Neon Genesis Evangelion was a landmark series for both the mecha anime genre as well as anime in general. A dark and psychological deconstruction of the genre, the show completely upended everything about mecha shows while dripping with subtext. Of course, this success saw many imitators try to emulate the formula, although one of these supposed copies get an unfair reputation because of it.
RahXephon is seen by many as merely an Evangelion wannabe, but the series is so much more. Although the two certainly share some similar themes and concepts, they handle them in vastly different ways, all while being far different from each other than many realize. There are even elements that RahXephon does better than its supposed "inspiration," making its criticisms more than premature.
What Is RahXephon?
RahXephon is set in a world where Japan has been ravaged by interdimensional invaders known as Mulians, or Mu. These creatures, almost indistinguishable from humans beyond their blue blood, pilot powerful clay "Dolems" in order to take over and encapsulate Tokyo. Encasing it in a ring barrier, the Mu are warred against by humanity, namely the defense research agency TERRA.
The protagonist is Ayato Kamina, a seemingly normal young man who becomes entangled with TERRA and comes to pilot the mysterious "RahXephon" weapon against the Dolems. While it's considered a mecha or robot, it, like the Dolems themselves, is made out of clay. In the ensuing battles against the invaders, Kamina learns more about himself as well as his old friend Haruka, whose history together Kamina had come to forget. The result is as much of a love story as it is a mecha series, although there are definitely intentional influences from old-school Super Robot anime of the 1970s. However, a much more contemporary fellow mecha is what many assume was the real inspiration.
Why RahXephon Isn't Just an Evangelion Ripoff
Many critics of RahXephon have noted the similarities between it and Evangelion, and these comparisons are not unfounded. Both have a young man being forced to pilot a robot that may or may not represent his mother at the behest of a secret organization, all while he has strange sexual tension with another mother figure. That's not to mention the swathes of subtext, symbolism and similarly unorthodox designs of the Dolems and the Angels in Evangelion. While this is all fair, it's what RahXephon does with these themes that helps differentiate it from the real Evangelion ripoffs.
Whereas Evangelion tends to have tons of arguably irrelevant religious iconography, RahXephon's symbolism feels much more natural and organic to its themes. Said themes typically involve music, arguably making it closer to fellow mecha show Eureka Seven. Ironically, despite all the religious symbolism in Evangelion, it's RahXephon that actually directly addresses anything religious. For instance, one episode takes place during Christmas, and the non-Christian TERRA crew discuss what such a holiday means to them.
While it could be argued by some that the show is "dumber" for talking about these concepts, it helps to make all of its symbolism much more than just cool Easter Eggs. Likewise, the use of topics such as ancient civilizations feels like a fittingly intentional throwback to classic shows such as Godmars.
Another element that RahXephon does better than Evangelion is its protagonist. While he has his groan-worthy moments, Kamina is much more proactive and less whiny than Shinji Ikari, which also helps to make the plot move along better. Although some of the side characters in RahXephon aren't quite as strong as Asuka or Rei, the main character, and arguably the Misato stand-in as well, are much more enjoyable characters. This all comes together to make a show that's sadly too covered in by the shadow of Evangelion, when in reality, it's more of a celebration of the mecha genre than the former ever was.