"So you've got seven Dragons of Earth fighting against seven Dragons of Heaven, right? It's to do with the end of the world or something. There's this Kamui dude who's come back to Tokyo to see some childhood friends... no, they're not Dragons, these are yet more characters. How many? Ooooh, nearly twenty altogether. You bet it's hard to keep track of. There's some weird shit with fate and visions, but that's okay 'cos lots of people die. Anyway, it looks cool."
As far as I can tell, X (the movie) is generally regarded as beautifully polished garbage. The animation is gorgeous, the fight scenes are breathtaking and the plot makes no bloody sense whatsoever. It was hard enough to follow everything in the 24-episode TV series. In one 97-minute movie it's impossible. There's just too much cosmology and too many characters. You'll get a vague impression of apocalypse and cool superpowers, but little more.
This is all true.
Nevertheless I rather liked this movie. It helped that I knew the story in advance, of course. If you go into it cold, you'll have no hope. However if like me you've already seen the TV series or read the manga, you'll be able to follow the story in your head and appreciate this movie for what it does well.
The most impressive if bizarre thing about it is its fidelity to the original. Admittedly at the time they only had a few years' worth of the original CLAMP manga to adapt, so they're missing an awful lot and are forced to make up stuff for the sake of an ending, but that's kinda fun too. It's also nice to be surprised instead of just watching a beat-by-beat rerun of a story you might think you know, especially with such a different conclusion. The full thing could never have been told in these 97 minutes anyway. They're straining fit to burst just trying to accommodate what little of the full story they had at that point, although they don't exactly make it easy on themselves.
There's something awesome about seeing one film trying to convey the full depth of X's insanely complex cosmology. Often they tell the story through symbolism, metaphor and obscure visuals at which even I was asking, "What the hell was that?" As a storytelling technique, it's a failure. However if you know the backstory in advance and can work out what they're trying to communicate, it's interesting. There's too much exposition, mind you.
They have almost the full cast. This is completely insane, but rather nice for those of us who already knew them in advance. The Dragons of Heaven get an overview of the basics of their characterisation, obviously not with the detailed individual stories of the original but at least with some nods to that. The Dragons of Earth fare less well, but I'm impressed that we even got this much. Mind you, the main characters (Kamui, Fuma and Kotori) have changed. Kamui's more humanised, less alien and unknowable. The movie hardly has time for anything else, although maybe they'd have changed their minds if they'd had more of the manga. Meanwhile Fuma is an improvement on his TV equivalent, coming across less like a plot device and more like a character. For the first time here I realised how much his fate sucks. He's doomed to become either good or evil not of his own free will, but depending on the result of Kamui's decision! Wow.
It looks great, even by the standards of other anime movies. Rin Taro and Madhouse did great work. The fight scenes, the apocalyptic imagery and the superpowers are all awesome. It's also more visceral than the TV series, with more sex and violence. We see actual nipples, not to mention Kanoe's amazing cleavage. Meanwhile the violence levels are through the roof, with decapitations, people flying into chunks of flesh and more. I liked all that. An apocalypse shouldn't be tame and this certainly isn't.
It conveys the Earth's impending destruction better than the TV series did, with lots of wild prophetic imagery and dream sequences. In fact it arguably goes overboard with that. Random destruction looks cool, but isn't very interesting.
Overall, this film is great... but only if you don't come to it cold. It's ridiculously ambitious and visually stunning. There's only one character missing: the dreamseer Kuzuki, either because he hadn't been properly introduced in the manga then or because his character's abilities were insufficiently dynamic for the film. His story role is filled by Asagi Shuogo, a water master. I like the fact that it's not simply a rerun of the TV series, instead offering a different resolution in the final act. Seriously, this is good stuff.
Oh, but those crows are weird.