November 10, 2010

Mystery meat -- X, the movie

Well, you can't get more mysterious than naming something "X", can you? It's a horror title from CLAMP, the all-girl orchestra. Seems to be the sequel to, or culmination of, a TV series they did. Art and animation style looks like late 1990's.

The rip is awful. It's from an American DVD release, and it's letter-boxed, which means the theater-level graphics are reduced even more than usual. And whoever did the rip decided to store it in "ogm" format, using DIVX for the video codec. Between the minimal source and the compression, the result isn't very satisfying.

Not that it really affects things much. The animation isn't all that great even for TV, let alone for a theatrical release. Not impressive at all. Slow frame rates, lousy looking art, and everything is really dark.

I got 40 minutes into it, and decided I'd had enough of CLAMP's tricks. Dear CLAMP: making everything too dark to see doesn't equate to lots of atmosphere.

There's some sort of world-changing confrontation coming. 7 dragons of Earth will battle 7 dragons of Heaven, and the balance of power rests with a guy named Kamui. Whoever convinces him to join their side wins. Those dragons? Well, they're people, too, with special powers.

Kamui himself doesn't seem to want any part of this. His only interest is in protecting two childhood friends of his, a brother and sister.

At the beginning, one dragon from each side squares off in the middle of Tokyo. They toss energy blasts at each other, not very convincingly, and a building gets destroyed, and the dragon of Heaven is killed, leaving the balance 6-7.

For something so spectacular, you'd think CLAMP could keep my attention, wouldn't you? But I had the following two reactions: 1. Toriyama did this kind of story better. 2. Ikki Tousen: Dragon Destiny did it better, too.

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It's a pretty poor show that can't even top Ikki Tousen in story telling, don't you think? But when the dragons show up and start fighting in the last ep of ITDD, they look better and the animation is more fluid, and in pretty much every way it's more interesting and fun. Even air-headed Hakufu is more interesting than CLAMP's pantheon here.

Heroic leads in the dark:

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Supporting girl characters:

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Which do you think is better looking? This is a visual medium -- you should make it so we can see things, even at night. (I wonder if CLAMP's manga was this difficult to see? I bet not.)

CLAMP virtually painted their "surprise" on the wall. All through the part I watched, it was blatantly obvious that the blue dragons, of Heaven, were supposed to be the good guys and the red dragons, of Earth, the bad guys. Which is why I figure it's better than even odds that the reverse is true.

But I figure it doesn't get resolved. That's my other bet. I figure it's better than even odds that the result of the final confrontation is "no game". It looks like it was supposed to end with a grand battle between Kamui and the male childhood friend, and I bet that in the end they stop fighting without either of them being hurt, let along killed. No decision is made, and the status quo continues.

What really got me fed up was that CLAMP was playing with the symbolism in pointless ways. It's spring, so cherry blossoms are de rigeur, right? Well, a few of them are floating around damned near everywhere we go, even in places where they make no sense. CLAMP thinks they mean something, presumably, but I sure don't know what -- and I don't care.

I just looked it up, and it seems that the movie came first, in 1996. The TV series is an "alternate retelling".

I didn't think CLAMP was this full of themselves as early as this. Later, yeah; Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles is one big demonstration of contempt for their audience. But back in 1996 I thought they were still trying to tell good stories.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in Mystery Meat at 06:50 PM | Comments (13) | Add Comment
Post contains 681 words, total size 4 kb.

1 Problem with this movie is that they didn't have a whole lot of story to go on when they made it.  The TV series did have more time and more story to work with, but I don't think that's your cup of tea either.  

CLAMP never finished X, and I have a feeling that they never will.  The TV series comes up with their own ending.

Posted by: BigFire at November 10, 2010 07:19 PM (jSRcl)

2 I wonder if the blackness is a result of the lousy transfer and compression, rather than the original artistic intention?

Posted by: Boviate at November 10, 2010 07:37 PM (PJNgE)

3 It's a very poor movie interpretation of a story that wasn't that great to start with.

It's possible to take a long-running manga and chop it down to movie size - Akira managed it, while still maintaining most of the good scenes, even if the character of the story changed a little. With X, though, it was just too short and had to pack in too many characters... and it couldn't tell a complete story because, as BigFire says, the manga hadn't really explained much by that point.

It's more or less impenetrable if you weren't already a follower of the series. None of the characters are presented in a way that allows a new viewer can make any kind of connection with them. Angst-service, more or less...

Your second bet, though, is amazingly far off the mark. The last scene isn't notably better than the rest, but the one thing you can't accuse it of is leaving the fight unresolved.

Posted by: Avatar_exADV at November 10, 2010 09:13 PM (mRjOr)

4

Boviate, it's true that transfers can sometimes make things darker, but not like this. It's dark because the original was dark, because someone thought that was cool and atmospheric.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at November 10, 2010 11:19 PM (+rSRq)

5 OK, Avatar, tell me how it ends (in spoiler tags). I am somewhat curious but definitely don't want to spend the time to watch it to find out.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at November 11, 2010 12:38 AM (+rSRq)

6

Can't remember it in any more detail than that, which just goes to show how meh it was.

Posted by: Avatar_exADV at November 11, 2010 03:52 AM (mRjOr)

7

"Dear CLAMP: making everything too dark to see doesn't equate to lots of atmosphere."

Lots of people seem to think you're wrong.  Like the people who do Stargate: Universe, to whom I'd just like to say TURN ON A FEW DARN LIGHTS!

Posted by: RickC at November 11, 2010 06:25 AM (1weMr)

8 My great regret is that I will never get the hour of my life back. Also, I watched X on celluloid film, rushed overnight from Japan, no less. The waste was so sad.

Posted by: Pete Zaitcev at November 11, 2010 07:48 AM (3GiIY)

9 I'd blame the "dark" pictures on no/wrongly-applied gamma correction during the initial transfer. Pictures that look good on a theater screen can turn to mud on video if the gamma isn't fixed, and for best results the correction should be adjusted shot-by-shot.

In the captures that you've posted, the darker ones have no luminance values above about 50%. Even if you "turn up the brightness" so that maximum luminance=FFFFFF (but leaving minimum at 000000) the backgrounds remain effectively "black" on my monitor unless the gamma is tweaked also... the transfer has to get brighter "faster" than the original film image.  Conversely, if the gamma is right the absolute brightness isn't as much of a factor... important when the scene has to be "dark" for artistic reasons.

A friend who works with reissues at Paramount used to gripe about the reverse problem (until they got it fixed): Often their early Technicolor stuff would come back from the transfer process "looking like it had been lit for television," i.e., cold, bright, and flat.

Posted by: Old Grouch at November 11, 2010 09:22 AM (k8zOE)

10 Well, taking these off the "watch someday when all else has failed" list.

Posted by: bkw at November 11, 2010 12:33 PM (34O+x)

11

 

The one with the dragons is probably the most eco-nihilistic shows I've ever seen.


Posted by: TBlakely at November 11, 2010 10:08 PM (S3uDg)

12 That sounds like CLAMP.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at November 11, 2010 11:56 PM (+rSRq)

13 CLAMP said at that period they were mad about the environment, Chernobyl in particular. (In the precursor series, Tokyo Babylon, the villain even mentions it, saying the western nuke plants weren't any safer (wrong). He's the one fighting with TB's protagonist, Subaru Sumeragi, in the beginning of the X movie.) The funny thing is that one of the Dragons of the Earth gets her power from using a supercomputer (Beast-chan).

Posted by: muon at November 13, 2010 03:23 AM (kzJXl)

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