X Delays the Apocalypse
by Travis Hedge Coke
X, a serial manga by CLAMP, is about the end of the world, and that’s why it doesn’t end.
CLAMP created X in the 1990s, anticipating it would reach a predetermined end with some undecided variables, but delayed, and then ceased serialization after real-life tragedies.
A conceit of the battles in X, is that magick barriers can be erected, which will delay any physical damage caused during the battle, so that, for example, a window broken during a fight could appear unbroken for several years, and one day, krrrrriiik! goes the glass pane.
And, that, ultimately, is X: the delayed apocalypse.
X is based on an idea CLAMP’s head writer had as a child, of the forces of justice fighting a losing battle, but the orchestration of fights and lives in X is not all loss, though definitely not all wins. The art and storytelling are mergers of then-modern and much older techniques, from Go Nagai, Leiji Matsumoto, and Moto Hagio manga to ancient woodcuts, poets, and the films of Ichikawa Kon.
The film adaptation directed by Rintaro is one of my favorite adaptations of a comic, for going almost entirely away from traditional cinema-narrative hanging points, character arcs, and rules of exposition, in favor a montage of highly poetic, emotionally charged, socially and psychologically energized symbols, metaphors, and dramatic callbacks.
What David Lynch did in one infamous episode of his revival of Twin Peaks with Mark Frost, Rintaro did for an entire feature film. And, Rintaro did it without the safety net of hours of more standard television on either side.
Since then, X has been adapted to television serial, characters and scenarios have been revisited in other CLAMP comics, and even the incredibly arthouse Rintaro film gave us traditional closure, but the comic remains suspended.
We chase the end of the world. Thanatos is real like Eros is real. When Bob Dylan made Renaldo and Clara, he said he wanted to suspend time. Many of our great artists, and many of our chief ones, have pursued that suspension as, if not the height of achievement, maybe the height of chance.
Renaldo and Clara notably bombed at theaters and is very hard to get ahold of today. Rintaro’s X did decent box office sales in Japan and had a small theatrical run in the US. These aren’t great ways to judge anything except bankroll.
I know I will carry X my head, an unfinished apocalypse, until I die, or after. Like Marvel will trade on a cartoon of Stan Lee presenting, I will have my X. Or, I will become senile, and I forget it before I die.
Planning for the end of the world is like a squirrel burying nuts. Maybe you forget where they were. Maybe you forget where you were. Maybe there’s three billion other squirrels.
What is a bulldozer to a squirrel? It’s a bulldozer.
In X, characters have contradictory ideas of the end of the world. Characters have disagreement when it comes to understanding individual people’s agendas, hopes, ideas. Sisters may love each other so much, they can’t agree on anything.
Most big, multi-character, ensemble perspective, world conspiracy, cosmogonic art falls into what we now call system novels; system narratives. The privilege that we give prose, specifically the novel, over other forms of art, is an issue of our neuroses with the word and our religious faith in the printed word, but system narratives exist in 15th Century paintings of hell, 1960s comic book universes, the 18th Century Dream of the Red Chamber, even in Andy Warhol’s The Nude Restaurant.
X is a system narrative, which – unlike many – knows it cannot be a comprehensive, even an honest system narrative. X‘s Nihon-centricity, its reductive political and architectural scale are questioned in the comic itself. Its limiting of significant players in the world to a small set of dynastic families, is disagreeable on a cosmogonic level to even members of those families.
CLAMP, also, works cohesively and deliberately as a collective, far more than many auteur-minded collaborative comics. One woman may be head writer, one, the primary character designer, and those may change on the next project.
In The Nude Restaurant, Viva explains politics, finances, family, eateries, art and history to the camera, the audience, to those people in front of the camera with her, and those behind the camera we will never see. “The super heterosexual bag is sadomasochism. They’re all like that.” Is Viva the author of her tales? Her views? Or, as she cannot get the camera to turn off when she wants, is the camera operator or the director, Warhol, by way of controlling the narrative’s avenues, the auteur?
When Warhol appropriated images to print them with unique color, with offset variation, or painted not to replicate the image but the image as printed and distributed from the original owner, is Warhol then the author of the images or was he plagiarizing from photographers and comics publishers?
Comparing the shared universe of CLAMP to the early 1960s Marvel Universe we must acknowledge two things: a) The Marvel Universe was not created in the 1960s, but was then rebranded as an invention of Stan Lee, and b) That Stan Lee’s word was the final word for most of the audience, his voice is the voice that was channeled into our heads.
Regardless of what was drawn, inked, colored, if they showed us a stone being thrown and Stan Lee said it was a stone falling, it was a stone falling. A woman standing strong, dialogue says, Eek help; it is, Eek help.
When Stan Lee promoted or diminished real people (contributing talent, if not contributing auteurs), he set tone, precedent, and reality. He could open a comic by saying he “let” Wallace Wood or Steve Ditko write this one – not hired, not asked, not pay them as professionals, let – and he would then promise, but hopefully next time, when he was writing, it would be better.
We are charmed into Stan Lee’s authorship by his persona. I, I admit, am more charmed by Viva than Warhol, particularly when it comes to The Nude Restaurant, and my brain allots her authorship of her own words and thoughts, but also their nature as recorded in the movie, and more generally, the entire movie.
System narratives tend to diminish to a preferenced perspective. (NB: preferenced and preferred are not the same.) CLAMP affords X no preferenced perspective. The protagonist is both the least informed and the most emotionally immature.
Preferenced perspective is rejected.
In X, we have our individuals of interest. There is the idea of a Chosen One, automatically and vehemently splintered and countered with the acknowledgement of many chosen ones, of wrongly chosen ones, of misapprehended and futilely chosen ones.
We are all ones, there is a whole hell of a lot of us. Almost every conflict, every fiction in X, is the result of solipsism, of narcissism, of our human limiting of existence to a diminishing few.
Harold Bloom, famous, infamous, influential literary and social critic, suggested that cultures, even individuals, were not human prior to exposure and familiarity with William Shakespeare and what he has influenced. This, I imagine, made Bloom and some of his followers feel very safe. A reduction of humanity to drafts and plays maybe written by one monied white man.
I love Shakespeare. I’ll never stop being annoyed by the immaturity of Hamlet, Hamlet’s (and society’s) dismissal of Ophelia, Hamlet in particular with a request for oral sex well she’s being serious and people are dying. As You Like It is fantastic, from the wrestling and the genderqueering, to lions, puns, pretension, and family.
Shakespeare’s plays are all about people, individuals and societies, and in multiple ways they are often particularly inaccurate, unlikely, and fundamentally bigoted.
Without even engaging Shakespeare on race or gender: bastards.
CLAMP is more socially aware than Shakespeare. Benefits, perhaps of intervening centuries. Material, from murders and guilt trips, to the societal indulgence of underage/adult romance, the societal scolding of homosexuality, the politics and daily anticipations of 1990s Japan proliferate and are set firmly within X.
Even our great and lauded contemporary system narratives, the big heavy we live in a society and somehow it’s an all white upper-class society but look there’s a pop song movies, the DeLillo, Atwood, Stephenson novels, whoever we are calling the New Norman Rockwell today, the more they diminish to something conclusive, the closer they reach their denouement, the stricter the reduction to a preferenced and privileged perspective.
Maybe that’s why they don’t stop time.
CLAMP’s X Delays the Apocalypse
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