X 1 (omnibus ed.)

November 12, 2011

CLAMP – Viz – 2011 – 18+ volumes
this is an omnibus containing vols. 1-3

As I explained last night, I love X with a passion. Over the years, I’ve analyzed this with maniacal fervor. I can go on and on about all the characters, their relationships with one another, the different meanings behind certain plot elements, the symbolism, and just about everything else about it. I wore out a VHS copy of the movie. Every time I log onto the internet, it’s to see if there’s an announcement about CLAMP finishing the series.

It’s a little sad. Needless to say, I was very excited when this re-issue came out. Now a whole new generation of fans can read it!

As crazy as I am about it, I know X is flawed. X was probably the first shoujo series I read that I really, really liked. So there’s definitely some nostalgia tinting the experience. And since I was in high school when I was reading it, with not a whole lot of other manga available in English to fill my time, I read X over and over again. I memorized every one of the dozens of characters and insane plot details. I had time to parse it all and keep it straight. It’s a worthwhile endeavor, to be sure, but I’ll be the first to admit that the task of really getting into X is a daunting one.

Kamui Shirou… is the main character. He’s The Kamui. He’s at the center of two organizations, the Seven Seals and the Seven Angels, who each want to save the world. Except the Seven Seals believe in saving humanity (at the expense of the Earth, which humanity is slowly killing), and the Seven Angels believe in saving the Earth (at the expense of killing off humanity). The balance of power rests with Kamui, and whichever side he decides to join will be the victor in the impending, and foreordained, apocalypse. The players in this war game begin to gather in Tokyo after Kamui returns at the beginning of volume one.

Kamui has no interest in this war, however. He returns to Tokyo on the advice of his mother, who tells him he needs to protect those who are most important to him. So Kamui shows up to protect his two childhood friends, Kotori and Fuuma Monou. As he is constantly under attack from those wishing to test his strength to see if he is The Kamui, he keeps Kotori and Fuuma at arm’s length, gives them the cold shoulder, and even tells Kotori to keep her distance when she tries to get close. But the Monou family’s destiny is inextricably linked to Kamui and the apocalypse, and by the end of volume three, fate has drawn Kotori, Fuuma, and Kamui into the fight against their will.

These three volumes introduce a lot of characters. There’s… 18 characters, I think, by the end of volume three. Most of them are dead before too long, but even still, each side of the war has seven people, so there’s at least 14 main characters, plus the two dream seers. It can be difficult to follow along, especially since the early parts of the manga move very fast to introduce the convoluted plot. Kamui fights shikigami, then a character named Daisuke, then two characters named Yuuto and Sorata fight, then everything takes a break so that Fuuma and Kamui can have prophetic dreams… fights happen, are put on hold so that the characters can explain yet another aspect of the story, then more fights happen. There’s a lot of ground to cover, and X moves fast.

Strangely, the pacing lingers in the strangest places. The dreams, and flashbacks, are slowed down, and CLAMP uses highly decorative double-page spreads to slow things down and make you look and think. While the character lectures do contain vital information, the dreams and flashbacks are very important, and foreshadow one of the biggest twists in the series, coming up in a few volumes. Foreshadowing is very important in this series, and one of the things that’s emphasized the most in these first few volumes is that some of the characters can see into the future, and they know what’s going to happen. Kamui, Fuuma, Kotori… Their Destiny is Foreordained. So says the cover of every volume.

The art in this series is what caught my eye when I was younger, and to this day, there are very few series I can point to that have nicer art than X. It’s the best-looking of CLAMP’s series, and the lead artist, Mokona, pulls out all the stops. Every page is beautifully composed, but she uses sparse panel layouts with splash illustrations to great effect. It’s better here than it is in Clover, because while Clover is very sparse, Mokona fills all the spaces in X with shattering globes, clock gears, blowing flower petals, flowing blood, moving air, and everything else. No space is wasted, and all of it is highly detailed. The character designs are also fabulous. They date it slightly, as some have a very early 90s look to them (Sorata in particular), but most of them are fairly ageless. One of my favorite details is the completely opposite character designs of Kamui and Fuuma. Fuuma has a very old-school manly look to him. Tall, square shoulders, short haircut, stoic. Kamui fits into modern bishounen tastes, with his smaller build, longer hair, big eyes, and clear affection for Kotori.

And the art is used to emphasize dramatic moments wonderfully. It’s been a long time since I’ve re-read this, but the early double page spread, where Kamui and Kotori’s eyes meet across the school yard, still gets me. Watching Kogoro pull out the shinken in Togakushi shrine, knowing what will happen, is also a great illustration. And there are at least two disembowlings in this omnibus, and Mokona draws both with a strange level of detail for a shoujo manga.

This new edition makes me happy. That it’s three volumes in one is great, because X reads best in large chunks. The cover design uses the unusual graphic “X” of the Japanese editions (I think this is the only manga I own with no illustration on the cover), and the original color illustrations and tarot cards (all the major arcana featuring the main characters) are included with each “volume” in the omnibus, along with bonus illustrations and commentary on all the illustrations in the back. There’s also some translation notes. Plus, it’s a beautiful book to begin with. You can’t go wrong.

X is a series that requires a lot of patience, and a lot of re-reading to understand. I was baffled by a lot of things my first time through, and maybe if I came across it now, knowing more about how shoujo manga works, it would be less puzzling. And this is also tinted by nostalgia. I mentioned this while I was talking about Peach Girl not too long ago, but I read this while I was still the target audience, and there’s something to be said about the fact that I just can’t enjoy comics for teenagers like a teenager anymore, and cherish those that I liked back then. But X is still a fine series. It’s worth checking out for the art alone, and if you have the patience for a detail-heavy plot with a lot of characters (I usually don’t), it’s worth the time investment. The later volumes pay off in spades. Thinking about the volumes in the teens is making me smile like nobody’s business at the moment. I can’t wait.

4 Responses to “X 1 (omnibus ed.)”

  1. ame Says:

    i already own all the volumes available in english, but when i saw this at b&n today, i almost bought it, because the art is rendered so much better in this large edition, and they finally figured out the binding so that the pages bend easily, not like with the fushgi yugi large editions, i may still yet. cuz i like the orignial covers better. also i remember reading somewhere that there were a couple more chapters that viz never translated because there weren’t enough to fill another volume, i wish if this is true, that they could include them in this go around. its this series and NANA that kill me the most for being incomplete. it will be a glorious day indeed when they resume this series.

  2. Connie Says:

    ame: Yeah, I think there’s about another half-volume worth of chapters that never got published in English. I was hoping they’d make it into these editions as well. I was really surprised when I got this book, since it wasn’t a VizBig edition I was expecting it to be a little more stripped down, like the Ai Ore or Cross Game volumes, with just the small size and no color pages. But the omnibus is really nice, it goes all out.

    I miss Nana, too. I keep hoping for Ai Yazawa’s recovery.

  3. Ysabet Says:

    Yeah, vol. “18.5” is another five chapters. There’s a Japanese edition that’s sized more like a North American graphic novel than a regular manga volume. Quite a bit happens in those chapters, but as stopping places go, the end of 18 is less cliffhangery than where CLAMP actually left off. *_*

  4. ame Says:

    and if yazawa DOESN’T get well enough to draw it herself, then she needs to commission someone else to draw it for her while she oversees it cuz she ain’t dead and i deserve resolution!!! lolz

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