X - Volume 1 Review
The 2001 animated series of CLAMP’s X/1999 from the Madhouse production team is inevitably a very different beast from the 1996 animated feature, X. Structured in its manga format according to musical movements – Prelude, Overture, Sonata, Intermezzo etc. – in its feature version, director Rintaro reduced the storyline down to a Fantasia on the storyline’s End of the World battle between the 7 Dragons of Heaven with the 7 Dragons of the Earth, that took the unfinished manga in its own direction, viewed almost entirely as a brilliant and elaborate ballet of destruction unconcerned with providing a sense of context, background or character detail.
At the risk however of completely losing any viewer not familiar with the material right off the bat, the opening episode – Episode 0: Omen – does however mirror Rintaro’s approach to some extent, playing the hand of fate and viewing the events that are destined to come to pass through the eyes of a dying Dreamseer, Kakyou. The destiny of the world has already been written, the key players have already taken their sides, and the inevitable outcome is one of death, destruction and complete devastation that will come about as the consequence of an epic battle between the Seven Dragons of Earth and the Seven Angels of Heaven. The only unclear element in how this will come to pass is in the role that a young man called Kamui will play in the events.
With considerably more time to develop the storyline and follow more closely the original manga’s sequence of events, X goes on introduce the characters, their powerful abilities, which side of the fence they fight on and provide a marginally clearer view of what is at stake. When the Seven Stars of Destiny fall into place in the Constellation, the portents indicate that the long-awaited time has arrived and is time for the Seven Seals of Heaven to move towards Tokyo for nothing les than the battle for the End of the World. In Tokyo, a young high school girl, Kotori, has had a dream that Kamui, the childhood friend of her and her brother Fuma, has reappeared in their neighbourhood after disappearing six years previously. As the Angels converge in Tokyo under the direction of the Dreamseer Hinoto, their movements tracked by the Earth Dragons under the command of the her counterpart in opposition, the Dreamseer, Kanoe, it becomes clear that the return of Kamui is the centre of interest and is to play a key part in what is to follow.
Although there are a lot of characters to take in here all at once, including several characters that have come across from CLAMP’s previous series Tokyo Babylon, essentially Rintaro was right and the premise of X is a simple one – it’s just one huge battle, albeit a highly glamorous one that takes place on an apocalyptic scale. What makes this a little less predictable and well worth exploring in a little more detail, is the ambiguous position of the Kamui character, and the fact that there are actually two “Kamui”s, an opposing Kamui, who it is clear from the dreams and portents will be Kamui’s childhood friend Fuma. At this stage however, there is no telling which side they will each fall on, particularly since the Kamui who has just returned appears to be rather reckless with his powers and unworthy of yielding the Divine Sword. And since Rintaro controversially went his own direction with his feature – even though it was scripted by the CLAMP collective’s writer – there’s not even a guarantee at this stage, with the manga series still unfinished, that the 2001 series will take the same direction either.
What the 2001 series gains from a more fully developed, structured and linear approach, it loses however from the more streamlined generic animation house style of the Madhouse production team that has little of the aesthetic character of their 1996 feature’s fluid, elongated romantic shojo artwork with a nineties feel that was closer to the setting and sensibility of the original art designs. What matters more here however is the playing out of the destruction to come, and X – Volume 1 gets off to a fine start, with some terrific rooftop battles as characters leap around hurling energy bolts at each other, testing each other’s limits within a Barrier Field that allows the neighbourhood to be relocated to another dimension and remain unharmed in the real world. There’s a lot more fulfilment of prophesies and apocalyptic showdowns to come, but five episodes into the 25 episode series in Volume 1 and X looks to be shaping up nicely.
X Volume 1 is released in the UK by MVM. The DVD is in PAL format, and is encoded for Region 2.
A 2001 series, X doesn’t benefit from widescreen presentation, but is shown in its original 4:3 aspect ratio. Inevitably standards converted from NTSC to PAL, there are some minor issues with the transfer in terms of interlacing and a little bit of shimmering in the breaking up of fine lines, but they are rarely noticeable and have minimal impact. Colouration is strong and stable with no blocking or discolouration and the image flows relatively smoothly.
There are no issues either with the audio tracks. My personal preference was for the original Japanese 2.0 track, which is appropriately voiced and has a strong, clear impact for dialogue effects and score. An alternative English Dolby Digital 5.1 dub is provided, which I didn’t examine in any great detail, but the voice-acting is good and it seems like a reasonable option for those who prefer to dispense with subtitles.
English subtitles are provided and are optional. The font is bright yellow, which seems to be the convention with Japanese animation, a rather silly convention that detracts from the overall impact of the animation’s colour schemes. It remains clearly readable at all times however. The subtitles are literal rather than dubtitles – i.e. they translate the Japanese dialogue rather than mirror the more freer translation in the English version.
There are few extra features, just a Trailer (2:26) for the opening episode ‘An Omen’ and Trailers for other MVM anime titles.
In many ways, there’s little on first viewing that is exceptional about X – it’s the usual fare of usual high-school kids exhibiting special powers going on a rampage of apocalyptic proportions through Tokyo. The difference with X is that it really is the story of the Apocalypse, and appropriately doom-laden and portentous. The climatic battle is what this series is going to be all about however, and in Volume 1, the series sets the ground out well, if in a fairly linear manner and somewhat conventionally in terms of characterisation, giving some indication of the spectacle ahead.
A preview of Volume 1 can be viewed below: