Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Xam'd: Lost Memories - Review

 Studio: BONES
Year: 2008
# of Episodes: 26
Genre: sci-fi, fantasy, action, romance

Synopsis: [Anime News Network: Xam'd: Lost Memories]
"Enter Sentan, a lush, tranquil island encased in war between the military and those with Hiruko, known as Xam'd. 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."

Since its inception, Xam'd has been regarded as the spiritual successor of Eureka Seven, one of the most defining series in the history of Bones and arguably one of the best of its genre. So as a fan of Eureka Seven, I was very excited to finally sit down and take the time to watch it, and not surprisingly, I was subjected to the same level of mind screwing that seem to be inherent in nearly all Bones original works. What can I say, it was an enjoyable albeit frustrating ride that reinforced my opinion of Bones as an unique studio full of daring ideas, but often fail to weave them into one coherent plot.

The creators of this show clearly had the mechanisms of Eureka Seven in mind, evident in the number of similarities shared between the two shows. In both stories, the main character is thrown into a battle they understood little of, facing circumstances that involve much more than their immediate world. The Zanbani crew in Xam'd is also a direct reminder of the Gekostate in E7. However, putting aside the obvious similarities, I felt that Xam'd has a darker, more mature undertone in comparison to E7, especially during scenes where emotional turmoil is expressed. But more on that when I talk about the characters. 

First half of Xam'd has some of the best episodes I have seen in anime, the story progressed at a fast but even pace, and to my delight, it was on its way to establish a strong and sensible plot, perhaps one that may eventually warrant the title of masterpiece. Typical of Bones series, within Xam'd is a vast world full of rich details that truly captivated my senses and made me want to delve deeper into the mystery it presented. What exactly is a Hiruko and its connection to the Xam'd? Beyond the disguise of a postal ship, what purpose does Zanbani have? So many questions tickled my mind as each subplot started to emerge. 

It was clear Bones was going for something grand and ambitious, something that parallels world scale conspiracy, which to me sounded exciting but risky. After the Zanbani crash landed, the pace significantly slowed and with only half of the story to go, it almost felt like the writers didn't know how to continue with so many ideas in tow. When the pace picked up again, I was frustratingly confused as to where the story was heading and how it planed to wrap up. At this point, the show was beginning to lose its momentum, as it desperately tried to find a balance amongst a tangle of volatile ideas, but failing because the crucial link between them is largely missing or tenuous at best. I heard many complaints toward the ending of Xam'd, but I don't think that's the source of the problem, the story was in fact already spiraling out of control at the half way point, which paved way for the unsatisfying ending that might not have been so if the subplots were given the opportunity to fully develop. In a multi-layered story such as Xam'd,  the integrity of the central plot relies heavily on a number of the subplots, each with its own background and motivating factors. As a result of this spider wed like set up, the quality of the entire story suffered from inadequate explanation, and the end created more questions than it effectively answered. To make matters more complicated, the story was running on abstract elements such as soul and heaven, and they don't necessary operate on discernible logic. The Crimson Revolution led by Ishu, the war Akiyuki's dad fought, and the goal and purpose of the Northern Government, are among some of the things that should have been explored more in depth. Given what I think Bones intended to achieve, 26 episodes was simply too short for a multi-layered plot to reach the point where all ideas neatly coalesce. In comparison, Eureka Seven was often convoluted, but since it had more than 50 episode to stabilize, the central theme was never lost on me. 

Ahh, it was good to get that off my chest as I was clearly, once again, prisoner of Bones plot torture. Regardless what I just said, I enjoyed Xam'd immensely and a huge part of that enjoyment was a result of solid character development, which is in my opinion what makes Studio Bones shine despite its love for obscurities (note, I never said being vague is inherently bad, it really all depends on how it's executed and whether it disrupts a sense of coherence). Like most other Bones series, Xam'd not only had a strong main cast, the supporting casting was equally well crafted. Akiyuki is another proof that Bones isn't into archetype heroes, he is courageous but also feels fear and uncertainty like all humans do, and this level of genuineness makes his decision a lot easier to relate to. He never aspired to save humanity, his motivation comes from a desire to understand the being named Xam'd, which is essentially himself, and to return home to his family. As for Nakiami, I adore her to pieces, she's determined, caring, slightly impulsive and perhaps a little naive, she's pretty much what I would want for in a sister if I had one. The Zanbani crew is another highlight in the series, their leader, the "raven haired beauty with glasses" is in truth a woman with a rough demeanor and perhaps too much swag to express her more tender feelings. She smokes and drinks while fully aware of health implications, she's relentless when it comes to offhand comments, she's demanding and even resorts to physical violence when annoyed with her crew members, yet this is the woman that cries like a child all alone in a room because she misses her loved ones. Ishu, in many ways, remind me of Holland in Eureka Seven, which also means she's going on my list of favorite anime characters. Even Furuichi, whom I detested for a good few episode, felt real to me as I come to sympathize with his self-consciousness, weakness, jealousy, all the ugly but essential emotions that make us human. There are simply too many wonderful characters in this series for me to go through one by one, so I shall stop here before I uncontrollably condemn myself to the task. One more thing I do want to mention is the scene where Akiyaki's mother, driven by the parental instinct to see her child, chases madly after him on barefoot, it's such an insignificant moment from a plot standpoint, yet it felt so personal, so powerful, so saturated with emotions that I teared up for a good two minutes. At the end, I realize it's the emotional height accomplished through character interactions that make Xam'd, as well as many other Bones series so memorable. That is not to suggest plot is not important as I do wish Bones could keep a leash on those plot bunnies.

The character design and animation in Xam'd can be summed up in one word, exceptional. The character, each with distinct physical traits, and the landscapes they occupy are all beautifully rendered. The battles, especially ones that take place in the air, are animated with fluidity, details and precision. There is almost no application of CG, everything is hand drawn with care. Fans who are familiar of Studio Ghibli's work will undoubtedly take notice of the Ghibli influence in the character design. I know Nakiami immediately struck me as a cross between San from Princess Mononoke and NausicaƤ from Valley of the Wind. Anyhow, I've always been fond of Bones character design, aside from Gosick, which is moe and I seem to have a severe phobia towards the style. 

I had fun writing this review, as much as I had fun watching the series. I have yet to produce reviews for all the other Bones shows I've watched, part of the reason comes from the sentiment that Bones series requires a second watch to be fully digested and I want to be as critical as I can in my reviews. Thanks for reading!

Story: 8/10
Character: 9/10
Animation: 10/10
Music: 9/10
Directing/Style: 9/10
Enjoyment: 10/10
Overall: 9/10


  1. babe...I won't lie. I didn't even finish reading half of what you wrote, but I certainly felt the amount of satisfaction you had while watching this show. When I get around to watch this, I'll definitely come back to enjoy reading your review again. xD

  2.'s okay~ it was only an emotional outlet on my part..xD I didn't even delve into the specific plots because I wanted it to be spoiler free.