Not that I could ever be accused of writing an unbiased review, but approaching a series that you are so familiar with is an unexpectedly challenging task. After all, it’s not like I can write, “It’s cool!” and you’d be happy, right? So I thought I’d just jot down some of the reasons to like X, and by the time I get my thoughts straight, I reckon I should be able to give you a review.
So what’s to like about X the TV series? Well, seen the movie? Firstly, forget it. Not that it isn’t good, especially considering the fact that they basically had to condense 17+ volumes of manga into an hour and a half of film, but if you want value for your money, the series is where the buck stops.
Secondly, if you don’t like doramas (or the Western equivalent — soapies) go away, ‘cause this is, to be cruel for a moment, an epic version of Days of Our Lives only with more believably attractive characters who just happen to wield psychic powers, get beat up (or do the beating up) a lot, and are battling pretty seriously over the ultimate fate of the entire world.
Thirdly, don’t make the mistake of thinking this was written primarily for guys. There might be violence, death and action all round, but this is girl’s stuff through and through. The main character is the 2D personification of brooding angst into caring heroism, and the rest of the male cast span a range of romance novel character traits, from dark and dangerous to cute and sweet, that’d make Barbara Cartland sweat. Of course, that doesn’t mean guys won’t dig it though, ‘case the girls are babes too and cool to boot. And not cool in that wanna-dress-her-up-in-a-sailor-uniform kind of way either (Hang on, what’s cool about that again? Oh, you know what I mean). No, the chicks in X are anime babes even I can like, and there isn’t an unnaturally oversized chest among them (oh alright there might be one, but she rocks too so it’s hard to hate her for it…). Refreshingly enough, although this is typical of creators Clamp, the female characters manage to reach a level of relative realism not often seen in action-orientated anime — they’re complex, capable, and emotional without being anything even resembling helpless.
Lastly, X is something to like not because of the characters, but because of the relationships between them. In fact, Clamp seems to be saying you can’t have one without the other, which is where it sorta reads like a soapie, but it’s the best damned soapie I’ve ever seen. In involving the characters deeply with each other, each with their somewhat toxic baggage in tow, you start to get this idea that things aren’t simple, that living isn’t simple, that bad stuff happens that you wish didn’t, that people risk a lot when they care about other people but that the alternatives are worse.
That there isn’t a nice neat line dividing good and bad and that in fact even such basic concepts are nothing more than illusions.
And Clamp achieves this by something so simple and beautiful it almost hurts. They play their antagonists and protagonists (for want of better terms) off against each other with little regard for which side they’re supposed to be on. Fateful meetings and past grudges abound (check out Tokyo Babylon being released in manga form from Tokyopop for the ultimate in cross-overs!) and relationships are not necessarily restricted to age, gender or ambition.
Man, you’d think that’d be it though right, the reasons to like X? Well, not quite, because on top of all that, this is hands down the most stunning looking series you are going to see in quite some time. Sure there’s lots out there that looks fantastic, but X is unabashedly gorgeous (blame its shoujo origins if you need to blame something). And it sounds great too. The Japanese vocal talent is to die for, and this is definitely one where I prefer subs to dub (although you might recognize the English voice actor for the main character as the same actor who voices Takuto Kaneshiro in Argentosoma). And with music scored by Naoki Sato and a killer opening track by the legendary X-Japan, there’s little to complain about. Siren have done themselves proud on this one. There might not be any extras, and the menu interface might look a little bland compared to some, and the cover might even be a little disappointing (for people like me who really dig the glossy packaging), but they haven’t been stingy on production and this release has got the class where it counts.
[Only one word of warning — the first episode, Episode 0 (which is fitting when you understand Clamp has drawn elements of their story from Gnosticism and the Major Arcana), is a strange dream-like sequence of things that are going to happen. This’ll make complete sense later in the series, but if you don’t dig weird montage sequences, I’d start at Episode 1 if I were you. Personally, I think the inclusion of such esoteric elements only adds to the fun and games, and gives you something to chew on, but I can see how it could be off-putting. You won’t lose anything by skipping this first episode and throwing yourself straight in.]
So, after all that (and I could go on, let me assure you, but for the other reasons you should probably just watch it yourself) I think I have finally decided what I am going to write as review. Here goes!
X is cool!