At long last, our heroes make it to one of their favorite CLAMP series: X! They’ll laugh, they’ll cry…well, mostly they’ll reminisce about high school and talk about the end of the world. Join Lucy and Robin this week as they begin their X discussion with volume 1.
CW: blood, gore, death, and other grisly things. Also a potentially glib/dark humor approach to grim subjects.
Here’s the interview we mention in the episode, made available on Chibi Yuuto’s wonderful website!
Here’s a link to the podcast Headlong: Surviving Y2K on Spotify, which Robin recommends if you want to know more about panic in the leadup to the millennium.
And finally, follow Robin’s twitter account to cheer her on as she finished the last pages of her graphic novel! (You can also follow Lucy for occasional rambling about pop culture and being back in school)
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and readability, which basically just means I cut out some “ums” and some of the many, many, many times we say “yeah” while the other person is talking. I tried to keep the flavor and personality of the episode intact, without making it too annoying to read. Hope you enjoy it!
Robin: In the 90s, we were staring down the barrel of the new Millennium, and there was a strange undercurrent of fear that things were going to end with a bang. Out of those anxieties comes X, a tour de force that has been breaking hearts with its story and its unfinished status for 28 years
Lucy: We’re Lucy and Robin, and we’ll be your guides through CLAMP’s Wonderland.
[Intro music, played on a harp]
R: Alrighty, so we are in 2020 now.
L: Yeah! We’re making it to X, Robin!
R: We are! It’s really weird to be going back and forth between 1992 and 2020.
L: Yeah, it’s strange.
R: But that’s…this whole podcast is just going to be like that.
L: yeah. *laughs* It’s fine.
How are you doing? Your grad school application has gone in…
L: Yeah, it’s all in. It’s done. I just get to wait and hope that I hear good things.
R: yeah, my fingers are crossed for you.
L: Yeah, no, everybody…like…they don’t accept a whole lot of people into these kinds of programs, so if I don’t get in, I’m not going to be, like, offended, but I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do next if that is the case, so we’ll see!
R: ahhh, I’m so sorry.
L: Well, it might be fine.
R: Yeah, I’m sure it’ll be fine. Look, it’ll be fine no matter what.
L: Yeah, it’ll be fine either way. It might be…currently foreseeable, but we’ll find out.
R: Yeah, my year’s gonna be a little like that, too. I am nine pages away, as of recording this, and probably…honestly by the time it goes up I’m probably still going to be nine pages away from finishing inking my big graphic novel. It needs to be colored still.
L: Yeah, but…
R: Details, details. Um, yeah, and there’s some editing and things that need to happen, but I’m really close. But I don’t know what I’m doing next. I have pages of notes and conversations with my agent trying to figure out what it’s going to be, so I’m also kind of looking at a year of uncertainty. And I’m actually kind of excited about it, but I don’t know, my-my brain is exploding…a lot.
L: yeah, yeah, me too. I have a lot of projects that I want to work on separate from grad school in that time, and separate from current-school in that time, so we’ll see…yeah. *laughs*
R: In the meantime, this will be here for us.
L: Yes *laughs*.
R: *laughs* I’m glad that, like, this podcast will be this like…
L: It’s nice to have like one stable thing, yes.
R: …this island of stability.
L: That doesn’t pay us, so it’s not like a stable income, but…stable responsibility.
R: No, it’s an emotionally grounding thing
L: Yes, yes, just some, you know, recorded therapy…it’s fine.
R: *laughs* speaking of recorded therapy… So of course, I’m really excited to talk about X, because this was my high school obsession. And I say high school obsession as if I had only one…
L: Yeah. *laughs*
R: *laughs* Which, I had a lot.
L: There were many. We had many.
R: Both of us are people who could be simultaneously obsessed with many things.
L: Yeah, and I mean, we went through phases. Like, you know, we weren’t like, simultaneously reading this and all of Interview with the Vampire and stuff, but we did love both those things.
R: I’m not sure that they weren’t simultaneously, because those things…
L: Maybe…they might have been the same year.
R: ‘Cause, right, I think it was, ‘cause also we had to wait months between some of these things.
L: that’s true, that’s true. So they weren’t always, like…we’d be waiting for one and then be really into the other, and then, you know, it’d come and go. Yeah.
R: Yeah. So, let’s see…where are we in terms of our CLAMP timeline?
L: Yes! So…
R: According to Lucy’s…book.
R: She has this hand-written.
L: I do. I like hand-writing stuff. Um, if you listen to our New Years episode, you’ll have already heard this, but I wanted to do a little recap in one of our proper episodes, just so it’s on the record.
L: Just to kind of ground us, we are now in 1992. This technically came out before Chun Hyang and Shirahime, but we…as discussed before, we wanted to shift those around a little just so we could get everything done from ’92 except X, and then just launch into a big chunk of X.
So just kind of to put things in perspective, RG Veda is about halfway through; Tokyo Babylon is about a third of the way through; Duklyon is going on; Chun Hyang and Shirahime haven’t yet quite started but are in production, I’m sure; CLAMP Campus is going on; and the only thing they’ve actually completed is Man of Many Faces. Which kind of blows my brain a little, I don’t…don’t know *laughs
L: *laughs* …that the only finished title they had was Man of Many Faces.
R: Yeah…it’s less mind-blowing when you remember that their career was only a couple years old.
L: Yeah, yeah, like, they started in like, 98, 99.
R: ’88, ’89…
L: *laughs* Yes, sorry, yes… [mocking voice] ‘they started in the future from where we currently are.’
We are also kinda slightly changing how we’re doing Stargazing, because we don’t do it as much as we initially thought we would do.
R: That might change with X.
L: It might change with X, but I mean… I feel like a lot of things I was worried about saying had to do with X, in previous things, so I feel like now that we’re to X, a lot of the danger is passed. Um, but, anyway, so instead of doing it per series…I mean, we’re still going to tally it, you know, every episode, but going to only to, like, add them all up at ish once a year, when we’re at, like, a big stopping point or whatever. So like when we finish X will probably be the next time we do it.
So, as we currently are, I am at 9…and you are at 8, So…
R: I cannot—I like still can’t believe that Lucy is beating me at this. Or-or that I’m winning? I don’t know which way you’re going to look at it…but, I can’t believe it. I had such self control, which is not very much like me.
L: *laughs* Yeah, which is impressive because you’re the one who has, like, reread these things more recently, too. Like I barely remember things in Tsubasa that you definitely could be spoiling. And…yes…
L: And then, yeah, what we’re also going to do is instead of it being one piece of merch per series (which, we also were kind of having trouble finding good cheap merch for, especially the little ones), I have to make you something.
L: …an ‘art.’ Ish.
R: Yes. I’m excited.
L: Yes, I am…also excited? We’ll see what it ends up being…it might be art, maybe I’ll do a ridiculous one-shot fanfiction, I don’t know. Something.
R: I would definitely enjoy that very much. I’m up for whatever, I’m really excited.
L: yeah, we’ll find—I’ll figure something out. I’ve got a couple ideas.
R: I like surprises.
L: Mmhmm, it’s good. *laughs* So that’s where we currently are…as soon as I fulfill my obligation we will let you all know. And you know, we will check in again…well, probably between now and then, but at the very least once we’re done with X. Um, and we do still intend to fit some other things in while we’re doing X, so that won’t just cover X, but that will probably be our next break point.
R: Alright, so let’s talk about this comic proper.
L: Yes! So I’m also excited we finally got to this, ‘cause I was of course also involved in the X obsession, though it was more like, you got me into it, and then I was just a happy believer.
R: *laughs* Oh no!
L: But my hard thing with X is that there’s so much of it that I thought of, like, while we were reading RG Veda. Like it kept reminding me of it.
L: And now we can finally, like, start digging into those, like…things.
R: Yes. Yeah! The parallels with all the themes… Of course, most of those don’t come up in the first volume, so I’m having to be really careful. Like I’m, as usual, going to give you guys a big context dumb, where I just talk about things. But I’m actually putting it at the…towards the end, instead of the beginning, because there’s plenty to talk about just at the beginning here.
R: X launched May of 1992 in Monthly Asuka, a shoujo magazine, and ran for 11 years before it was put on hiatus in March 2003.
R: We are going to do our best to talk as little about that as possible, because part of our Stargazing thing is, like, we need to pretend like we don’t know.
R: We will talk so much more about that towards the end, I promise, but for now, just be with us, be a believer; pretend you don’t know.
L: *laughs* There’s gonna be an ending one day, guys, it’s fine.
R: You know, they say there is.
It was a shoujo title but always had a big crossover audience, because while it is a beautifully drawn piece with lots of sequences that detail the inner workings of character’s hearts, it is also a bloody apocalyptic vision full of violent fight scenes. There are plenty of shoujo series that involve wars and fighting, but they tend not to be as graphic or, like, violence-oriented as this one is, with plenty of exceptions, of course. In the US, it ran in Animerica Extra (Animerica’s comics tie-in magazine) starting in January 1998, and then published by Viz in collected volumes that followed the Japanese tankouban. Which, there are 18 of those. It was popular here, especially since it was pretty early for manga being released in the states. It played into the American, like, stereotype of manga and anime being violent and sexualized. Although, it’s not so much sexualized as people are pretty, but it has its moments, and I do remember it being widely read by guys who had no idea it was originally marketed to girls.
I don’t think I knew it was originally marketed to girls.
L: yeah, I mean I don’t think I was super thinking about it. Although by the time I was reading X, I already knew what CLAMP was, so I kinda of—I think I already knew them in like a shojo manga-sphere.
R: Yeah, I think it took me awhile to understand that Card Captor Sakura and X were by the same people, and I think I started reading them within months of each other. And if not, it’s just because, you know…like, if there’s more than a few months between me reading those two things, it would be because I was slightly later to the X game than you would think. I didn’t get Animerica or Animerica Extra. We kind of missed that really early era of manga fans in the US. Like we really didn’t partake in the like late 80s early 90s version of that stuff.
L: Oh, interesting, because I definitely did. Like, I have so many Animericas somewhere, that I haven’t found yet at my parents’ house, but I know they’re there.
R: oh dig ‘em up, I can’t wait to read them.
L: I will. Because I’m pretty sure that’s how I got exposed to Galaxy Express 999, which I’m just now finally watching the anime of.
R: oooh, Reiji Matsumoto! I love it.
L: It’s so…It’s kind of slow, but it’s so beautiful that I’m not really bored by it, like…I’m enjoying it a lot.
R: yeah, despite the, like, 70s pacing.
R: It’s so good, it’s so good!
L: Yeah, I remember it from that, because it did run in the, like, the magazine proper for a while, and then I remember really wanting Animerica Extra, and I think I maybe bought like a copy of it or something, but that wasn’t…I think I actually had a subscription to the main one, but I couldn’t…we just could only have so many magazine subscriptions, you know.
R: They were spendy, too.
R: These would be—these were not cheap magazines. I remember for like some birthday I was given Protoculture Addicts (which I don’t even know much…I don’t even know anything about that one) and some Animerica. And I like poured over them constantly as a small child. And by small child I mean like 14 or 15, not that small. I mean, I’m short, so I was always small, so whatever.
L: *laughs* Yeah…and there was also Pulp, which I didn’t read because it was, it was kind of like the “adult” version, which meant a lot more when I was 12 than it does now. But, so, I remember that, and I kinda, like…
R: I think they did the American version of Banana Fish.
L: Yeah, yeah, they did. And then it switched over to Animerica Extra. I was reading about that, ‘cause Pulp folded, and so I think it continued on in…
R: Interesting…god that’s so cool.
R: That’s an entire piece of history that I think that we’re going to eventually have to deep-dive into, because it’s just so fascinating.
R: But in the meantime, I really like talking about both the Japanese and American publication of these. I would do things outside of America, but it is not in our experience, so it’s not like as relevant to what we’re trying to say…but I always love to hear peoples’ stories about, like… Hey if you’re in France, when were the first time that these were available to you? Like, I can look it up on Wikipedia, but I can’t tell you what it feels like…
L: Yeah, it’s not quite the same.
R: …to have, like, lived in Paris and picked up that comic.
L: Yeah, I loved all those magazines. Like, they never really hit off here the way they—you know, they work in Japan and they don’t really work here. But I remember I consistently got Shojo Beat for a while, and I really liked that because I could, you know, just keep up with the, you know, monthly installments of a comic, and that was really fun.
R: Yeah, that’s awesome.
We’re close to the turning point in their career where projects were starting to be sort of put in their lap. Not so much other people’s writing or anything, but editors asking them to, like, pitch something to them. This they pitched themselves. They were actually really worried about pitching something as long as this was planned to be—and in interviews from this era they are very clear that everything is fully planned from the beginning. That like, they really will not start something if they don’t know where the end is going to be. Like it’s all written towards an ending.
L: That’s great.
R: And for X that is especially relevant. But their editor was really receptive to them pitching something this long. Like he was totally up for it. Also, that editor’s name happens to be Seiichiro Aoki, which you might want to remember for later.
In many interviews, Nanase Ohkawa has said that the seed for X was planted when she was in elementary school, and it germinated throughout her youth. This was a story she wanted to tell in some format, though the version that we have—or versions, really, because X has been adapted into a standalone film in 1996 and an anime series in 2001—this version is the one she developed with the other members of CLAMP, taking in their own sensibilities as well.
She has said that her young imagination was fueled by the 70s buzz around the prophecies of Nostradamus, which we will bring up later (many times), and by the ground-breaking twists of Go Nagai’s Devilman manga. Which we will also bring up, many times. It is super not relevant now. It will become relevant.
Tempered by the 80s phenomena that was the release of the 10-volume novel Teito Monogatari by Hiroshi Aramata, with a healthy heap of Gaia theory and her own stark individualism, X is a series that really reflects the anxieties of the time, as well as its creators’ vision. We’ll discuss all of these things at length, some today and some as they become more relevant to the volumes we’re reading.
In many ways, X is the sequel to Tokyo Babylon, although it didn’t run in the same magazine and didn’t super advertise itself that way. Tokyo Babylon was kind of getting towards its conclusion, but not nearly at the end when X launched. They had been doing quite a bit of promotion for X in their own periodical, and I assume in Asuka as soon as the series sold. In the recently-available 1992 interview from their own letters page that Chibi Yuuto uploaded to his site (very generously), they mention Kamui before X has already launched and it’s clear that their audience was intrigued by this new pretty boy in a school uniform.
R: So, um, what happens in X number 1? Which is the only volume we’re talking about today…or, that I’m desperately trying not to get Stargazing points against me…we’ll only be discussing this today!
L: Yes. I think we did, in that poll, describe that Stargazing within a series doesn’t ding us too badly. Doesn’t usually count. But if you give away something huge, it might.
L: Anyway, yes! So, volume 1, or if you’re reading the omnibus it’s…I mean it’s says in the thing that it’s volume 1, it’s a very clear-cut ending, but it’s the first third. Ooo obvious.
R: Yes. *laughs*
L: There are three in one, haaa. Um. We basically…not all that much happens, but we get the beginnings of so many things. So we’re going to try do them in order, and try to make it clear.
So, it opens with a strange cloaked figure just kind of creeping on Tokyo above…on Tokyo Tower, which I’m impressed that people keep managing to get on to the Tokyo Tower. Like, I’m pretty sure there’s security for that. But whatever! I’m sure Kamui can fly.
R: He didn’t climb up there.
L: Yeah, he magicked up, I know…
R: We actually know that they, like, do these really long jumps and stuff.
L: Oh, that’s true. They are very bouncy.
R: Like he’s pretty magical.
L: He’s very magical.
R: He’s doing enhanced movement to get up there. He didn’t just like climb with some gear.
L: Yeah, yes. So he’s all like cloaked and kinda flowy and just staring down on the city, and he says: “After 6 years I’m home…mother.” And it’s very dramatic.
R: Yes. Paraphrased.
L: Paraphrased, because of course.
R: But all those pieces of information are definitely in there.
L: Yeah, yeah. So, we know that he’s returned to Tokyo after six years. It’s important to his mother for some reason? Or his mother’s important…? I dunno.
L: We’ll find out. It’s fine, it’s fine.
Um, and meanwhile, well…not quite at the same time, but the next day (assumably), we meet our two kind of—our two “normal” teenagers.
L: With some quotes there.
R: Yeah, there are very big scare quotes on “normal.” You can’t see it, because this is a podcast, but…
L: yeah, everything’s in quotes. It’s fine. *laughs*
So Kotori and Fuuma Monou are kind of just on their way to school. And they are both very…pleasant?
R: Yeah, their neighbors love them.
L: Yeah. Their neighbors love them, the kids at school seem to love them. Um…
R: Their neighbors do imply something terrible happened to their mother, though,
L: Yes, yes.
R: There’s like an air of tragedy surrounding these two siblings.
L: Yeah, and um, Fuuma’s very like dark and handsome and quiet. Like he’s the cool, silent type.
L: Um, and Kotori’s is very, like, *high pitched voice* friendly and very innocent. *laughs*
R: Well she…they say that she has a heart condition.
R: She’s actually really fragile. And the boys at school turn that into sort of a like, “oh she’s a tragic beauty and an endangered species…”
L: Yeah…there was some gross quote about that in there…that I wanted to, like, punch, but yeah…
R: It’s a little gross. And she is incredibly sweet.
L: Yeah, she is legitimately very nice, and she seems like…
R: And he seems legitimately really nice, too, but he’s, like, very tall…he’s kind of Yasha-esque if Yash wore pants.
L: Yeah. And was…younger.
R: …and didn’t have luscious hair. Basically he’s not as good as Yasha, I mean, sorry.
L: He’s basically not. He’s not as good as Yash. Sorry—I mean sorry, not sorry, Fuuma, you’re not as good as Yasha. Too bad.
R: Fight words for someone, I’m sure.
L: It’s ok, Kamui’s not as good as Ashura-o, it’s fine.
R: Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness! The fighting words!
L: *laughs* Fighting words!
No, um, they’re great in their own unique ways. It’s fine. *laughs*
Anyway, we learn Kotori has had a dream about their childhood friend Kamui coming back to town! And…rainbows and sunshine, and they miss him so much! *laughs* And, uh spoiler alert, well, she’s right, for one thing. But, he’s kind of a dick? So…he does show up in their classroom, and it was…
R: He’s a transfer student.
L: Yeah, he’s a transfer student. And at first, they’re really excited about it. But…well she is very excited about it… And he—when she, like, tries to talk to him, he basically just brushes her off, and is like “don’t get involved with me.” And it’s very like…it kind of comes off like a dick…I’m sure that’s how she read it, but from a reader’s perspective, you’re like “…some shit is going on with this kid.” *laughs*
R: Yeah, he’s such a dick that you’re like, this is not a normal—he’s not just a normal asshole kid, like, there’s issues.
R: This is the cloaked figure from the beginning, to make it very clear.
L: Yes, definitely.
R: Like, there is no mystery here.
L: Well at this point we, the reader, have already seen him get into a…scuffle? I guess? On his way to school his is attacked by some mysterious sunglass-ed men.
R: Very Matrix-y.
L: Very matrix-y
L: And he has fought them off, and they dissolved because they were just little…spirit creature things. And…um, so we already know that he’s got some like supernatural shit going down, so…I know I, I mean…I knew this story already, but I feel like him being all jerky to her is very much just like “don’t get involved in my crazy shit, girl.” *laughs*
R: Yeah, yeah. I mean there’s even, like…she collapses and he does take her to the infirmary. Where a very suspicious nurse is very involved with them…
R: And…and her big brother takes her home.
L: And beautiful nurse, by the way.
R: She is beautiful.
L: She’s so hot.
R: Adult CLAMP ladies…are all knockouts.
L: So good. Yes.
R: And this one is full of, like, knockout babe CLAMP ladies.
R: Like we don’t get very many of them in this volume, but she is there, and she is, like, I think the first one you see.
L: Yeah, I think she’s the first of that…age group of women that we see in CLAMP.
R: Yes, very…very suspicious school nurse. Remember her.
L: Yes, remember her for later, kids!
Anyway, we get to see Kamui in a few more…scuffles, I guess. Um, there are people following him. Various people, from very different, uh…places? Like…it’s not all one group that is following him.
R: Yeah, the reader does not know who these different groups are, but we definitely know they’re not all working together.
R: A beautiful teenager girl in a school uniform, and a pretty ordinary looking guy, have been sort of tailing him and discussing his actions. And the guy picks a fight with him, and they have a fight that is more-or-less to the death. Like, he is going to murder this kid. Who has…also supernatural powers, like, I don’t mean that these two people are, like, brawling like punks in an alley, I mean they are doing, like…destroying a neighborhood using psychic powers.
L: Yeah, yeah.
R: It’s really bad.
L: They’ve got all sorts of, like, not quite Force Lightning, but like, you know…
R: Yeah, close. And our ostensible protagonist Kamui is really vicious.
R: This other kid is like “Are you Kamui?” And he’s like “Fuck yeah I’m Kamui.” And the other kid is like “I refuse to believe you’re Kamui”, and he’s like “Eh, tough luck, because I’m definitely Kamui,” and is going to, like…they are really injuring each other, right? Like we’re talking about, like, bleeding—visibly bleeding wounds. But also, like, he does beat this kid up. And he’s going to, like, kick him over the side of the building.
R: And then he gets stopped.
L: Yeah. Well, he…in the process though he is like…semi-indestructible? Like a good portion of that building does fall on him at first.
R: Oh yeah, and he gets up. An he’s—
L: Kamui, that is.
R: Yeah, Kamui gets up and is fine.
L: Yeah. So…we, you know, we definitely see that he’s not your normal teenage boy.
R: Yes, um, he is stopped from just killing this kid—whose name is Saiki—he’s stopped from just kicking him over the side, by Arashi, the beautiful teenager girl from earlier.
R: And she has a freaking awesome sword that comes out of her arm…in a pretty gross way, which I loved.
L: Yes, it’s so cool. It reminded me so much of RG Veda and just, like, all the artwork. Especially the artwork around RG Veda, and less the actual, like, comic artwork, but like…
R: Yeah…but like all of the gross semi-biological swords in RG Veda, we’re like “Oh here’s one of those in this. It like comes out of her arm, it’s super cool.” And she just sort of has a like “Kamui, chill the fuck out. I’m taking this kid away, and you can just deal.” And just…“Arashi out.”
L: Yeah. *laughs* Yeah, mic drop, go!
L: Yeah, um, yeah, so we learn that she and, you know, Saiki, are working for Hinoto, who is a prophet who lives in the basement of the Diet Building, which is a very important, um…
R: It’s…the political seat of Japan.
L: Yeah, yeah, and she is basically there to advise, you know, the politicians, and kind of, like, shape the future of Japan, basically.
L: And this (talk about RG Veda flashbacks), she does, I think, “dreamgazing” is what it’s called?
L: It’s very similar to stargazing.
R: In Japanese she’s a “yumemi.”
L: Oh, ok.
R: So a dream—
L: a dream-watcher, yeah.
R: Yeah, in the same way the Stargazer is, like…it’s very similar.
L: Yeah, yeah, and we learn that this vocation of hers, I guess, is, like, all-consuming. Like, she’s given up…like she can’t speak, she can’t see, she can’t move…like she communicates through, mental faculties. Like, her voice, you know, goes into people’s heads and stuff.
R: Yeah, it’s just telepathy.
L: It’s all—yeah, yeah, so she’s kind of given up everything to be this living prophet. And I…that’s powerful.
R: Yeah…she’s very beautiful, and very delicate, and very eerie. And really heart-wrenching, because you’re like “wow, this…” like you already get the feeling like something’s not quite right here. Like it is not fair for anyone to be, like, used in this way. But she’s also a very powerful figure, because she is a prophet, and she is telling us about a vision. And we see these visions, so…whenever we’re talking about X and we’re talk about people having visions, usually they are visually represented on the page in gorgeous, symbolic spreads, and I think that…I think we’ll spend a lot of time talking about the imagery and the motifs that are used there, because they are an entire layer of meaning on this, which is super cool.
R: But we get one of our first visions in the series, in this scene, where she tells us about Kamui and the end of the world. And there’s not a whole lot of information in there…there’s some visuals that are flashed across, but there’s an awful lot of you just sort of getting the feeling that there is a vision, that there is a prophecy about the end of the world, which is coming up soon.
L: Yeah, you see him…there’s basically this image of, like, the world shattering, and you see him with wings, and it’s building the groundwork for a lot of the, like you said, images that are going to come up later.
R: Kotori also has a dream, after the first one, which we actually didn’t see. When she’s like “oh I had a dream last night about my friend coming back,” we didn’t see that one. We see a second dream she has, when she sees not only child Kamui but also this new…we’re gonna say “grown up,” we mean 16 years old.
L: *laughs* Yeah
R: She sees him, and sees him dropping a glass earth and watching it shatter, with not-a-very-nice look on his face. So we get two different, interesting kind of, like, visions or dreams, in this particular book, with a lot of shared imagery.
After this fight, where, you know, Arashi takes Saiki to Hinoto, and they deal with it. After all of that, though, Kamui is just sort of bleeding out, not in an alley, but in the ruins of his childhood home.
L: Yeah, we learn (at some point in the volume) that his childhood home burned down, and I assume that’s why he moved away? It’s not clear, and I don’t remember quite…
R: It’s kind of a memory, kind of a vision, but his mother seems to be burning in that home.
R: So we get the sense that that is why he’s gone, but we don’t know all of this information. Like, we don’t.
R: As a reader, this has not all been put together for you yet.
L: Yeah, but, so yeah, he’s…he kind of before getting in the fight was at, like, looking at his old house where it’s still burned down. It’s like an empty lot now.
R: Which I need to point out is wild.
L: Yeah, it sure is strange.
R: ‘Cause you’re like…yeah, in 1992, after the bubble burst, there might be an empty lot that sits around for a year, but not for six years, ‘cause that meant that that happened during the bubble economy, which was all about rail-state speculation. So I imagine there’s an entire Yakuza game that, like, happens right around here, where there’s actually an entire fight (completely having nothing to do with X), different Yakuza factions are fighting each other over if we’re going to, like, control the deed to that land.
L: *laughs* Excellent. I can imagine maybe it belongs to his family or something, and they’ve just done nothing. Or it’s got weird juju around it, and so people don’t want to do anything to it.
R: Yeah, those are probably actually good assumptions. And there is even a chance that—this might even get answered in this.
L: Yeah, I couldn’t remember that specific…
R: But yeah, he was hanging around there before the fight started…
L: Yeah, so he goes back there—
R: Bleeding out.
L: –but just kind of like collapses. And fortunately, Fuuma’s going off to buy a notebook or something, so he comes upon him and is like “oh god.” And despite Kamui being like “Leave me alone, don’t get involved with me, I’m bad for you kid”—not quite, but yeah, very dramatic.
R: Yeah, Fuuma’s just like, “don’t…”
L: Yeah, just picks him up, carries him away, um, back home, and Kotori gets to kind of nurse over him a bit, and…
R: Yeah. I mean, they have a doctor come and help him out a bit. And the doctor’s like “I’d love to call the police, since this is really terrible that someone beat this kid up.” And they’re like “Please don’t.” And he’s like “Well, I guess. I love you guys, and you’re on the up-and-up.” Everyone believes that Kotori and Fuuma Monou are on the up-and-up. Like, everyone thinks they are the best people. I should mention, their home…is a shrine. It’s, like, their father is a priest. They definitely have…and we’re talking like a Shinto shrine here, like, I don’t, it’s not a super Buddhist temple thing, like, I think it’s a Shinto shrine.
L: Yeah, I believe that is true. Um, yeah, so then the book kind of ends with, um…we come out from where Kamui is kind of unconscious, and we meet. Well, we don’t know his name yet, but…
R: A teenager boy with an Osaka accent and a cool shirt.
L: And a cool shirt!
R: I love his shirt.
L: I forgot about that shirt, and I want that shirt.
R: Yeah, it’s really good. We should make them.
L: We should make that shirt. I—they’re probably out there. We could probably find that shirt.
L: Um, anyway, and he’s kind of watching them, and then this man in a trench coat kind of challenges him. And like, throughout this story, when people were fighting, they kept kind of…chastising Kamui for not putting up a “kekkai,” which…they didn’t explain to us at all. But now we see this boy, uh, do it. And I’m moving so I can do it with my hands here, which none of you can see. *laughs*
R: It’s pretty cute.
L: But he, like, makes a square shield, basically, in the palm of his hands, and then, um, it spreads out to encompass the uh…I think he explains in the volume, but it basically means it’s like, eh, kind of like an alternative universe thing, where they can battle and no harm will be done to the area, but if the person who made it dies, the harm will come at some point. It might be immediate, it might be later. It might be at the end of the world.
R: Yes. Dun dun dun. And uh…we don’t know who either of these people are. We don’t know who sent them, and we don’t know who’s going to win this fight.
L: Yeah, all we know is…’cause the boy says that he was going to talk to Kamui before Arashi got to him, and then the other guy got to him, so we know that he’s not with the Hinoto faction. And we know this new guy is not with the Hinoto faction, ‘cause he says as much.
R: Yeah, yeah.
L: So we know that these are two new entities.
R: Yes. So there’s a million people…
L: A million people.
R: So yeah, X volume one assails you with dreams and prophecies and violence as it introduces you to a mysterious conflict: Kamui has powers, and people from various different sides with different motivations want a piece of him. But Kamui wants something else, and he is not interested in playing ball with anyone who is getting in his way.
R: Alright, I think that, uh, I was really going to briefly mention, before we get into the bigger talking points—‘cause we’ve got bigger talking points—a “kekkai” in pop culture is basically just a force field, and sometimes it is literally, like, a technology force field, and sometimes it’s like a psychic barrier or spiritual thing. Kekkaishi is an entire anime based around that being their entire mystical practice.
The word does translate pretty neatly to “barrier,” but it comes from Buddhism. And in Buddhism it would be more like referring to areas of temples that have been, like, sectioned off so they can be kept pure, or an area where things would be like purified. So areas the public couldn’t go, or that women aren’t allowed, or whatever the doctrine of that particular sect had to do with.
So it’s interesting that, like, this is actually a really old term. In one of the interviews with Nanase Ohkawa, she says that she had actually been researching this kind of thing. Like she had actually been kind of building some of the mythology of what a kekkai could be. Like, that was something she was interested in. That was some of the research they did before they started this. Along with lots and lots of scouting photography around Tokyo. Which of course Tokyo changed so much, as they were making this, that they had to, like, re-take photos or throw things out. Or just hope that…
L: Yeah, I think I remember them talking about that, I think in context to Tokyo Babylon, too, that they just had to stop worrying about accuracy at some point, because it would change so quickly.
R: Yeah, oh my goodness.
L: Yeah, which is crazy. Um, but yeah, and also just an interesting translation note, ‘cause I have the omnibus versions that came out by, um, Viz, in uh…recent times.
R: Yeah, like the last 3 to 5 years.
L: Yeah, and then, um…Robin’s reading the very very very old, also Viz, but the original, you know, graphic novels, and…mine actually, you know, says “kekkai,” but I believe yours says “force field”?
R: Yeah, mine says “barrier”.
R: And sometimes “psychic barrier.” Like, they are trying to translate that word, and, I mean, I feel like they did a pretty good job of that. It is really interesting…we spent a lot of time, uh, before we started recording, comparing the Japanese editions (which I also have) with this omnibus, and my old copies from high school, of the translation… And boy, so much has changed in terms of the technology, like it terms of what you do in terms of image editing.
R: Because back in the day, those volumes I had, they are hard for me to read, guys. They are flipped, so the artwork in flipped, which means that faces that look fine drawn from the direction that they drew them look kinda wonky. Which is just, all artists can all tell you that this is like…this a plague that effects us, right, where there are things that look right to you because, while it’s a little bit off in some way, it’s not noticeable because your eyes like correct for it somewhat. But if you flip it, you can tell that that eye is just slightly over to the right, or whatever. Like, you can tell when things are a little wonky. And looking at this, I can tell it is flipped so easily.
But also all of the Japanese sound effects, which are like a huge part of the design of comics in Japan. Sound effects are really really important, they like guide your eye around the page, and they do so much, but trying to edit those out and lay ugly, English-letter sound effects over them, not only are the sound effects not as useful because we don’t use onomatopoeia in quite the same way in English…but they also, are, like, they’re not elegant anymore. They’re trying to cover things up, not trying to guide your eye, and it’s really terribly.
But, um, the newer editions are a little bit better about not doing that, and they’re not flipped…
L: Yeah, I think that is really interesting, ‘cause that’s thing where…like, when they started, like, not flipping manga, back in the day when Tokyo Pop kind of initiation that and that kind of became the way to do it, I remember noticing so much…like, the art would look better. I think there’s something in, like, Inuyasha, they say the wrong hand for, uh, the guy who’s got the vortex in his hand? They are saying “my right hand,” but he’s holding up his left hand because it’s flipped. It’s really—that always just bothered me, so I remember being really excited when they stopped doing that. But with, like, with the sound effects and stuff, there’s like three ways of doing it. One is where you like just cover it with something; one is you leave it in and you just, like, add a translation next to is or below it..
R: That’s my preferred way by the way.
L: Yeah, I think is the best way. And then the other one is you, like, try and re-do it.
L: And I feel like the omnibuses, I didn’t notice it a lot, but I think if anything they were re-doing it?
R: Oh, yeah, oh they definitely redid it.
L: Yeah, they were definitely much better about, like, when you have, you know, text that is like over an image, now they have the technology—or the time—to actually edit away the Japanese and put, you know, the English there, so you’re not losing the image behind it or the color behind it, or whatever. Um, and in your version they just, like, put a box…
R: Put a big text box. Yeah, and I mean, like, all of these things, these are changes that are maybe because technology changed, and peoples’ sensibilities changed, and I am not trying to call out the people who were doing the best they could with what they had.
L: Oh yeah.
R: I still have such a definite preference, though. Like, I want to see what somebody made. I don’t want to see a completely, like, re-done version that is trying to appease my sensibilities. I’m willing to match the sensibilities of the people who made it in the first place. So…so yeah, anyways, it’s been very interesting to compare these. I’m really glad that Lucy and I are using different editions here ‘cause it gives us different insight into…
L: Yeah, that was a thing we didn’t have to do. I could have just borrowed your copies—‘cause I have the later volumes in the old version—but I really wanted to get the omnibuses and, like, have that comparison. So I have the first three, and then as we get closer to the second half I’m gonna get the rest of them, ‘cause I like the idea of having that consistency.
R: Yeah, no, I’m super excited.
L: And the comparison is just so fun. Especially since you also have them in Japanese, so we can actually compare, like, these three different eras of the comic…and, it’s cool!
R: Yeah, no, it’s really, it’s really exciting.
R: We have, like, three main talking point. And I’ve organized them carefully.
R: The first one is: why “X”?
L: Yes, do tell us Robin.
R: Why is it called “X”? And um, they were asked this many times, and she was pretty clear. It means “nothing”, right, like, it’s an “insert your own thing here”, and specifically it’s a variable in mathematics…which matters a lot to the plot of this, like that becomes really relevant. But also, she’s very clear that it was picked because it’s a cruciform symbol. It’s, like, a cross. And it is one of the many things about this that are intentional religious iconography that they bring all over the place. There is so much religious symbolism…the first page of this, it says “the Christian era 1999,” which looks a little wild, I think, to us, but it’s just part of the graphic design element of this. Um, that and the phrase “their destiny was foreordained” are always on early X stuff. Like, this is just part of the graphic design, like, zeitgeist they had. And the “Christian era” just means “AD – Anno Domini”, which we have replaced with “CE – Common Era,” but that’s all that is, they’re not making any further commentary with that, it’s just to kind of, like, give it that European feel there.
L: Yeah, like what calendar you’re using.
R: And makes it seem dramatic…but there is a ton of religious iconography used in it. That is something that is going to come up in every volume, and more and more. In this first one, it doesn’t come up that much. For the original tankouban, there is a wraparound cover with a flap, and the flap for each volume is a tarot card. And the tarot cards have a Hebrew letter on them, and all of that stuff is, like, very carefully put together, and we’ll kind of discuss what they mean by that as they go through this. The first one is Kamui, and it’s the Magician, and I think it has the letter “gimel” on it.
R: And that’s weird. It’s really wild. It is really wild. For someone who is inside any of the religious traditions that she uses symbols from, I think that it might feel a little slapped on, but… I think it comes together as, like, a gestalt by the end. Like she is using those things intentionally, maybe not in the way that anyone, again, that’s from the inside would recognize, but she does some interesting things where she kind of combines things.
She says—Okhawa says—that she was actually kind of trying to be careful not to take too much from any one religion. Which is interesting, to me.
L: Yeah, that’s cool.
R: There’s still some awkward stuff. Most of it hasn’t come up yet, so we’re fine.
We’re gonna talk about character names throughout this thing, too. Kamui is a really significant name, and it is really significant that he has that. We haven’t quite hit the point in the story where it matters that much.
R: Because more importantly, why 1999?
L: Why indeed?
R: The title in English is “X/1999”. That is not the original title, the original title is just “X.” The 1999 was added just for marketing purposes—it’s just clearer, like, X could be so many things, and it’s confusing for an English market. They’re just like “what?” Publishers are like “no, we need to…we need to do something here to distinguish it from other things, so…”
L: yeah, and it hints to the, like, end of the world paranoia, I guess.
L: Like it tells you—it hints more at what’s going on than just simply “X”, so like, I understand why they wanted to do that.
R: But outside of the title, why 1999? Because they use the—just that number is everywhere, visually in these volumes. The characters bring up that date quite a bit. Like we know that date is supposed to be the end of the world. That is absolutely a thing that they mention in this volume. And I have a really long, crazy rant for you guys…
R: So I’m going to try not to be too crazy about this, but the ‘90s were wild. And there really was this strange sense of apocalypse. Like, Millennialism was a thing. Dan Taberski had a great—in his Headlong podcast he did an entire series called “Surviving Y2K” that talks a lot about the weird cultural stuff going on that lead to the bizarre things people did in 1999, before the turn of the century and Millennium. But man, I think it’s really important for people who did not come…really anyone who does not remember this period, you have to understand it was very weird. Like it was weird. And not everyone was caught up in this hysteria, but you couldn’t not know this hysteria existed, ‘cause it was kind of around you everywhere.
L: Yeah. I mean, we were still pretty young, but people were legitimately concerned stuff was going to happen. And…it reminds me a little about how people were concerned about how 2012 would be, like, the…
R: The Mayan Calendar and stuff, yeah.
L: Yeah, yeah.
R: It was like that, but this had had, like, decades of crazy going into it.
R: I’m going to talk just a little about what that was like. The Cold War was over, the Vietnam War had become history instead of just an open bleeding wound. There was a shift happening. Francis Fukuyama, an economist—actually an American economics—wrote an essay in 1992 called “The End of History,” that claimed that liberal capitalism had won the culture war permanently (against communism), and was going to just keep going in perpetuity. We know that doesn’t work, because capitalism requires continual growth, which is physically not possible, but that was what the viewpoint was about the world in the West. From an environmental POV, that means the earth is doomed, because if people are just going to keep doing the same things at an exponential growth rate, natural resources will run out, climate change will be devastating. At the time we mostly talked about holes in the O-zone layer and greenhouse gases. The conversation has evolved a bit, but not…enough. And we’ll get there later, ‘cause, weirdly, this is very important to X.
R: But not yet! So, when this stuff kind of got combined in the public mind with the more spiritual idea of the “Gaia theory”–which posits the Earth as an organism, even a conscious one, and humans as separate and antagonist toward it—which…(I’m editorializing) that is, like, wildly untrue, and damaging that we view ourselves that way. But you get this anxiety that was really widespread among the sort of, like, left-leaning but also spiritual, hippie-types, that is: what if humans are killing the planet and the planet would be better off without us?
That was, like, overwhelmingly a thing that was on people’s minds.
L: Yeah, I remember that being just, like, a pervading, like, sense. Even if people weren’t like saying it outright, but just this…it would come up a lot, that just humans were like a…a disease on the Earth, and stuff.
R: Yeah. And like, we will…this is going to come up a lot. I know we say this all the time, but no, this is very relevant to this series. But it’s only part of what I’m trying to get at here.
You had a century of apocalypse, right? World wars, atomic bombs that were actually used and destroyed citizens, not just military targets, which changed everybody’s understanding of global politics forever, because nothing was distant anymore. Everything could happen in a flash, anything could be over in a moment. That had just not been something humans believed in. Humans had no sense that the world could truly end. They didn’t know what that looked like. Until you had things that were truly apocalyptic, right? I mean, genocide. Global media which meant you could see things happening in real time, not just read distant reports.
But this is the…more reality-informed side of what was kind of, like, building the way the 90s felt.
The other side was decades of religious movements, cults, counterculture movements, and so many other things in the more, like, spiritual-zone, that came from everything between, like, really legitimate things, to wild bullshit. And all of that stuff was kind of, like…I wouldn’t say mainstream, but it was more mainstream than you would imagine. And to this day we still have this problem, right, where like people will have Ancient Aliens on, and now you’re being told that brown people couldn’t do amazing feats of architecture, and it must be aliens, and that is so insulting.
R: But that’s a whole worldview that some people can’t get out of. And a lot of that stuff was kind of planted in the Mid-20th Century.
So, in Tokyo Babylon we talked about the Occult Boom. Some of that was homegrown—and in a culture that has traditions of augury and animism, magic doesn’t have the same connotations as it does in the West, which I will definitely get into in just a second. But remember, way earlier I brought up the novel series Teito Monogatari. It was written by a historian, but it was about modern-day onmyoudou and feng shui magicians taking part in an apocalyptic struggle set in Tokyo. HMMM.
L: HMMM indeed.
R: What does that sound like? Some of it was from cultural exchange, though! Like Nostradamus, and just the general kind of tabloid bullshit you would expect, right?
In the West, you had the decades of very Orientalist counterculture stuff, right? Where people were drawing from Eastern spiritual traditions, but just sort of taking whatever made sense to their, like, very Christian-trained brains, and building religions and cults. In Japan you had all these New Religions popping up, which were sort of them doing the same thing back. And in America, you had, like, all kind of movements like this, too.
And like, that’s fine. Although there were some actually really scary cults that came up, too, which, hmm…as I keep saying, will come up later. But it was really jumbled, and it got jumbled up with, like, neo-pagan movements, and 19th century spiritualism, *tele-marketer voice* and much, much more!
People were writing about psychic shit like it was actually going to be the next era of scientific discovery. Wild stuff, guys. Like, questioning the status quo of knowledge is great…but this was being done without replicable facts! OOPS.
And then came Uri Geller. And I left him out when talking about Tokyo Babylon and I regret it. In his heyday, this fey and possibly pretty-if-he’s-your-type Israeli claimed to have psychic powers and tested them in very specific ways on the air, like on tv, and REALLY HAD PEOPLE CONVINCED that he could do, like, spoon-bending and stuff like that. It’s really super debunked. People like James Randi have spent a lifetime debunking folks like him, but his impact was made anyway: there are still people who kinda believe in him no matter how debunked his tricks were. And he REALLY made an impact on Japanese pop culture. But combine this soup of ideas with the rise of Evangelical Christianity in the US, which often had book-of-revelations-fueled endtime-prophecies as their main attraction, and you get the Satanic Panic, where people equated Ouija boards and Dungeons and Dragons with an actual existent threats of demons and Satan.
And it was a mess. Interestingly enough, my partner Nathan grew up in an Evangelical family, and they would not let him watch anything fantasy-oriented, because witchcraft, to them, wasn’t just, like, a word describing either someone’s actual religious tradition, or a word describing, like, this very fantastical idea of, like, magic. It was evil miracles done by bad demons and Satan…as opposed to good church magic, which was real, and existed, and which they thought they were doing in order to keep demons away.
And so that was a wild upbringing he had.
L: *laughs* Yeah. Yeah, that’s exciting.
R: One of the experiences people in the West could have had in the 90s…so many people were claiming there were signs pointing to 1999 being the deadline for, well, everything. Being the end, right? And some of this was, like, tangentially related to Nostradamus, or to Book of Revelations stuff (although honestly, mmm, no).
Funny enough, I brought this up with Nate, with my partner, and I was like “did your folks, like, believe in this?” And apparently they did, because—not because they thought it was ridiculous that the end of the world could be nigh (‘cause they were definitely waiting for it). It’s just that the signs…they didn’t believe the signs had actually happened.
R: They were really skeptical that the signs other people had said had happened, had, like, happened. Had actually happened.
We’re gonna get into more of the meat of all this, as I’ve said many times, in future episodes, because it becomes incredibly relevant. But we’re just trying to give you a sense of, like “why would they think the world was ending in 1999?” And the reason is: so many hucksters and so many true believers had been convinced that the world could not keep going the way it was.
We talked about that with Tokyo Babylon, right? Like people knew that something was wrong, but they couldn’t figure out it was, like, real, changeable things humans could actually have, like, an impact on. It was, easier to view it as, like, an external crisis. Boy, that was a time.
L: Yeah, we weren’t just concerned that computers were going to stop working for a couple days.
R: Yeah, yeah, that was the Y2K stuff, and that’s, like…Y2K Bug is a whole other story.
L: *laughs* But it was also kind of part of that paranoia, like, it was in that.
R: Definitely part of the paranoia. Yeah, like, even people who didn’t, like…who weren’t believing that, like, angels were gonna open seals on scrolls and make things explode, still believed that maybe your bank would, like, explode. *laughs* That your bank account wouldn’t exist anymore ‘cause of Y2K.
L: Yeah, that’s what I remember way more. Like my parents didn’t really think anything was going to happen that would be very world-ending, but, like, I think we did like make sure we filled up the bathtub so we’d have water for a couple days if we needed it, or something. And we had some supplies around just in case it didn’t work…since everyone thought that since the computers couldn’t, like, calculate the number, everything was going to just shut down, and at the very least we’d be, like, sort of out of contact for a few days, and at the worst everything was just going to EXPLODE.
R: Oh, they were afraid the nuclear missiles were all gonna launch.
L: yeah, exactly, like everything was going to go off, and that would just be the end.
R: I highly recommend the Headlong Podcast, the Surviving Y2K. It is..
L: Yeah, yeah, I’ll put a link in the show notes, ‘cause that sounds cool.
R: It’s really cool. Like, it also has people who, like, literally—
*Lucy makes a noise as she drops her pen, like a true professional*
R: It also has like people who like literally left everything behind in the US to go try to find the Arc of the Covenant. In Israel.
L: Ah, wow.
R: And like…didn’t. *both laugh* I mean, obviously. So, no, it’s wild.
R: It was a wild, wild time.
I need to point out that they had planned X for, like, years and years and years. Like they had planned how long it was going to be. It was going to take way past 1999. So…they weren’t that concerned. *laughs*
L: And certainly by the time it was coming out in America, it was like…
R: It was passed.
R: It was so close to passed.
L: I think it came out in ’98?
R: Yeah, we said ’98.
L: So, yeah, so it was…you know…coming…but like, yeah.
R: Yeah, this definitely launched in a time where we were, like, thinking about that stuff, but so much of it was published here after it had passed.
L: Yeah. Which is wild now to read it, and, and there’s a line from his mom or something that’s just, like, “you have to stay alive…until 1999.” And I’m like… “I’ve got some…news for you.”
R: “About 2002.”
L: Yeah *laughs*, yeah.
R: Awesome. So, let’s pull back a little bit from all of this, like, context, and just me, like, expounding about how weird the 90s really were… And, uh, talk about the visuals in this. Because it is a stunning book, right?
L: Yeah, it’s beautiful. Um, and it’s also like, what I think of as being “classic CLAMP artwork.”
L: Yeah, like when I think “CLAMP”…I mean, I know a lot of people, when they think “CLAMP” they think “Card Captor Sakura,” which is wild to me because when I think “CLAMP” I think “this.” This is, like, the CLAMP series. If you have only one series, it is X.
R: Yeah *laughs*
L: Just because it’s so long, and it’s so much of their style and so many of these themes that they come back to again and again, and it just…it’s, you know, obviously very different from Card Captor Sakura *laughs*. Which is very entertaining, but…yeah, and…I will admit it’s not my favorite of their art styles, but I do really like it, and I think it works really well for this story. It’s so dark and so fluid…It’s so…
R: Yeah, sweepingly romantic. Not in a Romance novel way, but in a, like…like it just…it touches your heart and sweeps you away with it.
L: Yeah, it feels a little gothic with, uh, all the…the darkness, and…and, I don’t know, kind of the atmosphere that’s in the panels and everything. I know I use the word “atmosphere” probably too frequently *laughs*, but…
R: I think it’s fair. I think it’s so much what they’re trying to do. Um, we were looking it up, and at the time they were saying that they would do…sixty pages per chapter, and it would take them ten days to finish it. Not counting the, like, layouts and storyboarding, which can take a lot of planning time. So that is…NUTS. I cannot believe how fast that is. I looked at it, and I was like “you know, six pages a day…like, that’s doable. I could do that.” And then I was like “oh god, but my arm would fall off.”
R: Like, it would fall off. And there’s almost did. I mean they’re very clear that they did not survive this period of their lives unscathed. You know, they were, they were injured, and having anemia, and all kinds of things. Like this was actually…this is actually not reasonable.
L: Yeah, well, I mean they’re doing that, you have to remember, on top of so many other projects. And I mean, I’m sure they had different deadlines and, you, know, but…still.
R: Yeah, but that just means that each month they were working…they were doing, like, over a hundred pages of comics every month. And that just is a wild amount.
It is really distinctive artwork. They were using really thick paper, because there’s so much ink on this. And a loved, uh, a cute comment, because I guess Mick presses down really hard, when she…like she has a really heavy, like, hard-pressure, um, way of drawing, so there’s always, like, an indentation in the pages that she’s worked out.
R: I love that. So they need a really think paper, um, and they wanted paper thicker than the commercially available comic paper, which is, uh, kind of Bristol board, and is incredibly expensive by the way. And if you were doing hundreds of comic pages a month, like, that is going to be so expensive, it’s going to cut into your food budget. Like, it’s just going to. It’s too spendy.
L: Mmhmm. *laughs* That reminds me…in that interview, they talk about how their favorite pens have gone out of production, and fans have provided them with a lot or something, so they’re gonna be ok for a while, but eventually they’re gonna have to find an alternative. And that’s just such a cute detail.
R: Yeah. It’s so real.
L: It’s so relatable. Like I can definitely see being like *stressed intake of breath* “my favorite paper!” Like you had this, right?
R: Yeah, my beloved Futayaku pen…I mean like, oh my god, I can’t get it anymore, they’re gone. Like they don’t make it, and there’s no substitute, and…that makes me really sad.
L: So sad.
R: They used a lot of different kinds of pens and inking techniques for this. But they were saying, like, they would use any paper they could find, including just dragging stuff out of the trash, and, like, tea wrappers. I love that.
R: I just, I really really do. From an interview in 2001, in Asuka, which…so much of X was done by this point. They were just describing the effect they were going for, with, just, the way the visuals come across.
And this is: “We created X as a manga, so we wanted to see how far we could use the cinematographic scenery. A manga is composed of still images and has to rely on dialogues, but then if we make it too explicit we might bore the reader.”
And I just think the idea of, like, yeah, they’re trying to make this cinematic. They really are very inspired by movies; they want the visuals to do so much of the heavy lifting. It’s part of why it can be weird to talk about their manga. When we talk about “well what happened in it,” we’re, like, “ah, it’s not just the things that happened, it’s how you felt while you saw things.” And that is not incidental, that is literally what they’re doing with the storytelling.
R: It’s not just what characters saw and the action on the page. It’s so much to do with, just, like, the scenes that they unfold, the “atmosphere” as Lucy keeps saying…the atmosphere that they’re trying to get across.
That first volume has a sense of impending doom.
L: *laughs* Yeah, yeah. Even in the early, like, happy scenes, with Kotori and Fuuma, you just have this, like…the calm-before-the-storm feeling.
R: Yeah. In a lot of those scenes, they do some beautiful things with the artwork to make them feel suffused with light. You know, even things where like there’ll be a figure where, instead of shading-in the shadows on a character there, they just outline the shadows, and leave it light. And it just feels suffused with light. Like, really cool stuff like that. I love some of the techniques they use.
Also really cool that, like Tokyo Babylon, some of the backgrounds are photos that have been Xeroxed to death so that they become almost line art. And I can see in this that they’re also using whiteout on top of them to clean them up and make them even more what they want. And then doing hand-drawn details on top of that. It looks great. There’s a lot of very hand-drawn backgrounds, too. Like, they did not rely on this for everything. But there are moments where you’re just…“do you need to be able to draw that from scratch? Or do you just need that to be visual represented beautifully?”
L: *laughs* Yeah.
R: Love it. Just love all that stuff.
Lots of these visual motifs show up. Ripples show up a lot, because when Kotori goes into a dream sequence, there’s a very watery affect. Almost like she’s always under water. And usually when she brings up a dream, there’ll be like a ripple motif around the dialogue.
R: Whereas when Hinoto, the prophetess under the Diet Building, when she talks about a vision you get these clockwork gears in the background, which is very cool.
There are also angel and devil wings. And like, feathers showing up all over the place. And that’s one that we’ll definitely come back to again and again throughout this, because they are used in such an interesting way.
R: It’s…bloody though, huh?
L: Yeah, and, like, from the get-go. Like, early on you get the scene of Kamui just, like, melting people. And I mean, you learn that they’re, you know, not real people, they’re just like…spirit things.
R: They’re shikigami, yeah.
L: Yeah, yeah. But still! There’s a really-early-on scene where you’re just like “oh, oh, people are melting, ok, that’s…that’s what we’re in. Cool. I know what I’ve signed up for now.”
R: Yeah, and like his fight with Saiki is like really…yeah, it’s, it’s gross.
L: yeah, it’s bloody, and, yeah.
R: I think the violence stands out more in this than RG Veda.
R: Because it’s a modern setting.
R: And it’s shocking to see teenage boys fighting each other like that, because it’s so much more close to reality. In RG Veda, you’re like “oh, its heroic fantasy, and I can kind of…” It’s distant, right?
L: Yeah, right, yeah.
R: But also, Kamui isn’t an epic hero like Yasha.
L: *laughs* Yeah…
R: He’s a little bitch. He’s cruel. He is actually, like, delighting in being able to fight this other kid, and he was going to kick him over the side of that building. He is cruel. And I think that is really interesting, because this is the first CLAMP protagonist whose likability is under fire.
R: This is not Nokoru Imonoyama. This is Kamui Shirou, and he is a new kind of CLAMP boy.
L: Yep, he’s a little shit. *laughs*…It’s fine.
R: Yes. What do you think about him, Lucy?
L: Oh, I mean, I like him. He’s…kind of delightful in his, like, I don’t know…sometimes you really enjoy a hero who’s not afraid to do the thing.
L: Even if “the thing” is kind of violent and horrible. Like, sometimes that is more satisfying than someone who is more…normal and sensible about something.
R: Yeah. Although in this he’s so selfish. Like…
L: Yeah, it’s true.
R: Like there’s nothing he’s trying to do that we…like, so far he’s not trying to do anything we agree with.
L: Yeah, it’s true. I mean so far it does seem like he is a bit of a hooligan.
L: Like he is fighting people, like…
R: He is so the opposite of Subaru, it is crazy.
L: *laughs* Yeah, oh my god.
R: And it must have been weird for their audience. And I know it was weird for their audience, or they were worried about that. They were afraid people weren’t going to like him. Even though they were obviously really invested in and interested in what they were doing with this character. He was not intended to be likable in the same way that Subaru is likeable.
They were afraid that people weren’t going to like him, but apparently it was Kotori that fans hated.
L: Yeah, which I can kind of see. Like…I know she’s super sweet and everything, but she’s a little annoying in this first volume, just because of that.
R: Yeah…I think that, I mean, she was too perfect, and too much like the idealized heroine for shoujo stuff, that CLAMP had not ever done before. Their girls had mostly been, like, wise beyond their years, or sassy and awesome, or, or, beautiful heroes. They hadn’t really had a character who was just, like, sweet and pretty, and, again, idealizing everything that is sort of forced on girls as what they are supposed to be.
R: If you’re a big manga reader, and you’re like…I don’t know, there’s a chance that you’re a person who doesn’t feel like you’re fitting the mold of what a girl is supposed to be. And it can be really off-putting to have a character before you who is, like, a symbol of the delicate beauty that you yourself are not even wanting to aspire to anymore. I can see how exhausting that would be.
Their fans warmed up to her later, as I think we’ll warm up to her later.
L: Yeah, yeah. I’m confidant in that, but I definitely see why I kind of forgot she existed, ‘cause she’s…important, but a little bland.
R: Yeah…she’s also interesting because they say she has a heart condition, and, for me, that kind of took me from not liking her, and kind of being like “ok, she’s boring,” into being like “oh no, I also…like Fuuma, I must protect her.” Because I’m just like “oh no that’s so terrifying.” Like she has less of a life than some of her peers might have, and it reminds me of Hinoto. Right? Of this other character who has this ability, but is able to do less. And I think that I find that intriguing.
L: Well, it a call-back a little bit to, uh…the sister in…”
L: Yeah, yeah.
R: Karura’s sister in RG Veda.
L: Yeah, who kind of had to live in a bubble, because she couldn’t, uh, couldn’t breathe—well, she had to live in a bubble when she was outside of, kind of like their little home area, where the air was special.
R: Yeah, and it’s interesting that, like…that as a character type that we’re coming back to from them.
R: What do you think about Fuuma, Lucy?
L: Oh, god, I also kind of find him boring…
R: You were mean, yeah, you were mean.
L: I was… *laughs* I was. I called them both “boringly likeable” or something in my description of their introduction. Like, he’s fine…I just, I’m just not a huge Fuuma fan.
R: There are Fuuma super-fans out there. You need to be nice.
L: Don’t, don’t come for me Fuuma super-fans. We don’t know much about him yet. I’m allowed to find him kind of dull so far. I mean, overall I have no problem with Fuuma. But so far in this, we don’t really have anything about him.
L: We just know he’s kind of silent, and kind of…they both feel kind of trope-y. Like, he’s the strong silent type; she’s the kind of, like, weak, you-want-to-protect type; and…so far we don’t really have their personalities really crystalized. So…they didn’t—they weren’t as interesting as, say, Arashi, who has a sword coming out of her hand. *laughs*
R: It’s true. I think that the thing that makes me excited about them, even in the first volume, is a scene that we glossed over. We get a little glimpse, from Kotori, I think…maybe it’s Kamui. One of them. We get a little glimpse of a childhood memory. The childhood memory is little ten-year-old Kamui telling Kotori that he wants to be her bride.
L: Yes, that was very charming.
R: He wants to be her bride so they can be together forever, ‘cause he’s like “oh, the way to make someone happy is to be their bride and be with them forever.” And he wants to make Kotori happy, so he’ll be her bride.
And like, Fuuma’s just like “that doesn’t sound quite right, but sure, let’s go with that.”
L: *laughs* Yeah.
R: But that scene kind of comes up again later…am I—I’m Stargazing,
L: Well, you’re not yet, but…
R: Yeah, it comes up later…
L: You could stop, and…
R: …In ways that I think are really great! But I think just that little moment kind of gives you this, like, stepping a little outside the gender binary, stepping a little into the truth about how children don’t really care about things like that. That like, for him, being a bride or being a groom, like, he doesn’t know which one he means. He just wants to be there for her. I think that that moment is why, from the first volume, I like all three of these people.
L: I think it’s definitely why I like Kamui, because we see that he has had some sort of transformation happen. Like, he went from being this starry-eyed, you know, could-have-been-hanging-out-with-the-CLAMP-Campus-Detectives boy, like, in this flashback, and in the kind of other little flashbacks we see from Kotori’s perspective. To, you know, this kinda, like, bitchy badass who’s just gonna…melt people, and shove them off buildings. And like, that’s an interesting transformation. *laughs*
R: It is. And the other two, we don’t see as much of a transformation, so they’re not as, like, intriguing.
L: Yeah, yeah. So it’s not so much that I don’t like them, but we haven’t met them fully yet.
R: True. But that dynamic is something that… I’m into it. I think I like the childhood friend dynamics a little bit because, like, I have people who…I mean, obviously Lucy and I have known each other forever, but we were fifteen…we were more like the age of these characters in their teenage form when we met each other, we weren’t little, little kids. But I have friends I did meet when I was a little, little kid. And I definitely would occasionally “marry” them. Because I was definitely super straight as a little child, and not at all trying to be Robin Hood and marrying by friends as Maid Marian. Not at allll was that suspicious…or anything…about my future reality.
R: But really, I really like those moments, which might not ring true to some people, for me they feel like really, really real. And I really love them. And it may be one of the reasons I like this thing.
R: It is, however, really funny, ‘cause we’re, like, twice the age of these characters now.
R: It is extremely funny to have him be like “oh, after six years, I’m back.” And you’re like “you were ten when you left. You are sixteen. You are a baby.” And like, yeah, six years is…that’s a long time and whatever, but…
L: It’s an especially long time when you’re a kid. Like, ten to sixteen is, like…
R: It’s huge!
L: It’s a huge time, that’s like a lifetime. You’re like three different people in that time.
R: Totally. But that’s why it feels so ridiculous, is because he’s acting as like the time prior to leaving was, like, so much time, and you’re like… But that’s the point, is that it did feel like so much time to them.
R: It’s still silly to me as an adult, but I understand it is, like, the emotional linchpin of the series. So don’t…don’t @ me.
L: Well, funnily enough, I had forgotten that he was coming back. Like I remembered that they were all childhood friends, and had, like, a past, but I kind of forgot that this started with him returning, and he hadn’t kind of just, like, been there the whole time, and it was just, you know, newly AWAKENING TO POWER, or whatever. So…
R: Yeah. Well, that’s actually like a great structural element, to have a character returning, and he’s not the same, and maybe they’re not the same either…and like, what has changed and what happened to make him leave? What a cool set of mysteries to enter, and then you have a million different players in this. And…it’s a mess.
I think we’re going to read volumes 2 and 3 for next week.
L: That sounds good. That should conclude the omnibus volume 1, so…
R: Yeah. And we will see, we’ll let you know ahead of time if we just can’t, but I think we’re going to be just fine doing that. I think we’re gonna be able to get through X actually faster than Tokyo Babylon. Although…when I recently relistened to our old podcasts, every single episode of Tokyo Babylon we said we were gonna do two volumes, and we couldn’t.
L: Yep! Yeah, so we’ll see how it goes.
R: But…this is not, like, a bunch of short stories that we need to then discuss all of the themes in.
L: True. If we read, like… If this were a volume of Tokyo Babylon, we would have had to give you, like, three little summaries instead of just one slightly-longer summary, so I…I feel like we can make this work.
L: We’ll play it by ear to see how it’s all going, and, you know, if two volumes feels too rushed, maybe we’ll slow down after that.
L: And we’re probably going to take breaks in there. But…yeah, so for next time, volumes 2 and 3, um…and we will kind of take the discussion from there.
R: And all my, all my sort of, like, context stuff, like, again…we’ll keep coming back to these themes.
My other thing I was gonna say is that I am trying to keep track of when the motifs are used in this…so I will also hopefully have some running tallies for you guys.
L: oh exciting.
R: So like, oh, “what is being discussed when we see gears? What is being discussed when we see…rings? What is being discussed when we see feathers?” Right? I want to keep track of that, so I have little markers in my book. Little symbols that I drew.
L: Ah! I’m so excited. I love this.
R: Yeah, I’m really excited about it.
L: You can tell Robin’s really done a lot of hard work for this, guys. *laughs*
R: I’m really excited.
L: I just get to sit here and enjoy it, it’s great. *laughs* I’ll do heavy lifting later, it’s fine.
R: Lucy is going to school and doing research for school, so, like, it’s different for me.
L: It’s true.
R: It’s different for me. For me, I’m like “I haven’t done a research project sense…like forever, except for this podcast.” So…it’s really great.
L: yeah. Flex those research muscles.
L: Alright, so start reading volumes 2 and 3 for next time, guys.
In the meantime, you can follow us on twitter @CLAMPcastpod, on Facebook at CLAMPcast in Wonderland, and you can check out our website CLAMPcastinwonderland.com.
R: Also, you should definitely follow me on Twitter right now, because I’m counting down to the end of my project.
L: Oh yeah, we almost never do that, but our personal handles are…I’m LucyinBookland…which one do you want people on?
R: Probably… @TheGorgonist.
L: Yeah, @TheGorgonist. So yeah, you can follow us on those, too. I’ll sometimes talk about, like, other anime and stuff I’m reading, or books and stuff. And Robin posts a lot of art on hers, obviously, because illustrator.
R: *laughs* Because that is what I do. But also, like, I’m really excited. I am so close to the end. Like, this book should be turned in somewhere in March or April.
L: Yay! Awesome.
R: And I’m so excited, I cannot wait for people to see it. Like…I’m actually kind of weirded out. I’m just like “wow, now somebody is gonna ready this, and try to find where, like, my CLAMP influences are in it…” And I actually am really excited that somebody might try to do that, ‘cause I don’t think there are any for this book, and I’m sure I’m wrong.
L: Yeah. I hope somebody finds some. So yeah, follow Robin @TheGorgonist on twitter, and cheer her on, guys.
R: Yeah, no, it’s really hard, like, my body is falling apart. *laughs*
L: You can do it, you can do it.
R: I can do it, ok! *laughs* Thanks for coming with us on our journey through CLAMP’s Wonderland!
L: Until next time, remember that everything will be alright—
R: —and try not to lose an eye!
[Outro music, played on a harp]