If ever there were an award handed out for "most difficult anime series to search for on the Internet", then undoubtedly X would win hands down. So, if you found this review via Google or some other search engine, then give yourself a round of applause for your Internet-savvy technical knowledge.
Anyhow, on to X, a story which began its life as a manga series from the pens of Clamp back in mid 1992. After eighteen volumes and a couple of periods of hiatus on account of various controversies, the series is still left unfinished in its original form, but this didn't stop Madhouse creating an anime feature film from the story in 1996. Despite the praise the movie received for its technical brilliance, Madhouse clearly still weren't satisfied with their achievements, and thus in 2001 came X the TV series.
Rather than jump straight into the series proper, Madhouse kicked off this latest reimagining of X via a single episode OVA (Original Video Animation), and this is included on the first volume of MVM's DVD as "episode 0" of the series. While I can only applaud this inclusion in the name of completeness, I have to confess that I'm not too convinced that it adds anything for anyone new to the X story personally; if anything, its depiction of a lot of the key characters and some of the basis for the show's scenario feels a little too rushed and like an information overload that detracts from the slower build-up to come.
With that out of the way though we're finally introduced to the series proper, as a number of disparate elements prepare to set off to Tokyo as part of their various callings. These individuals are conversely the Seven Dragons of Heaven (the so-called Seven Seals) and Earth, and as the four episodes which remain on this DVD progress, so we slowly see the lines between these factions and some of the parties who represent them beginning to be drawn.
In the middle of all of this impending doom, chaos, and what looks all set to be some kind of apocalypse is Kamui, a teenager whose return to Tokyo is at first welcomed by a couple of his former close friends Kotori and Fuuma before they realise that something fundamental has changed in his demeanour from the quiet but caring boy they remember. Indeed, Kamui's internal struggles, set against the backdrop of the loss of his mother and his overwhelming concerns about his own destiny as holder of the Divine Sword which acts somewhat as a centrepiece for the series thus far, are built up as a critical part of what is to come, largely by the way of some of the Dragons of Earth who are capable of seeing the future laid out in their dreams.
If all of this sounds rather muddled and confusing, then you're probably sharing a least a little of my own feelings having completed this opening volume of X. However, that isn't really meant as a criticism as such - The episodes on show here may introduce myriad characters right from the off, which is a bit of an overwhelming experience in itself (not helped by that OVA episode, as I've already mentioned), but from there it begins the task of building both story and background to the characters in a pleasingly methodical and deliberate manner, pulling you along gently and insistently alongside the plot and the major players in this tale that we follow.
When you find time to distract yourself from grappling with the big picture of X's plot, you'll find yourself looking at a slick, stylish (and indeed stylised) presentation - it might not jump out at you like some big budget anime series, but it does a fantastic job of capturing and making the most of Clamp's sumptuous original artwork and characters and transferring them from manga page to screen in a way that is worthy of praise. This is backed up by what looks to be a top-notch video transfer to me, while fans of the English dub get a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack to play with against the more meagre stereo Japanese audio track. Still, this is directly lifted from the original broadcast so there's no surprise there, while the subtitles seemed pretty much flawless to this reviewer.
Come the ending credits of the final episode on this disc, I found myself reflecting that (as someone who has never taken in the original manga) this opening volume of X is a bit like being given a jigsaw puzzle without the proper box which shows you what you're putting together - at first it seems impenetrable and nothing more than a jumble, but a little patience and effort and a decidedly intriguing picture begins to appear; one which bodes well for future volumes of the series if it can continue in the right direction.