X began as a manga series produced by CLAMP from 1992 to 2003. Its manga storyline was never completed, but nonetheless spawned a movie and a 24 episode anime series that originally aired in 2001. FUNimation's release of X: The Complete Series contains the anime series along with a one episode OVA in a four-disc boxset.
The end of the world is nigh. The fate of the Earth rests in the hands of Kamui Shiro. He is faced with the choice of joining either the Dragons of Heaven, who are sworn to protect mankind, or the Dragons of Earth, who seek revolution by destroying the human menace that plagues the planet. Kamui left Tokyo during his childhood, but not before establishing a lifelong friendship with Fuma and his sister, Kotori. He has now returned to Tokyo, where the apocalypse will soon take place, to claim the Divine Sword. It is here that Kamui is reunited with Fuma and Kotori and, it turns out, all of them play a pivotal role in the events to come.
Many other characters figure into the mix. Both factions have seven members, or seven seals, that all have various superpowers and origin stories. In addition to these 14 characters, there are others such as the dreamseer, Princess Hinoto, and her sister, Kanoe, that receive a significant amount of screen time. X unapologetically takes its time introducing each of the characters in-depth before finally moving forward with its apocalyptic storyline.
Therein lies X's nearly fatal flaw: it starts off boring. If I were not reviewing this set, then this show would have lost me by the fourth or fifth episode. The first half of the series is spent introducing all the characters for both the Dragons of Heaven and the Dragons of Earth, at a clip of roughly one per episode. The manner in which the characters are introduced is not compelling and serves as a digression from the actual story. I often wondered why I should care about many of the characters and their histories. There is an overwhelming amount of information dumped on you in the first 13 episodes--much of it through pure dialogue. The writers offer no favors by giving nearly half of the characters names that start with the letter "K." It's confusing and you are left hopelessly trying to wade through the mass of information.
A few of the characters stand out from the masses in the beginning with their interesting personalities and background stories. The relationship between Sorata and Arashi is heartwarmingly awkward. Sorata has to deal with the foresight of knowing that he will die to save Arashi. He not only openly accepts his fate, but seems to take delight in it. It's a welcome twist to not have a character dwell and brood about such an ominous fate, especially in a dark anime such as X. The episode that focuses on young Yuzuhira, and her pet Inuki, is a standout amongst the first 13 episodes. Inuki is a wolf-type of animal called an inugami that is only visible to Yuzuhira. This leads to a rough childhood for the poor girl. Her teachers and classmates thought she was delusional and had imaginary friends. As the events of this series unfold, Yuzuhira meets a man named Kusanagi who is the first person she has known that can see Inuki. She latches on to Kusanagi, which begins a puppy-love relationship that is tastefully handled.
X's exceptionally dull first half is exonerated by a fantastic second half. There are few anime series that can keep me clicking the "Next" button through eight straight episodes with no breaks. The second half of X stands amongst them. Once the main story finally begins moving forward, it goes from convoluted and dull to interesting and surprising. The action is intense and the one-on-one battles are epic, although the writers lean on last second saves by other characters a bit too often. The cast has many interwoven relationships between the two factions that are expanded upon in the final episodes. The characters are faced with some fascinating dilemmas that make you ponder what you might choose in that situation. There are some stunning twists and turns that, while confusing at first, make complete sense once you understand the characters' true motivations. X ties everything together and somehow handles the large cast well after a shaky start.
There are anime fans that love dark, serious, slow burn types of storylines and will gleefully sit through the first half of X. It's not my preference, but if done well, I enjoy these types of stories, too. It's difficult to recommend a series that I hated through a good portion of it. Now, that I have watched the series through its conclusion, I'm tempted to go back and watch the first half of the series with the benefit of hindsight to see if it's more interesting. I guess this what they call rewatchability, albeit unintended.
Sound: X features an English 5.1 Dolby Digital track and a Japanese 2.0 subtitled track. There are a few surround effects in the 5.1 mix, but for an apocalyptic fight for the fate of the world, it's surprisingly dialogue and center channel based. The dub cast does a good job with the material and all of the voices fit the characters well.
Video: The video is presented in 1.33:1 full frame ratio. The image quality is a bit soft, washed out and shows some pixelization in parts, but overall it's decent considering its age. On the other hand, Episode 0, the OVA included as an extra, looks terrible. The OVA has line noise in almost every scene, which is distracting. Because this OVA is listed as an extra, I will not factor it into the grade of the video quality, but it warrants mention.
There are many fans of X's character designs, but I did not find them appealing. Many of the characters are absurdly thin and have almost lifeless faces. It is probably no coincidence that the characters with the most interesting background stories, Yuzuhira and Sorata, also had the most expressive faces and eyes.
Extras: Episode 0 is an OVA that gives a some background on the dreamseer, Kakyo. The OVA is somewhat interesting while telling Kakyo's story, but becomes skippable when it devolves into a clips show of the series while Kakyo reviews his prophetic visions of the apocalypse. The trailer for the Episode 0 OVA is also thrown in. The next extra is a 15 minute subtitled interview with the Director, Yoshiaki Kawajiri. The interview covers topics such as the themes of X, voice acting and the OVA, and also mixes in some great behind-the-scenes footage. Also included are some trailers for other FUNimation series.
Final Thoughts: Through the first 13 episodes I was prepared to blast this anime series as one of the most disappointing series that I have seen. The first half is boring, full of diversions, and done all wrong. However, once things started moving in the second half, I could not stop watching. If you have the patience to lumber through the frustrating first half, and can keep up with all the names that start with "K," then you will be rewarded with a great story and even better ending. It's just a shame that the series begins so poorly--it could have been great. Recommended.