On the way to school one day, Akiyuki helps a girl get on the bus who seems to have forgotten her ID. This simple act results in him and his friends being attacked, and Akiyuki being infected with a symbiote that turns him into a Xam’D (pronounced “zamd”), a strange fighting monster. Dragged away from his peaceful home on Sentan Island, he winds up on a renegade postal airship, the Zambani, with one of the few people who can teach him how to control the XamD. While he’s away, Sentan Island is getting dragged into the war.
Despite the strange elements – the monsters, the airships powered by flying rocks, the telepathic children – much of the series has a fairly realistic look and feel: character designs are lifelike, clothes, uniforms, buildings and scenery have a lot of realistic detail. More importantly, the way people and governments act has the taste of reality to it: the way Akiyuki’s parents are separated, on the verge of divorce; the way his small homeland sides with one of the larger powers in the hope of surviving the spreading war; the way people allow this to happen, thinking instead of their more immediate needs of survival and happiness.
There are a minority race in this world called the Tessikans who are shunned and despised. They have a history of dealing with the XamD, and various other matters seen as unnatural. One Tessikan girl is among the crew of the Zambani, and she does what she can to teach Akiyuki how to control the monster inside him, to use it to fight with wisdom. She also travels on a miniature aircraft somewhat similar to that piloted by Nausicaä.
The friends Akiyuki left behind, Haru and Furuichi, change with the world: they both leave school and join the military, though for different reasons. Meanwhile a military commander from elsewhere is put in charge of the island, and though he struggles with the morality of his position he has ambitions that go beyond defense. Akiyuki’s father is a doctor, who was a field medic in a previous war, and faces the difference between the greater good versus a doctor’s oath.
The world this series explores is large and well developed. As the series expands in scope we see it from more perspectives, filling in the gaps. But at no point do we see the war from a top-down view. This is deliberate, because a simplified view like that can make it seem as if conflict has clear reasons. For millions of people, the true state of the world and the meaning behind the war is opaque, and to them quite irrelevant, and that’s what’s shown here.
Xam’D was broadcast on the PlayStation Network, making its status in the UK somewhat tricky – it’s sufficiently licensed for torrents to be policed, without there being any legitimate way of obtaining it.