The 2nd Dimension

Friday, July 08, 2011

Viewing Journal: Xam'd - Lost Memories (complete)

Series Overview
Watch It Now
DVD Info

Overall= C
Story = C
Video = A-
Audio = B

Enter Sentan, a lush, tranquil island encased in war between the military and those with Hiruko, known as X'amd. On one of these warlike days, Akiyuki Takehara heads off to school and gets caught in a raid by the creatures. Through a series of events he is transformed into a X'amd, and with the help of a Tessikan woman Nakiami along with his highschool friend Haru, Akiyuki is forced to learn to live with the Hiruko or faces the danger of losing his self-control and turn to stone. (Source: ANN)
And now I present the third and final (for now) anime in a string of frustratingly vague series that avoid revealing much background information about the story. In Skull Man and Ghost Hound it was done in an attempt to create a cryptic mood. However, in the series X'amd: Lost Memories I'm not sure why it's done. I'm not even sure if the lack of information is intentional, if it's bad writing, or if I just didn't pick up on whatever clues that were given. Point is that there is little to no basic explanation about the setting or its people that would help the audience understand the motivation of the characters or the significance of events. But the worst part is that there were so many unique and fascinating ideas and visuals that it seemed like it could be awesome if only I had that key information that would allow me to understand what the hell was going on.

The story begins on Sentan Island, a once-peaceful place that is suddenly caught up in a war taking place between the Northern Government and the Southern Continent Free Zone. Enter Akiyuki Takehara, a high schooler trying to keep a balanced life between his estranged parents. While a battle rages elsewhere on the island Akiyuki and his friends board the bus to school. He innocently helps a strange white-haired kid onto the bus, who then proceeds to blow it up and, as a result, implants Akiyuki's arm with a blue marble-like object called a Hiruko. The Hiruko turns him into a large white creature called a X'amd and, confused, Akiyuki ends up running off and nearly (for some reason) turning to stone before a girl from a postal air ship who is familiar with the X'amd comes to his rescue. She brings Akiuki's Xam'd form under control and brings him onto the postal ship, where she decides he will stay so that she can teach him about the Hiruko and how to control the Xam'd.

And if that all wasn't strange and confusing enough, much of the rest of the story—that's the remaining 25 episodes—I had even less of an idea what or why things were happening. I do know that there are about 3 countries that are all attacking one another. One of those countries drops these large monsters called humanforms that wreak havoc until either the military or a Xam'd stop it. There is a military guy and a scientist who do scientific experiments on other characters, but I'm not sure why. There is a tribe of people with markings on their face and a religious cult of white-haired kids and a lot of talk about some huge event that is necessary for the world to continue. Otherwise I am clueless.

Much of the confusion is due the scarcity of information about X'amd's setting. It takes place on an alternate Earth much in the same way that shows like Last Exile, Fullmetal Alchemist, or Wings of Honneamise do. So things like the buildings and characters' wardrobes are recognizable as existing in present-day Earth; but other things like the warring countries, political structures, geography, religion, history, and technology are original to the the fictional world of the story. Most successful shows of this type will find some way to convey enough information about how the world operates to give the audience the necessary context to understand what is going on in the plot. This usually comes either through outright narration, or through an ignorant character that acts as a conduit for asking the questions the audience wants to know. In the case of Xam'd, there is no such means for gaining background information.

One of the consequences of not having this information is that it is hard to tell what the characters do and do not know. For instance, as I watched the battle in the first episode I couldn't tell if characters were surprised that they were being attacked by huge monsters, or they were just a surprised that they were being attack in general and the monsters were as familiar to them as tanks would be in our world. It was the same thing with the X'amd, the Hiruko, the war, the religion, and pretty much all the concepts that were introduced. Since it took place in a fictional world, I didn't know what the characters knew and what they didn't; and the characters' reaction were usually ambiguous on the issue. As a result, it was hard to gauge characters' personalities or their reaction to events; making it hard to know what was supposed to be a surprise. For instance, a character would explain something to Akiuki and the information would be a surprise to me, but Akiyuki wouldn't have a strong reaction. So I couldn't tell if Akiyuki already knew the information, if he was repressing his surprise, or if he just didn't care. I constantly felt like an idiot because characters would discuss things like I should know what they were talking about, so I kept thinking that I MUST have missed some vital piece of info from earlier episodes even though I was fairly sure that info was never given.

Not only did I not not understand what the characters were thinking, but I couldn't even understand their purpose relative to the plot. All of the characters had different goals, but I couldn't tell what any of those goals were. I couldn't tell what the relationship between characters were, and couldn't tell how it tied together with the plot. For instance, the delivery ship that Akiyuki was on—I couldn't tell the real purpose of the ship (since it was obviously NOT about making deliveries) or the motivation of the captain. It was so frustrating!

But the MOST frustrating thing about the show as that I so desperately WANTED to understand it all; partly because of the cool visual design and the uniqueness of the setting but mostly because of the characters. There is a lot of heart-felt emotion between characters, with interpersonal conflicts and drama that I could pick up on at a gut-level. And even though I didn't understand why the characters had certain reactions, their personalities seemed so down to earth and genuine that I was still drawn to them. The animtion studio, STUDIO BONES seems very adept at this kind of thing—showing effective drama purely through characters' voices and facial expressions which are both subtle and intense. But, again, since I didn't know the characters' goals or motivations or the source of their angst, I could never empathize with them.

I did not understand the ending any more than the rest of the series; but it is still incredible. It's like a climax to the lack of understanding that is so epic in it's confusion that I could only experience it on an emotional level. So, even though I would not call it a a satisfying ending; it does make for a crazy ride.

So overall, I'm not sure how to rate this show. In terms of the visual design and the presentation of the character's emotions it's great. But it is very hard to get immersed and lost in the story because there is always that disconnect preventing a full understanding of the characters or events. I supposed if you are the kind of person who can live without needing that level of understanding and can just watch for the visuals and the concepts then go for it. Otherwise it may end up being more frustrating than enjoyable.

[ For a full list of reviews see the Viewing Journal Archive ]

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