This week I have the first of adaptation of CLAMP’s X/1999 manga to the screen – 1996’s film by Rintaro, released shortly after volume 8 of the manga came out.

Cast and Crew

Junko Iwao as Kotori Monou
Ken Narita as Fuuma Monou
Tomokazu Seki as Kamui Shirou
Atsuko Takahata as Kanoe
Emi Shinohara as Arashi Kishyuu
Hideyuki Tanaka as Seiichirou Aoki
Issei Miyazaki as Subaru Sumeragi
Jouji Nakata as Kusanagi Shiyuu
Kazuhiko Inoue as Yuuto Kigai
Kotono Mitsuishi as Satsuki Yatoji
Kouichi Yamadera as Sorata Arisugawa
Mami Koyama as Karen Kasumi
Rica Matsumoto as Nataku
Tohru Furusawa as Seishirou Sakurazuka
Toshihiko Seki as Shougo
Yukana Nogami as Yuzuriha Nekoi
Yuko Minaguchi as Hinoto

Directed by Rintaro
Written by Rintaro and CLAMP
Adapted from the manga by CLAMP
Music by Yasuaki Shimizu and X Japan
Animated by Madhouse

Available from Amazon.com

The Premise

Adapting the manga somewhat loosely in parts, Kamui returns to Tokyo after his mother’s death, and is recruited by the Dragons of Heaven (who seek to protect the humanity and the Earth) and the Dragons of Earth (who seek to wipe out humanity) in an apocalyptic battle for the sake of humanity, to be fought over various seals throughout Tokyo. If all the seals are destroyed, the Dragons of Earth will be able to destroy humanity unchecked. Fuma, Kamui’s childhood friend, is his twin star – which ever side Kamui fights for, Fuma will fight for the other, even if his better nature would say otherwise. Will Kamui be able to fight his best friend to the death?

High Points

This movie looks fantastic. This is Madhouse at the peak of their powers. Ninja Scroll had come out a few years prior. So, everything in this film looks absolutely gorgeous. While CLAMPs manga (which was still running at the time) had to have its pacing adjusted and an conclusion created for the film, ultimately turning the movie into disaster porn (ala American films like Independence Day, Volcano, and so on), the film is extremely well executed disaster porn.

Additionally, Madhouse does a splendid job of adapting some of CLAMP’s dreamscapes to the screen. What was meant to make exposition not boring on the page now makes that same exposition absolutely gorgeous on the screen.

Low Points

First, since the manga was ongoing at the time, and all the Dragons of Earth and their abilities hadn’t been revealed yet at this point, essentially everything in the film except for a few minor story beats is made from whole cloth. While CLAMP was certainly involved in the writing of the film, the pacing is still more rushed then the manga. The film even undermines the manga’s pacing in certain respects, since after you’ve seen the movie, you know who all the members of the Dragons of Earth are, and what their special abilities are, whereas at this point of the manga, some of that information was still yet to be revealed.

Further, this leads to the film literally having no denoument. The climax happens and then the movie ends. I’d compare it to Star Wars ending immediately after the Death Star’s explosion.

It almost makes me wonder if the film was Kadokawa Shoten’s idea instead of CLAMPs, as at the point the film had to have gone into production we definitely hadn’t gotten enough plot for a movie. Tokyo Babylon would have supported a movie better (and was episodic enough for a movie).

Also, ending every single fight in a double kill really hurts any degree of suspense. It’s one thing to have the villain be on a roll, leading to the heroes managing to pull out a final victory by the skin of their teeth. It’s quite another thing when everyone is so evenly matched that all the fights tend to end in mutually assured destruction, which puts the villains a step ahead because a seal is destroyed, but their numbers are still reduced.

As an additional note – currently the only DVD release right now is from Manga Entertainment, and while the release retains the film’s original aspect ratio, it is not optimized for 16:9 TVs, making it rather difficult to watch at any distance.

Content Notes

This film contains graphic bloody violence and some nudity, but none of the gore present in the manga.

Scores

Originality: It’s an adaptation of a manga, but one that takes serious liberties with the source material. 3 out of 6.

Animation: This is definitely one of Madhouse’s best looking films, and is an absolute triumph of animation. Were Manga Entertainment’s release better, this could be a film that would be considered a reference work for people looking to get into animation. 6 out of 6.

Acting: The film’s acting performances are pretty good – while the actors have very little to work with, they hit the performance notes I’d expect with all of the characters that I’m familiar with. 4 out of 6.

Story: The pacing is rushed to compact a storyline that was at that time incomplete, but would definitely be over 8 volumes, into an hour and a half. There is very little time to develop the characters, and then when we get to the fights, they’re rushed. 1 out of 6.

Emotional Response: Minimal. If you haven’t been reading the manga the film won’t tell you who any of the characters are and why you should care. If you have been reading the manga, all the fights ending in double kills will take away from any of the tension of the fights, since they’re basically not wanting to spoil the real fights in the manga. It says something bad about this film’s emotional response that when Fuma kills Kotori, I found myself totally passive. 1 out of 6.

Production: The score is fair, though the sound design is absolutely fantastic. 4 out of 6.

Overall: Fans of the manga will be absolutely disappointed with this film, and those unfamiliar with the manga will be hopelessly lost. The only reason to watch the film is for the pretty animation. 2 out of 6.

In Total, X The Movie gets 21 out of 42.