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DVD Review


DVD cover

Xam'd: Lost Memories
Collection 1

 

Starring (voice): Atsushi Abe, Fumika Orikasa, Yuko Sanpei
Manga Entertainment
RRP: £24.99
MANG5224
Certificate: 12
Available 18 July 2011


When a young boy, Akiyuki Takehara, living on the peaceful island of Sentan becomes the victim of a terrorist attack on a school bus, he is mysteriously transformed into Xam'd, a powerful mecha capable of extreme power. Now, Akiyuki must discover the depth of his power and the role he plays in a world where metal and rock meet flesh, desire, and destiny...

Xam'd: Lost Memories is a show with a lot of prestige attached to it. Directed by Studio Ghibli alumnus Masayuki Miyaji and produced by the high-quality studio Bones (Fullmetal Alchemist, Soul Eater), it was selected as the début series for Sony's Playstation Network video downloading service in July 2008, three months ahead of its official debut on Japanese TV. Certainly the creators seem upfront about trading on earlier successes with their new series: the scenario and character designs are strongly reminiscent of Bones' massively successful 2005 series Eureka Seven (although E7's character designer Ken'ichi Yoshida didn't work on Xam'd), and there are multiple allusions to Ghibli's works, in particular the later films of Hayao Miyazaki. With that in mind, what does Xam'd have to offer in its own right?

While the surface trappings of the show openly show its debt to proven successes of the past - hardly an isolated practice, in anime or elsewhere - it's to the series' credit that it doesn't take the easy road to pleasing the audience. Exposition is at a minimum, taking the difficult gambit of acting as if the audience is already part of the world on display and not spelling out the uneasy relationship between the supposedly free state of Sentan and its warring northern and southern neighbours - one seemingly a religious-mystical autocracy under the control of a shadowy emperor, the other a more conventional military dictatorship. Viewers may feel confused by the onslaught of technical and mystical jargon - terms like Hiruko, Humanform, Mainsoul and Xam'd flow by without much comment from the characters - but it's rare to see a series as high-profile as this unwilling to hand-hold and Xam'd's makers deserve credit for their efforts.

Even if the scenario and terminology leave some viewers cold, there's plenty more to enjoy as the series creators have rightly made characterisation the focus of their attention. Main character Akiyuki creates a fine first impression in the opening episode, cycling furiously across town, dragging his hungover father out of bed and improvising to help a pretty stranger pass a military checkpoint; his body language and posture say as much about him as the dialogue, something contemporary anime directors seldom spend time on without resorting to cartoony exaggeration.

Akiyuki's childhood sweetheart Haru and best friend and rival Furuichi are similarly well drawn, with hints of the tension between them that will come to dominate the drama later on already evident. The female lead, the priestess-aeronaut Nakiami, is the most obvious callback to Miyazaki's classic Nausicaš of the Valley of the Wind and Princess Mononoke; still, her pragmatic and stoical personality is a refreshing change of pace for female leads in anime, and the series bravely veers away from establishing romantic tension with Akiyuki, focusing instead on the fraught, not-quite-parental relationship between Nakiami and Ishu, the tough, insouciant female captain of her postal-courier airship.

While the supporting cast don't have quite the charm of Eureka Seven's Gekkostaters, the main antagonist, ambitious military officer Kakisu, is blandly malevolent in a more convincing way than E7's villain Dewey; and best of all in an age where anime protagonist's parents are routinely erased from existence by unimaginative writers, Akiyuki's mother and father are thoroughly fleshed out, their already fractured relationship and grief at their son's unexplained disappearance portrayed with care.

While some will probably find Xam'd's haphazard world-building and mishmash of concepts difficult to stand - it's true that the central element of letter-writing doesn't really take flight as it should - it's still a series that takes many risks that other shows don't even consider, and is worth attention for that alone. The music and direction are first-rate, the Xam'ds and Humanform monsters sometimes inventively grotesque, and the leisurely pace of the story and plot builds to a satisfyingly unpleasant conclusion with the close of this first season.

If you like fantasy series that have the courage to do something different with the usual elements, and prefer characterisation over spectacle, Xam'd is a series to check out.

8

Richard Hunt

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