Released by: Madman Entertainment.
Aspect Ratio: 4:3 (anamorphic)
Take one long running (13 hours or so running time) anime series with a complicated storyline, try to distill the essence of that series into under two hours of running time. For extra effort further limit yourself by re-using the series animation and including around twenty minutes of genuinely new material. Giving yourself some room you turn directorial duties over to someone new and redo the vocal track to match. This, in a nutshell, is RahXephon the movie. It re-tells the story of the Mu's invasion of Earth with the major twist being instead of telling it from Ayato's perspective it shifts to follow Haruka primarily.
At least, that was the idea anyway.
Substantial work has been done to try and cram down the plotline into its barest essentials and it is all at the expense of the backstory and background characters. Kunugi and Isshiki become direct underlings of Lord Bahbem. Quon loses pretty much her entire speaking role and spends the vast bulk of the film sleeping and awaiting the film's conclusion. Itsuragi now pines after Quon instead of Haruka and Bahbem becomes a lot less obtuse & more direct about his intent. Structural change on a massive scale was always going to be neccesary to do a re-telling of the tale as a whole so the amount of change performed is expected. But it comes at a terrifc cost and it leaves me questioning exactly who the movie was intended for.
You see for the newcomer to the series the movie is something of a mess. Character development and growth had to be sacrificed largely to cram as much as possible of the complicated plot in. The end result is that a lot of the charm of the series, in the well rounded and developed background cast ensemble, is jettisoned to focus squarely on the Haruka and Ayato relationship. While there is some character work done for Haruka it ends up coming in choppy segments between the somewhat rushed plot driven scenes. The requirements that heavily re-using animation from the series forces is a great deal of expositary scene work to maintain visual coherency. To try and deal with these otherwise dramaticly dry periods they have been edited so tightly to be at the point of incoherency. Long segments are tight enough that blinking can cause major plot elements to pass by. Even then characters often act in unexplained ways that serve the needs of the plot but seemingly have little other purpose - at least for the newcomer anyway.
For the veteran of the series then a lot of the motivational confusion melts away. You know why Ayato runs through Tokyo yelling for the RahXephon, or why Asahina is freaked out at seeing Ayato again but feeling like she can't remember something important. Potentially then the movie becomes a chance to see another side of the story to understand it better. Except that in the reworking done the story told isn't that of the series. It bears superficial resemblances to the series in general terms but almost everything else is changed. Only the core aspect - Haruka striving against the return of the Mu to regain Ayato - remains while the detail completely changes.
The nature of what the Xephon system and Rah Xephon itself is becomes quite distinct from the series. Indeed the multi-layered symbology running through the series has been pinned right back and reworked into a simpler form. Again this is unsurprising given the scope of the movie in trying to re-tell the story as a whole. But it does raise an awkward question - for the fan of the series, if the movie bears scant relation to the events of the series then what do they get out of it? The answer is a considerably simplified and re-cast vision of what RahXephon is about. But we don't get any new revelations and indeed people watching the film will get a quite different, and I'd argue wrong, impression of what it was all about.
The disc itself contains no other features besides some trailers. We do get the Japanese and English sound tracks in 5.1 but because of the use of series animation the entire film is presented in 4:3 ratio. The best bit of the package, and what makes buying it worthwile for me, is the art booklet that comes with the disc which contains a wealth of interviews and artwork about the movie and the series in general. Yutaka Izubuchi's interview was particularly interesting as it confirmed some of the symbology interpretation I'd made. Also of interest is Mamoru Oshii's thoughts and comments on the film, he nails exactly the film's problem. If he ever got the time I'd be interested to hear his comments on the series as I suspect it corrects a lot of what he finds lacking in the film.
Now I have spent a lot of time pointing out the movie's flaws but in all fairness there is a lot that is noteworthy about the movie too. As an example of taking existing footage and retooling it to tell a new story while avoiding visual glitches it is a remarkable piece of work. It also highlights the difference a director can make as the tone and feel of the piece has changed markedly from the feel of the series despite the heavy re-use of footage. It also is remarkable, given the budget & time restrictions they were operating under, how coherent a film did come out the other end.
It is just a crying shame it isn't a good film.