Well, Xam’d is over. And what a ride it was. It was enthralling, it did everything well: animation, music, character designs, voice acting, art, humor, seriousness, maturity, romance….
Astute readers will notice one thing missing from the preceding list, and did I say “everything?” I meant everything except one thing:
It doesn’t make much sense.
Supermassive spoilers ahead!
A common complaint on /ot/ was just that. “It’s awesome, but wtf is going on?” I am convinced part of the confusion is due to bad translation; the subs were official but their English was bad and even with my very limited Japanese I could tell that they sometimes took liberties with and simplified the subtitles. (On a side note, I want to rewatch Xam’d with a proper translation, and I’d buy it on DVD). But the most part of the confusion is due to pacing and writing: Xam’d felt like it was a 52-ep show compressed into 26, and it’s made all the more vague for it. So much more could have been and should have been fleshed out, and the show would have been a 10/10 rather than an 8/10 imo. Not nearly enough was explained and you are expected to not think about how it doesn’t really fit together.
So it’s confusing and requires a rewatch, but it’s not the good confusing imo that you can unravel with a little thought. Too much just doesn’t make sense or is missing. Still, it was thoroughly entertaining and I watched it nearly as soon as the episodes became available, so that counts for something. Bad writing but A+ for entertainment.. sounds like Code Geass.
Also mentioned is “..what the hey is the theme of the show?” If FLCL is about growing up and Eureka 7 is about love.. I think Xam’d is about finding yourself … with a little help from your friends. Looking back, it seems almost obvious now. Xam’ds who “lose themselves” turn to stone; the affected humans must learn to live in symbiosis with the Hiruko now in them. Akiyuki and Raigyo and Yango are saved from stone by Nakiami, sometimes more than once: Nakiami reminds them that they said they wanted to live, and provides an anchor for their return. Haru is “always running after Akiyuki” or Furuichi.. until she learns to walk by herself. Akiyuki turns to stone for nine years, but with Haru’s help remembers his name and who he is, and returns. All the Northern Emperor wants to do is be given a name, and Akiyuki helps him with that. Midori is always jealous of her prettier sister.. then comes to terms with her mother’s death and grows up to be just as pretty. All good things need contrast: Furuichi does not find himself, gets taken over by the Hiruko, and ends up taking his own life. Commander Kakisu tries to foist the blame for his life onto Dr. Ryuuzo, then essentially commits suicide and ends up a vegetable. Sukakki stays stagnant: she changes her hair but puts it back; she refuses the advances of the commander even though she wants it too; she is not true to herself and goes nowhere in the end.
A minor theme could be feelings and relationships: Ishu and Yunbo always seem to fight, but “feelings cannot be put into words” and years later they are still on the same ship. Ishu and Nakiami seem to dislike each other at first, but Ishu actually adopted Nakiami; all children fight with their parents and there is obvious love shown later. Ishu and Yango continue to visit the place where Nakiami is sealed, even nine years later. Much attention is paid to Fusa and Ryuuzo’s separation, and the journey is fraught with much hurt on both sides, but it ends with my very favorite type of romance: the type with a conclusion! Even better that they get back together.
Another valid criticism is that very little seemed significant. Furuichi died? A little crying and Haru is off to the races, with nary a mention afterwards. The Southern Empire is bombarding Tessik Village? No one says why and there is nothing more about it after the cliffhanger ending where Kujireika goes Super Saiyan. Same story at the Quickening Chamber: why is the South bombing all the people gathered for a religious ceremony? Ishu is presumed dead? Well, whatever. It doesn’t dwell on and doesn’t really explain many of the heavy plot points. I like seriousness and a measure of heaviness, but it feels kind of cheap here.
.. Hell, maybe the theme is messages reaching people & communication. See: The OP, the postal ship Zanbani where a lot of the show takes place, the explicit letter delivering in Amau and between Akiyuki and Haru… the rescue of Midori and Akiyuki in the end (getting through to them).. the white-haired religious children communicating through each other.. Haru’s thoughts reaching Akiyuki and vice versa throughout the series. On the flip side, see where messages fail to get there: Furuichi’s love for Haru, anything into Kujireika’s thick skull until the very end, the reason for the Quickening Chamber to Akiyuki (or the viewer) .. all the undeliverable mail the Zanbani did not throw away.. Fusa and Ryuuzo beating around the bush until the last few episodes.
More things I like about Xam’d (mid-season report here), then. Some of it is well-written. The foreshadowing on Furuichi being a Xam’d for one: he’s holding his leg in episode 1 and the schoolgirl-friend turned Humanform-weapon only chases after him, and he wonders why. I liked the granny, her tangerines, and “niceo cat-ch.” And Akiyuki and Haru’s new hairstyles; I am a fan of character designs changing as characters change and go different places; static designs are boring and lazy. I also liked the timeskip at the very end and the older designs of Haru, Yango, and the purple-haired girl; I generally like timeskips for the aforementioned reason, but not just in characters, in environment too. And the speech by the Northern Emperor and Ishu’s poetry are delivered well, even if they don’t make much sense if you think about them too much. Finally, Nakiami with her hair down. Oh geez, Nakiami.
So as mentioned – Xam’d gets an A+ on presentation but after reflection on what I just watched I have to downgrade that to an 8/10. If it’s ever properly translated and I rewatch I’ll probably bump that up to a 9.
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