X/1999 by CLAMP Volumes 1-9 review Part 1
If you have ever read a CLAMP manga, chances are you're a cynical romantic masochist. And yes, that's a thing and if you have ever fallen in love with any CLAMP work, you know deep inside that you fucking are a cynical romantic masochist. It'd be easier to just blow past it now and accept facts. This particular manga series known as X, and then changed to X/1999 because there was also a Western series with the same name, is the famed 'unfinished' work by CLAMP that is more or less a magnus opei. It went on a very, very long-term hiatus since 2003 and in doing so, left the story lacking any real conclusion TO THIS DAY. Concerns about its increasingly violent scenes have been the issue why the series has been discontinued by the magazine it was published in because they're a bunch of sissies.
In any case, X/1999 definitely deserved better because it was simply brilliant with layers that would make this possible for several readings. Also, this has to be the most confounding, sophisticated and emotionally stressful series CLAMP had ever produced, and they have a long line of other emotionally stressful stories after this because they are dicks--and I say that with loving affection as a fan. Due to time constrictions, I was only able to finish the nine volumes collected. Now, I would have pushed through it and found a way to binge everything in one sitting, but that is not an advisable route when it comes to any CLAMP series.
I repeat: DO NOT BINGE A CLAMP SERIES because reading any CLAMP work in one sitting is not good for your mental and emotional health especially with this one. I'll try to give you a semi-spoiler-ish look at why you might want to read this--and why you must brace yourselves.
Essentially my reaction as I progressed through each volume is WHAT---WHY---WHAT THE FUCK?
|Essentially me since volume 4|
Genre-wise, X/1999 is an apocalyptic fiction combining several elements of the story's own mythology with that of other secular elements, particularly Christian themes. At the heart of its plot is an ontological argument regarding Fate vs. Free Will. The very tagline of this series testifies to it, and serves as the main conflict for the protagonist Kamui who must choose between two fates; one that leads him to a path of goodness and redemption--and the other towards destruction and mayhem. The choice should be simple enough, of course, but X/1999 certainly draws it out to stress the weight and importance of making such a choice because it's not only a matter of doing the right thing but also coming to terms of one's capacity for both good and evil, depending on which part you nurture.
Kamui, this story's protagonist, is a surly teenage boy supposedly destined to either be the world's salvation or damnation when Armageddon hits in the year 1999. He is brash, immensely powerful and haunted; having witnessed the very detailed and brutal murder of someone at a young age. He has two childhood friends whom he considers the ones he loves the most, but had to cut off ties with them because he doesn't want them to get involved in the supernatural drama that is a prophecy about his life as the chosen 'Kamui'.
The conflict sounds predictable and comparable to other works focusing on the power of choice, and the possibility of how the end of the world hangs in a balance with said choice. There would be nothing particularly special about X/1999 in this regard, except that CLAMP also created an interesting mythos to make its own version of an apocalypse that not only concerns the utter devastation of the world as we know it, but also an intimate portrait of how the burden of making choices can truly be a matter of life and death. Kamui is not the only one who has to decide; the ensemble of intriguing characters that would also play vital roles in the 1999 End of the World. These are the collective seven seals and seven minions who more or less brought up to what their destines would be like once Kamui decides his fate, and theirs for that matter. They all have their own personal motives, tragic backstories and wish fulfillments that certainly allows readers to feel that this isn't just a one-man Kamui show but one that touches upon other players' own choices that could influence a smaller narrative against the backdrop of a much bigger and overwhelming one.
To see their lives unfold and unravel alongside Kamui's is where the emotional chord is being wrapped around the readers' hearts. The way these fourteen characters would act whether through their own accord or for some higher, preordained plan is a compelling and gratingly frustrating thing to read about because it would definitely make readers question about how much of their life they do control, or if they were ever in control about it in the first place. I would not be spoiling and discussing these characters individually because no introduction about them here would suffice, and discovering who they are for yourselves would be a more satisfying experience because one of CLAMP's strengths is creating memorable characters with nuanced personal histories and conflicts that move you to root for them no matter how hopeless the situations they find themselves in.
You think loving characters in Game of Thrones only to watch them fail and die is painful? Well, CLAMP characters will make you experience a different kind of pain that could be called 'cruel' if it wasn't also persistently bittersweet and ultimately an inevitable end.
On a lighter topic, since this is CLAMP, some unintended/ambiguous scenes of boy-love are ever present. This is mostly prominently featured in the relationship between Kamui and his childhood friend Fuuma who has a sister named Kotori whom Kamui also loves. It's probably the most painful relationship rendered on paper which may only be rivaled by other CLAMP pairings like Sakura and Syaoran of Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle and motherfucking Subaru and Seishirou from Tokyo Babylon WHO ALSO MAKE AN APPEARANCE IN THIS SERIES AS THE ULTIMATE QUEER VERSIONS OF ROMEO AND JULIET, ONLY MUCH MORE TRAGIC! Anyway, here's some ambiguously gay moments:
Amidst the vividly drawn dream sequences, perplexing symbolism weaved into these sequences, and the brutal depictions of killings that would definitely jump out the page, there are also separate chapters focusing on a particular character's story at the end of each volume. The most enjoyable aspect of this series are definitely the gorgeous illustrations of even the most mundane scenes. Aside from Tsubasa, X/1999 has to have the most detailed visual work and exceptionally so, considering the bulk of the plot alone and how two or three volumes usually delved on many pages of dream sequence and symbolism that would make readers head spin as they try to interpret them. I would show them here but that would be spoiling a lot of important elements in the prophecy itself so I won't. Instead, let me just show a touching spread when Kamui decides to save the world so he can preserve the home of his childhood friends/sweethearts Fuuma and Kotori, and the love these three have for one another WILL TOTALLY NOT BECOME A WASTELAND OF ANGST LATER ON. Nope. Not at all.
It's only been nine volumes so I can't have that much strong opinion about Kamui as a lead protagonist of this story. He started out rather unrelatable and even annoying, being quite stubborn and hotheaded, but as readers follow him in his quest for self-knowledge, it becomes pretty difficult to keep thinking he's just some whiny teenager, given the extent of his trauma and his losses along the way that just kept getting worse and worse. His arc in this story as the main one to follow can be very depressing and hopeless, but I would like to see how he fares once his character development progresses along. He's in a very vulnerable place where pain and despair mostly define it. However, the ninth volume changes that with his interaction with one Subaru Sumeragi, the protagonist for Tokyo Babylon which I reviewed earlier this year and subsequently unraveled from. READ THE UNRAVELING HERE.
There are so many things I want to reveal in this review to get you to read it, but I will abstain because it would just spoil too much of what CLAMP has accomplished in this series, as far as I've read in the volumes I got to finish. So, I will just leave you guys with Sumeragi rehashing the painful experiences he had from Tokyo Babylon to give Kamui some context and perspective that there might be a way to survive the worst of heartbreaks no matter how impossible it may seem. And it's not like they have a choice--they're in a CLAMP story!
Once I finish all the required readings for this year, I'm going to read more of X/1999 again. I'll be taking it slow though, considering there is no resolution of this series and I don't want to rush to its non-ending just yet, being discontinued and all, but from what I have seen so far, I really do believe it's worth the trouble.