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Xam’d: Lost Memories, Vol. #1 UK Anime DVD Review

7 min read

Arriving with more than a few similarities to Eureka Seven in tow (not surprising, maybe, as it’s the same studio behind the two shows), Xam’d: Lost Memories has a first half that’s full of promise – even if the eponymous Xam’d don’t get that much of a look-in. When high-school student Akiyuki is caught up in a terrorist attack, it’s just the start of his problems…

What They Say:
From Studio Bones, the creators of “Fullmetal Alchemist” and “Eureka Seven”, comes Xam’d: Lost Memories, the anime series that has attracted favourable comparisons to the works of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli thanks to its superlative animation style. Such comparisons should come as no real surprise, given the show was directed by none other than Masayuki Miyaji, who was Assistant Director to Hayao Miyazaki on the Academy Award award-winning animated feature, “Spirited Away”.

Xam’d: Lost Memories Collection 1 comes to DVD (as a two-disc edition) and Blu-ray featuring the first 13 episodes of the 26-episode series that Anime News Network called “a breakthrough in series anime” that features “a richness of motion typically only seen in movies.”

When a young boy, Akiyuki Takahar, living on the peaceful island of Sentan becomes the victim of a terrorist attack on a school bus, he is mysteriously transformed into Xam’d, a powerful mecha capable of extreme power.

Now, Akiyuki must discover the depth of his power and the role he plays in a world where metal and rock meet flesh, desire, and destiny.

The Review:
Audio:
Audio is provided in Japanese 2.0 and English 5.1 versions – I listened to the Japanese track for this review. Audio is clean and clear, with no obvious distortions or other issues, and good use of the two channels is made for placement of effects and dialogue. There’s not a hell of a lot of use made of background music – short pieces here and there – but what there is is effective enough. It’s good, without being impressive.

Video:
Video is provided in its original 1.78:1 widescreen aspect. The show is classed as an “original net animation” – it made its debut as a download-to-rent series on Playstation Network, which offered the series in 1080p, and its high-definition roots mean that it’s one good-looking show, with bright colours dominating the palette and highly-details backgrounds. Very nice indeed to look at. There were no obvious issues with the encoding.

Packaging:
No packaging was provided with our review copy.

Menu:
Another Manga release, another simple but effective menu system. A static screen, featuring Xam’d posing against a grey background, provides options for Play All, Episode, Setup and, on disc 2 only, Extras. There are no transition animations, so it’s all quick and easy to use.

Extras:
Not much here – creditless versions of the OP/ED animations used on the DVD release, and the original broadcast sequences. That’s your lot.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Akiyuki Takahar has been living a fairly normal life as a schoolboy, living with his mom on the idyllic Sentan island – well, it would by idyllic, were it not on the frontline of a war. Akiyuki gets caught up in that war when his school bus becomes the target of a terrorist attack. Hit by some sort of effect from the blast, Akiyuki finds himself able to transform into Xam’d, a mechanical warrior of awesome power…

So. A previous show from BONES, Eureka Seven, had a young boy who had gained control of a powerful mech meet a mysterious girl, who lived on board a ship of ‘independent means’ that was home to a ragtag crew. It also featured a military who where engaged in experiments that could best be described as “shady”, having severe effects on those who were subjected to them. Xam’d, also from BONES, has a young boy who has gained control of essentially become a powerful mech meet a mysterious girl, who lives on board a ship of ‘independent means’ that is home to a ragtag crew. It also features a military who are engaged in experiments that could best be described as “shady”, having severe effects on those who are subjected to them. Stop me if that sounds familiar. The comparison isn’t helped by both shows having character desings that are very similar in style, and being based on worlds that are at least initially presented as being very earth-like while having enough differences to let you know we’re somewhere else. Oh, and antibody-type Coralians and Xam’d‘s “humanform monsters” could fairly easily be confused in a lineup, too. The sense of deja-vu is strong with this one – although given that Eureka Seven was scoring a solid 5 stars from me by the end of its run, there are far worse shows to take inspiration from.

There’s more to Xam’d than just being a Eureka Seven wannabe, though. Sentan Island is under the protection of the Free Zone, who have been engaged in a lengthy war with the Northern Government, who are presented as being the villains of the piece (although there seems to have been a fair number of defections between the two sides, slightly muddying the good-versus-bad aspect). As the war has dragged on into stalemate, the Northern Government have turned to biological weapons – “humanform monsters”, powerful creatures who, as the name suggests, seem to have once been human before having been turned. Some are under the remote control of the Northern military; others seem to be the result of raids where the North has introduced a catalyst into areas of the Free Zone that turns the locals into uncontrolled humanforms. Either way, their destructive power is huge, and the Free Zone has been forced to develop their own alternative as a way of fighting back, and the Xam’d is that alternative.

After an opening episode that introduces the main characters and covers Akiyuki’s ‘infection’ with the Xam’d, the series splits into two tracks. The main one covers Akiyuki, and his new protector Nakiami, a crew member on the ‘mail ship’ Zanbani (although it’s strongly hinted that there’s more to it than just that). Nakiami has extensive experience in dealing with the Xam’d and with humanforms, and in helping those infected by them keep their humanity – which makes her just what Akiyuki needs at the moment, and the two soon form a strong bond of friendship. With Akiyuki on board the Zanbani, the series settles in to following his day-to-day life there as he comes to terms with not exactly being human anymore, and learning how to control the power inside him. It’s almost slice-of-life stuff, in a rather unusual setting, and quite relaxing to watch.

The other track follows Akiyuki’s classmates Haru and Furuichi. Haru is clearly in love with Akiyuki, and having him taken away from her by Nakiami – especially in the confused situation after the attack – leaves her confused and angry. Friend Furuichi, who seems to harbor feelings for Haru but frankly has no chance of seeing them reciprocated, latches himself onto her anyway, and driven jointly by Furuichi’s desire for a level of revenge on those who launched the attack and by Haru’s desire to find a way of tracking down Akiyuki again, they join the military to become “mainsouls”, pilots of the Free Zone’s mind-controlled mecha. They’re unfortunate, though, to be assigned to the command of one Commander Kakisu, who is leading the Free Zone’s research into the Xam’d, and it soon become clear (to the audience if not to Haru) that being close to Kakisu is only going to spell trouble.

We have levels of conspiracy and mystery, as the loyalties of many of the characters are unclear. We have decent bouts of action, on both sides of the story, and the Xam’d draw increasing attention from those keen to end the war. There’s plenty of moral ambiguity, with Kakisu and his team knowing that what they’re doing will likely have them labelled war criminal when the war is over, but determined to make sure that if that’s the price they’ll pay, they’ll make it worthwhile by winning the war. And we have a religious undercurrent on both sides that maybe explains why the war has become so intractable. It’s fascinating stuff from start to finish, and I had a hard time pulling myself away from these episodes.

In Summary:
Fine, it’s not original, and seems to draw heavily on what’s gone before. But originality isn’t everything in a series, cast and presentation play a large part as well, and Xam’d scores very highly on that front. The only thing that worries me is mutterings I’ve heard that the series loses the plot badly during the second half, which is still to come. That would be a huge disappointment, but so far, so good. Impressive stuff.

Features:
Japanese Language 2.0, English Language 5.1, English Subtitles, Clean opening and closing animations, Original on-air opening and closing animations.

Content Grade: A
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B

Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: 18 July 2011
Running Time: 325 minutes
Video Encoding: MPEG2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen

Review Equipment:
Toshiba 37X3030DB 37” widescreen HDTV; Sony PS3 Blu-ray player (via HDMI, upscaled to 1080p); Acoustic Solutions DS-22 5.1 speaker system.

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