Volume four continues in much the same fashion as volume three with no major shifts occuring but the pieces steadily moving into position. What it brings is a badly needed look into the motivation and history of the Bahbem Foundation. In particular Helena, Isshki and Itsuki get an entire episode to themselves which shows that a lot of the character traits they have exhibited have strong basis in their childhood. Perhaps most impressive of all is that by episodes end the extremely unsympathetic character of Isshki has been tempered to the point that you actually feel sorry for him without removing his capacity for being a manipulative and emotionally detached rat. His behavior with Ms. Nanamori is still completely inexcusable and thankfully she has realised just how much she has been used.
As has become increasingly apparent with this series there is an underlying theme to this block of episodes, a testament to the care with which it has been constructed, of history revealed. Haruka is learning more about Quon and in turn more about herself over those twelve long years since Tokyo was secluded by the Mu. Nicely she is still unsure of whether the choices she made were the right ones or if she has become trapped by her past. Quon is learning more about her past and indeed seems to have come to the realisation that her memories, like Ayato's, have been tampered with and that her real home lies within Tokyo Jupiter. A daughter of Maya's perhaps? Certainly one memory is of Maya supervising the infusion of blue blood into Quon. Although my money is still on the mystery second woman spirited forth from the shrine being Quon's mother. Ayato is learning that he is Mu and that he has been fighting his own people thus far - much to what he considers to be the amusement of his colleages. Prompting him once again to shut Haruka out cold just when he had been giving her hope again with his behavior over dinner in the first episode of this volume. This again reinforces that Ayato is both willfull and naieve as he misreads pretty much everyones intentions. He also has to deal with the fact that his uniqueness has been steadily eroded with Elvy now flying the Vermillion interceptor unit, a new development delivered by the Babhem Foundation that bears striking ressemblances to the RahXephon itself in general architecture. It is a combination of this mis-read spite that he thinks everyone, bar Haruka with whom he reconciles with before leaving, has for him and the fact that Nirai-Kanai can now protect itself with the Vermillion that I think frees him to make his next rash move - use the RahXephon to return to Tokyo Jupiter taking Quon with him.
The character development extendes to the incidental characters too with Megumi now having to deal with the fact that her reasons for working so hard to be promoted are null and void because Yagumo Souichi, TERRA X.O., is already involved with Kim. This is exploited nicely to let Ayato and Megumi have a good commiseration conversation that is both to the point yet talking at cross-purposes too. Neither quite understanding what the other is talking about, it is a trick that can come off as being very trite if a great deal of contrivance is required to make it happen. Here it flows nicely from the character situations and works well as a nice character resonance. Elvy Hadhiat also gets solid development when she realises, through a slip of Souichi's tongue, that Ayato is a Mu - her sworn enemy. Worse yet half the reason she was so keen to get and test the experimental Vermillion was that she wanted her combat trained team to bear the forefront of the fighting and ease the pressure off Ayato who is, after all, just a kid being asked to fight in the front lines of a fairly high stakes war. Elvy now has to face two complications in that one of her motivations has of course been lessened but perhaps more dangerously for her she has to face dealing with the enemy in more humane terms. Up till now the combat has been machine versus Dolem and it has been very easy to de-personalise it - dealing with the Mu as a nebulous 'them' that simply has to be fought. Now that she has had close proximity to Ayato and indeed been trying in her own way to look out for him she is painfully aware of the fact that Mu are people. I expect we will get to see some fall out from this over the next few episodes as the series has been careful to show people developing as a consequence of their experiences.
Perhaps the most tantilising development is for a character that barely appears in the series for any great length of time. Shirou Watari, the bon-vivant but laidback Director of TERRA. He has been around in the background mostly talking to Kunugi and almost become a running joke with the embarrasment he has about his 'busy' job the leaves him plenty of time to buy gifts for people at the various locales he is called away to. Given his position as more public relations schmoozer who is working hard to ensure political support for what TERRA does then this all fits and his charming personality works well for the role. But what is most tantilising is the interest he has shown in Ayato consistantly through the series. Not only buying gifts but often enquiring after his health. However this volume finally provides us with the two keys that make sense of matters with the revelations that Maya Kamina stayed at Professor Rikdo's house and the interesting discussion Watari has with Ayato concerning his son. Maya staying with Rikdo makes sense, after all he has been a long term resident of Nirai-Kanai and she needed somewhere to stay while it was worked out where she was going to. If Watari was also resident there then this raises the very real possibility that Ayato is his son. Certainly the conversation they have in Kunugi's office indicates that Watari knows Ayato is his son but for some reason is not telling him that. It means that TERRA has quite a few reasons for wanting Ayato with both Haruka and Watari knowing about him for entirely different reasons. It also raises an interesting possibility of Watari and Maya having some form of confrontation in a future episode. Perhaps at the point when finally find out exactly how she betrayed humanity and became ensconsed in Tokyo Jupiter....
This is one of the things that I love about the series, it is very obvious that the entire story has been planned from the get go. References to events, people and history shared has been carefully dropped throughout the series so that if you are paying attention that often the 'big' reveals become quite unsurprising. Which isn't a bad thing at all, far from it - it means the series is obeying to a large extent Chekov's rule of scriptwriting. Namely that if you wish to use a gun in Act. III Scene IV then it has to have been present on the table in Act. I Scene I so that the alert audience isn't surprised by its sudden appearance. It is something I wish more televised drama would do because having the audience sometimes be a step ahead of you isn't neccesarily a bad thing. Indeed people will often watch a series where they know what the end will be simply because the characters are well written and interesting to watch in their own right. One significant case in point is Isshki, a somewhat repellant and vile man who it is easy to dislike. Yet he is a compelling character because he is also, in his own way, a tragic figure who really yearns for a world where he knew his parents. Rather than the colder austerity of what was the Babhem Mansion where he, Itsuki and Helena were raised and instilled with the knowledge that they were superior to mere mortals. Watching him manipulate ruthlessly to achieve his aims, even at the cost of harm to someone nominally considered his friend (namely Itsuki), is fascinating viewing and looks likely to remain so right up to the sticky end that this character is no doubt going to receive.
While I am on the subject of the 'Foundation Trilogy' quite a bit comes out of their episode. We can see that the Dolems are related to the mud creature that Isshki befriends and that they definitely require a pairing to become effective. It isn't until Isshki sings with the creature that it becomes capable of defending itself from the gunfire of the mansion staff. The question for me is that the Dolems are clearly related to this creature with the identical regeneration style that the mud creature and Ritardo share but the Dolems don't reduce down to rock and clay when destroyed - they usually feature a healthy amount of blue blood. Is this the secret about the Dolems that everyone is keeping quiet about? That they actually require the melding of pilot and 'proto-Dolem' to become fully effective? Certainly another hint has been dropped that this might be the case with the reticense over the use of the Vermillion. If the Vermillion is indeed an 'activated' Dolem of sorts then it casts the Bahbem Foundation in even darker light as the weapon they have delivered has no autonomy of it's own. The idea of the Vermillion being a person trapped within the clay based form of a Dolem and then subsequently neutered so that it only responds to the controls of the oblivious pilot within it is a horrible thought. It would explain why Jin Kunugi and Shirou Watari are less than happy to have the things on their combat inventory despite the effectiveness of the first unit in combat as evidenced in this collection of episodes.
We also get a name worthy of further investigation that I noticed. Again this is another indication that the series has been quite carefully planned and the names given are often the key to seeing the bigger picture in plot terms. Often writers rely a little on the obscurity of a name protecting their plot secrets but with the ability to use computers to search vast quantities of information quickly this is becoming a less than secure method. However again I hope this doesn't change as only those interested in the series are going to spend the time doing the research needed to see these links.
Naacal Trading Company is referenced as being the predecessor company that evolved into the Babhem Foundation. Better yet Ernst von Babhem is rumoured to have been alive since the 15th century when that trading company was formed and has been running the company the whole time. Given the explicit care that the makers of the series have shown in picking their names I had a sneaking suspicion that this was going to be a significant name. It links explicitly back to a book published in 1926 by one James Churchward, a British Army officer serving in India in 1868. That book was 'The Lost Continent of Mu' and in it Churchward details being shown these tablets written in Naacal, or the first language, the chronicles the history of the world from creation including the rise of the first great Empire of Mu which was based on the aformentioned lost continent of Mu. The people of Mu were great builders, navigators and quite developed in the sciences and had colonised South America, Burma and Egypt. Some great catclysm befell the Continent of Mu and it sank into the sea taking the empire with it. The colonies reformed salvaging what technology they could to become the modern cultures we have recorded in more conventional history.
It leads to an interesting thought. I had originally wondered if Ernst von Babhem was exiled by the Mu to Earth. Perhaps what has actually gone on is that Enrst is a survivor from the original Mu civilisation that resided on Earth. That the terrible catclysm that befell the Mu was not the destruction of the continent but rather the shifting of it from this dimension. Something that only now the Mu have finally fully been able to master in order to allow them to return to their home planet - only to find the place crawling with distant descendants that have taken over in their absence. It goes a long way to explaining the familiar architectural style of the Mu and allows for a whole host of fanciful references. Like the idea of royalty being of blue blood is actually a time diluted reference to the Mu themselves who once presided over the Earth. Certainly the scope is there for some form of cataclysm because the Mu have developed the RahXephon - an instrument designed to tune the world. Something with that kind of power had to be the subject of an intense period of research and development with test trial runs before the building of the final device. Plenty of waggle room for a civilisation wide cataclysmic event. The next phase of the series has to be the revealation of the Mu's motives which should clear this up. Certainly the paralells between the story being told and Churchwards book is striking.
Next on the names list is one that has been staring me in the face throughout the series. Kamina, or 'name of the gods'. While I don't know or speak Japanese I have picked up fragments enough to know that Kami usually gets associated with the divine or godly. So I really should have caught this almost immediately when the series started but somehow it managed to slip by till Futugami, our loveable if annoying reporter character, explicitly points it out to Haruka. It is a nice obvious Act. I Scene I gun that I really should have seen...
Vermillion - this one is less a direct reference but more an interesting aside. HgS or mercuric Sulfide was commonly used as a die in ancient times. Up till around the 15th century it was rare enough to make it a valuable commodity that empires would price fix it and trade for. It produces a brilliant red colour as a pigment and was used with lead white to produce flesh tones in paintings as well as a primary colour by itself. Although relatively easy to make and pure in colour it doesn't age well in the light, often discolouring for reasons that aren't adequitely understood even today. This discolouration would result in black spots appearing where once pure colour had been.
In terms of the story my feeling is that the big significance of the name is in it's red overtones. It has been no accident that key human fighting vehicles have had a red colour. (Usually Elvy Hadhiat's craft.) Given the Mu's blue blood and the blue blood being released by dieing Dolem it seems that the writers simply wanted a name that reinforced the red nature of humanities Dolem-counter. I wonder if a Vermillion will bleed red blood when destroyed? I suspect it will. So they chose a name which is a little archaic these days and not in common useage for a shade of red. Allowing them to keep the various threads of duality running through the series (Red vs Blue Blood, Quon vs Ayato in how they approach life etc...) without being too obvious about it.
There are a few other fascinating details released here too. Maya is now confirmed as being one of the two women spirited forth from the shrine, interestingly Quon's faked address also points to the same shrine. Given that Maya seems to have been active in Quon's past one now has to wonder if Quon is indeed a sister to Ayato to some degree. Certainly one engineered for some reason by Ernst von Babhem and being closely monitored by the Babhem Foundation. Jin Kunugi doesn't like cats particularly, being a dog person I heartily approve of this! We also see that Rikdo's house has been quite pivotal as he had Maya there as a surrogate daughter for some years before she headed for Tokyo. That we have Ayato staying there now and Rikdo's calm acceptance of how Haruka is trying to handle things hints strongly that he is deeply involved in affairs. We just don't know how yet.
Still as can be seen from the length of this entry the series has nicely begun to raise questions about where it is going and what it all means again. Volume three was slightly lean pickings in that you could see things being prepared but aside from further revealation about Ayato and Haruka, not to mention Ayato begining to appreciate his situation more, there wasn't a lot to digest there. It was all character development work last volume with some of the payoffs coming this volume while also letting this volume set up volume five to be a corker of a set of episodes. Seeing as I have it sitting on my shelf, along with volume six, I am dying to find out what happens next. However as I had promised myself I have not watched the next set till I finish the summary of the previous one. In some ways the fact that this set has been such a meaty one has been irritating as it has meant I have had to spend more time researching matters to write this - all adding to the cruel delay till I can watch the next set of episodes.
It has been sufficiently tough that I almost questioned doing this sort of thing. Till I remembered how much fun this is in trying to second guess the makers of the series and to see & appreciate the care put into this anime. That there is a wealth of detail to find and ruminate on is one of the reasons I am so captivated with this series. Here is hoping it can keep it up till series end.