25, 2003
UPC: 702727055522
Genre: anime

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A B+AB+ D+

DVD Review

It's hard to talk about the 2001 mecha anime series RahXephon without mentioning Neon Genesis Evangelion, Hideaki Anno's massively influential, groundbreaking entry in the giant battling robots genre. The surface similarities are striking. Both feature a reluctant teenage hero chosen by fate to pilot a strange biomechanical entity, both are set in post-apocalyptic 2015, both are content to let their complex plots surrounding alien invasions of Earth fall by the wayside to focus on character development. And both are gorgeously animated, evolutionary experiments from well-known anime directors (Anno was best known pre-Eva for Nadia: Secret of Blue Water; RahXephon's Yutaka Izubuchi had some success with his mecha designs in Gasaraki).

There, though, the comparisons end. RahXephon is much different tonally than the series that preceded it. Early Evangelion episodes were much more straightforward and much more accessible, for one. Though the cheery beginnings eventually led to marvelously complex characters and a twisting plot laden with religious symbolism, it was always a fairly interior series, a story of one character's emotional struggles. RahXephon places more emphasis on mystery, suspense, surprises, and ambiguity, particularly in these first five episodes. I'll freely admit that I often had next to no idea what was going on, but I didn't get the sense that the series was off track; rather, it was laying the groundwork for future developments.

It is difficult to discuss RahXephon without treading into spoiler territory (and there's a series-defining switcharoo in episode three that I'd hate to give away), so I'll tread lightly. Ayato is a regular 17-year-old living in Japan in 2015. The future world is a very different place. English is a dead language, as Europe and the Americas no longer exist. The world population stands at 27 million, yet life for Ayato and his friends continues as usual. That is, until the city is attacked by invaders and defended by strange, unsettling, gothic machines with faces like marble statues. Ayato is picked up by teams of government agents who want him for unknown reasons. He escapes and finds himself drawn to a mysterious temple in an unfamiliar part of the city, home to a giant egg that, in his presence, hatches to reveal the winged archangel RahXephon, another of the city's secret weapons against the invaders.

From there, the series gets more complicated, as Ayato learns that his mother may be involved in the development of the machines, and that the threat facing the city may not be all that it seems. The story is a little hard to follow at times, as Izubuchi favors artistic flourish over exposition, but his visuals are captivating. The character designs and characterizations are winning—Ayato, fearful but resolute, is no mere Shinji clone—and the mecha have an unearthly quality that sets them apart from the menacing creations in Evangelion or the blocky brood from Gasaraki. And because each series needs a hook, all of the bots attack by singing, and can combat each other by resonating. Each episode is a movement; the discs are labeled "orchestrations." I have no idea what "Rah-Xephon" means, but since some of the other bots are named things like "Allegretto," I'm guessing it might tie in as well. Not that knowing what the names mean will help you figure out what the heck is going on! Hopefully, the next five discs in the series will take care of that.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: RahXephon originally aired in 2001, and the DVD transfer is everything you'd expect of such a recent show. Source material is flawless, and colors are rich and rock solid with no cross coloration. Fine detail is excellent, and blacks are deep, showing good shadow detail. Aliasing and artifacting aren't in evidence. My only complaint is that the soft subtitles that translate on-screen text are a little small at times, and look a little edgy.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Japanese, Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: As they did with Chance Pop Session, ADV has once again created a new 5.1 English mix to go along with the original Japanese 2.0. The differences between the two are subtle—the 5.1 includes more definition and directionality in the dialogue and some limited surround use—so I'd recommend listening to the excellent Japanese track. Dialogue remains crisp and clear, and the music is spread across the front soundstage and mixed well through the front channels. The sound effects don't make flashy use of the surrounds, but they do sound nice and solid, and feature occasional directionality.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 25 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring Neo Ranga, Rune Soldier, Noir, Full Metal Panic, Zone of the Enders: Dolores, Genesis Climber Mospeada
Packaging: Scanavo variant
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Production Sketches
  2. Clean Open and Closing Animation
Extras Review: Extras are fairly standard for ADV these days. Along with the attractive clean opening and closing animation, there's a special Japanese promo trailer (full of spoilers) and a small gallery of production art.

This disc's ADV trailers include Neo Ranga, Rune Soldier, Noir, Full Metal Panic, Zone of the Enders: Dolores, and Genesis Climber Mospeada.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

The first five episodes of RahXephon are confounding and intriguing. The animation is gorgeous, and the plot is promising. There's potential here for a series every bit as epic as Neon Genesis Evangelion; the production values are already far more impressive. Anime fans are encouraged to pick this one up (true otaku can opt for the collector's box with t-shirt).


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