Rated R, 98 min. Directed by Rintaro. Starring Stacey Jefferson, Danica Fairman, Adam Henderson, Larissa Murray, Alan Marriot.
“What is going on here?!” cries a bloodied character midway through director Rintaro's apocalyptic anime bloodfest. What, indeed. As is so often the case with Japanese animation, X's plotting is byzantine to say the least, with bizarre, seemingly spur-of the-moment digressions and a storyline that ricochets from the prosaic to the bewildering in the space of a few frames. That never stopped me from appreciating Katsuhiro Otomo's legendary Akira -- itself plotted in an equally challenging manner -- but then this is a far cry from the mind-crunching, hyper-violent splendor of that film. Rintaro, the man behind the late Eighties atomo-fest Neo-Tokyo (and before that the beloved Astro Boy) is a fine one for visual imagery (there are more explosions in his new film than in all Schwarzenegger's arias combined), but the film as a whole is likely to sail miles above the heads of anyone not anally familiar with the insoluble conventions of the anime/manga genres. X opens in 1999, with young Kamui embroiled in a dream of his mother, the apparent guardian of Earth, who urges him to leave his life behind and get himself to Tokyo as soon as possible. Not one to disobey his mother, even in a dream, Kamui treks off and soon finds himself in the company of old friends Fuma and Kotori, who have also had similarly disturbing visions. The three soon come to realize that the mystical “Dragon of the Earth,” a collective of super-powered evildoers, is intent on destroying the world, beginning, of course, with Tokyo. Kamui and his friends have been branded as “Dragons of the Heavens,” sworn to oppose the Earth dragons and save the city. Kamui, it seems, is the wild card, able to fight for either side, and thus fulfill his destiny as either the creator of a new, golden world, or the destroyer of the old. I know, it sounds as ridiculous as a Pokemon episode gone horribly awry, but fans of anime will doubtless clutch this chunk of pop art mayhem to their chests. All the prerequisites are in place for success, including outlandishly chesty heroines, dragon ladies with an eye on the hero, and that manga staple -- the doe-eyed, jailbait supervixen. Of course, to fully appreciate the deluded wonder of Rintaro's film, you'd have to get past the execrable dubbing job: It's difficult (if not impossible) to keep track of all the wild machinations on screen when you can't stop giggling at the work of the grade-Z voice actors whose throaty, too-American tones issue from such goggle-eyed characters. Anime fans should turn out in droves simply because AOL's chat rooms are so clogged these days. Those who find the comparably intellectual Pokemon too much to deal with, however, are advised to rush out and rent the vastly superior (and literate) work of Hayao Miyazaki, whose My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki's Delivery Service should be more to their liking.
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