X Anime Review
US Release By
Apocalyptic Supernatural Drama/Action
Kamui, haunted by dreams of his mother, has returned to tokyo to protect Kotori just as he promised six years ago. Upon returning, he encounters a group of powerful warriors, two of them his enemies and the rest apparently allies. When Kotori is captured and her brother disappears, Kamui is taken by his new allies to meet a sage who informs him that only he, destined to be the 7th Dragon of Heaven, has the power to change the future she has seen--a future where Tokyo, and indeed all the world, is destroyed in a battle between the Dragons of Earth and Heaven. As foreordained destiny takes its hold, friend will fight against friend and sister against sister in the final, fated battle, with the fate of Kotori, Tokyo, and the Earth at stake.
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X, one of CLAMP's best-known series, is summarized in this dark, moody, and spectacularly animated action movie. While not overtly shoujo, the apocalyptic plot focuses on fate and tragedy, carried by a capable cast. Sadly, there are too many characters and not enough time spent establishing them for any of it mean much to viewers not already familiar with the series though the comics or later TV version. Fortunately, the production staff reads like a who's who of awesome animation, and the result is an unparalleled superpowered action spectacle loaded with disturbing surreal imagery and dripping with style.
It may be a failure as a standalone drama, but it's a gorgeous one, likely to satisfy just about anybody who enjoys beautiful violence and massively destructive action, and even some who usually don't.
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The Movie is an abbreviated retelling of the long-running manga series (X/1999) by the famed manga team CLAMP. Despite shoujo overtones and a plot focused on fate and tragedy, X is basically a very dark, moody action movie loaded with supernatural combat. It's confusing and underdeveloped as a standalone story, but it sure looks cool.
Having seen neither the manga nor later TV adaptation, I really had no idea what to expect past CLAMP's reputation. The film opens with one of those cool scenes that gets you hooked even though you have no idea what's going on. It then proceeds to roughly explain the situation (straightforward "save the world though dramatic angst" stuff) and eventually thoroughly concludes it, but in the end I was left feeling that it was all a little pointless. There's plenty of plot and characterization, but I can't say I thought much of either.
Perhaps lovers of tragic fate and broadly apocalyptic, nihilistic themes will find more to like. Similarly, those already familiar with the characters and background via the manga or TV series will probably find more meaning in everything that goes on. Being neither, I thought the story looked deep on the outside but was so loosely explained it felt hollow. The tragic revelations have little impact, and I felt left out of the backstory.
The characters share a similar fate. The confusingly large cast is just barely introduced, and for all the seemingly meaningful stuff happening to them, I didn't know anybody well enough to care all that much. There's also little time for development--even the main characters get short-changed. For example, I was honestly confused about what was up with Kotori's brother past fate (or the plot) declaring that he must have a change of heart. In other cases, the explanations of characters' motives make more sense, but they either come too late or lack enough establishment to matter.
I'm not saying that X isn't worth watching. Quite the contrary, watching it is a blast--it's one fine-looking film. X is loaded with cool surreal imagery like it's going out of style and style like it's... well, you get the picture. Of course, coming from CLAMP, I'm not exactly surprised that the movie is pretty or heavy on style--they demonstrated their mastery of that area with Tokyo Babylon, and X takes it a notch (or three) higher. Famed film director Rintaro, likewise, is known for lavish productions. I get the feeling that after finishing the manga series, somebody had an urge to see all the cool magic and fighting put into motion, so they just stuck as much of it as they could into the movie and pasted it together with a plot overview--that would explain a lot.
The basic character designs are an attractive, well-differentiated, and reasonably original lot. They're also on the conservative end of the CLAMP spectrum--shoujo-light. The guys look like guys, the girls are essentially normal, and there are even some beefy stud-types. They do, however, feature CLAMP's trademark huge eyes (even by anime standards), angular features, and legs that would make Barbie dolls jealous. The art is full of detail and the backgrounds are equally impressive--very realistic, detailed, dark, and generally eerie. Of particular note is the skill with which mundane places (a train station, a city street) are made to look creepy.
Then there's the action. On one end of the spectrum is the subtle stuff--slow magical effects, surreal, disturbing dream sequences and the like--which are loaded with creative imagery, detailed art, and slick animation. On the opposite end is an abundance of fast-paced, immensely destructive combat--cars torn to pieces, train wrecks, violent magic, and collapsing buildings galore--animated as well as anything I've seen. From assault magic (creative and stylish) to buildings leveled and cars tossed about with psychic force, this is a superpowered action fan's dream come true. And, it's artistically beautiful to boot.
In fact, the apocalyptic destruction is portrayed so realistically that it's unnerving--you get a sense of just how powerful these people are. Animated destruction so well done that it's both effective as visual art and exciting as action is rare at best. Akira obviously comes to mind in this department--the only other film in the same league I'm aware of. While X may not look quite that good, people who couldn't get enough of the massively destructive action in Akira will want to see X, and the lavish animation and cool imagery will suck in fans of either.
On the topic of both surreal imagery and action, I want to mention that X is a very violent movie in more ways than one. You can tell from the first scene that there's going to be plenty of blood, and although that and much of the other graphic violence takes place in dream sequences, no punches are pulled. Definitely not one for the kids or people sensitive to gore. However, unlike many other gore-filled anime, the emotion behind the violence is powerful and effective, one of the few strong points of the characterization.
Rounding out the picture is the acting. I've only seen the Japanese version, which matches voices both distinctive and realistic to the variety of characters. As much drama as the movie contains, most of it is acted out by a few capable players. Tomokazu Seki as Kamui is the standout--he has a lot of screaming and emoting to do, and it comes believably and not too shrill. The remainder of the large cast is up to par.
The music, by Yasuaki Shimizu, is disappointing--nearly non-existent, and it probably would have been better had there been none at all. The subtle atmospherics are fine, but there is a sax theme that pops up a couple of times that just doesn't sound right--neither dark enough for the mood, nor grand enough for the scale of the story.
X is a decent movie for a select audience. Those fond of bluntly fate-driven tragedy or fans of the manga or TV version may find much to love, but for someone unfamiliar with the longer incarnations the crowded cast is poorly introduced and the plot seemed simple, skimpy on backstory, and almost devoid of point. X is, however, a downright beautiful film, with enough dark settings, disturbing surreal imagery, and massively destructive action to satisfy just about anybody who enjoys that sort of thing, and even some who usually don't.
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Stylistically, X has a lot in common with the related Tokyo Babylon (for dark, surreal imagery), Demon City Shinjuku (some of the same, plus Tokyo getting smashed up), and Poltergeist Report (much less dark and serious, but a similar story, similar scale and style of action, and Tokyo getting smashed up). It also has a lot in common with AKIRA (pretty, violent, apocalyptic, and, of course, Tokyo getting smashed up), although the feel is less gritty and the story quite a bit different.
Notes and Trivia
X, also known as X/1999, is based on a lengthy (and still ongoing) manga series by CLAMP, available in English from VIZ. In addition to the manga, there is a TV anime adaptation.
One of CLAMP's earlier series, Tokyo Babylon (which also has an OVA anime adaptation), is effectively a prequel to X; it's set several years earlier and features some of the same characters.
CLAMP, for those unfamiliar, is a very well-known group of four manga writers/authors. They have produced a number of very popular manga series (X/1999 among them) as well a variety of anime (from Magic Knight Rayearth to Tokyo Babylon). While their work tends to be heavy on shoujo themes and visual style, some of their series incorporate more traditional shounen elements, and as such have a less-obvious target audience and a broader fan base than many other shoujo works. X is one of their productions that fit that genre-maleable profile.
X The Movie was shown theatrically in the US in limited release before hitting home video.
US DVD Review
Manga's DVD features widescreen video, stereo audio tracks in Japanese and English plus a Dolby 5.1 English track, an interview with the director, character bios, a photo gallery, and the theatrical trailer.
The graphic violence would be enough to keep most kids away, and younger viewers would probably find the overtones of the plot disturbing. Manga's 17-up suggestion is reasonable, if possibly a little strict.
Violence: 4 - It's very stylish, but the violence is graphic and there's plenty of it.
Nudity: 2 - A relatively short scene at the very beginning and some provocative outfits.
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - A few suggestive moments.
Language: 1 - I haven't seen any English translations yet, but should be mild unless somebody went overboard with the profanity.
Formerly available in North America on hybrid DVD from Manga Video, currently out of print. Was also available on subtitled and dubbed VHS.
At last check used copies of the DVD were available Amazon at a reasonable price: X - The Movie (DVD)