Sunday, May 29, 2022

Review: X-KAI

It's never a good sign when a manga reminds me of one of the worst anime I have ever watched.

X-KAI, by Asami Tohjoh.  First published in 1998 and first published in North America in 2006.


Kaito is a florist by day and an assassin by night.  He's able to infiltrate everything from hospitals to Yakuza hideouts in order to complete his missions, using only his wits, his power of observation, and his vast knowledge of plants.  He doles out justice for those who need it most, but is Kaito ready when his job leads him to a lost child and repressed memories from his own tortured past?


I picked up X-Kai knowing it was going to be ridiculous and I was not let down in that regard.  X-Kai wants to be hardboiled but ends up as completely overwrought.  It's not good, but you enjoy reading hilarious trash you might have a good time with this series.

There is no way that Tohjoh didn't know that the general premise was basically a solo version of Weiss Kreuz (or Knight Hunters, if you prefer), considering this manga started around the time that the first anime was airing.  She's definitely part of the audience said show was courting, considering that most of her CV consists of BL manga.  Maybe she figured that imitation was the best form of flattery, but surely she could have imitated something good instead. 

As a character, Kaito is one part professional killer, one part bleeding heart (particularly where women and children are concerned), and one part ridiculous teenager, forever stewing in angst over his dead brother.  So much ado is made about the duality of Kaito, complete with over-the-top prose about light and dark.   Still, he fares better than the rest of the cast of this volume, who are all broad archetypes.  You've got innocent waifs, wicked schemers who are prone to announcing their plans out loud, and the mysterious handler who gives Kaito guilt trips over his brother in between his assassination assignments.  She's joined later by Renge, an abused runaway who talks like a baby who exists entirely to tug on Kaito's heartstrings (and the audience's, by extension).  

The story (such as it is) is meant to be a horror-tinged collection of morality tales, but they are all so shallow and melodramatic as to render them utterly, unintentionally hilarious.  Every twist is telegraphed from miles away, every supernatural occurrence has an earthly (and usually botanical) explanation, and people are literally killed with well-aimed flowers, a la Tuxedo Mask.  It's all delivered in total seriousness, and just like Weiss Kreuz that only makes X-Kai all the more laughable.  This might be one of the rare instances of "so bad it's good" manga.


The sad part is that Tohjoh isn't completely untalented as an artist.  Her character designs aren't great, as their proportions are all out of wack, their clothes hang on them like scarecrows, and their chins are perfect triangles.  Still, she manages to make up for it at times with some interestingly dramatic poses and lighting in her panels.  At times, it's almost moody.  It's not enough to save the writing, but it's not for lack of effort.


X-Kai is short, stupid, derivative, dated, and yet I'm almost tempted to recommend it for those same reasons.  It's like someone's terrible fanfic in manga form, and I am both repulsed and fascinated by it.

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