I'M NOT A BIG FAN of anime (Japanese adult animation). I have only watched four such films, and have yet to understand what all the fuss is about. True, Ghost in the Shell has its moments (some of the drawings of Hong Kong's dense cityscape are stunning), but that wasn't enough to get me hooked. After watching it, I didn't run to the video store to rent an armful of related anime, nor did I go online to learn who the director was. X, made in 1996, had the same effect on me. Once again, I was left wondering why this genre has such a large and loyal following.

Set in Tokyo, the story is about the end of mankind, which takes the form of a final battle between two close friends above the sprawling city. They learn of their great destiny from two opposing oracles (sisters -- one with big breasts, the other with a small mouth), who enter their dreams and implore them to accept their unfortunate roles. They submit. One joins the Dragon of the Earth (who want to destroy mankind), the other joins the Dragon of Heaven (who want to save mankind), and their big battle happens on the Tokyo Tower.

What's interesting about this story is that those who want to destroy mankind actually have a better argument for doing so than those who want to save humanity. The Dragons of the Earth, who are not bad people, state that man has wrecked the environment to such an extent that if Earth hopes to survive, man has to be exterminated. The Dragons of Heaven, on the other hand, don't have a valid reason for saving humans, other than they are doing it for their friends, for their kids, and for the hell of it. The fact that there are no good guys or bad guys in X reveals a truth about anime in general: One doesn't watch it for the story, but for the technical wonders. And despite some amazing accomplishments -- truly, no other art can capture the spectacle of big cities with the intensity and detail of Japanese anime -- those wonders just aren't enough.