Andrew Osmond on the high points of Studio Bones’ anime Xam’d.
We’re guessing that if you’re visiting this site, then you’re probably used to exotic, unpronounceable anime titles like Xam’d: Lost Memories. In this case, though, it seems a little unfortunate that the Xam’d bit of the name wasn’t left off the Western release. After all, it could scare some of the newbie buyers who came to anime with the re-released Akira. And its name aside, Xam’d is a great crossover anime, with things to draw both beginners and old-timers.
Like Akira, the plot involves a teenage boy who turns into a monstrous-looking alien creature. This lad, though, is no delinquent biker, but an average high-schooler, not too old to be a bit of a brat. He’s transformed not by government experiments but by a Mysterious Anime Girl . In part one, the boy, Akiyuki, sees the white-haired stranger queuing for the school bus; she doesn’t seem to have her ID. He casually lends her his, they ride the bus to school, and… she blows herself up. Akiyuki survives the blast, but gets an alien spore lodged in his arm, which turns him into a bulbous, faceless humanoid creature. It’s good timing; just at that moment, his home island comes under attack from an enemy power, which commands its own human-monster menagerie.
Xam’d is by the Bones studio, the folks who made Fullmetal Alchemist, plus RahXephon, Soul Eater, Wolf’s Rain, Ouran High School and the samurai film Sword of the Stranger. The most pertinent title, though, is Bones’s science-fiction epic Eureka 7. Xam’d isn’t set in the same world as Eureka, but it still feels almost like a follow-up. After the initial battle, the human-again hero joins a quasi-family crew in their skyship. This flying community is very reminiscent of the Gekkostate crew in Eureka, down to the hardass captain (a woman this time). Also like Eureka, many of the keys to the story are held by an oppressed, exotically religious minority, to whom the white-haired girl bomber belonged.
Hiroyuki’s schoolfriend Haru, who’s separated from him for much of the story, should sound familiar to fans. She’s voiced in Japanese by the veteran Fumiko Orikasa, whose other roles range from Rukia in Bleach to Hawkeye in FMA Brotherhood. The idea of a symbiotic entity that turns a human into an alien warrior should also be familiar; it goes back to the original live-action TV Ultraman in 1966. As in Bones serials generally, there’s a lot of emphasis on the often troubled relationships between the show’s characters, lifting them above anime stereotypes. For example, two of Xam’d’s most sympathetic characters are Hiroyuki’s estranged mum and dad, left behind by their son; they recall another estranged couple in Wolf’s Rain.
Xam’d, then, is nested in layers of anime tradition. At the same time, Xam’d’s presentation makes it more accessible than many other anime. Its world is rich, its animation lively; as a “cinematic” anime serial, it rivals the likes of Paranoia Agent or Eden of the East. Xam’d even has the cheek to mimic Studio Ghibli imagery, with a girl zooming through the clouds on a customised glider. Xam’d keeps away from many of the anime devices that might frighten newbies: fanservice, saucer eyes, spiked hair and superdeformed slapstick. Like many Bones shows, Xam’d’s plot uncoils slowly – even at the end of the first box-set, there’s a lot left unanswered – but you don’t doubt there is a plot to reveal. On the basis of the first 13 episodes (of 26), Xam’d: Lost Memories is a solidly thought-out, novelistic telefantasy; the fact it has cool battles between anime monsters is a bonus. Try it out!
Xam’d: Lost Memories part one is out now on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.