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X - The Movie
Reviewed by Kevin Pezzano, ©

Format: Anime
By:   Manga Entertainment
Genre:   Anime / Fantasy
Released:   2000
Review Date:  
RevSF Rating:   8/10 (What Is This?)

X is a movie about the end of the world. It centers on the final battle between unimaginable forces who want to wipe the Earth clean of humanity and forces who want to save mankind. In the endless duel of flawed human creations, granted vast mystical powers, an orphaned schoolboy must choose between protecting those he loves and decapitating his best friend in a duel to the death, or giving in to his nihilism, slaughtering everyone around him.

Heady stuff, no? X is directed by Rintaro of Harmageddon and Doomed Metropolis fame, with character designs by Escaflowne's Nobuteru Yuuki and a story by CLAMP. CLAMP is a four-woman collective of manga artists and writers, best known in the US for their sugary girl's anime Cardcaptor Sakura, about a 10-year-old sorcerer and her school pals.

And people ask me why I like anime so much.

Anyway, the End of the World in X is a violent clash between the Dragons of Earth, who want to cleanse the planet of humanity's pollution by destroying every person alive (and you thought Greenpeace was extreme!), and the Dragons of Heaven, who want to save the world from this terrible fate. There are seven members of each group, an eclectic bunch of flawed but otherwise fairly normal people given the power of the Dragons they fight for. If you've ever wanted an anime where a genetically-engineered hermaphrodite, a brothel worker (who spends the entire movie wearing teddy, short coat, and bedroom slippers), a schoolgirl with an ectoplasmic dog, and an Elvira look-alike battle over the fate of the world, then X is your baby.

Introduced into this mix is Kamui, a sixteen year old boy just now returning to Tokyo after his mother's death. Kamui just so happens to be the One (no, not Jet Li), the focus for all God's power in the coming apocalypse. Depending on which side he joins, the Dragons of Earth or of Heaven, Kamui's power will either save the Earth, or damn it. Naturally, the seven Dragons on each side do their best to convince Kamui to join up with them, by hook or by crook.

At first glance, this may seem to be a pretty simple choice: all Kamui has to do is join the Dragons of Heaven, and the day will be saved, right? Wrong! Unfortunately for both Kamui and the Earth, his best friend Fuma is the Other to Kamui's One; whichever side Kamui joins, Fuma is fated to join the opposite side, becoming another instrument for God's power. And they must duel to the death to determine the final fate of humanity and the world. Kamui has to kill the very person he swore to protect, or EVERYONE dies.

Sucks to be him.

X the Movie is animated in a lush, solid style, like the earlier Ghost in the Shell. Characters are usually alabaster-pale, with huge liquid eyes (all the better to reflect the terror of their situation). The palette is dark, filled with black nighttime scenes and thick crimson sprays of blood, and even the lighter whites have a corpselike pallor to them. As befits a story about the foretold end of the world, X is a violent, brutal movie, but the blood, while definitely visible and flowing like the proverbial wine, isn't really icky and graphic. The violence and sexuality in X are more of the Hammer Horror variety, making this movie more gothic and atmospheric than explicit and gross.

Which is a really good thing, because X doesn't have much else going for it BUT atmosphere. The movie's storyline is a viciously condensed version of CLAMP's manga, and as a result it's pretty skimpy on little details like background and characterization. The apocalypse and the events leading up to it are nicely defined, making the actions of Kamui and the Dragons easy to comprehend... but it's the big picture that's missing. WHY are the two sides fighting? WHY were these particular fourteen individuals chosen to be Dragons? WHAT the hell is with the supercomputer called the Beast (a Revelation reference so blatant they could have used a blinking neon sign and been more subtle)?

More to the point, why should we care about any of these characters? The cast is large enough and the action intense enough to prevent proper development, much less some history on who they are and why they're all fighting. To be fair, it is tragic and heart-wrenching when one of them dies, but those dramatic death moments would be a hell of a lot more effective if we were more emotionally invested in the characters. A dying speech is a too late to evoke character sympathy, guys! Luckily, the DVD contains a really extensive rundown on the factions, the characters, and their histories/personalities, and there's an interview with the director that helps, too. But it would have been nice if these bits had been made part of the movie in the first place.

Added to this is the sudden turnaround in Fuma's character. At first, he reluctantly joins the Dragons of Earth, with the real goal of protecting his little sister who was kidnapped by them. Then, poof, suddenly he's an evil killing machine, slaughtering all the survivors of the Dragons of Heaven/Dragons of Earth fights, and obsessively attempting to kill his best friend Kamui. We're never really told WHY he undergoes this sudden transformation, other than a throwaway line or two about his destiny. It's kind of jarring, right at the end. At this point in the film. you should be on the edge of your seat, waiting for Kamui to come around from his self-pity and whup some ass, and still sobbing from the deaths of the good Dragons. Instead, you're left wondering why this big beefy nonentity is suddenly killing off all the cool characters.

That's the risk moviemakers take when adapting a massive comic or book series into a 100-minute movie; a lot of stuff ALWAYS gets left out. Luckily, what does manage to make it into the movie is coherent and gripping, but it's still not as good as the manga. X isn't really made for newcomers to CLAMP's story... it's for longtime fans of the series. And that's its major flaw, and one that will keep it from standing alongside Ghost in the Shell and Princess Mononoke as lush, dramatic animated theatrical releases.

There are a few other flaws in X, as well. First of all, the dubbing. Its not bad (believe me, I know from bad dubbing!), it's just grossly inadequate for the darkly dramatic X. And, while the actual cel animation is brilliant, the special effects in this movie frankly kind of suck. Repetitive lightning bolts, jarringly crappy CGI inserts, obvious digital mattes... you'd think the producers of this film would devote a bit more care to that sort of stuff, after spending all that money on making this picture in the first place.

Still, X is a movie worth checking out. It's not for the weak of stomach, though it is more brutal atmosphere than bloody graphicness. And, despite the rather coherent storyline, it's heavily symbolic, mixing Christian mysticism (crucifixion metaphors, angel wings) with Eastern mysticism (all-powerful dragons, Buddhist/Shinto style magic). X won't make you think as hard as, say, Utena the Movie, but it will make you think harder than Akira. It's too bad Halloween is over already - X would make great anime-club viewing for that holiday.

So, if you like your armageddons violent, personal, and sprinkled with schoolgirls, watch X. Then go read the manga so you can make sense of it all.

And no, I don't know why Amazon is offering an extra discount on NieA Under Seven if you buy this movie. The world's a scary place.

Kevin Pezzano is Anime Editor for RevolutionSF.

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