Wednesday, April 9, 2008

X: Japan- Apocalypse Style.

Well, since we've been talking so much about the end of the world, I figured I'd talk about how our neighbors to the east have handled the Apocalypse in their respective media.  Probably the best example of Japan's attempt to handle the end of the world is the series Ekkusu, which translates simply to X.

X is a manga and Anime series created by Clamp, a creative team made up of four japanese women (a rarity in the manga business).  X is Clamp's attempt to push into apocalyptic fiction, something vastly different than their previous titles (they were previously known for creating shoujo manga, which literally translates to manga aimed at young girls).  It combines elements from various end of the world scenarios, both secular and religious, with its own mythos.

The story takes place in 1999, just before the Millennium. Many different individuals with superhuman abilities gather in Tokyo (which is to be the battleground for the End of the World) and choose sides.  The series follows the anti-hero Kamui Shirō, a young man returning to Japan for the first time in seven years in order to fulfill his mother's dying wish and protect those dear to him.  The two sides of the war, calling themselves the Dragons of Earth and the Dragons of Heaven, are vying for Kamui's strength, as each side believes him to be the one who holds the key to the future of fate of the world. X follows Kamui on his own heroic journey, where the emphasis of the story is placed on his choices and how they affect the world around him, all while he attempts to reconcile his possible roles as either savior or destroyer of the world.
One of the most interesting aspects of the story is the physical manifestation of ideological concepts (that are never overtly stated) in the Dragons of Heaven and the Dragons of Earth.  The Dragons of Earth represent the belief that conflicts between man and nature cannot be resolved peaceably, and that humans are on an irreversible path that will ultimately lead to the murder of the planet itself unless they are stopped.  As such, their mission is to destroy the earth in order to allow it to rejuvenate itself.  Conversely, The Dragons of Heaven represent the belief that conflicts between man and nature can and must be resolved peaceably, and that humanity is no less precious than the Earth itself.
X ran as a serialized manga in the publication Monthly Asuka from 1992 until 2003 when the creators put the story on hiatus without developing an official end to the series. It was animated into a feature film in 1996 with relative success in Japan, and five years later it was made into the much more successful TV series which ran for 24 episodes (a standard running time for a two-season anime) and was much more successful at exploring the original mythos and characters' back stories into the narrative, albeit in a much more violent manner.
If you're interested, you can find X on the shelves at pretty much any video store with an Anime section (Pioneer Entertainment bought the American distribution rights and released the series with both English and the original Japanese voices).  I highly recommend it if you're looking for a bit of action.

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