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.