At the millennial edge, the concluding battle for humanity’s future is staged. Kamui Shirou’s destiny has been decided as he returns to Tokyo to face his ultimate challenge. The Dragon of Heaven, defenders of the Earth, stand ready to protect the world from the Dragon of Earth, the seven angels of legend, who embrace the devastation of the planet to bring about its purification. Now Kamui must decide which side to fight for although he finds the idea utterly unappealing. It isn’t until realizing that his two childhood friends, Fuma and Kotori Monou, are in grievous peril that Kamui decides to step into his fated position in the climactic struggle of the Year of Destiny: 1999.
X is one of the most beloved works of CLAMP that is usually discussed heatedly since its manga ending is highly anticipated and its fans can only feel sour towards the creators for putting it for almost a decade on a hiatus without visible signs of return. Many factors have led to this result: taking in account the manga’s apocalyptic frame with quite gory scenes and frequent earthquake depictions as well as CLAMP’s denial to alter their story, when the Hanshin earthquake and the Sekihabara incident occurred, ethical and marketing issues emerged, which lead to the disappointing publishing halt of the story.
“For me, it’s a series that’s really been tossed around by the times. But I absolutely want to draw it to the very end, so I’d really like to restart the serialization – yesterday, if not sooner!” says Ohkawa, and makes me wonder why haven’t they tried to publish it directly to tankoubon format. It’s not like they don’t know how the sales will go, because X has a very dedicated fanbase. And natural disasters happen all the time in Japan, considering the country’s geographical position. Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 was aired just a few years ago, but I haven’t heard anyone complaining about it or not allowing it to air. Not to mention that no one is coerced in watching/reading specific content. Unfortunately, it appears that the manga publishing houses have complex relations with the creators which don’t allow much freedom of choices.
Now, let’s get to the point and present the series properly.
The reason behind the passionate feelings and reactions about X are to be found in its epicness. From its philosophical inkling, the ecological sensibilities and the well-executed drama to the touching romance in the middle of chaos and the intense love for life, X delivers a magnificent feast for both the mind and the heart. With well-fleshed characters and good storytelling wrapped in probably the most gorgeous art you’ve seen in manga, X is utterly enjoyable.
The story is influenced by Go Nagai’s Devilman, so the fans of that manga can get an idea about how things unfold in X without me spoiling much. Kyokutei Bakin’s Nansou Satomi Hakkenden is also an inspiration for the ensemble cast, namely the use of a large cast of characters who all without exception are explored in-depth. These elements guarantee a standard of quality, though the pacing of the story was admittedly slow and there were repetitive scenes due to the monthly serialization of the manga.
What is really interesting and worth noting is the structure of the work: there are no chapters. Each volume is a chapter or even an arc on its own that spans between 160-200 pages. There are 7 arcs up to vol.18 out of the 21 initially intended ( 21 are the Major Arcana cards and CLAMP designed a set with their characters on them in every volume), which are The Beginning (vol. 1,2), The Seven Stars (vol. 3-6), Holy Sword (vol. 7,8), Kamui (vol. 9), Dreamgazer (vol. 10), Kekkai (vol. 11-16) and The End (vol. 17, 18). In a similar fashion, the volumes of the English version of the manga carried a title related to musical terminology, eg. vol. 1 is named Prelude, vol. 2 is Overture and so on.
But the Dragons of Earth (DoE) purpose of existence isn’t to be cartoony villains towards whom the readers’ hate will be directed. As I mentioned earlier, they have their own share of romance and personal issues, which along with the omake stories, redeem them just a little bit in the audience’s eyes. Besides, they don’t demonstrate traits of extremists that have a certain life goal they must achieve no matter what. Some of them are even wavering on which side of the battlefield should they be on. The Seven Angels are kinda laid-back and only Fuuma is definitely set on the destruction of humanity, and that’s why he is the one usually ordering around. Fuuma though is a rather special case and is lead to act by his specific circumstances. He is a lot like Seishirou yet he isn’t merciless.
The interactions and relationships within the two groups and their extended allies as well as between them is surely interesting as they are well-crafted and woven parallel to the story. There are many couples to ship with different traits (yes, and a May-December one) and some love triangles that are subtly executed, thus we don’t get the cliche shoujo treatment. I guess, it’s the very nature of X which crosses the boundaries of shoujo and shounen that gives us not only a variety of romances but also an emphasis on friendship and camaraderie.
Within the DoH the sense of trust and solidarity are pretty solid and the adults – yes, you’ve read right, adults-, Karen and Seichiirou, look after the younger ones, try to advice them and support them the way they can, and are much like parent figures of the group. This isn’t exactly the case for the DoE who act mostly alone and don’t care as much for the loss of fellow Angels. They lack the sense of unity and tend to form relations of convenience with various degrees of sexual (under)tones.
The characters aren’t only given intriguing personalities but also lavishly drawn appearances: thick eyelashes, magnificent highly detailed and expressive eyes, full lips for some of the ladies, flowy hair and gorgeous hands. The art is honestly breath-taking; especially the splash pages which aren’t sparse set the right dramatic atmosphere. The application of several screentone layers makes the characters look plastic and gives off an air of refinement.
CLAMP have put much effort in details with all the references to Christianity and Judaism, too. The words on the sword, the Kabbala’s tree of life, the crosses, the wings of angels and demons combined with the names of the characters (see Kamui’s double meaning, and Karen means fires of purgatory), insert the reader in an apocalyptic setting most successfully. Then, we often encounter feathers, pearls, circles/halos, the globe and bodies of water – imageries tied closely with foreseeing dreams and help in the construction of a parallel dimension that’s fleeting and fragile and at the same time overwhelming.
The illustrations from the artbooks feature a lot of gears, clocks and ribbons -a steampunk taste, fitting for a dystopic point of view towards the end of the world. Another set of illustrations embed whole chunks of text taken from the book of John, the Revelation. A few others use the same surreal backgrounds we first see in RG Veda, wanting to draw connections between these two works and foreshadow big battles and perhaps the same fate of the protagonists. In any case, all of them are stunning and were planned to be read as complementary to the manga’s story.
And such a successful manga would of course get adapted. MADHOUSE offers a movie, a 24-episode anime series and 2 OVAs, X2 double X and X0: Omen, prequels to the movie and the series respectively, which are quite spoilerific and it wouldn’t be a good idea to watch them before the main ‘dish’.
X2 double X has a great battle choreography and it’s really intense. I guess the movie must have followed artistically and I would have watched, if not for the sardine can I’ve read it ended up being and the un-CLAMP-ish end it had. It’s natural that with a large cast of characters, many manga volumes of original material and barely 2 hours of film, the movie couldn’t have not feel rushed.
It’s a shame that the series doesn’t include thrilling battles like the movie did. Still, the production values are high, the music is most suitable, every character has his spotlight time -enough to gain a separate and unique place in the cast and in the viewers’ heart-, the story stays close to the manga and the end is believable, touching and doesn’t feel akward.
Generally, I enjoyed the series a lot, what with the additional details to some characters like Kotori’s who in the manga is simply a beautiful, fragile, kind girl, but in the series she shares her dream of becoming an indigo dyer; or Satsuki’s past is enriched with the appearance of her father. Unfortunately, the manga is incomparable as a whole. The gore scenes from the manga were cencored in the anime and thus some plot points and character developments lose impact greatly. Moreover, some meaningless scene changes were made like Nataku’s end and where Tokiko meats Kamui and Sorata to inform them about Kamui’s mother.
At the bottom line, the anime can’t replace the manga but is highly recommended to get a conclusion on the story- it’s a small solace for an unfinished masterpiece.
Did you know…
… that most of the characters aren’t new? Apart from Seishirou and Subaru from Tokyo Babylon and Akira, Nokoru and Suoh from Clamp School Detectives, who assist the Seven Seals, Yuuto come from some earlier works of CLAMP, Nataku was meant for this story since Ohkawa was in middle school, and Arashi was designed for a Romeo & Juliet story that was never published. Aoki Seiichirou was named after real life editor who was responsible for them and Kakyou got his name from CLAMP’s cat. The newest character was Kamui.
… that Satsuki’s breast size has increased a cup or two during the series? Fanservice for the male readers I guess.
CLAMP were intending a totally different end from the movie and the anime series for the manga. This can mean either that both Fuuma and Kamui die or neither. Which of the two do you believe it could be? We know that Kamui’s true wish remains unknown even to Kamui himself, that Fuuma’s wish can only be realized by Kamui, Kamui hasn’t created a kekkai yet and once he will Fuuma will gain a new power. My guess is that these two wishes may coincide and are related to the BL subtext of the series. It’s also pretty clear that Fuuma’s words “If nobody could ever hurt or kill anybody, then why would people become blinded to the most important things? […] The more you care about someone, the more you lose sight of things! And maybe while you don’t even notice it, you are hurting a person close to you” refer to this.
Other questions left unaswered are why can only Fuuma kill Kakyou? Who is Kamui’s father? Will he make any appearance, is he important to the plot or is he just another way to signify Kamui as a Messiah? Why Kanoe sided with the Dragons of Earth? How could that save her sister? I’m confused about this issue…