Xam’d heads towards its conclusion with the fate of the world at stake – but after a difficult confrontation with Furuichi, Akiyuki finds himself succumbing to his hiruko and loses his sense of identity…
What They Say:
Akiyuki isn’t the only one who’s become possessed by the mysterious power that is Xam’d. Seems his friend Furuichi is also filled with the dangerous energy, but while Akiyuki tries to harness it, his friend seems hell-bent on letting the Xam’d control his every dangerous move.
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 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.
No packaging was provided with our review copy.
Another Manga release, another simple but effective menu system. A static screen, featuring Nakiami posing in something rather different from her usual gear against a grey background, provides options for Play All, Episode, Setup and, on disc 2 only, Extras. The show’s opening theme (which is an insanely catchy piece of music) plays over the top. There are no transition animations, so it’s all quick and easy to use.
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)
So, when we left Xam’d at the halfway point, the verdict was that it had plenty of potential, was proving very enjoyable, but with two competing threads to the story was in danger of getting a little bit messy. With this set of episodes, we go from two competing threads to at least five – and this is where the show’s reputation for losing its way in the second half comes from. Before we dig further into that, though, let’s have a look at those plot threads.
– Akiyuki, badly affected by his reunion with Haru and subsequent confrontation with Furuichi, loses his sense of self and, face hidden behind his Xam’d mask, embarks on a journey of self discovery, led by a strange floating creature who at least seems to have his best interests at heart.
– Haru, on learning the truth about what the military is up to, sets out on her own – first to find Akiyuki, and then to follow through on the instructions left to her by Azami, one of the Jibashiri who had ended up in Commander Kakisu’s custody.
– Nakiami, separated from Akiyuki after the battle with Furuichi, returns home to Kessik Village, to find that her younger sister is now the village Elder – and that she has plans for dealing with constant incursions on the village’s territory that Nakiami finds herself unable to support.
– Haru’s little sister Midori, fed up with being treated like a child by her family, decides to sign on with the military research facility – and finds herself the test subject in Kakisu’s plans to create the ultimate humanform weapon.
– Ishu, left without the use of the Zanbani after its crash-landing, has issues to settle with the Northern Government’s Hiruken Emperor, and along with Raigyo strikes out for the Diamond Tower, where her allies await, ready to launch an assault.
And those are just the main threads – there are a number of smaller detours, bringing young boy Yango and leader of Riukonism, Lady Sannova, into the mix as well. For most of the episodes is this set, they wend their way separately, with the viewer being expected to keep up as the show switches from one thread to another, before around episode 23 or 24 they finally all come together around the Ruikonist Quickening Chamber to bring us to the show’s climax.
There are several problems with the way this is done. Most obviously, the show’s trying to do too much in too little time – it gives the impression that it was written for 52 episodes, but that somewhere along the line that got cut back and everything had to be squeezed into half the space, and rather than try and lose one or two of the threads outright (Ishu’s trip to the Diamond Tower could have been safely jettisoned, for a start, and Akiyuki’s journey of rediscovery is stretched a bit too long as well), they’ve tried to keep all the main points in there and there’s just not enough time to do it all justice.
There’s also annoyingly-frequent use of our old friend the Reset Button. I can think of at least four characters who very clearly met fates that were presented on screen as, and certainly should have been, fatal. But come the final episode, sure, almost everyone’s alive (and in the show’s defence I can also think of a few fatalities that stayed that way). To me, that always feels like cheating, and the practice is top of my list of things to bad should I ever become emperor for the day (I’m not holding my breath on that).
Add to the list that so much of the background to events goes unexplained (what exactly does the show’s rather creepy religion, Ruikonism, really stand for? The Quickening Chamber open for an event every few thousand years, but why does that event happen? You see the origins of the hiruko that turn humans into Xam’d – the souls of the dead – but why do they have that effect?). You get to see the what of this world’s fate, but now the how or the why – not doubt those time constraints again – and that’s hugely frustrating.
So what we have here is a hugely flawed conclusion to a series that had the potential (and clearly wanted) to be something rather more epic. For all that, though, I can’t bring myself to hate it. I liked the world that the series presented, I liked the familiar-but-not-quite technology, I liked the characters and the way that they felt real, I liked the way that the series went about portraying all of that on-screen. I found myself yelling internally at every little thing that the series didn’t do right, but damn it all, I enjoyed it anyway. It’s not as good as the first volume, and overall the series isn’t as good as some of the shows that it so clearly takes inspiration from, but ultimately there’s more than enough good here to make for an enjoyable few hours viewing. Well worth checking out.
Japanese Language 2.0, English Language 5.1, English Subtitles, Clean opening and closing animations, Original on-air opening and closing animations.
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: September 5th, 2011
Running Time: 325 minutes
Video Encoding: MPEG2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.