Usually when I mention this anime to people, the name causes confusion. It’s difficult to believe a show is simply named X, just a letter. It’s been referred to as X 1999 at times to try to reduce that confusion and I believe its very brief and limited release in US theaters was under that name.
First and foremost, X is a tragedy and it hinges upon the audience getting into the mood for this. A tragedy requires flawed characters who are generally speaking not bad people, but flawed and their flaws are the engine of their destruction. Viv doesn’t get into tragedy and he found this series difficult to watch as a result. Many of the characters actions become incomprehensible and unnecessary if you can’t buy into tragedy, and the series is bad or downright silly when viewed from this perspective. Yon ultimately struggled with this as well finding the characters difficult to relate to. While there is a diverse cast and personalities, it still comes back to tragedy and not everyone is on board that train. I find it very much a cultural attitude, we in this culture do not believe in fate or in being the cause of our own destruction. Arguing for the value of tragedy is another discussion though.
When you’re running through a river of blood towards someone on a crucifix, it’s gonna be one of those days.
A brief note on X and its adaptations. It was originally a 12 volume manga starting back in 1992. It was later adapted into a movie in 1996 and finally into a season anime in 2001. The step down from manga to movie is extreme with the movie barely able to fit the plot in while introducing and executing 95% of its cast with barely enough time to learn their names. Not to mention it has what I consider to be the most depressing ending in all anime. The series strikes a happy medium, conveying the depth of the manga but in a fairly condensed format.
Manga cover. Clamp draws the most feminine looking men.
The series does suffer in a few regards. The first half of the series is almost entirely expository with at once both too much and too little to say. It introduces some 20 characters and the viewer can be hard pressed to keep up with this initially. The downside of this is that the characters are 1-dimensional initially, but the upside is that every character is quickly memorable and distinct. The lack of depth the characters are given early on is likely to lose some of the audience to disinterest. For a first time viewer, it’s not entirely clear what names being rattled off are important, so it gets lost in a haze.
A few characters shy of the full cast.
However, the plot is very straightforward and the viewer is beaten over the head with it every few minutes. Everything revolves around Kamui, and every character knows it such that Viv quipped this knowledge was taught it in grade school. This leads into the meta-comment that there’s no reason for many of the characters to know the things they know, and there’s no quantifying what powers characters have and why.
The epitome of this was the Dragon of Heaven who had more powers then any other character and just kept pulling out new ones to whatever made him unstoppable in a given situation. Conversely, Kamui suffers the opposite problem where his might is established early on and then seems to be “on the bus” for much of the series because he’s too powerful to include. I would argue this was not the case with Kamui, but I’d only be able to do so from the internal logic of the show and that simply begs the question.
A picture that clearly conveys “chosen one.”
These issues largely fall away in the 2nd half of the show. The pacing improves drastically with events moving at a swift pace whereas the first half is really a prelude. The large cast of characters gets fleshed out with brief but effective backstories intertwined with the plot advancing.
There was a good amount of discussion about the cast of characters as to which ones were liked, which were disliked and why. With so large a cast, it is too lengthy to go into but I’ll discuss a few notables. The reasons in almost all cases boiled down to whether or not Viv and Yon could relate to a character. I don’t include myself there as I don’t have any characters I dislike in the series.
Kotori is ultimately a very poorly written character. Her arc is inevitably not about her, but furthering Kamui’s story, and for it you can add her to the list of Women in Refrigerators. I am more lenient about this as it’s only character in a large cast when other female characters do not suffer the same problem and the story is written by women. At the same time, this being the one exception makes it stand out all the more.
The Dragon of Heaven, whose name I’m not using to avoid the spoiler, undergoes such a drastic shift in the series that he is impossible to relate to. He effectively becomes posed by a drive that is antithetical to his nature and spends the rest of the series operating as a sort-of wish granter for people’s flaws and dark desires to illicit the series’ tragedies. There’s also a subtle shift in the character’s animation to include yaoi hands, which fits his leering at characters and getting in their personal space.
You wouldn’t be able to tell from this picture they’re supposed to be trying to kill each other.
Kamui – one can only laugh at Viv’s quip about his performance in the first half that he is the Edge-master 6000. Though I can’t find a reference, I’m told that “edge” was a motif in the early 2000’s in anime with the standoff-ish and aloof character who pushes people away to hide their vulnerability.
We agreed the show raised some interesting ideas with the themes running throughout it, but both me and Viv agreed the show did not spend nearly enough time discussing them. To me, the main theme is “What is the worth of a person?” For the Dragons of Heaven, this meant devaluing themselves and valuing others above themselves in response to pain, but for the Dragons of Earth it meant bitterness towards others over pain. To Yon, this meant a conflict of ideologies in typical anime fashion with no right or wrong, only differences in views that people fight for.
Overall, it’s a good series though not without its flaws. Yon had a lot of complaints, but still found she enjoyed the series. Viv just couldn’t get into it at all and the whole experience was very meh. The main issue one can point to is the slow pacing on the first half and overwhelming amount of characters to absorb, but these things stop being a problem in the second half.
Lastly, because it’s a Clamp work, feathers and sakura for all. The art and aesthetics are still quite memorable.