September 4, 2008
This series highlights some of the wonderful reasons why you shouldn’t make an anime for a manga that isn’t finished.
STORY – Honestly, X has a pretty decent story, even if most of its themes are far from original. It is, essentially, another battle between humanity and the planet they live on, of man against nature. This conflict has been addressed over and over again throughout history in century-old novels and vintage films, in addition to a wide splattering of anime and manga. Mostly-unexplained supernatural powers and angel/demon parallels, both rather characteristic of CLAMP, aren’t very new either, and really, even combining the two doesn’t add a particularly intriguing angle. Nevertheless, X’s story is solid. It has everything a story needs: a clear theme, a clear point, a clear hurdle, and a clear goal. And actually, the final, deepest concept may even be controversial enough to be original. So what then, went so horribly wrong?
My main issue was pacing and bad storytelling in general. Despite having tons more time to deal with themes, issues, and characters compared to the disastrous X OAV, the anime still doesn’t seem able to utilize this time effectively. The first few episodes are heavy and fast-paced, tossing the audience into the crazy complex details of the conflict with little preamble. Then it cools noticeably and a lot of the macabre and shock is diminished. You kind of wonder what all the hubbub was about. The entire middle of the series seems to slow to a snail’s pace. There are frustratingly long scenes depicting nothing more than a man walking down a path. We really don’t need to watch Subaru walking in silence for five straight minutes and passing the same shrine multiple times. At least the Lucky Star girls were talking about something for five minutes.
Those slow episodes were attempts to delve into the individual backstories of our fourteen plus relevant characters (seven Dragons of Heaven, seven Dragons of Earth, plus supporting roles), but they fail to give much attention to these characters’ connections to the overall plot and theme, making them pretty useless in the grand scheme of things, especially since many of these personal struggles are never resolved. The story used to be clear and have a point, but after trudging through a half dozen of these character-centric episodes, you stop caring. Oh, right, we were concerned about the fate of the earth right? Morals and stuff, what about that again? The last few episodes are forced to pick up speed again, but it happens in that disorganized and rushed way where nothing really makes sense; they explain very little, and the ending leaves you more confused than anything else. And being a non-canonical ending doesn’t help either. Personally, I prefer the X OAV’s ending, even if the rest of it sucked. Clearly, the anime isn’t much better.
CHARACTER – I never did like Kamui much, even in the manga. Like many other things in the series, his backstory seemed uninspired and recycled to me. Typical cute childhood. Typical teenage sobstory. He is oversensitive, and all attempts to shape and transform his character never seem to go very far. The ruthless demeanor he tries to put on for the first few episodes doesn’t last long, and he ends up seeming pretentious rather than complex. I just found him incredibly hard to sympathize with, which is never a good thing. Fuma further seemed like a cheap shot at tragedy, and after a while, he was nothing more than yaoibait. Kotori? How many other “girl from my childhood that I’m in love with”-type characters have you seen? Typical shoujo.
The rest of the cast is a little more forgiving, if still despairingly typical. Of the Dragons of Heaven, Arashi fills in the role as priestess girl. Sorata is the endearing comedic. Karen is your religious character; Seichirou, your nice guy. Nekoi filled the cute school girl role, and Subaru was crossover material because CLAMP loves crossovers. Of the Dragons of Earth, Seishirou is also crossover filler, Yuto was amusing, and Satsuki reminded me of Lain. Nataku did not interest me at all — a clone just seemed unnecessary, but it was yet another archetype. Kusanagi, another nice guy, and Kakyo… eh. I’m indifferent. Hinoto and Kanoe are more of the same. All of these characters, more than anything else, seem to represent dozens of anime and manga archetypes, which limited my general interest in them. Their personal stories were intriguing at times, but were never explored to the depths that they were in the manga, and it was difficult to become attached. They were okay: not good, not bad.
As morals play a huge role in the series, each characters’ personal views and beliefs are the most interesting part of them. Those whose views come to shift and change, those who grow to question things, and those who have complicated relationships with others are the ones that are fun to watch. Nekoi’s relationship with Kusanagi. Subaru’s relationship with Seishirou. Kamui’s with Fuma. Seichirou’s with Karen. All the crossing of relationships over enemy lines was fun — like one giant, strange concoction of Romeo and Juliet-esque drama! Including all the sudden love! Sadly, while a few of the characters do manage to develop a little (read: Kamui), most don’t. They just don’t have enough time between when they’re introduced, when their backstory is explained, and the end of the series. Abbreviated depth when translating characters from manga to anime is nothing new though, sadly.
ART & ANIMATION – It seems to me that there are a lot of series weak in story and character, but strong in the technical aspects. X is beautiful. One day, I’ll figure out why CLAMP’s style of noodley bishounen and wide-shouldered biseinen is just so damn appealing. All the characters have wonderful and memorable designs, many of which highlight their clear personalities. Kanoe and Karen are both confident women. Kakyo and Hinoto are fragile and delicate. There’s a very clear connection between a character’s visuals and his or her substance. Backgrounds are impressively detailed, and I’m always enthralled by animated cityscapes. Rooftops and bridges all looked great, as did all the explosions and magic, all of the blood and macabre. For an anime series, X is definitely full of eyecandy.
MUSIC – I. Love. X’s soundtrack. It’s what I like most about the entire series, hands down. All of the music in the series is beautiful and distinct, especially the leitmotif. There are beautiful piano themes and much wilder, energetic battle themes, including a few very chaotic mixes charged on adrenaline. A lot of the sounds are reminiscent of more traditional Japanese music as well, giving a unique sound. There are also a few tracks that remind me of Native American and perhaps even African tones, adding even more to the blend. Seriously, X’s music is worth listening to even if you don’t see the series. The opening and end themes are both relevant to X’s themes and echo the kinds of sounds that present in the soundtrack. Good, good music all around.
VOICE ACTING – The change of cast between the anime and the OAV was disappointing in general, but the worst of it was trading Tomokazu Seki for Kenichi Suzumura as Kamui’s voice. It wasn’t so much that Suzumura did a bad job though, so if you haven’t seen the OAV (don’t), then it probably doesn’t matter very much because there’s no benchmark. As most of the characters fitted nicely to archetypes, most of the cast just seemed to give a generic voice. Tough guy sounded tough; cute girl sounded cute. Nothing special. Nothing to critique. Nothing to praise. I haven’t seen the dub for X, but I don’t imagine that it’d be much different.
OVERALL – In general, I dislike the idea of trying to make an anime out of a manga that hasn’t finished, especially if it isn’t slice of life, but it is possible to do so without failing utterly. Fullmetal Alchemist is probably the best example, at least up until the last few episodes. So the fact is that X could have been handled much better. Trying to explore more than fourteen characters in twenty-four episodes while still orchestrating a main plot is hard. Instead of that, I think it would have been better to compress some of the smaller storylines or to get rid of them altogether, especially the ones that never got close to any sort of resolution. The main story was about morals, priorities, and the fate of humanity and earth. They never seem to explain that very well though, and things got confusing as a result. I, personally, didn’t like the ending, but I think that’s more because it was poorly executed than because it was actually a bad conclusion.