Eureka 7 meets Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and after a night of wild passion and lots of booze, the result is Xam’d. There are many similarities to those two shows plus the storywriters seemed to be drunk most of the time to really focus on what the heck the story is all about. Because let’s be honest; studio BONES simply sucks at storyboards.
And this is what actually ruins this show; what exactly is it about? Is it the lead male’s quest to find a way to control the symbiotic creature inside him? The lead girl’s attempt to save lives? Some war for whom gets to defeat whom? Hard to say; it could be all of that together. It looks simple in the beginning and it’s easy to follow up to a point but then they keep adding more and more and more side stories and secondary elements to the plot and they hardly try to explain them. What is even worse, is that it was not a problem with the duration of the show, but the mid episodes were very slow in progress to the point they ate up most of the time which could be used to subtly showcast everything. The scriptwriters had to turn the plot into turbo mode in the last third and since they had opened a hundred different things, nothing made sense and went by with just a vague passing. I mean, the characters seem to know what is going on because it’s their world and their terminology but the rest of us are kept in the dark all the way. Series like Neon Genesis did the same but you could still follow most of what was going on with the only blank spots being the character motives and the weird stuff in the finale. But at least it was extremely entertaining even without that. You don’t have that in Xamdou because it is not heavy on action or fan service; it’s mystery and adventure and unintentionally became cryptic as heck because BONES sucks at exposition.
You can always look for the answers on some wiki on the web but it’s just not the same because there is no established connection with most of what is going on. There are also many parts where the characters vaguely refer to all the events and vaguely hint what they are all about. The average viewer though will not have proper detective skills to figure it all out, nor will he even bother to do so. Sure, it is equally bad to have the characters breaking the fourth wall and explaining all to you in a forced monologue but THIS is equally bad, as it accepts from the viewer to memorize everything and even try to connect things on his own. Which may sound cool at first but it clearly doesn’t worth it by the end of the show as there are too many things going on at the same time and they all feel like they weren’t looked into as much as they should have. Plus, you probably don’t even care to find out.
The story begins with the lead male, Akiyuki, living a normal school life. At some point a kamikaze kid blows up and this mutating thing enters him, which turns him into a huge bioorganic beast. And then some dudes from a neighboring territory attack, he has to escape, starts losing his mind but is saved by, Nakiami, the lead female of the show, who takes him on her flying ship and together goes on a quest for a way to control his power and bring a stop to all the deaths of the affected people.
So far, so good; we have a very interesting beginning with a normal teenager getting superpowers, some sort of religious war going on, flying ships, and a quest for salvation. It is all easy to follow and to be frank, it is not something I have encountered in any other show with this exact blend of elements. It looked like from the start that it would be a lot more than some generic quest by a bunch of silly kids.
So the story continues by getting to know the characters more. The flying ship is in fact doing postal work on a continental scale, which is a fine excuse for them to get paid and looking for clues here and there. I mean most shows have the characters be full of magic money; no idea how they find the needed provisions to roam around. Anyways, it feels better than that excuse of surfing mercenaries on Eureka 7, and makes another allusion to Last Exile.
From here and up to the middle of the show the plot keeps going back and forth amongst numerous characters in different locations, fleshing them out to be more than NPCs offering short termed aid or importance to the plot and yet never clearly explaining why is everything happening. Or how. Or for what purpose.
And then we have a showdown of sorts amongst childhood friends the reason of which appears to be who gets to score with Haru, the heartbreaking girl… Hm, now that is just shallow. Anyways, this was the part where the story started to fall apart as the motives of the characters became harder and harder to follow. Why did that dude kill himself? Why are those zealot kids killing themselves when they could just plant bombs and escape to repeat the process and increase their chances in the war? Sure, they give vague hints but if you are not Sherlock, you will most likely miss the connection points.
Also, this is the part where the pace slooooows down a lot and far less interesting things are happening, or even make sense. But what did you expect if the main character gets amnesia? God how I hate that trope; it resets progress and eats up a whole bunch of episodes for no reason. Ok, maybe it made some reason in this case as Akiyuki was looking for the meaning in his life or something, but it also ate a lot of precious time and left everything else hanging out to dry.
The final episodes have this huge war going on, which by now makes no sense at all without reading a long wiki about the stuff they left out or your mother is Agatha Cristie. Plus, for a war the action part was quite short and random and didn’t even matter in the entire plot. In Evangelion, even if you didn’t get the story you would at least love the action but here it is all mambo-jumbo. So I must warn anyone who is interested in the show to NOT expect good action scenes. All the progress happens through dialogues as the pen is mightier than the sword. Plus, the sword in this series is goddamn ugly.
To be frank, I didn’t like the Xamdou transformations much; they looked like silly sponge creatures. Other shows with people turning to freaks have really cool looks, like in the case of Guyver or Tekkaman Blade. Here, it looks plain weird. It is unique in its own way of course but that doesn’t mean it’s appealing; it’s just memorable.
And the finale comes along and… nothing makes sense. Or it does if you read the wiki but at this point I didn’t care to find out because I had lost my interest. It felt like a big let down at how they wasted all those episodes on strolling aimlessly in the countryside and neglected to explain more of what is going on.
The story is quite interesting actually, but just like in Eureka 7 and Last Exile, the setting remains a big blur at many parts and you are left with a lot of blank spots in the end, which translates to bad storytelling. All that terminology and innuendos and areas and people and you hardy get half of what is going on.
I loved the artwork and the animation; they are very good most of the duration and almost of movie quality. Studio BONES never fails to deliver in general looks of any of its shows. What I disliked was the action parts, as the beasts and the fighting choreography looked silly to me. The music is fine too, with the main theme being very memorable. Unfortunately, the dialogues end up being the only thing that progresses the story, thus breaking the first rule of good storytelling “show, don’t tell”. Heck, one would wonder if they even “tell” it since it’s all so vague and cryptic.
Most characters are interesting as they all get fleshed out immensely throughout the show. Too bad the vague setting makes their motives weird and unsupported after awhile. Plus, as much as they get fleshed out, besides five all the rest end up being completely irrelevant to the main plot (the one in the ending that is, as very little makes sense in the second half) which eventually makes them all to be decorations and not active personalities that affect the events around them.
Down to it, all this blabber and silly fighting didn't get to me. It is not a good war drama; at least not compared to Legend of Galactic Heroes and Gundam 08th MS team. Its romantic sub-plots ends up being minor rouses while the world-building aspect is sacrificed considerably around dragged and autistic personal drama. It is not even that good as a journey of self-acknowledgement either, as many things are left to speculation, vague hints and some Buddhist type of life very few would bother to figure out. If you try to find similarities between this and Full Metal Alchemist, you will easily tell how it did a very bad job compared to that adventure because they lacked focus and didn’t notice the time restrictions until it was too late. Plus, despite its weird philosophy and themes around happiness and harmony of the soul, it sure didn't make me think or feel anything special as Neon Genesis, Serial Experiments Lain, Mind Game, Kaiba, or Tatami Galaxy did. So it’s all nothing but a pretty birthday box with a very beautiful cover and an expensive vase inside which someone dropped accidentally and thus when you open the box you find your gift to be in pieces.
They are nice looking pieces though.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 9/10
General Artwork 2/2 (looks great)
Character Figures 1/2 (generic drawn people and ugly monsters)
Backgrounds 2/2 (very fantasy-like)
Animation 2/2 (fine for a tv series)
Visual Effects 2/2 (fine for a tv series)
SOUND SECTION: 9/10
Voice Acting 3/3 (mature)
Music Themes 3/4 (not great but fitting with the feeling of the series)
Sound Effects 3/3 (fine)
STORY SECTION: 6/10
Premise 2/2 (interesting)
Pacing 1/2 (slow and erratic)
Complexity 2/2 (rich context)
Plausibility 0/2 (vague and confusing)
Conclusion 1/2 (solid but very messy)
CHARACTER SECTION: 7/10
Presence 2/2 (strong)
Personality 2/2 (well founded)
Backdrop 1/2 (generic and simplistic but it’s there)
Development 1/2 (most develop but it’s done in a most confusing way)
Catharsis 1/2 (confusing but it’s there)
VALUE SECTION: 6/10
Historical Value 2/3 (quite famous)
Rewatchability 1/3 (low because of too much confusing plot)
Memorability 3/4 (interesting enough to remember it but it could have been a lot better)
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 5/10
Very good presentation at first but I was left mostly confused and disappointed.