Artbook Spotlight: X Zero
November 11, 2011
CLAMP – Kadokawa Shoten – 2000 – Japanese
I won’t lie, X is in my top five favorite series of all time, and I don’t really have an explanation for it. Cardcaptor Sakura is the better CLAMP series, and I’m not the biggest fan of series with huge casts or angsty apocalyptic fiction. I know I would have no patience for this today, and the only reason I am ridiculously devoted to X is that I had the time to parse its convoluted characters and plot when I was a teen.
But I’ll talk more about that when I review the new X omnibus. One of the things that X is the undisputed champion of is shoujo artwork. Mokona, the primary artist on X, is among the best shoujo artists of all time, and X is by far her best series art-wise. It’s a feast for the eyes, and the artbooks are 100% worth having.
X has two artbooks, X Zero and X Infinity. X Zero includes illustrations printed during the first ten volume run of the series, and X Infinity the latter 8.5. X Zero was issued as a large slipcased hardcover book in 2000, and later re-issued as a softcover in 2005 when X Infinity came out. The reissue has a cover illustration to match X Infinity, but I’m fairly certain the content is the same otherwise.
Grab your copy of the new X 3-in-1 from Viz, crank up Forever Love, and have a look.
Don’t let the cover fool you, this is an awesome book. This actually matches the cover design for the Japanese volumes of X, which simply have a gigantic “X” on a black cover in different colors of ink for every volume (like the new English edition, actually, except the Japanese volumes also say “Their Destiny Was Foreordained” in English on the bottom). Highly unusual for a shoujo manga. The “zero” designation goes along with the tarot card themes for X, too. In Japan, every volume came with a tarot card illustration on the inside jacket flap that matched the major characters to the major arcana. Volume 1 was Kamui the magician, 2 was Hinoto the high priestess, 3 was Kanoe the empress, et cetera. Happily, these are included in the new Viz omnibus. Volume zero has Saya Monou featured on the fool tarot card.
One of the other interesting things about this book was that, while it’s never been available in English, the Japanese edition was widely distributed when it first came out. My copy was mail ordered from the Viz catalog, and I also saw a Virgin Megastore selling copies at one point. Many of the illustrations appear in the new Viz 3-in-1 edition of X, too, which is much appreciated.
I also don’t have a scanner big enough to scan the double-page images. That’s a real shame, because some of those are so pretty I could cry.
One of the downsides to this book is that the majority of the illustrations are of Kamui and Fuma. Often both. I hope you like twin stars.
It also repeats the same themes over and over and over again. Lots of both Kamui and Fuma wielding shinken, or depicted with bird or bat wings. Lots of pentagrams, clock gears, gold paint, people getting getting injured, Hebrew characters, bible passages, and other heavy-handed symbolism.
On the other hand, most shoujo artbooks are little more than the heroine posing fashionably, and X Zero gives you an awful lot more to look at. Mokona puts a lot of detail into her plentiful symbolism, and everything else, for that matter. The lace detail on Kotori’s dress above is a particularly nice touch. The religious imagery doesn’t really mean anything (though there is much to say about some of the theological ties in X), but it does look nice, and is consistent. There’s a Hebrew prayer inscribed on the blades of the shinken, for instance, and you can usually see at least a little bit of it.
Occasionally there’s a playful image. This is the most baffling out-of-character one in the book, though.
There’s a whole section in the middle dedicated to characters that are not Kamui, Fuma, and Kotori. Arashi and Sorata have more pictures, since they were introduced early on. Others, like Kakyo or Kusanagi, have only one or two.
Yuzuriha only has a few as well (strangely, none with Inuki), but hers are some of the only happy illustrations in the entire book. She reminds us that this is a girls’ comic.
Good thing we have old friends to remind us that’s not what we came here for. Strange that this appears in this book and not in… well, another artbook.
There’s a section at the end of the book for group illustrations, too. This is a set with the Dragons of Earth, but I love that all the characters have their own individual uniforms.
Again, it’s the attention to detail that I love most about these illustrations. I’ve been staring at this book for twelve years, and I’m still not tired of looking at it. Everything about this art is exactly what I love to see. The composition is excellent, there’s tons of irrelevant symbolic details, the character designs are all pretty great, and even if a lot of the illustrations are just Kamui and Fuma in their school uniforms, I still have to look, because sometimes they’re reflected through a pool of water, sometimes they’re spray-painted on a wall, sometimes one is pulling a sword out of the other… there’s a lot of Fuma and Kamui variations.
I’ve scanned twelve images here, but the book is 152 pages, and I didn’t even scratch the surface. This isn’t even a fraction of the individual character illustrations (which I like since the story only touches on some of those characters), the fun group and pair illustrations, or even one of the amazing double-page illustrations. Again, this book is worth having, and the hardcover is one of the nicest books in my collection.
Bizarrely, the new edition is out of print, and is apparently highly sought after. You’ll have an easier time tracking down the hardcover, which can be had fairly cheaply for how nice a book it is. Or you could collect the new Viz omnibuses, which look like they will probably reprint a good portion of these illustrations. Here’s the first, for the curious: