Sarah Horrocks

Things I Love About Comics: X/1999 by Clamp

ComicsSarah Horrocks

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I remember trying to read X/1999 by Clamp when I was a teen, drawn in by the occult apocalyptic nature of it, but I remember being really confused by what was happening, and just never really got into it much.  But thanks to the massive 3 in 1s that Viz put out which allow you to read this thing in huge chunks, I’m not only well on board, I fucking love the thing.

So if you don’t know, X/1999 is the story of this boy Kamui who returns to Japan after 6 years, and all of the prophecies that swirl around him involving the end of the world.  There are two groups involved in the end of the world, and they basically battle it out for control of Kamui and how the world will end.  It is a violent, apocalyptic, fashionable, melodramatic soup of shit, the scale of which is so grand that the first three volumes have gone by, and we are still introducing all of the major players of the story.  The ability of Clamp to carry off these introductions and make the whole thing really exciting has to do with their strong character design chops, and an ability to give you just enough on all of these characters where each one you are like “wait no, THEY are the coolest character” but one after another.

The comic making chops on display in this book are also pretty insane.  A lot of artists utilize the kind of stream of consciousness montage style of page layout, but few if any with the kind of clarity and speed of Clamp.  Usually these complex montage of panels and images overlayed and underlayed with each other, makes for a slow reading, but you really churn through the pages of X.  X is this marriage of high end aesthetic but very grounded in the story it is trying to tell. 

Also Clamp have truly legendary hair.  The hairstyles and how they are rendered are really incredible, and inspiration for days.  The styling in general of characters is so on point as to be daunting.  All of that and they can also whip out insane building wrecking magical fights with swooping and swirling magical effects.

So it’s really truly a great comic.  Though apparently the series was never ended on account of it being too violent for japanese sensibilities at the time.  But I think it’s still okay to get wrapped up in this world and just imagine how it might have ended.

But I wanted to loop back to how these opening books are these series of intros, and focus on one of them, there are a lot of intros in the book, but I thought it would be interesting to unpack one, and this is one of the shorter ones, which is the introduction of the character Satsuki Yatoji.  She is like a hacker witch, who rides this giant computer invention of hers called “The beast”.  

So the breakdown you see here basically works like Kanoe(the character we’ve just spent about 20 pages meeting for the first time, walks into a room at her HQ where this girl is completely enmeshed in this cybersexual thing.  They give us two spreads to soak in how wild this contraption looks, and then they go into a montage of the machine pulling off of Yatoji to reveal her face and her huge glasses as she is about to put them on.  Exchanging one face for another. 

It’s very flamboyant and extravagant and decadent.  It’s basically 5 pages of comics real estate just to show the unmasking of one of the underlings of the main villain and make her look completely scary and cool.  And then as she is decoupled from this cyberpunk thing, she’s coupled narratively into this wider occult concept of the Seven Angels which gives her a further hidden lore and importance for you as a reader to fill in.  Not ONLY is she this crazy computer witch, but she is ALSO one of the Seven Angels.  It’s drama, it’s world building, it’s fashion.  

You could compare X to a fashion show where each model one after another parades down the runway with amazing look after amazing look, ratcheting things up as they go.

And because this is something you are reading versus watching being put in motion before you, you are not only filling in the gaps between panels, but you have time to also attach narrative importance.  You can also just basically STOP and gasp at some of the things you see.

So yeah.  Good shit.  Between that aspect, and just the erotic drama and horror underpinning everything--it is very my kind of thing.  And a good reason to read comics.  Though the X movie I watched by Rintaro is also good, even if it is pretty incomprehensible.  As an orgy of successive images, it really works.  I also think it gives you some faith in what is going on in these early chapters of X, which makes them more riveting I think.  But that’s maybe more to how I read things sometimes.