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Manga presents
X (1998)

"No matter which Dragon you decide to become, I am destined to take the opposite side."
- Fuma (Ken Narita)

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: October 10, 2001

Stars: Tomokazu Seki, Junko Iwao, Ken Narita
Other Stars: Toru Furusawa, Masako Ikeda, Kazuhiko Inoue
Director: Takayuki Karahashi

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: R for (violence/gore and some nudity)
Run Time: 01h:29m:54s
Release Date: September 25, 2001
UPC: 660200404628
Genre: anime

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- D+A-A B-

DVD Review

Prior to seeing X I had heard endless high praise about it. Most of the hype surrounding it proclaimed it one of the best and most important anime films ever released. Well, sadly I must break with the crowd of praise and say that X is far and away one of the most excruciatingly boring pictures I've ever sat through. Of course, this may sound funny since most of it is filled with exploding buildings, wild battles between psychic warriors, and heaping gobs of bloody gore. Unfortunately, by the time the entertainment arrives, you'll have to be awakened to appreciate it.

X's plot is a confusing mishmash of supernatural and occult themes based on a popular Japanese comic that, from what I've been told, makes more sense because it's really long. As it begins, a young man named Kamui is returning to his home in Tokyo in order to find two old friends of his. When he arrives, all hell breaks loose and a group of gifted warriors start armageddon right in the streets. As it turns out, the forces of the Earth Dragon (the bad guys) and the forces of the Heaven's Dragon (the good guys) are locked in a fierce battle to decide the fate of the world. These warriors are basically normal people, but all of them have superhuman abilities, combat and magic/psychic power usage, and so they've been conscripted to help whichever side turned them first. Kamui learns that he is to be the one that will, according to destiny, help the Heaven's Dragon side win, but refuses to so for selfish reasons.

He eventually agrees, however, because his childhood friends are kidnapped and tainted by the Earth Dragon side. So, fierce battles occur between the two teams at specific "shield points" around Tokyo where, if good guys are defeated, the whole world will be controlled by evil. At least I think that's the basic gist of the story; it confused the heck out of me. I don't mind a 'thinking' film, but I do mind when a script is so poorly written that it has to backpedal for 50 minutes just to clear things up, and even then you're still not sure what's going on. This is NOT an exaggeration, I literally counted it. It is for this reason that X tests my patience, especially when the flow of the most exciting portions are disrupted by talky, lengthy sequences that only serve to re-explain something we already know for the fifth time.

I'll give an example: There's a sequence in which Kamui talks about the fate of Earth with a benevolent psychic that tries to convince him to join the good side. A little later, we learn that Kamui's fried, Fumi, is his spiritual 'flip-side' and that he will be induced to join the bad guys. So, literally, the entire sequence is repeated almost scene for scene, while the priestess leader of the evil ones tries to convince him to join THEIR side. By the time some action-packed sequence shows up, there's little to get excited over because after 3-4 minutes, we'll be back in another plot cul-de-sac where more endless dialogue explains, yet again, that the world will end if the Earth's Dragons win the fight. I will grant that the filmmakers have an amazing gift for visuals as well as tight, powerful fight sequences. It's just too bad they weren't used more. The artwork is also outstanding, almost painfully well animated. It is obvious that someone wants to desperately blow people away with mind-numbing intensity here, but then why did they spend so much time on repetitive dream sequences and drawn out debates? The sad thing is, even with the agonizing "talky bits," none of the characters are fleshed out in the least. They might as well be Joe Bob X and Joe Bob Y skewering each other with sharp objects because I'd be willing to bet you won't remember a single supporting character's name.

The other major problem I had was that it all seemed to appeal to the lowest common denominator in terms of anime audiences. Anime has a reputation for extremes of violence and sometimes sex, but these factors are usually handled "tastefully" and in a measured manner. However, when an anime really has little else other than violence, it upset me. Do, after the 80th time you see blood spatter across a wall as someone's limbs are disintegrated or torso is pierced, X begins to lose it's effect. I mean, does the anime world REALLY need another villainess who dresses like a model for your local leather fetish shop? Do we really need another perky teenage girl hero in a sailor suit? One of the Heaven's Dragons, Karen, actually doesn't even wear clothes, just a set of lingerie. Why not just a nude character? A strange current of misogyny runs in this film, and I tire of anime that endlessly brutalizes its female characters. In a number of dream sequences, one particular female (the only 'innocent' character in the whole show) is killed more than three times in particularly nasty ways. This is everything that gives anime a bad name to non-fans, and it's poured on in buckets here. If someone were to write a book of pure Japanese animation clichÈs, X would be ultimate textbook example.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: D+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Although black level is a shade off (solid blacks tend toward very faint gray), the rest of the image transfer is spectacular but nonanamorphic. While the cel animation isn't as crisp and clear as some anime DVDs are, this is most likely because X was made utilizing traditional artwork with no computers used to enhance the image. There are no digital artifacts or any other significant problem, and even the most complex or wild sequences are handled without any kind of flaw. The print itself is very clean and free of obvious scratches or speckles.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Japaneseyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Unfortunately, only the English dub has been upgraded into Dolby 5.1 (a very bad habit). But, original language fans should be pleased with the energetic and dynamic Japanese Dolby 2.0 Surround track that virtually explodes across your room. Filled with surround effects, directionality, and powerful bass impacts, the onscreen action is well complimented by an amazing, clear and clean audio track. The 5.1 is virtually the same, but uses more split surround effects and carries slightly more pronounced bass effects that really rumble. The dub is serviceable, but seems to take a few uncomfortable liberties with the dialogue, as well as odd, Anglicized pronunciations for the character names.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Character profiles (Tarot Cards)
  2. Photo Gallery
  3. Text interview with director Takayuki Karahashi.
  4. Various previews and promotional items for Manga Video
Extras Review: Presumably in an effort to clear up the plot, some lengthy bios for the main characters are presented in a section called "Tarot Cards." It is interesting in that it provides background information on some of the people that make only seconds worth of an appearance. Some photo stills from the movie are there, as well as an interview with the director, taken from the magazine Animerica. In another section, a variety of promotional materials for Manga Video can be found, from a sizable, static catalog of movies to a 5-minute reel of dozens of short previews. There are also brief promo videos for other companies.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

I feel sorry for the crowds that think movies like X somehow stand for the artistry of Japanese animation. When I see incredible works like Princess Mononoke, Blue Submarine No. 6, or the series Arc The Lad I often wonder why so many Japanese artists lack the vision to step beyond big breasts and copious violence as hooks for a show. X does have its moments of brilliance, but it's too often spoiled by over-complexity and endless, gruesome imagery. I guess this is more suited to a series format rather than a single film. That said, however, this is a very good quality disc, so X fans should be pleased.


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