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...