Xam'd Anime Review
Bouhen no Zamudo
Xam'd of the Lost Memories
US Release By
26 25-minute episodes
2008-07-16 - 2009-02-03
While living on Sentan Island, largely separated from a terrible war, Akiyuki's life is changed when he along with his friends Haru and Furuichi are caught up in an explosion on a school bus. A mysterious light then enters Akiyuki's arm and transforms him into a powerful creature named Xam'd. As his memories and sense of self begin to disappear, a mysterious girl named Nakiami quells his rage and gives Akiyuki two options: come with her and live, or stay and let the Xam'd turn him to stone. Akiyuki follows Nakiami to a postal ship where he begins a journey of self-discovery and becomes increasingly caught up in the conflict between the Northern Government and the Southern Continent Free Zone.
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Xam'd: Lost Memories has all the appearances of a quality production: a grand, sweeping musical score, a detailed world filled with different technologies, and solid production values with Bones' distinctive look. The problem is it's 52 episodes crammed inside a 26 episode series and as a result it never manages to provide a satisfying viewing experience. There are plenty of good scenes, and in the first half especially there are enough good scenes strung together to form some pretty good episodes, but it introduces so many characters, locations, factions, and sub-plots that by the second half it's largely a mess, and the climax fails to pull it together or even resonate meaningfully. It's a cool-looking show, at least, with plenty of impressive action sequences, and the topnotch musical score is good enough to distract from the wordy monologues. The English dub is well cast, but consists of an uneven mix of very good and underwhelming performances.
It's a shame Xam'd never comes together. It's not outright bad, or annoying to watch, but the more attention you pay, the worse the writing seems. As a result, Xam'd ends up being a flawed and ultimately un-noteworthy addition to studio Bones' generally stellar resume.
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Xam'd: Lost Memories is proof positive that like so many things in life, a series divided against itself cannot stand. It has all the appearances of a quality production: a grand, sweeping musical score, a detailed world filled with different technologies, and solid production values with Bones' distinctive look. The problem is Xam'd is over-plotted. It's 52 episodes crammed inside a 26 episode series and as a result it never manages to provide a satisfying viewing experience.
There was a lot of potential for Xam'd to go in an interesting direction. The concept of Akiyuki having to come to terms with sharing his body with another being, and having to learn about that life-form lest he lose himself altogether, is what I was hoping the show would focus on. While it never actually forgets that plotline, Xam'd tries to go in a million directions at once so it never manages to bring it around full circle in an effective way. The series can't seem to help itself from introducing new characters, new locations, new groups and factions, seemingly for no reason.
To be fair, these criticisms are not all-encompassing. I can't say that Xam'd is a good show, but it is a show with a lot of good scenes. In the first half especially there are enough good scenes strung together to form some pretty good episodes. There are exciting combat sequences and intense moments of character interaction that are hard to turn away from. There are also quieter moments that help establish various relationships and build camaraderie. The postal ship Akiyuki finds himself on in the first half is manned by a likable crew. My favorite supporting character on the ship was the smarmy Akushiba, whose antagonizing attitude towards Akiyuki, and the begrudging mutual respect that begins to form, is cut woefully short.
Talking about supporting characters in a show like Xam'd is a slippery slope. There are some interesting people encountered throughout, but there are just so many characters it's easy to get bogged down. Talking about Raigyo, who is in the same situation as Akiyuki, the cold and embittered military commander Tojiro, or Akiyuki's childhood friend Haru, torn between duty and her feelings, doesn't even scratch the surface of Xam'd's cast of characters. The show actually seems aware that it has too many people running about and regularly kills characters off in highly dramatic ways to make more room. These moments can be powerful to watch, but also feel cheap, as Xam'd relies more on sudden shock to generate emotion in place of genuinely compelling writing.
I will say that the one supporting character arc I found satisfying was the relationship of Akiyuki's parents, Fusa and Ryuzo. Xam'd largely does an effective job of portraying a marriage that is hanging by a thread. Although they're separated, neither party is able to bring themselves to end the relationship. And yet there's too much frustration, particularly on the part of Fusa, to forgive and forget. With so much going on those two only get so much focus, but that plotline doesn't get discarded or forgotten like so many others in Xam'd.
The second half of Xam'd is where the show really buries itself. While it had trouble finding its footing in the first half, the second half pulls the show so many directions it can't help but trip over itself. Various characters group together and separate at the drop of a hat, yet the script still attempts to follow everyone. Certain characters' potentials are realized far too late, and in other cases we just have to take for granted that everything worked out. Worse yet, the relationship between Akiyuki and Haru, which the viewer follows from episode 1, winds up bungled, and the final episodes are an illogical mess. At no point is it ever entirely clear why there is a war going on or what sides the various factions fall on. The final episodes still attempt to incorporate all the build-up of the conflicts and, while cool looking, the climactic action sequences fail to resonate in any meaningful way.
A big part of what kept me watching Xam'd to the end is the music. At the very least it's effective in distracting the viewer from the fact that many conversations are just wasting time, with people pontificating with grand flowery language about various aspects of morality and other philosophies. The orchestral score during these scenes is effectively heavy and helps a lot in disguising how pointless a lot of the interactions are. The music is also similarly well-matched to slower, mood-setting scenes and locations and larger, battle-ridden landscapes. The OP/ED songs are made up of English lyrics that don't make any particular sense, but I still found the opening addictive and well animated.
Speaking of the animation, it's generally quite good. Bones has consistently produced good-looking shows, and Xam'd is no exception. I've always enjoyed the unique color pallet Bones uses, as it gives the animation a nice sense of dimensionality and texture. The animation and art quality is not 100% consistent between episodes, but at no point do characters go wildly off model or feel hampered by stiff animation. At its best, Xam'd has interesting mechanical designs and entertaining facial expressions and body language. The various transformations into Xam'd are always cool-looking as characters' bodies morph and change in unnatural ways. The fight choreography is solid, and, considering how much stuff can happen at once, the editing is surprisingly decent.
The English dub isn't bad, but at the same time I can't help but feel ADV's former and Sentai Filmworks' current recording studio is a little out of form. Casting is solid, with Akiyuki's English voice actor providing a normal-sounding voice that doesn't feel underacted or milquetoast. His parents are also effective in carrying their personal drama throughout the series. To me, the highlight of the dub was Chris Hutchinson's desert-dry vocals as Tojiro Kagisu, an effective interpretation of the character. Unfortunately, there are a few annoyances and technical issues throughout, such as ridiculous voices for some minor characters, a couple instances of missing dialog, and one of Haru's lines that actually sounded like an outtake.
It's a shame Xam'd never comes together. Nothing about the show is ever outright bad, and I never found it annoying or arduous to watch. However, invariably, every time I reflected on the episodes I had watched I found more plot holes and problems in the character development. It looks as good as any Bones production I can think of, but lacks the kind of quality writing that has helped the studio produce some of the most memorable shows of the last decade. Without that kind of writing, Xam'd ends up being a flawed and ultimately un-noteworthy addition to the studio's resume.
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Kid with hidden/unexpected superpower shows are a dime a dozen, though this one falls toward the darker end of the spectrum; the more serious half of Generator Gawl is just one example. The airship parts are reminiscent of Last Exile in flavor and style, and quite similar in the larger scale war story backdrop; the creative alternate-world technology is also somewhat similar to the classic Nausicaä in the more fanciful aspects, and Wings of Honneamise in the more down-to-earth everyday life scenes on the ground.
Notes and Trivia
Xam'd: Lost Memories is an original series that premiered on the Playstation Network and later aired on television, which technically makes it an ONA: Original Net Animation. There aren't a lot of hugely prolific ONA's out there, but the format is starting to gain traction.
Considering the PSN premier, it's no surprise that Xam'd was co-produced by Sony Computer Entertainment along with Bones and Aniplex. The series actually debuted on the inaugural launch of the PSN video download service in 2008.
When the show aired on Japanese television in 2009, it had different openings and endings from the PSN version. Sentai Filmworks' presentation of the series matches its original presentation on the PSN.
In keeping with the online roots, it's also available streamed in North America, free, on Hulu.
US DVD Review
Sentai's Blu-ray sets are solid productions. The 1080p/VC-1 encoded video does a good job of bringing the nice animation to high-def systems. The funny thing is, depending on who you talk to, Xam'd is not technically a high-definition production. Although the native production resolution is higher than standard definition (720x480) it is not native 720p (1280x720). Don't even ask about 1920x1080, because outside of Studio Ghibli anime just isn't animated at that high a resolution. Xam'd's original resolution is what video gamers typically refer to as "sub-HD" as it falls somewhere between standard def and high def. In this case, Bones tends to produce work at a 960x540 resolution. That might sound like a bit of a gyp, but the extra lines of resolution do result in a noticeable boost in sharpness and clarity, with wide scenic shots coming across especially well. Audio-wise, there are dual 5.1 DTS-HD MA tracks that sound excellent and near-theatrical quality. The extras consist of credit-free versions of the original opening and closing sequences and the openings and endings that were used for broadcast.
Sentai Filmworks' TV-14 rating is on the mark as there are some shocking and sudden deaths that make the series a little more intense than average.
Violence: 3 - There's a war on so there are lots of explosions and weapons fired. While some deaths are graphic the camera does not linger on the violence.
Nudity: 1 - A character or two disrobe but nothing explicit is shown.
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - There are some romances between characters besides Akiyuki and Haru but that's about it.
Language: 2 - The dub is a near-straight reading of the subtitles and neither script is all that crass.