Curio Corner: Rusty Nail

Today,we're going to review the clash of two of Japan's early 1990s keystones, hard rock band X Japan, and manga wunderkins, CLAMP. On paper, it sounds like a match made in heaven; androgynous pretty boys playing hard, emotive rock, whilst being decidedly homoerotic...collaborating with a manga group most famous for creating homoerotic manga mostly starring androgynous pretty boys. Execution, not so much. What we thus get is a curio (and the start of a new series on these odd little nuggets of anime culture that don't really fit under any other banner); a mix of two major players in early 1990s popular culture bringing their B game to a post-apocalyptic mystical battle backed by slightly-above-average rock music. Is it pretty? Uh, kinda. Is it engaging? Uh, kinda. But, to be blunt, both parties in this, particularly CLAMP, could have done a lot better than this faintly ridiculous slice of early 1990s cheese.

To understand just how underwhelming Rusty Nail is as a PV, you need to look at what CLAMP, and X Japan were actually doing in 1994. CLAMP, for their part, were nearly two years into the colossal X/1999 (for which X Japan would later provide "Forever Love" for the animated film adaption), and it's the influence of this work that's particularly keenly seen in Rusty Nail, down to the flower motifs, the splintered friendship, with friend against friend, and the general use of superpowers. Alongside this was the fantastical series Magic Knight Rayearth, and largely forgettable yuri manga Miyuki in Wonderland.

X Japan meanwhile, were being about as big as rock bands can be in Japan. Having started as a speed metal band in the late 1980s, (previously named X), they'd released a string of singles, and three albums that underpinned the nascent visual kei genre, by the early 1990s, they were selling out national stadiums for entire weeks, composing half-hour symphonic rock epics, and their members, in particular guitarist hide, were enjoying similar success as solo musicians. By 1994, the year this track, and accompanying music video was released, both X JAPAN and CLAMP stood at the very pinnacle of their respective fields. So, considering the clear artistic power of both of these groups, and in particular CLAMP's clear imagination in juggling a duo of series whilst keeping them fresh and interesting, what exactly went wrong with Rusty Nail?

First off, let's take a look at the character designs; after all, CLAMP are masters of creating interesting and original characters, right? Well, not in the case of Rusty Nail. Whilst CLAMP's pre-Cardcaptor Sakura character design, all long limbs and sharply angled pretty faces, is present and correct here, it lacks...a certain spark, particularly considering three of the five band members are..pretty lazily designed. Bassist Heath and guitarist Pata are reduced to looking like something out of Mad Max, (heck, I don't think we ever see Heath's face clearly) whilst frontman Toshi honestly looks...much like himself, except with 80s shoulderpads, and perpetual sunglasses. And then you have Yoshiki and hide and it's...painfully clear that both of them were probably leaning over Mokona's shoulder, suggesting she make them just a little bit more interesting.

Hide, (who because of reasons has his name rendered in lower case) by virtue of already looking decidedly animeish in real life, seems to have accidently picked up a DnD cleric outfit and a tail midway to being controlled by the mysterious evil eye of evil, whilst...Yoshiki literally goes Utena/Super Seiyan/Jesus halfway through the PV. Whilst they both look ridiculous, at least they're memorably ridiculous, whilst still looking like the people they're meant to be; Heath, Pata and Toshi's designs, meanwhile, seem to have erred a little too much on the side of caution. The other two major characters, being a little girl who pretty much plays the role of maguffin/damsel in distress, and an eyeball monster that seems to be straight out of a second rate JRPG, are as off-the-peg as they come. The monster, in particular, pretty much reacts to what's going on, doesn't appear to ever have an effective mechanism to defend itself, other than tossing one -fifth of the band at his friends, and is defeated pretty easily. The setting, all ruins, continual burnt out skyscrapers, and a sky that seems either off-purple or starlit, is equally merely passable-the church where CLAMP ladle on Christian symbolism like a sugar junkie with tea, is by far the most interesting location, nuanced blues and a lot of shadows, but we get less than a minute there.

So far, so disappointing. But one cannot judge animation, of any quality, merely from its character designs; to really show how underwhelming this is, we need to watch it. We begin with...feathers in the wind, scattering in time to the guitar, before zooming into Earth. Explosions! People running away! Eyeball monsters! From the monster's perspective, we then zoom in on Generic Girl. What eyeball monster wants to do with Generic Girl, we don't know, but she's clearly Important, despite it pretty much indiscriminantly murdering random people, including Generic Girl's mother. As a smaller eyeball monster bears down on her, and everyone cowardly hides, who will save her? A laser blast promptly dispatches it, along with a couple other monsters, and Generic Girl's rescuer is revealled, atop a rocky outcrop...JAPANESE HEAVY METAL. Or, more accurately, Toshi and Pata. Using the power of “punching it pretty damned hard”, Toshi prompty downs another mini-eyeball, lands in front of generic girl, whilst the rest of the band do what I can only describe as “that stupid-ass anime jumping thing”. Consoling Generic Girl, Toshi and...everyone else, including two people who are definitely not in the band and have probably just come to gawp, are promptly attacked by the eyeball's puppet, hide, who is, as previously mentioned, the joint best designed thing in this PV. Toshi, because he is a reasonable man, decides to use his usual tactic of punching things pretty damned hard, and promptly gets lasered to the face, flying backwards through buildings, and then lanced in the side.


Generic Girl cries, hide does his best magnificent bastard smirk, and we change scene to Generic Girl praying in a church, whilst Yoshiki wallops the piano a bit and Toshi does his usual “whispering over an interlude” bit. Toshi, back from his dunk in whatever restorative tank our heroes have to hand, is handed his sunglasses by Yoshiki (I think), and X Japan discuss strategies. hide casually flies across the moon, barges into the church, and Generic Girl is kidnapped whilst CLAMP desperately rummage in the Christian imagery bargain bucket, find bishounen Jesus, and shrug, showing a closeup of the cruxifiction, and thus taking the title of the song overly literally.

hide, evil Generic Girl kidapper he, is promptly ambushed by the rest of X Japan, who take out the small eyeball monsters. hide retaliates with killer tennis balls, knocks the band (including one member who appears to be armed with a supersoaker out and...we cut to space. For it seems Generic Girl's prayers to bishounen Jesus have been answered, just as it's about to eat her (at least I think it's trying to eat her). And that can mean only one thing. Epic guitar solo time. Jesus glows, removes himself from the cross, promptly merges with a blonde shirtless, rose armed, chain carrying, winged Yoshiki, and promptly kerbstomps hide, destroys his mask with a well thrown rose and thus returns the guitarist to normal. I am not making any of that up.


One moment whilst I let you collectively pick your jaw back up from the floor, dear reader. Ready to continue? Good. Yoshiki, seeing that his friend has been freed, prompty hadoukens the giant eyeball monster, thus freeing its human prisoners. He momentarily collapses, is spurred on by his friends, gives a smirk of pure awesome, becomes a glowing angel, and destroys the monster with the power of roses, thus revealling the rising sun and the band logo, before taking off into space. Generic Girl returns safely, everyone looks up into the sky and the song reaches its end.

By far the biggest issue with this video is, surprisingly, not the lack of subtlety. In fact, its lack of subtlety is what best captures the tone of what X Japan represent as a band. Take a look back up the page at that image of them at this period. These are not people overly concerned with subtlety, neither ar the lyrics themselves overly subtle. When the video enters its final third, it not only looks cool, it's a cool that respresents the band well. Yoshiki being a badass superhero powered by the power of a girl's wishes via bizzare Christian imagery? Sure, why not? hide casually chucking spears around, commanding the armies of darkness, whilst looking like a mid 1980s JRPG mage? It's silly as hell, but it works, and both these designs actually echo the band and their ethos, by way of CLAMP's typical design. Neither is the song the issue-it's typical mid-1990s X Japan, complete with piano solo, epic guitar solo, and the band's trademark 1990s symphonic rock sound. Had CLAMP delivered, this song would have visuals befitting its epic nature.

No, the biggest issue with Rusty Nail is the lack of ambition. Overblown explosions of pan-theistic imagery whilst asskicking by pretty boys takes place are CLAMP's bread and butter, but what this PV lacks, apart from its stunning last minute and a half, is both the ambition of CLAMP and the drive of X Japan's track. The first three and a half minutes of the video tonally meander all over the place, neither cut to the track, nor echoing the feel of it, whilst the imagery is largely generic; when I'm finding it hard to tell two members apart, you've clearly failed in marketing your band. The fights, whilst well choreographed in the final minute and a half, are equally boring in the first two thirds- Toshi punches things, and that's about it. The girl is charmingly generic, the monster is malignant except when it's not, and most of X Japan mill about in the background. Were this not a song by this band, nor designed by these manga-ka, it wouldn't even be a blip on most Japanophiles' radar; aside from its batshit insane finale, it's largely mundane, and way below expectations for either of these titans of Japanese culture. Peripheral in the extreme to both groups' careers. If you're a hide or Yoshiki fanboy, you might get something out of this, otherwise, there's nothing, not even for the CLAMP completest.


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