XAM’D (Anime)

Title: XAM’D

Episodes: 1-26 (complete)

Akiyuki lives on Senton Island, a free zone between the warring North and South. When his decision to help a girl leads to a terrorist attack, he ends up infected by a biological agent that turns him into a living weapon. Now he’s effectively exiled from his home, as the military there has a lot of interest in what he’s become. With the help of another girl, Nakiami, Akiyuki is learning to live with his new condition. But will he master it, or will it master him?

This is another random older show I’d never heard of until just recently, and which the reviews were rather negative towards. And once again, I found I enjoyed it for the most part.

I like shapeshifters, so the situation with Akiyuki’s infection was one of the high points for me. In his case, actually shifting (even if it’s only a partial shift like his arm) brings with it a host of consequences, the most dangerous being that the new form is fundamentally unstable and has a tendency to turn to stone if he’s not managing it right. So messing up will kill him, which makes learning how to live with it, at least at first, a matter of learning how NOT to use it unless he absolutely has no choice.

I wish the show had done more to dig into some of the emotional issues with being turned into a weapon, but on the other hand you can tell a lot from his actions. He isn’t at all grateful to be “rescued” at first, since it involved removing him from his home, friends, and family. And getting back isn’t easy, because the military man in charge of the island at best wants to catch him to use as a test subject (and failing that, would be happy to have him killed).

Nakiami isn’t exactly Akiyuki’s love interest, which I liked. She’s mysterious, almost suicidally determined to rescue others, and uniquely competent in dealing with the humanform weapons. Although she’s traveling with a group, it’s also clear something holds her apart. And she’s a mean glider pilot (they called them kayaks in the dub but that always makes me think of boats).

There are a number of other threads that get a lot of attention throughout. I think my favorite was the ongoing really tenuous relationship between Akiyuki’s mom and dad, who are separated but not quite divorced. Akiyuki’s disappearance impacts both of them badly, as no one has any idea if he’s alive or dead, but it’s clear the two of them have enough pride and pain that even this isn’t enough to cause them to unbend more than a little. Both of them seem to regret being apart, and willing to come back together—but not willing to address the things that drove them apart in the first place, which pretty well dooms most of his dad’s attempts at reconciliation.

Another major thread is the friendship between Akiyuki, Haru, and Furuichi. That didn’t go at all the way I expected—some of the problems that were visible early on resolved opposite what I thought they would be, like Haru’s love interest. I like the way the dynamics played out, and how things that could have been little things if they’d all been together, if they’d all grown up normally, became in the end such a disaster.

On a technical level, the animation was pretty good, and I enjoyed seeing all the little details that were actually animated. This is a good-looking show, even when it’s going for more of a body-horror vibe (seriously, go look up the way Akiyuki actually transforms. He’s basically melting into a new shape that you can at best describe as humanoid).

I watched the show in dub, and in general that was a strong performance. There were a few minor characters who only had a handful of lines that sounded weird, but the major characters sounded good.

There were a few things that brought the presentation down a bit, though. I watched the show in dub, so I’m not sure if this is also true for the sub, but there were several points where the background music was loud enough to overwhelm the characters speaking, and I had to turn the volume up to try to pick out what they were saying. (I don’t know that this would matter as much for sub anyway, since I’d have the text.) I also really wasn’t fond of that long poem about enemies that gets repeated three or four times in full. It feels like an overly convoluted way to try to express a few ideas, and could have been done with a much shorter presentation.

The series does dip a bit in the middle when it chooses to shift the focus away from Akiyuki, who is mostly out of commission for several episodes, in favor of developing a lot of the more secondary characters. At this point, I feel it would’ve been stronger to focus more on Nakiami, or some other more action-driven character, instead of spending so much time with the crew of the postal ship. And there are several decisions at the end that baffle me. Why do that with Akiyuki, after everything is over? And then take that long to change your mind?

Despite the snags, though, I did enjoy watching this, and am glad I stumbled across it. I rate this show Recommended.

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