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Xam’d Complete Collection Blu-ray Anime Review

7 min read

An impressive, if inconsistent, show.

What They Say:
Combining hard-hitting mecha action and fantastic supernatural elements, Xam’d is a thrilling new benchmark in anime. Set on a peaceful island during a violent terrorist attack, a young boy is suddenly transformed into a metal-cased mercenary. But with this great power comes even greater danger. Akiyuki must discover how to master this remarkable new power—or risk having this mysterious fusion of rock, metal and magic destroy him! Now available for the first time in a complete set, all of Xam’d’s breakthrough action can be yours in one awesome collection!

The Review:
Audio:
The show had two audio tracks: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. English subtitles are provided. The sound quality was a bit back and forth on this show. The volume level would dramatically rise and fall. The quieter, dialogue-driven moments required me to turn up the volume rather high, which meant that when the action began I had to turn it down quickly. At one point I had to turn on the subtitles just so I didn’t have to constantly fiddle with the volume. This is a shame because the quality of the sound was very good. There was nice directionality and in general the audio was crisp and clear—just not normalized.

Video:
The show was presented in 1080p High Definition in 16×9 aspect ratio and it looks gorgeous. The colors were vibrant and the motion of the animation smooth. This was an excellent transfer of a beautiful anime.

Packaging:
Xam’d comes in a standard Blu-Ray case with all 26 episodes spread out over three disks. The front cover shows Akiyuki putting on a Hawaiian shirt. His Xam’d arm is just visible. The back cover features another Xam’d human on the left-hand side in the process of turning to stone. To the right is the show’s description and under that are a series of small still images from the series. The spine has the show’s title in thick black letters and an image of Nakiami holding a hiroku. Nice packaging, overall.

Menu:
The menu design for each disk is a bit cluttered. Each one features a different character: Akiyuki on Disk One, Haru on the second, and Nakiami on the third. They take up the majority of screen space and the episode titles are listed in a half circle on the left-hand side. The font is rather small, so it’s a bit difficult to choose one individual episode, making this more pretty than functional.

Extras:
There are very few extras on this set. There are clean opening and closing animations and the original on-air opening and closing animations. Those looking for behind-the-scenes features or anything else for that matter will be disappointed.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I love the first disk of Xam’d. The second and third? Not so much. Thankfully, by the time the show began dragging I was already invested in the world and the characters that I wanted to see it through to the end. The first nine episodes were quick and satisfying: they beautifully established the world and the characters and set up the conflict nicely, but starting with episode ten the show began to drift, going off on slow, seemingly pointless directions that really bogged down the narrative. Thankfully it all came back together at the end with a satisfying conclusion.

The Northern Government and the Southern Continent Free Zone have been at war for about as long as anyone could remember. Thankfully, some places are too small to be affected by it. One of those places is Sentan Island, where Akiyuki lives with his mother. His father, the town doctor, is currently living away from home due to a strained relationship with his wife, but Akiyuki works to keep them together. One day while waiting for the bus to take him to school, Akiyuki meets a strange albino girl. She doesn’t have a travel armband, so he covertly gives her his. This proves to be a fateful mistake as the girl explodes, sending out ribbons of light—one of which strikes Akiyuki’s arm. The light transforms him into a Xam’d: a biomechanical hybrid neither human nor machine, but somewhere in between. Although being Xam’d gives him incredible power, the cost is the potential loss of his identity. If this happens he will turn to stone. He’s saved from this fate by Nakiami, a mysterious woman from the North possessing uncanny knowledge of Xam’ds. She takes him aboard the postal air ship Zanbani where she lives and works and the two end up helping each other—she teaches him how to fully merge with the hiroku: the organism that makes him Xam’d—and he helps her face her destiny in the North.

The show divides its time between three intersecting main plots: Akiyuki’s experiences on the Zanbani; his friends Haru and Furuichi’s experiences entering the military after the terrorist attack that lead to Akiyuki’s being Xam’d; and Toujirou Kakisu’s (the military leader on Sentan island) bioengineering experiments and warmongering. One of the most impressive feats the anime accomplishes is juggling these three plots. None of them feel superfluous (even if the main story does drag a bit in the middle) and it’s extremely satisfying seeing them converge at the end.

Another impressive aspect of the show is how well-rounded and engaging the characters are. There are several strong characters here that could star in their own show, particularly the Captain of the Zanbani: Ishuu Benikawa, the “sweet, raven-haired beauty with glasses.” She’s gruff but loyal, reads poetry, drinks too much, owns a small arsenal, and can handle herself in a fight. Some of my favorite parts of the show involve her and her mail ship, and perhaps that’s why the show feels lacking in the middle episodes.

After episode nine, Nakiami and Akiyuki leave the Zanbani to travel to the North so she can reunite with her people. They make a detour to Sentan island so Akiyuki can see Haru, but are separated after a fight with Furuichi. It turns out that Furuichi was struck by a hiroku in that same explosion, too, and has slowly been turning into Xam’d. However, his jealousy over Akiyuki and Haru drives him insane. Nakiami and Akiyuki separate to escape the military but are unable to reunite. At this point Akiyuki loses most of his sense of identity and the majority of the episodes that follow involve his slow return from that twilight state and Nakiami’s journey home.

There are important plot points and bits of information that occur during these episodes, but I found that once they left the Zanbani, my interest began waning. Part of it was due to how much I enjoyed the characters on the ship, but part of it also had to do with the darkening of the plot. It’s easy to miss this given the fantastic elements like the Xam’d, hiroku, and whatnot, but this is an anime about war and it takes that subject very seriously. It shows the terrible consequences of war on nations and individuals and that takes a toll on the viewer after a while. Haru and Furuichi in particular bear the brunt of this darkness and their character arc is difficult—although incredible—to watch.

The main issue is that. twenty-six episodes was just excessive. Akiyuki and Nakiami’s stories after they leave the ship could have been greatly condensed. This puts the series in an odd place because there’s too much story for a half season, but not enough for a full one.Thankfully it all came together in the end.

Even with that criticism, Xam’d is an impressive anime. The level of world building is wonderful and I would love to see more stories set in this universe. Adding to that is the strength of the characters and the plot’s underlying themes. The characters grow and learn—sometimes to their ruin, as was the case with Furuichi—and the themes of family, friendship, identity, and the insanity of war are treated honestly and maturely. While the sum may not exactly be greater than its parts, this is still a very good anime that should be watched.

In Summary:
Xam’d drags in the middle, but overall this is an excellent anime that should be watched. When Akiyuki gets caught in a terrorist attack he is turned into a Xam’d—a biomechanical war machine. He becomes embroiled in the war between the Northern Government and the Southern Continent Free Zone and his home, Sentan Island, becomes the stage for a monstrous biomechanical experiment that threatens everyone and everything. The solid world building, character work, and story make this worth watching even if it could have been told in eighteen or twenty episodes instead of twenty-six. The show does come to a satisfying conclusion, though, and in the end, while the parts may be greater than their sum, this is an impressive title. Highly recommended.

Features:
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening Animation, Clean Closing Animation

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

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: February 7, 2012
MSRP: $89.98
Running Time: 650 minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p High Definition
Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Panasonic Viera TH42PX50U 42” Plasma HDTV, Sony BPD-S3050 BluRay Player w/HDMI Connection

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