You hear a voice beckon from beyond. Its cadence resonates within you, ensuring you that those days traversing the deserts of tv shows have come to an end. Deep behind the aisles of Blu-ray and DVD, you’ve hit the mark. Shink! Your shovel-like hands dig into the anime section and unearth Studio Bones. Placed squarely on top, in between the sections of Action, Military, Sci-fi, and edging on Fantasy, you ponder if a worker had misplaced it or some wiley kid played Tetris and rearranged the genres into each other. Regardless, it’s in your hands now, a piece lost in time. Dating back to “ye olden days of 2008,” it’s Xam’d Lost Memories.
When you’re watching Xam’d, it’s like you’re an archaeologist. You’re digging through plot points, translating an abundance of terms, and discovering the story’s significance. The very first lines in Xam’d hint at its mystery, “You sit proudly in this cave like a queen of Egypt… I will show you things that your dark blue eyes have never seen before… At times, I will hold up a lamp, and take my place at your feet. This pendant releases the light of Sirius, which your eyes will never behold.” This prophetic beginning reveals what to expect in Xam’ds story: a foreign setting, a revelation into things unseen, servitude and loyalty, and most importantly duality.
Xam’d goes to strenuous lengths to emphasize this last point. Sirius is an iconic star in both classical and contemporary stories. Sirius is a binary star--it is actually two stars, Sirius A and Sirius B. With two stars as its light, it is also the brightest star seen from Earth. It is also considered the Dog Star and also aptly called the Companion Star. Whenever someone references Sirius, there’s an implication. You’re going to talk about leadership (brightness), duality (binary), and loyalty (companionship and what it means to not be a leader, a support role). All of this, undoubtedly, fits into war: a setting where the brightest individuals lead during the darkest times, a setting where people have to look inwards and discover human or monster, and a setting where loyalty is tested and support is needed more than ever.
Xam’d experiments with all these themes, making it hard to define at times. According to MAL, Xam’d is an Action, Military, and Sci-fi show, but there’s an inherent problem with Xam’d’s themes and Xam’d’s genres. By emphasizing the theme of duality, Xam’d also opposes its defining traits. If Xam’d is an Action show, why do multiple episodes go by where no action or conflict occurs? If Xam’d is a Military show, then why does it emphasize spiritual growth and peace? If Xam’d is Sci-fi, why does it emphasize creatures seemingly out of a fantasy? When duality is a theme, the story must emphasize the other side. Action must be met with inaction in order for peace. War must be met with inner conflict and discovery for it to end. Futuristic technology was once a “fantasy.” Science must thus meet fiction to become Sci-Fi.
At its core, Xam’d is an anti-war story that thrives on duality. It breaks past its supposed genres and carries a letter on a postal ship: “See me on the other side,” it says, hoping viewers understand the message. Thus, when reading this list, we want to emphasize shows that make the viewer think about duality. By emphasizing that, we hope to connect you with what makes Xam’d an interesting story. By doing that, we hope you venture into different genres and find an anime that lasts through the sands of time.
Similar Anime to Xam’d: Lost Memories (Bounen no Xamdou)
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: Apr. 4, 2006 - Sept. 26, 2006
Based off an adult visual novel by Leaf, the Japanese company that brought to you White Album 2 and Tears to Tiara, comes one of their classic works about nation-building, fantasy, and war. Utawarerumono takes place in a fictional feudal society where an amnesiac, Hakuoro, awakens to find himself saved by a village doctor, Eruruu. There he quickly becomes a vital and loved figure in the village and safeguards his new life against the obstacles of a raging war and tyrant Emperor. United under a common purpose, he leads newfound allies on a journey to save the land and, in the process, finds out about his past.
Utawarerumono focuses on a path of self-discovery. In Xam’d, the spiritual journey was as important as the physical. If one disregarded the Xam’d, which is an actual living being embedded into another, then they would crystallize, forever being lost. To control the Xam’d is to recognize one’s identity--to firmly recognize negative impulses, learn from them, and grow. Despair, obsession for revenge, make individuals lose themselves. The only way that the characters leave this cycle is accepting the teachings of others. To save the Xam’d, they must first recognize themselves and accept the teachings of others. One without the other dooms them. Hakuoro’s amnesia is treated in a similar fashion.
Throughout the story, the best way to find his identity is through his interactions. If he cannot remember his past, he must build himself through his actions: nurturing his newfound family makes him like a father, defending against the Emperor makes him a leader, and uniting the land makes him a hero. Simply focusing on himself would never give back his memory, but through the circumstances of war, he’s forced to make decisions that unveil the face behind his literal mask. When Hakuoro’s identity is revealed, we’re not supposed to question who he is anymore. His allies, some even former enemies, have established a bond. Since we’re treading spoiler territory, let’s just say they recognize him enough, allowing him to come back from the “Xam’d.” War is destructive, and it ravages all those who are encompassed by its flames, but through perilous times, people grow together through strife. Sometimes it takes the darkest times to bring forth the brightest lights.
Utawarerumono is a trilogy. If you’ve enjoyed the first story, then do check out its second part, Utawarerumono: Mask of Deception, which has both a visual novel localization and an animated release. The third, Utawarerumono: Mask of Truth, will be localized next month (9/5/2017)! If you’re fascinated by action and war stories or enamored by the drama of fantasy life, Utawarerumono stands as a bridge to cross you into a story that spans across time and new lands.
Utawarerumono -The False Faces - Official Trailer
2. Maouyu ~ Archenemy & Hero (Maouyuu Maou Yuusha)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Jan. 5, 2013 - Mar. 30, 2013
Tell me if you’ve heard of this one: a hero is beckoned on a journey to save humanity from an ultimate evil. With the fate of humanity on his back, a hero must defeat a demonic evil and relinquish the world from a dark age. Now, take that premise and flip it. Instead of a final conflict between Hero and Demon Lord, Maoyu begins where its predecessors end. The Demon Lord implores the Hero to end this repetitive cycle of war between humans and demons. Don’t fight, “Become mine, Hero!”
Maoyu is a title that derives from the combination of Maou (Demon Lord/King) and Yuusha (Hero). Just as the name implies, this story is about the meshing of humans and demons, the effort to unite them. Xam’d takes a similar approach. To address this similarity, we must first address one of the biggest complaints in Xam’d, the obtuse explanations. While a lot of digging is required to understand Xam’d (so much of it is memorizing jargon), the major complaint that commonly arises is: Xam’d never explained why the war started. The show never clearly defined how, but it never needed to do so. By ignoring an explanation on how you’re supposed to focus on why.
There is a very serious implication in the show--the war never required a reason. The show focused often on the prejudices each side held for one another. It was so divisive that any time the Northern Government infected a citizen of the Southern Government, turning them into Xam’d, there was fear, isolation, and intolerance. The moment a Southern Government citizen turned into a Xam’d, even if they could speak, they were instantly declared a monster. This demonization of the other side is what makes the story turn and war become a cycle. Maoyu literally has demons, but just like in Xam’d, the goal isn’t to ostracize them, but to unify them alongside humans. If this fails, then centuries of conflict will continue, the cycle of Maou and Yuusha bearing more hatred.
Maoyu borrows from your expectations: it harkens to stories like Dragon Quest with characters named by their job and titles. Humans and demons both have the capacity for good and evil--to be monstrous is to be human. To be human is to be monstrous. The dehumanization and demonization of others are defanged. To reach for a future where humans no longer have to fight demons, a future where hands join together instead of grasping swords, these two sides must come together and find a path never walked before. If you’re looking for a story plays with your assumptions and adds a little romance in-between, then Maoyu is the series for you.
3. Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion (Code Geass: Hangyaku no Lelouch)
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: Oct. 6, 2006 - Jul. 29, 2007
In a fictional retelling of Earth, the Holy Empire of Britannia is the world power. Britannia enforces its totalitarian rule, sectioning off conquered countries into an area and number. Japan, now called Area 11, is but one example of Britannia’s tyrannical rule. The Japanese, now face intense racial prejudice, their identities reduced to second-class citizens, “Elevens.” Brewing, waiting for a chance to exact revenge against Britannia, is the exiled prince and protagonist, Lelouch Lamperouge. Amidst conflict between the Japanese resistance and Britannian soldiers, he is granted his wish. C.C., a prisoner that bestows him a contract and newfound power, the Geass, “the power of kings.” The world power begins to shift.
Code Geass borrows an idea from the Irish/Scottish culture. The Geass, or geas as it is more commonly known, is both a boon and a curse. On one hand, it can be an obligation, you are tied into committing an action and with it bestowed power. On the other hand, being tied to an obligation means you aren’t allowed to make a choice, it happens against your will--a curse. Violating these rules results in a punishment whether that be socially, not helping the poor may ostracize you, or mentally, acting against your perceived good nature disconnects you from who and what you are. This disconnect that happens, I think is an intriguing element in war stories. Xam’d handles it with its spiritual journey, the path required to control the Xam’d influence and power rests in how one controls their emotions and identity.
Code Geass prominently deals with the same idea. The Black Knight Zero, the terrorist that engages in war--Lelouch’s alter ego--are they not the same? Detaching the two identities is only a temporary solution. The cold and rational Zero orders soldiers to their death. He plays with them like tools, cuts them off from humanity by controlling their minds. If Zero would do that, what stops Lelouch? His main motivation is his desire for revenge, an emotion that Xam’d treats as universally destructive. To strike back at Britannia is to strike at himself. His actions separate him from the image he shows his sister, a caring, loving brother, until his former self is no longer recognizable. The dual nature of the Geass, the public and private personas of people, and the call to arms are common themes in Code Geass. Human hypocrisy is in full view, but do we accept it or condemn it? Where does the line blur between exiled prince and tyrant ruler?
There is something remarkable about the Code Geass formula. Give a character a ridiculous ability and then set him up against impossible odds. Each obstacle is conquered through a conjuring up of whimsical (or nonsensical) means and then escalated each episode. Without a doubt, if an energetic, suspenseful roller coaster is your ride, then Code Geass is your destination.
Code Geass Trailer:
Any Anime Like Xam’d: Lost Memories / Any Anime Like Bounen no Xamdou?
- Episodes: 22
- Aired: Jul. 9, 2010 - Dec. 31, 2010
Shiki takes place in the isolated, Japanese village of Sotoba. The rural setting and abundance of nature might be a welcome change for city boy and newcomer Yuuki Natsuno, however, a fearsome disease has now overtaken the village. Suspicions grow as one villager after another dies by this rampant sickness, its defining traits, a lack of energy, paleness of the skin, and two small marks on the body. Devastated by the deaths around him, Yuuki has nightmares of a girl who visits him every night. Her haunting visage forewarns an ominous tale, a specter of the truth behind the disease and death.
This is a show that tries your patience, winding up its plot and descending into the pits of who we are. Shiki’s story examines humanity as a biology, but more importantly, as a quality that divides the line between monster and human. A common trait in horror and war stories is the binary mentality, a worldview that divides one side from the “other.” Xam’d implies its war starts due to this mentality. Prejudice lives through ignorance and ignorance is perpetuated by fear. In Shiki, a horror story, fear is the main obstacle. Shiki specifically deals with how demonizing the “other” can spiral into a dangerous mentality. The “other” is not like you, it is inhuman.
To be inhuman is to be monstrous. It is okay to kill monsters because they are dangerous to humans. Humans have a right to live. Killing monsters are for self-preservation. The conclusion: humans can kill monsters for their right to live. That logic emphasizes differences, and it fails the moment the “other” is considered human. Xam’d and Shiki both utilize binary logic to tell their story of what happens when humans are inhumane. Shiki might not be a war story, but all war stories contain a little horror.
The Us versus Them mentality, the right, and wrong, two sides of any conflict, is more prevalent in this show than any other on the list. Although disconnected by genre to the aforementioned shows, the similarity in themes and introspection into humanity connects this story to Xam’d. Those interested in the human condition and how it bends during trying circumstances will find Shiki a disturbingly appropriate fit.
5. Saga of Tanya the Evil (Youjo Senki)
- Episodes: 22
- Aired: Jan. 6, 2017 - Mar. 31, 2017
Tanya Defurechaf is a child soldier renowned for her cruelty and tactical prowess. In an alternate retelling of World War I, magical warfare is the focus of the Rhineland’s strategy and fanatical research. Adept as a soldier and magician, Tanya quickly ascends through the ranks of the military, leaving both allies and enemies in awe and fear. However, contrary to her outward persona, is her soul. Formerly a male Japanese businessman, upon his death, he meets the puppeteer of the current world, a godly existence named Being X. Steering the fate of humanity, Being X imprisons Tanya in a fate where she must both rely on this God and defy its existence.
The Saga of Tanya the Evil is part of an ongoing trend of isekai stories. Isekai, or the Japanese word for “another world,” is a setting where the protagonist is transferred, reborn, or summoned into a world unlike their own. Borrowing from this tradition, this story fights against a prolific trope in isekai, the divine favor and bestowing of an immense power upon the protagonist. Often times in isekai, this power defines the main character. It is so integral to the story that to disconnect it from the main character would completely change the protagonist. In Xam’d, power is not a choice. The main character becomes infected by the Northern Government and thus becomes a Xam’d. The protagonist cannot give up this power or ignore it. Doing so would crystallize him, he would die.
Hypothetically, if the protagonist never gained this power, he would also lose his internal struggle. Everything that defines him comes when he is a victim of the war. In Xam’d, those who are infected have a power and a curse. Their inhuman image sparks conflict and hatred, it is the very reason why there is a war. Removing the protagonist’s power means removing his inner journey, his conflict with himself. Similarly, in Youjo Senki, power is not a choice. Tanya is defined by her rejection of God. However, whenever Tanya rejects her bestowed power, she treads on a path closer to death. Her very being is a character who rejects God, but she is forced to praise his name to use this power--to survive she must reject what defines her. The moment you remove this power, you remove her struggle against God. Tanya can fight the war without praising Being X, but by giving her power, she is wrestled into a war that relies on it. Youjo Senki makes this conscious choice to make you question the isekai trope. It makes you wonder, is Tanya a victim or instigator to a greater, more destructive world war?
Fans willing to experiment more with a war story will find Youjo Senki a good fit. By combining the malleable structure of an isekai and a war that relies on Tanya’s power, Youjo Senki becomes a cold, rational view through the eyes of evil.
Youjo Senki Trailer:
6. Gate (Gate: Jietai Kanochi Nite, Kaku Tatakaeri)
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: Jul. 4, 2015 - Sep. 19, 2015
Youji Itami, a JSDF officer, and otaku, is on his way to a convention when he witnesses a portal open from another world. In the middle of modern Tokyo, invading monsters and medieval armies tear through the heart of the city and innocent bystanders. Rushing to defend the citizens, Itami’s heroic deeds and the JSDF fend off the otherworldly invasion. Several months later, in honor of his accomplishments, he is nominated to spearhead a reconnaissance squad beyond the gate.
Gate is a show that embellishes possibility. Molding modern day Japan with medieval fantasy can take many forms, but gate chooses a little bit of everything: politics, religion, war, technology/magic, and the odd anime good or two. Xam’d in most respects seems dissimilar. Xam’d is like eating a crab, you’ve got to break its shell to get to the meat. In contrast, Gate is more like a buffet. There are so many choices, but how you pick them depends on your appetite. While Xam’d chooses to focus on duality and in the process expands its themes into fantasy territory, Gate, forgive me, starts out the gate as a fantasy story. The main emphasis that both share is its approach to foreign danger.
Now, this is where we apply a meta-textual analysis. Gate, amongst its critics, has a reputation of being very patriotic, its manga and light novel versions being very apparent about this. In the animated version of Gate, most early battles are finished swiftly, the might of modern-day technology tramples over medieval warfare and magic. By portraying battles where enemies aren’t as competent, Gate wants to make the main characters seem powerful. By portraying the enemies as morally lacking, the goal is to have JSDF members shine as moral examples. Gate, in a way, chooses to purposely demonize its villains, an astounding example being Zorzal El Caesar, the Prince of the fantasy empire and antagonist. Zorza is a narcissistic philanderer who believes himself to be an excellent swordsman and tactician.
The show introduces him to be quite the opposite. He has enslaved a female member of the JSDF and in his pastime, indulges in abusing physically and sexually a member of the Warrior Bunnies, a race of anthropomorphic rabbits facing persecution. Zorza quite easily fits into the category of “villains you love to hate.” That’s the problem. This is how Gate treats its villains, they are so despicable (or incompetent) that they barely resemble humans anymore. They are reduced to shells, the exact problem that Xam’d warns you about in its story. In reducing humans to mere shells of themselves, by dehumanizing them, you play into war. Xam’d has two governments that continually dehumanize the other side.
The Northern Government calls Southern mechs and pilots “soul stealers.” In turn, the Southern Government calls the biological weapons, the Xam’d, both monster and “Humanform.” The implication is it is like a human, but not--again the binary logic, the Us vs Them. This connection between Gate and Xam’d only works if you’re reading into how the story is executed, if you’re analyzing it while aware of outside commentary. It is not unheard of for war stories to give feelings of pride or nationalism, but in recommending Gate, you are recommending what Xam’d asks you to do. Analyze war and find out how it influences people.
This recommendation exists for two reasons. The first is if you’re interested in a fantasy war setting and how a story contrasts the contemporary and fantasy simultaneously, the second is if you’re interested in a specific meta-textual analysis on how war stories can do the very things Xam’d warns against. The former heavily depends on how much you enjoy the premise of the show. The latter is for those willing to experiment more as analysts than viewers seeking entertainment. If you are truly interested in war stories, definitely watch Gate as a critic or an interested anime fan.
Some enjoy the action and glory, the adrenaline rush that tense situations bring. Others enjoy the perspective, the insight into humanity during conflict. Regardless of what brings you into war stories, we hope that these recommendations expand your interests and invoke your thoughts.
If you’ve seen Xam’d or any other shows in this article, feel free to let us know your opinions on them. If you feel that there’s a relevant series that covers similar themes, we’d love to hear your thoughts!