The four women who make up Nippon manga firm Clamp Studios collaborated on the original comic book and current film adaptation “X,” whose terse title hits the only note of simplicity in the bigscreen transfer. Often visually impressive , this animated feature is a classic case of too many cooks. It plays like the over-busy midsection of a larger fantasy epic, with character and story development lost among the string of disjointed battle scenes. Results will satisfy diehard anime fans, but are unlikely to further the genre’s cause offshore beyond the usual niche bookings.
Opening with not one but two dream sequences, scenario fosters a certain confusion right off. It’s clear, at least, that young male protag Kamui Shiro is a seemingly ordinary student most unhappy to discover he’s “the promised one” who’s been “chosen to fight for the city” (a vaguely contempo/futuristic Tokyo). This action, by the way, will also constitute “the final battle to save the Earth.” It seems that cumulative bad human behavior — toxic waste, overpopulation, ozone-layer depletion — has angered our nondenominational Higher Powers, and the Dragons of Heaven and of Earth (two tag teams of seven each) are destined for “apocalyptic battle” ASAP.
As in Godzilla pics of yore, it appears that all this feudin’ and fussin’ takes place in the airspace just above ever-imperiled Tokyo. Shiro is a reluctant member of the good-guy Heaven Dragons, a group of several other youthful types, including the inevitable plucky little schoolgirl. Unfortunately , Shiro’s best friend since childhood is discovered playing on the wrong dragon side. Damn: You always have to kill the one you love to save humanity, don’t you?
There is much Power Rangers–like leaping into the air and zapping back and forth as skyscrapers explode and the warrior field dwindles. Some have special powers. One can control water (in ways rather like evil-giant urination). Another has ribbony arms that are like endless, lethal toilet-paper rolls. The schoolgirl boasts her own invisible wolf companion. Also figuring are a couple of oracle-type Dreamwatchers, one vampy and cleavage-baring, the other an impish oyster-princess. Plus there’s the Beast, a supercomputer that has apparently been having some HAL-like issues about world domination.
Within five minutes, absolutely none of this makes any sense. Relaxing any expectations of coherence, one can enjoy mucho sci-fi eye-candy: Rich background drawings paint a nocturnal urbia a la “Dark City” or “The Crow.” Psychedelic dream scenes and miscellaneous surreal visions abound, like the striking sight of one dragon team puddling and separating like molten lava. Character animation is more stilted, while the chirpy, bland English-language voice interps exacerbate dialogue translations that are alternately ridiculous and banal. (Attempts at flip verbal humor, in particular, get lost mid-Pacific.)
Home-turf auds are more accustomed to such all-action, zero-story-development fare. Unconverted Western viewers will likely find disjointed climax after climax mindlessly diverting for a while, then ponderous. Veteran director Rintaro (whose long career encompasses vintage TV faves “Astro Boy” and “Kimba the White Lion”) maintains a flow that’s duly dreamlike but lacks pacing variety , its spectacle broken only by unenlightening patches of mythos-explanatory yakety-yak. All tech and design credits are top-drawer.