29 Aug 2011
After its beautiful yet ultimately hollow first half, Xam'd returns with a second and final batch of episodes. Can it pull the series out of a rut or does it delve even further into the mundane?
I approached the second volume of Xam'd with some hope - having seen the Akira-inspired transformation of Akiyuki's best pal Furuichi and the subsequent fight-scene, I thought the series might finally be switching gears towards something more in line with the series opening credits - a bit of pace, excitement and, hopefully explanation of what the hell was going on.
Oh dear, silly me.
Xam'd chooses instead to wallow in it's own naval-gazing, with Akiyuki stuck behind his Xam'd mask with no recollection of who he is, and Nakiyami wandering throughout the countryside looking miserable, picking up yet another irritating little kid as she goes. The rest of the cast get very little screen time, and as ever Xam'd never really tells you what's going on. There's "mature" writing, and then there's lazy, incompetent plotting. It's almost as if the writers were so smitten with their own world (and it is genuinely lovely) they forgot that the rest of us might actually require some exposition as to what the hell is going on, or why.
This frustrating and largely irritating state of affairs detracts from the lush visuals that are a welcome constant throughout the series. The action scenes, when they do arrive, are usually well directed and the music helps to set a fittingly sombre tone.
All the sparkle in the world simply can't make up for a depressing, ill-conceived narrative though. It's hard to care for anyone when their motivations aren't explained. When characters do die, you can never tell what for, and the entire architecture of the world is so ill-explained that toward the end I didn't even know what the objective was.
The English voice cast do a credible job, but as usual the Japanese dub does a better job of conveying the subtle emotions of the characters. That said, of the English crew, Chris Hutchison in particular deserves much praise for his depiction of Tojiro Kagisu, the army officer with the soft voice and cruel intent.
Xam'd is not the anime it claims to be - the opening shows us an exciting, funky anime with a cool style and fast pace. In reality Xam'd is a slow-paced introspective look at themes such as family and responsibility, albeit a badly scripted and poorly plotted one. It has a unique charm, and it will probably find a limited audience of loyal fans who love the environments and characters presented, but I just can't forgive a series that took so much potential and threw it all away.