Previously I wrapped up CLAMP’s horror/urban fantasy manga series “Tokyo Babylon”. This week I pick up spiritual sequel to that series – X/1999.
Title: X/1999 Volume 1 – Prelude
Written & Illustrated by CLAMP
Translated by Fred Burke
Retouch & Lettering by Wayne Truman
Originally Serialized in Kadokawa Shoten’s Monthly Asuka
Kotori and Fuma are two, essentially, ordinary high school students. When they were much younger they were friends with another young man named Kamui Shiro, who had to leave with his mother very suddenly. Now Kamui has returned and enrolled at their school, having changed dramatically in the direction of the moody. Then there’s the matter of Kaumi’s new magical powers, and the dark dreams Fuma is having about Kamui’s role in some sort of coming apocalypse.
With Tokyo Babylon, early on the backgrounds and art design seemed fairly abstract: characters standing in blank spaces. Here, we have plenty of beautifully drawn backgrounds, giving us a sense of location. In Magic Knight Rayearth, often times the special attacks in combat would wash out the background, making it hard to keep track of the action. Here fight scenes are well laid out, with the geography of the fight being very clear, so I don’t get lost.
I understand that this is the first installment of a pretty long manga series, and you want to set up some mysteries to answer. However, when one of the questions is “Why did Fuma and Kotori like Kamui at all?” you’re doing some writing wrong. At this point Kamui has the attitude that Kaneda had towards the 3/4ths mark of Akira (but without the roaring rampage of rage). While petulant teenagers are nothing new to anime and manga (putting aside Evangelion, there’s also Kamille Bidan in Gundam Zeta and Amaro Rey in the original Gundam), I found it a little difficult to like Kamui at this point, and I similarly found it difficult to tell about whether he’d become a good guy or a bad guy. To be frank, it seemed much more likely that he’d become a villain than a hero, just considering the character’s conduct.
No nudity, but there is a fair amount of blood here – on par with some of the later volumes of Tokyo Babylon.
Originality: I can honestly say that I can’t think of any stories like this one prior to this one. Say what you will about CLAMP, but a lack of originality is not one of their weaknesses. 5 out of 6.
Artwork: I’m not totally blown away by this – we’re not at Katuhiro Otomo levels yet. However, this is a radical improvement from most of Tokyo Babylon. 5 out of 6.
Story: Lots of characters are introduced, but not many are really developed. Lots of questions are asked, and we don’t even begin to get any answers. While I wouldn’t expect any answers in the first volume of a series, it doesn’t hurt to hold off with dishing out so many questions this early. 4 out of 6.
Characterization: While we get about 8+ characters introduced here, we don’t really get any development for most of them. We know Kamui has magical powers, we know his mother was killed by someone, and because of that he wants revenge. We also know he doesn’t want to get close to anyone. We don’t know much about Kotori and Fuma, and for the other characters, we don’t even know their names yet. 3 out of 6.
Emotional Response: It’s hard to get a good emotional response when you don’t know who the teams are, much less who the players are. Thus, it’s hard to get an emotional response from this beyond some annoyance at Kamui’s behavior. 3 out of 6.
Flow: 6 out of 6.
Overall: This wasn’t a great start for this series. From what I’ve heard, it improves later on, but it’s still not a great start. 3 out of 6.
In Total, X/1999 Vol. 1 gets 29/42.