X: Volume 2
I began my review for the first volume of X The TV Series, with a rant about the movie. It was a bit of a misplaced whinge, as it turns out that the TV series bears little resemblance to the film, as it actually has the space for a story, and trivialities like character development. That means that I at least approach this volume in a state of equanimity, as opposed to lowered expectations. In the end, there was a lot to like about the first volume, although there was also much that I am yet to form an opinion about. With any luck, this second volume may endear the series to me after all. Let's find out.
The millennium is impending, which as we all know means the end of the world. In this case, the end of the world will come about when the Dragons of Earth battle the Dragons of Heaven for the fate of mankind. The Dragons of Earth aim to destroy humanity, and give Earth a clean slate to start afresh. The Dragons of Heaven are their counterparts and they aim to protect humanity. The seer Hinoto has foretold that the fate of the world rests in the hands of one man, Kamui Shiro, and how events will unfold will depend on which path he chooses. When Kamui returns to Tokyo, he's reluctant to even get involved, staying aloof and uninterested. But he's forced to make a choice when his childhood friends Fuma and Kotori Monou are drawn into the conflict.
The next four episodes of X are presented on this MVM disc.
5. A Destiny
Yuzuriha Nekoi enjoys walking her pet dog Inuki, shares all her thoughts with him, and he's been a lifelong companion. It's a shame that Inuki's invisible. Having been teased all her life about her 'imaginary' guardian spirit, Nekoi is now looking for the perfect guy, the one man who can see Inuki. She finds him when she gets to Tokyo, just before she is supposed to gather with the Seven Seals, the Dragons of Heaven. Arashi has accompanied Sorata and Kamui to meet the priestess Hinoto, so that Kamui can finally learn about his destiny. Hinoto is disabled, unable to see or hear, but she can communicate through dreams and thoughts, and it's through a dream that Kamui learns of what his fate will be. Except Hinoto's sister Kanoe, who guides the Dragons of Earth, invades the dream to offer Kamui a second destiny. As a confrontation begins to brew between the two groups, can you blame Kamui for walking out?
Sorata Arisagawa was a mischievous acolyte monk, who was taken from his family at an early age, so that he could be trained up as a potential Dragon of Heaven. His master even prophesied his death, telling him that he would protect Kamui, but would die for the love of a woman. Now that the time of destiny is at hand, the Dragons are gathering in Tokyo, and Kamui has appeared, you'd expect him to be at least a little nervous. Not Sorata, who's more interested in finding a beautiful girl worth dying for. That he has chosen Arashi infuriates the shrine maiden no end, but she does get to know him while they watch over Kamui as he attends a basketball game. It's then that the Dragons of Earth's supercomputer, The Beast decides to attack, and though she is quick to hide it, Arashi is impressed by Sorata's honesty of convictions.
Satsuki is one of the Dragons of Earth, with an uncanny ability with computers. In fact, Konoe has arranged for her to have the exclusive use of The Beast, a supercomputer that Satsuki joins with, to keep an eye on practically everything. The Beast is capable of far more than just watching, as Arashi and Sorata discovered previously, and in The Beast, Satsuki has found the perfect partner. It wasn't always thus, as when she was a child, and her abilities first manifested, her father decided that she would be the perfect test subject for a government project. Introverted and antisocial by nature, Satsuki could only deal with the problem in the most direct manner, and she escaped the clutches of the researchers. But even now, those researchers still have their eye on her, and want her back.
Tragedy strikes when Fuma and Kotori's father dies of his injuries in hospital. His final message to his son is cryptic and troubling, "You are Kamui's Twin Star". The Dragons of Earth have also learnt more of Fuma's existence, and his link to Kamui, and Konoe is getting the feeling that Fuma may have a part to play in the battle that is to come. Kamui watches from afar at the funeral, accompanied as always by Sorata and Arashi. A scantily clad woman with a message interrupts them. Karen Kasumi is also a Dragon of Heaven, with an ability to cast flame, and she has a message for Kamui from his aunt, Tokiko Magami, promising to give him the Divine Sword. But then Kamui and Kotori are pulled into a parallel world, where a Dragon of Earth confronts them, Sakurazuka.
X gets a 4:3 transfer reflecting the original source. It's a splendid presentation, up there with the best of anime releases, smooth and clear, and as sharp as possible given the inevitable NTSC-PAL conversion. About the only flaw I could pick at is some minor shimmer on fine detail, but it crops up rarely enough to be a major issue. From 2001, this is one of the earlier anime shows to be accomplished within the bowels of a PC, instead of hordes of animators using inks, paints and cel acetate, and it does show, with a uniformity of colour in the characters, and a somewhat excessively clean feel to the animation. But the animation is of decent quality, certainly holding up well today. As you would expect from a director like Yoshiaki Kawajiri, it simply drips atmosphere and style. CLAMP's designs are evident too, in the tall, elegant characters, with distinctive features. X as an anime from the early part of the decade has aged visually, but it has aged well indeed.
As mentioned before, you have a choice between DD 5.1 English, and DD 2.0 Japanese, along with an optional translated subtitle track. It's disappointing that there isn't a separate signs only track, as there is plenty of onscreen text that has to be translated, and it means that dub aficionados will be flipping the subtitles on and off to see what various signs and captions mean. As usual, I only sampled the English dub, and despite such anime dub stalwarts as Crispin Freeman, Lia Sargent and Michelle Ruff in the cast, it's aged worse than the animation has, sounding very much of its time. It's a shame really, as the 5.1 audio is very impressive. It's vibrant, expressive, and put to good use to convey the atmospheric action sequences. X also boasts grand orchestral themes for its incidental music, and helps the show sound epic in scope and scale. Another shame then, that the 5.1 Japanese mix created for the US remix edition couldn't be sourced, although the 2.0 stereo option does sound quite pleasant given the pro-logic polish.
The highlight on this disc is a 9-minute interview with director Yoshiaki Kawajiri. It's a puff piece, but there is some information of interest, particularly in the differences between the series, the manga, and the film. There's also some mention of the OVA episode.
Trailers on this disc include one for the Gravitation OVA, and Daphne in the Brilliant Blue.
I don't see myself becoming a fan of X any time soon. The apocalyptic doom laden scenario, coupled with teen angst just seems to rub me the wrong way, and that is even coming from a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Having said that, X is shaping up to be a fine series. It certainly looks the part, with great animation and high (for its time) production values. It sounds the part too, with a grand orchestral score that is surprisingly cinematic for a television show. In this volume it becomes even clearer than before, that this is not the movie, with a deliberate and considered pace to its storytelling, allowing the story to breathe and develop naturally, while keeping the pace lively enough to hold the viewer's interest.
The first three episodes in this volume are all about character development, as we meet some of the Dragons of Earth and Heaven, and learn more about who they are, and some of their pasts. We begin with Yuzuriha Nekoi, a bright and cheerful young girl, who's come to Tokyo with her big invisible dog Inuki. Inuki is a sort of guardian spirit that only she can see, although he does have a sort of corporeal essence, and can make his presence felt when needs be. We also learn of Nekoi's childhood, and the inevitable teasing she got for having an invisible friend. There's also some hint of her devotion to Inuki, and her optimistic belief that she will one day meet other people who can see him as well. Of course all of the Dragons can see him, so her arrival in Tokyo is a positive experience for her. She's one of the more likeable and pleasant characters in the show and her story is fairly innocuous.
Not quite as innocuous is Sorata's tale, which we learn about in the second episode on the disc. He's the happy go lucky monk from Kouya, who's in Tokyo following his destiny to protect Kamui. Except his childhood was a tad more traumatic as he was torn from his family at an early age to enter the priesthood and undergo training. As it was, he became quite the prankster and resident annoyance. Too, there is the burden of the prophecy, his teacher telling him that he would die protecting Kamui, and he would die for the sake of a woman. Yet rather than be overwhelmed by such a prognostication, he embraces it, searching for the one woman he would like to die for, and settling on Arashi. That Arashi is a little uptight, humourless and proper makes for a very interesting character dynamic between the two, and it's fun watching their relationship begin to develop in this episode. There is also a call back to the feature film (reminiscent of Sorata's death in that). He obviously doesn't die in that way here, so the creators must have something else planned for him, and it will be interesting to find out just what.
Then we switch sides to the Dragons of Earth, so that we can learn more about cyber wizard Satsuki. If Sorata had a sad past, Satsuki's is downright tragic, as it appears that her father could only see her as a commodity to be bargained with, once her abilities to join with technology began to manifest. As a result, she's become isolated and withdrawn, mistrusting of people, and given her own abilities, even looking down on them as inferiors. Of course, the story isn't on hold for these episodes, with first Kamui meeting Hinoto, the priestess who has foretold of the forthcoming apocalypse, and Kamui's place in it. Then there is the basketball game, and Sorata and Arashi's fight with the Beast. Finally there is the MIB attempt to recapture Satsuki, and her research into Nataku and the Divine Sword. Incidentally, in the previous volume I had though that the Dragons of Earth were of a piece. This episode shows that it isn't so, with their number just as fragmented as the Dragons of Heaven. Satsuki 'discovers' Nataku in the third episode, and Konoe decides to recruit him, and take the Divine Sword in the process. The 'bad' guys do still look better organised and funded though.
The final episode brings the main story to the forefront, with less time devoted to character building. The unconventional Karen Kasumi shows up with a message for Kamui, and it becomes clear that her profession, while most certainly biblical, isn't as divine as those of the other Dragons of Heaven. Mostly, this episode is about Kamui and Kotori's confrontation with Sakurazuka, and the first concrete indication of how Fuma relates to Kamui, and both their roles in the coming apocalypse.
I wish I could say that I love this series. I'm just not a fan of the story, at least not yet. But I do appreciate good storytelling when I see it, and I can certainly praise the animation and the production values. Even though I want to keep X at arms length, I am enjoying it. But if you are a fan of the X manga, then you should lap this series up. This series is definitely for you.