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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

X (review)

Out of Toon

I’m not a connoisseur of Japanese animation, so I dragged my friend Adam — who knows his animé — along to see X with me, hoping for a little perspective. And boy, am I glad he was there. If he hadn’t accompanied me, I’d never have known if it was just me — do I simply not understand animé? — or if it was the movie. Adam assured me that yes, it was the movie, and yes, it is not unreasonable to expect things like a cohesive story or intriguing characters from an animé flick.

So, I feel totally comfortable in saying that although X is very stylish, it is also utterly incomprehensible. Not that the three writers credited here (Asami Watanabe, Nanase Ohkawa, and Rintaro) don’t try to explain, through their robotic characters, over and over and over, what’s going on.
The Dragon of the Earth is out to destroy humanity — something about man corrupting and befouling the planet and nature taking her revenge. The Dragon of Heaven is dedicated to the protection of Tokyo (the rest of the planet apparently is left to fend for itself). The Dragon of Heaven is kinda like a Japanese Superfriends, and includes a couple of guys, a stripper, and a frighteningly sexualized schoolgirl with a ghost dog. The Superfriends, inexplicably, have some kind of talent that allows them to fight the Dragon of the Earth using giant power shields, though no one seems to notice when downtown Tokyo is ravaged in these battles. Then there are two other guys — who are either twins or two aspects of the same dude, one with white wings, and one with black — who have something or other to do with it all. And there’s a evil babe with a purple tattoo on her face who runs a giant computer that controls all other computers — “666 Beast” is emblazoned on the machine, in case we didn’t get it — though what connection this computer has to the rest of the minuscule plot I am at a total loss to say.

That actually makes X sound a lot more intelligible than it felt at the time. X pummels you with reminders about the “the final battle to decide the fate of the Earth” and “the merciless war that will decide the fate of our planet” in portentous speeches delivered in monotones by the often indiscernible characters — and in between there are battles between the various characters that feature lots of exploding masonry. Visions and premonitions from spooky chicks floating around in bubbles like the Good Witch Glenda take the place of, oh, story, and after the hundredth mention of some character or other’s “destiny,” I was giggling to myself, thinking of Crispin Glover in Back to the Future: “I am your density!” And I started wishing that Godzilla or Gamera or some Japanese monster would show up and destroy Tokyo already, because for all the fighting, the Dragon of the Earth certainly was taking its sweet time showing up. “What does it mean?” the characters wonder. Even they don’t know!

With all the dragons and power shields, X reminded me of nothing so much as that bizarre ad for the Marines that you see at the cineplex sometimes, the one seemingly aimed at recruiting D&D geeks in which a young man slays a dragon with a sword and then morphs into a Marine. (Do Marines get deployed to Middle Earth? But I digress.) The all-female animation team that made X, though, obviously knows that its audience is the same as that ad’s: teenaged boys. Along with the requisite nudity and the micro-miniskirted schoolgirl, you’ll find mother-murder and swords ripped out of wombs. It’s enough to make you wonder if the typical animé fan isn’t actually more afraid of girls than of supernatural dragons.

X is a comic book without any context, a weird mishmash of Gaia mysticism and kung-fu fighting. If you’re in the mood for something Superfriends, download that “Wassup!” parody instead. It’s really funny.

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MPAA: rated R for violence/gore and some nudity

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
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