VOICES OF: Tomokazu Seki, Junko Iwao, Ken Narita

1996, 98 Minutes, Directed by: Rintaro

Good luck trying to figure what the hell is going on during the first twenty or so minutes of X. I sighed and wondered whether anime (Japanese animation) movies always have such confused story-telling or whether it was my Western sensibilities. Whatever.

Things get clearer (sort of!) as the movie progresses, but the movie simply tries to cram in too much information and too many characters into its too short running time of 98 minutes. In short: it is 1999 and a young man endowed with superpowers seems destined to save Earth from the impending apocalypse. In his fight seven other people aid him also with superpowers.

Like I said: good luck trying to find out initially who the good guys and who the bad guys are, why they are fighting (incessantly) and why you should care. The movie seems to rush along from one super-powered fight scene to another - with people jumping over rooftops like in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and fighting it out like in X-Men with damage to property right out of the original Highlander movie.

Having recently sat through anime with convoluted plots such as Jin-Roh - The Wolf Brigade and Spriggan I am beginning to suspect that narrative cohesion isn't exactly a strong point of anime. Once X takes a breather between fight scenes and focuses on its characters a bit, things improve. Apparently an all-female studio called Clamp made the film. Don't expect any feminist insights though: the women still have revealing outfits and the villainess in this movie has huge jugs and resembles Vampira. Maybe it is because it is however still directed by a man - Rintaro, who went on to direct the excellent - but also confusing - Metropolis.

Don't get me wrong: X features good animation with an effective soundtrack (bits of it reminded me of Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek's melancholy soprano). The use of religious iconography (both Christian and Eastern) also makes for some visually interesting moments. Some scenes are also quite effective. But the characterization remains practically non-existent and the viewer remains uninvolved through a lot of the movie. (In its defense it must be said that things do improve later on.)

Viewers curious about anime should rather check out Akira and Ghost in the Shell. Fans of the genre will be happy though. (Incidentally, X was made in 1996 but didn't get a limited theatrical release in the States until 1999.)


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