When it comes to plot, X: The Movie is hanging on by its fingernails, by which I mean there is a recognisable plot but that's about it. The movie simply takes itself too seriously for what it actually delivers, namely suffocating melodrama and unoriginal gimmicks.
Basically, the main character Kamui returns to Tokyo one fine day ("Where has he been?" you ask, but save your breath, they never tell you) and it is his destiny to choose between the Dragons of Earth who want to destroy the world and the Dragons of Heaven who want to protect it. Unbeknownst to him, his best friend Fuma is destined to be his ultimate adversary no matter which side Kamui chooses. I suppose the core idea is workable, objectively speaking, but the actual execution feels clumsy and amateurish; the story leaps from one explosive duel to another with virtually no character development or plot twists to fill the gaps. And because the set pieces arrive with such minimal build-up, they quickly lose their impact. This might not be a problem in itself if the movie woke up to its own absurdity and did away with the self-righteous attempts to appeal to our emotions. After all, many a good fighting anime like Tenjho Tenge is successful simply because it embraces its crass and corny characters.
Also, despite being one of the most bustling cities of the world, Tokyo is portrayed as conveniently deserted ninety percent of the time, which is a shame because the film misses an important opportunity to subliminally strengthen its message. The conflict between the Dragons is over whether or not humanity deserves to live when we befoul and ravage the Earth, yet we rarely get to see the subjects of the debate; rather than show you what the Dragons are fighting over, these base, but full of potential human beings are treated in the abstract.
Anyway, by the time you get to the Matrix 3 style ending - massively bloated action, impractical ornate swords, silly flying around while skyscraper debris floats down - you are watching simply because you spent a non-refundable £19.99 on the DVD.
The animation is very good for its day; the characters move fluidly enough whether running, flying or performing manic incantations, and stylistically, it is a good-looking anime. One of the prettiest moments is Kotori's dream sequence at the beginning when she's running across water chasing after a bubble; the virginal white of her dress, gold-blonde of her hair and pastel blue of the background is lovely.
On the downside, the character designs are a little bland and predictable, with the juxtaposition of Hinoto and Kanoe's respective light and dark outfits coming across as especially contrived because they're sisters. The environments are also not that complex in design, being mainly generic grey blocks of buildings with the occasional tall skyscraper, so X is visually eye-catching only where the dreams and fights are concerned.
As soundtracks go, this one is non-eventful. The score always fits the mood but it is not particularly varied or interesting. The Japanese voice acting is passable, although with the script as it is, it is hard to see any hard work behind it. The characters say what they need to say in the tone they need to say it in which, in the end, means generic, uninteresting dialogue.
The characters are cardboard slaves to the plot; everything they say is contrived and everything they do is designed merely to pave the way for the next predictable event. This is particularly true of Fuma because he so quickly gets over his deep friendship with Kamui and his love for his sister to unquestioningly embrace his evil role. "It's destiny, Kamui," he smirks without even the common decency to show some inner conflict.
To be fair, Kamui is just as flummoxing. His only motivation is to protect his friends, meaning he refuses to acknowledge that saving the Earth is his problem for much of the movie. In the back of your mind, however, you're thinking if he doesn't save the world, Fuma and Kotori are just going to end up either dead in the resulting Apocalypse or left alive in a world with only the evil Dragons of the Earth as neighbours. Wanting to protect your friends surely extends to protecting the planet they inhabit; of course, if he had done anything productive early on, most of the colourful battles and gruesome deaths would have been avoided, sadly undermining the film's entire reason for being.
Beyond the main characters, the Dragons on both sides are merely road-kill-to-be. None of the Dragons of the Earth are given even a single concept to define them apart from their peculiar gimmick. The Dragons of Heaven on the other hand have a gimmick and a sentence of dialogue each telling you why you should care about their fate (which is a subtle clue that they're going to be dead in the next five minutes).
Only one interesting twist comes up at the end with one of the antagonists, but it is so little and so late that it comes across as nothing more than an afterthought tossed in because the creators worried the character might be - gasp! - a little too cliché.
This movie was a starting point into the World of X for me. I never actually enjoyed it but I was intrigued enough to go on and watch the immensely more satisfying series a short time after. I don't know if what the movie aims to achieve is to get people interested in the story and go on to read the manga (a device employed by many franchises including Fake) or to convince an anime company that they had enough material for a series; but on that front it works well.
As a movie though, it is an incoherent and confusing work with great visuals. Sadly, it tries too hard to include so much within its timeframe and as a result, not enough time is given to characters to grow or for the story to flow at a proper pace. Depending on your tolerance of style over substance, this movie will be a good way to get to know the X franchise or a waste of time.
The animation as I mentioned before is excellent. For its time, it IS breathtaking, probably the best looking movie of 1996. The Art captures the gloomy atmosphere of the "End of the World" exceedingly well and the character design and costumes are drawn with the right amount of detail to make it look VERY accomplished on the ART front.
The animation is also a work of wonder with an impeccable framerate for its time. The action scenes are the best example of this as you can feel the force of the characters' moves against each other. Another area which is done this well is with the crumbling buildings. The detail on those scenes will have you looking at it in awe.
The sound complements those scenes very well. The background music is very suited to the scenes on offer here and the sound effects have just the right "oompf" to make this work come to life. Sadly although these tunes are well suited to the movie, they are average when listened to on their own with only one vocal track worth a second listen.
The voice actors are good for this overall, with Kamui's and Fuuma's seiyuus the strongest overall. They have just the maturity to portray these two characters versatily.
The story is where things get uneven. CLAMP made a big mistake in trying to encompass the WHOLE of X in one movie. I mean this franchise has 15 IMPORTANT AND MAIN characters in the manga series so there is no way they can be done justice in this timeframe. Add the very slow start to this and the pacing definitely leaves a lot to be desired.
The story centres on Kamui and on his choice to join the Dragons of Heaven (wanting to preserve Earth) and the Dragons of Earth (wanting to destroy it). Just this alone would have been enough to fill this movie with content if the right pacing was employed.
As it is you get Kamui making his decision within the first 20 minutes in an attempt to recover his childhood friends. Not enough time is spent on important situations like this throughout and it leaves the movie feeling forced and shallow in its delivery (the Escaflowne and Rahxephon movie also suffer from this as they also try to include too much).
The main players are downsized from 15 to 2 in this as the story revolves more about Kamui and Fuuma with all other characters making only cameo appearances. However, 13 cameos is a lot and the time spent on Kamui and Fuuma is still not nearly enough.
As it is you are introduced to the characters and can decide which ones would be cool in a TV series and which one your favourite would be then, since there is no way they would be so under developed there. And you would be right with that assumption. This movie only serves to INTRODUCE you to them, none of them gets enough development to be more than cardboard cutouts.
As a result, this movie ends up being the worst outing of the X franchise. This just goes to show why its fans rarely even mention it. I would just like to ask you not to judge the whole X franchise based on this movie. The TV series and the manga have a lot more to offer.
Although I have appreciation for the ART I must say that the creators' choice of style over substance really does not work here. A better story with developed characters would have made this a gem of animation as it has the right ingredients but wastes it all on the wrong recipe. If you can appreciate some eye candy without much of anything else, then you will get some enjoyment from this. I mean, even I finished it...
X is described on the DVD cover from one critic as being "One of the greatest orgies of battle and destruction ever seen in a live action film or an animated one... A feast for the eyes." However, just like with the other critics comments on the DVD cover, I highly disagree. To me this film is a terribly, confusing experience.
The film tells the story of Kamui who returns to Tokyo after 6 years of absence. Two factions begin to take an interest to him known as, the Dragons of Heaven and Dragons of Earth because depending on what faction he joins Kamui will lead them to victory with their cause. In this case, he joins the Dragons of Heaven who want to prevent the Dragons of Earth from destroying humanity. Meanwhile, his childhood friend Fuma joins the Dragons of Earth since he is told that it's the only way he can save his sister, Kotori. The plot is the basic good vs evil story, but while it did have some promising concepts and ideas, the plot just comes out as being a convoluted mess with wasted ideas either because of the amount of dream sequences the film has or if something isn't explained fully enough. For example without giving anything away, let's just say you'll be confused in the first four minutes and I literally mean that.
Now for one of the films only good qualities, the animation. While I disagree that the film is passable just because of the animation on it's own similar to how people say Avatar is brilliant just because of visuals on it's own when in fact the plot is quite weak and basically a retelling of Pocahontas, for it's time X's animation is pretty good. It leads to pretty visually stunning pieces and some nice environments.
Ugh, along with the characters (which I'll get to later) the sound is atrocious. The English dub voice acting is some of the worst I've ever heard in an anime. This mostly because the voices sound quite off and the actors do a pretty weak job of potraying the characters. An example of this is from the beginning of the film where Kamui sees his mother explode in dream and proceeds to scream, "Mother!!!!" which is possibly one of the cringiest things I've ever heard. As for the other elements of the sound, the music really isn't that memorable other than the DVD menu music and the ending theme, Forever Love. Another problem I have with the sound is that the audio can sound a bit crackly at times. It definitely wasn't the DVD because if you listen carefully you can tell that the audio wasn't recorded that well though it might just be the copy I borrowed from the library I went to. Overall for the sound it's quite weak with some terrible voice acting and unmemorable music.
Now for the segment which I have the least to talk about, the characters. What I mean is that they are all very boring and uninteresting. Most of them, with the exception of the main three characters have no backstory whatsoever thus making them boring to watch even in the action scenes since I'm not rooting for anyone. Fuma seems to be the only character who gets some character development though it's very poorly done. In general, I really couldn't care less about the characters since they lack backstories and character development especially the main protagonist, Kamui.
In conclusion, X is not only the worst animated film I've ever seen but also one of the worst films I've ever seen in general. I've seen the likes of other terrible animated films such as Yugioh the Movie but at least that was enjoyable because how stupid it was, thus making it entertaining to watch. X on the other hand was just a boring and confusing mess. If you're interested in checking out the franchise watch the series which retells the story because although I've only seen the first two episodes of it, it does a MUCH better job at being interesting and entertaining though that's a story for another day. Anyway, avoid this film at all costs.