Xam'd Collection 1 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Monday, October 25, 2010
Release Date: Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Caught in a war between two countries, one young man finds himself infected with a soul that gives him amazing abilities but also could cause him to lose his mind.
What They Say
When a young boy on a peaceful island becomes the victim of a terrorist attack, he transforms into Xam'd, a powerful mecha capable of extreme power. Now he must discover the depth of his power, and the role he plays in a world where metal and rock meet flesh, desire, and destiny.
This release gets a pair of DTS HD MA 5.1 audio tracks so both the Japanese and English tracks really shine well here. Right from the start it's an engaging track with the opening sequence from the Boom Boom Satellites. The action scenes is where it shines the most with a good solid soundstage used that has a good bit of directionality and depth to it. Similar to their release of Tears to Tiara, it uses a mostly static bitrate for the show where it sticks to about 3.5mbps as even the very quiet scenes don't dip below there. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and while the music makes out the best overall, it's an engaging mix overall with a good balance of big moments and quiet moments.
Originally airing in 2008 and into 2009, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the VC-1 codec. The show is spread across two discs in a fairly standard nine/four format that gives it a good bit of space to work with even with the audio tracks not utilizing the variable bitrate well. The series has a very, very strong visual design and it looks gorgeous here. Colors are very rich and vibrant while detail is very strong with all the little nuances BONES is known for with their productions. So much of this has a theatrical feeling to it and the encoding brings out the beauty of the source materials wonderfully.
This release comes in a standard Blu-ray case that holds both discs against the interior sides. The front cover is what I think of as one of the weaker images for the show as it has Akiyuki in his transformed mode with Haru riding along in one of his oversized hands. The background is kept to a dark red that's pretty bland overall so the colors are fairly earthy to contrast the whites and other colors in Haru's design. The nice part to it is the logo and related elements that fit in with the theme of the show. There's a really nice design element in the show with its technical aspects and it comes across nicely here. The back cover brings a bit of that in to contain the summary while the rest of the top section has a good shot of Akiyuki as well as several small shots from the show itself. The summary covers things in a very minimal way, not even using any character names, but gets the basics across. The bottom third is given over to the usual production credits and the high definition technical grid. The grid is solid as well though I hope they do eventually start adding in the clarity as to whether it's a native HD release or an upscale since people will be looking for that. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menus for Xam'd belie what I'd expect out of Sentai at this point and some previous releases as it's pretty slick and wonderfully in theme. The two discs have different character artwork, such as the piece of Akiyuki from the back cover, set against a red bland background. The detail of the character artwork is appealing here but it's the navigation that really sells ti as it uses the partial circle design with it along the left. The colors and fonts work well as it lists each of the episodes with their respective number and easy to access languages and extras. I also liked that as this serves as the pop-up menu and I was very surprised to see that it highlights the episode you're on when you use it. Player presets were a mixed bag as it worked on the first disc but not on the second. Every loads quickly and fits in great with the show making it the kind of menus I wish we had more of.
The extras for this release are pretty minimal with the clean opening and closing sequences as well as the original on-air sequences.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
An original story from BONES that was used as the launch piece for the PlayStation Network when it launched, enough so that it was available in the US prior to Japan, Xam'd is a twenty-six episode series that is going to make you work for it. A lot of BONES shows are like that, from Eureka Seven to Kurau Phantom Memory and Ghost Slayers Ayashi. While they have a lot of show that are very clean in nature, they do pull out some difficult ones that are so detailed and have such a vision that it doesn't help the viewer immerse themselves into it esily.
Xam'd takes place in a world where we see two different governments in action against each other, apparently for quite some time, with many other places caught in the middle. The Northern Government is waging a war against the Southern Free Zone for undisclosed reasons and they aren't doing it anything near a clean way. What they utilize is something called humanform weapons, which are people who have been transformed into large mindless beasts that wreck carnage wherever they go. They're primal and powerful, very out of control. The show opens with an attack on a neutral island, Sentan Island, where a white haired terrorist causes an explosion on a high school bus that kills some and infects a young man named Akiyuki with a hiruko spirit.
This spirit runs roughshod over Akiyuki'sbody with its primal needs and he starts to lose himself. What saves him is the arrival of Nakiami who scouted out the battle from the postal ship she operates out of. Something of a what you'd consider a spiritualist and naturalist, she manages to soothe his mind and eventually draws the hiruko to a calmer stage before she takes him away to help him learn how to maintain himself so that the hiruko doesn't dominate him. With this ability, he'll become something called a Xam'd. Unfortunately for Akiyuki, when Nakiami took him onto the postal ship and moved on, he's not able to get back to his home for at least six months.
With Akiyuki on the ship, the show moves to show us the time spent learning about who he is and how to manage the Xam'd within him, to try and understand what it's seeking. There's a slow but decent bond formed between him and Nakiami, though there's an affection with a girl back home named Haru that he's intent on getting back to. The crew of the ship is fairly interesting and there's more going on there that's not delved into as the captain certainly has a more varied history to her and a larger mission that's unclear. Her crew is loyal to her and there's an interesting addition to it later in this set as another Xam'd from the past comes back into their lives.
As Akiyuki's story of discovery takes place, the more interesting story plays out back on Sentan Island. Akiyuki's disappearance after the accident leaves a scar on his parents who were already separated from their own problems. The loss of their son leaves them out of touch with things, though Akiyuki's father focuses more on his private medical practice. Some of their tensions come out and it reveals a bit about his fathers past that gives clues as to more about the history of the world. Where it all becomes even more interesting is that Haru and Furuichi, who was Akiyuki's best friend, decide that because of the events of the ongoing war they end up enlisting in the military to help defend their home. Haru is more intent on joining so she can go look for Akiyuki while Furuichi gets fairly nationalistic and is intent on protecting everyone, though there is more to it.
And the two of them get caught up in a military adventure as well where several people on the fringe of the service are working through testing on a special humanform weapon they've captured. The military characters here are rather flat and one dimensional, but they provide a nice bit of authority to the show when dealing with Furuichi and Haru as they use them eventually as a way to get closer to Akiyuki should he return. With his ties to the terrorist, everyone he knows is under way and it's even easier when two of them are serving under them. Their story also explores a bit more about the humanform weapons and the make-up of the world when it comes to its social/political structure. While it does expand it, it doesn't really explain it well though as the intent is to give us a world that feels rich and detailed but is more just surface level.
And the surface level is pretty striking. BONES has a pretty good track record here and there's a lot of similarities here to Eureka Seven with the humanform weapons and the characters themselves. The weapons aren't unique but they're well designed with a good amount of variance to it that keeps it from being predictable. With the Xam'd characters it offers a mixture that works out pretty well, but like many things in the series it avoids giving any sort of credibility to it in terms of what you'd consider the real world. Akiyuki is able to use his Xam'd form in a way that definitely breaks a few rules but they don't hint at the why it's possible. You can certainly accept it, but it's the kind of thing that highlights other areas of the show that avoid filling in the viewer about how things really work in the world of Xam'd. There's a really beautiful sense of the world here, one that feels very lived in and thorough, but we never really feel like we're a part of it.
Xam'd has a lot going for it as it's a show that has a very distinct story it wants to tell and slowly clues in the viewer as to what it's about. It's a fascinating world that they've built here and it has quite a number of layers to it, but the more I watch it, the more I find that it flows like a prose novel brought to life where so much of what's important is there but the details aren't explained to the viewer. That richness to the world is more than enough to draw you in and keep you watching, but with so much left unexplained and such an intricate culture in some regards shown here, you very much feel on the outside and it's hard to connect to the characters outside of Haru and sometimes Akiyuki. I love the visuals, the music is spot on and the presentation here is striking, but it still feels strangely hollow. A beautiful hollow, mind you.
Japanese DTS HD MA 5.1 Language, English DTS HD MA 5.1 Language, English Subtitles Clean Opening, Clean Closing, On Air Opening, On Air Closing
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
Mania Grade: C+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: A-
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 13 and Up
Region: A - N. America, S. America, East Asia
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Running time: 325
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 1080p
Disc Encoding: H.264/AVC