Anime and Manga — Reviews and Previews
Hello, and welcome back to Nostalgia Month here at the Armchair Madcap! Is this a thing I’m going to continue in future years? Who knows, but for now it’s definitely fun to go back and revisit some of the anime and manga that got me started in this whole crazy fandom. If Gundam Wing was the show that really ignited my anime passions, then X was the show that I always wished I’d been able to see. You understand, back in the olden days – when Blockbuster stores were still on every corner, DVDs were relatively new, and my middle-school allowance kept me from buying up every anime in sight – I had to make do with what was on television or with the few shows and movies available to rent. That’s where X comes in.
I’ve never seen the show proper. The only piece of the franchise I was able to get my hands on was the movie version. The movie vastly trimmed down the story to just a few main characters and the final, climactic battle: no context, no frippery – just the apocalypse, intense battles, and themes that were probably a little deep for someone not yet in their teens. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s look at the plot of the series as a whole first.
Kamui Shirō, a student, has just moved back to Tokyo following the mysterious death of his mother. He reunites with childhood friends Fuma and Kotori Monou, but Kamui isn’t the lovable child they both remember. He’s grown moody and evasive, and he warns the siblings in no uncertain terms to stay away from him. Little do they know, Kamui is actually the central cog in events that will determine the fate of the world. Will Kamui choose to become one of the Seven Seals – the Dragons of Heaven – and save the world, or will he opt to become one of the Seven Angels – the Dragons of Earth – and destroy it instead?
It’s here that I have to make a small confession: I haven’t actually finished watching this show yet. I’ve only made it to episode 15 of 24, just past the halfway mark and only beginning to get into the meat of the final battle that determines the world’s fate. The reasons for my falling behind are manifold, but mostly the fact of the matter is X doesn’t lend itself well to extended viewing – short bursts of one or two episodes is optimal, or else the melodrama and character angst get to be overwhelming. Furthermore, Kamui himself is a spectacularly unlikable protagonist in the first half of the show. Sullen, bitter, and often downright mean, it’s difficult to sympathize with him or understand his motivations.
Don’t get me wrong, I recognize from a literary standpoint that Kamui’s reluctance to accept his role as world-saving messiah is a necessary part of the narrative – the “resisting the call” of the Hero’s Journey – but there needs to be a reason for the resistance. A desire to keep things as they are, a dependent friend or family member holding you back, a fear of so much pressure and so many expectations. I suspect it’s the latter that Kamui is supposed to be experiencing, but the show presents it not as a tender-hearted fear of failure but rather as a teenage boy refusing to be told what to do, even if it’s in his best interest. You’ve made a mistake somewhere when the best episodes of your show are the ones where your primary protagonist is entirely absent.
Luckily, the supporting cast is more than up to the task of holding the show together while Kamui breaks out of his self-imposed funk and becomes the force for good we all knew he was going to become. Here, the story moves into the (exciting) Apocalypse phase. I’m right at the beginning of all the action, so I can’t say for certain if the show delivers on all of its promises, but things are definitely looking up for the second half of the season. X does a fantastic job of making you care for the people on both sides of the conflict, and each protagonist and antagonist has believable motivations and fears that drive them. It’s refreshing to have a show whose cast isn’t just an amalgamation of stereotypes. My favorite character is perhaps Karen Kasumi, the prostitute turned savior of the world who flounces about in lingerie. But then there’s also conflicted pretty boy Subaru Sumeragi, so I’m a little torn.
The artwork in X is both very dated and very much in CLAMP’s style. Broad shoulder, skinny hips, and angular faces. It’s not difficult to watch – there was obviously a big budget for this show – but it’s not exactly pretty, either. Of all my complaints and praises for X, this one is almost certainly the most subjective. I’ve never been a huge fan of CLAMP’s art style as a whole, so you may find yourself more lenient of it. The animation of X is perfectly suitable given the age of the show, and the special effects in particular have survived the test of time surprisingly well.
What I really like about X, however, are the themes it explores. It may harp a little too much on the nature of destiny and whether or not one can change their fate, but personal agency is something rarely explored in a series of this type, where the cast usually just goes along with whatever the prophet-type character declares to be true. Furthermore, not every antagonist is blatantly evil, nor is every protagonist infallibly good. They’re people facing decisions in believable ways. Except Kamui. Initially.
Ultimately, X is a good show that’s slow to get off the starting line. It rectifies its mistakes at the midway point and looks to be charging full-steam ahead, so go back and give X a second look if you missed it back in its heyday. Just don’t try to watch it all at once, or the melodrama and angst that are this show’s bread and butter will overwhelm you.
I wish I’d had the time to get through the entire show, but this experience did serve to remind me why I’ve been sticking to 13-episode shows lately! Next week will be the last iteration of this year’s Nostalgia Month festivities, then it’s back to the new and shiny! I hope you’re looking forward to it!