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Why you should read xxxHolic

Once upon a time in my secret fannish life, sad and frustrated with the small size of the xxxHolic fandom, I created a so-called “persuasion post.” Its purpose was to inspire friends to begin reading the series, write lots of fanfiction, and join in on all my xxxHolic glee. I think, however, that this post deserves better than being hidden behind a fannish identity, so I have unearthed it from the clutter and reworked it for a broader audience. Behold, the new (de-fandomed) xxxHolic Persuasion Post:

Let your wishes be granted.

First of all, this post is specifically about the manga. The anime is nice enough in its way, but it can’t even begin to compare to the manga and I think it is better to watch it if you’ve already read the manga, so that you can fill in the blanks with your own mind.


The Premise

xxxHolic (pronounced “‘holic,” the “xxx” is a variable) is about a high school boy named Watanuki Kimihiro, who has the ability to see spirits and to whom spirits are irresistibly attracted, which unfortunately brings him into contact with many things that wish to harm and/or eat him, none of which other people can see. At the beginning of the story, he stumbles into the shop of Ichihara Yuuko, a witch who grants wishes for an equivalent price. Watanuki’s wish is to no longer be plagued by spirits, which Yuuko can grant, but in order to pay for it, Watanuki must indenture himself to her as part-time help in the shop, cooking, cleaning, and whatever else Yuuko deems necessary. His wish will only be granted after the price has been paid.

In the beginning, the story seems to be about Yuuko’s shop and the various people who come in to have wishes granted, most of which do not turn out well, as most of them have desires or addictions that are not beneficial to them (hence the title, “xxxHolic” ). As the story progresses, however, it becomes apparent that Watanuki is not Yuuko’s servant but in fact her apprentice, with a much greater role in the world than simply helping to grant people’s wishes.

xxxHolic is one of those stories that appears to be one thing at first and then at a certain point you think, “Ah ha! This is what it is really about!” Then several volumes later you think, “AH HA! No, THIS is what it’s really about!” I have had a couple of these moments already and I expect to have more before the series is completed. Watanuki’s growth as a character is extremely compelling, particularly as it relates to his relationship with his schoolmate and “rival,” Doumeki Shizuka, and Yuuko’s world is endlessly dangerous and fascinating. In recent volumes, it has become clear that Watanuki has some kind of world-saving, epic battle to wage, though we do not yet know what that really means.

This series crosses over with Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle and while it is not essential to read Tsubasa in order to understand the events in xxxHolic, I found that by the time I reached volume 9 or so, I really wanted to know the whole story and I ended up racing through that series in the matter of a couple of days. Now I keep up with both, though my focus is definitely on xxxHolic.

The Players

Watanuki Kimihiro sees spirits and is tormented by them daily. He lost both his parents at an early age and lives alone in an apartment building run by managers who looked out for him when he was a young orphan. He has a great love of cooking (and a special gift for it as well) and though he complains constantly about the work he must do for Yuuko, he does it diligently and extremely well. He has a lot of compassion for the people whose wishes Yuuko grants, though he is not often able to help them. Also, he flails. He flails a lot.

Ichihara Yuuko, also known in Tsubasa as the “Witch of Dimensions” runs a shop that grants wishes. She dresses lavishly, drinks heavily, and seems to get a lot of enjoyment out of tormenting Watanuki, though this is apparently to prepare him for the difficult road ahead. Despite all this, she seems to truly care for him and for the world she endeavors to protect. There is a lot of mystery surrounding Yuuko and I expect there are things still to be revealed about her before the end of the series.

Doumeki Shizuka is Watanuki’s classmate and “rival,” though this rivalry exists only in Watanuki’s mind. He is the strong, silent type, a good student, popular with the girls, and an accomplished archer. He has the natural ability to repel and exorcise spirits and for this reason, Watanuki frequently requires his help, or at least his presence, much to Watanuki’s horror. He speaks very little, though he has a sarcastic wit, and stands loyally by Watanuki, though he has no obvious reason to do so.

Kunogi Himawari is Watanuki’s special crush and a very sweet and kind girl, though Yuuko constantly insists that she is not Watanuki’s angel of fortune. She spends much of her time with Watanuki and Doumeki, though she often seems to be otherwise engaged when Watanuki wants to spend time with her alone. She frequently remarks that “Watanuki and Doumeki are such good friends!” which is always protested by Watanuki. I can’t tell you much more about her without giving away a pretty big spoiler, so I will refrain.

This doesn’t even begin to cover all the non-human characters in this series. Oh, they are all so wonderfully detailed and idiosyncratic! I love them all! Mokona! *heart* The kudakitsune! The foxes who run the oden stand! Oh! The Zashiki-warashi! Maru and Moro! Oh, my heart, they are all wonderful.


The Philosophy

One thing I personally find very compelling about xxxHolic is that it so often addresses issues of morality, but from an obviously non-Christian point of view, which is so refreshing for me. The universe is steeped in Shinto beliefs and we are spared from western ideas about “good” and “evil” in favor of the study of action and reaction and how our choices affect us (and others) over time. The concept driving the series is “hitsuzen,” a Japanese word for which there is no direct English translation, but which has been sometimes translated as “inevitability” or (less accurately) “fate.” The Del Ray translation of the manga defines “hitsuzen” as “A naturally foreordained event. A state in which other outcomes are impossible. A result which can only be obtained by a single causality, and other causalities would necessarily create different results.” When reading the manga, one comes to the conclusion that it is all our choices and the choices of others that create hitsuzen. Every choice we make, even the most insignificant, casual choice, sets certain things into motion and, when combined with the choices others have made, creates an inevitable outcome.

Yuuko frequently states “There is no coincidence, only hitsuzen.” It is hitsuzen that brings customers to her shop (including Watanuki) and the wishes made throughout the series contribute to (and are part of) hitsuzen as well.

The Relationships

Another of the compelling aspects of xxxHolic, is the relationships between the main characters, or more specifically, the relationships between Watanuki and each of the other main characters, and how they change over the course of the series. I’ve joked in the past that xxxHolic is almost a harem manga (though much of the harem is not female, or even human), but really that cheapens the deep caring between these characters and Watanuki. The relationships I’m most interested in are between Watanuki and Yuuko, Himawari, and Doumeki. It is impossible to know, even as far into the story as we now are, exactly what everyone’s reasons are for caring about Watanuki as they do, but we can guess at some of it.

Yuuko‘s relationship with Watanuki is complex and fascinating. She is his mentor, almost a parental figure at times, and certainly she cares for Watanuki as a parent might. She’s also an employer, a relentlessly teasing older sister, a drunken college buddy, an unabashed temptress, and a con artist. She puts him in danger constantly and yet is so protective of him that she consistently hides from him the truth about what is coming. She even protects him from his own decisions as much as she can, which is not something we see her do for anyone else. Watanuki appears to be mostly oblivious to her acts of caring, as is his wont, though by the end of volume 12, it is clear that he cares at least as much for her.

Himawari is the only character Watanuki exhibits outward affection for, at least of the main three, and though this is often played off as a pathetic crush, I think the importance of these two to each other can’t be ignored. There is much I can’t say here for fear of spoiling people in an unthinkable way, but I can point out that though Himawari generally ignores Watanuki’s obvious attempts to woo her, she consistently seeks him out at school and, along with Doumeki, keeps him from being an incredibly lonely person. Also, Watanuki’s crush is very refreshing, as he shows her constant respect and genuine admiration, never once treating her as a sex object.

Doumeki, oh Doumeki. I have left him for last, because this is my favorite relationship of all. It’s no secret that I’m a bit of a ‘shipper here, but it’s hard not to be, the way CLAMP has written this relationship. Because of Watanuki’s predicament (being constantly pursued by harmful spirits), and Doumeki’s natural abilities (to repel and exorcise harmful spirits), Doumeki is a necessary fixture in Watanuki’s life, which Watanuki gripes about to no end. What’s interesting about this is that despite constant complaining and abuse from Watanuki, Doumeki does not leave. He makes sarcastic remarks (and increasingly impossible food demands) but his devotion to his role as Watanuki’s protector never wavers, not even for a second. As the manga continues, the “deep connection” between these two becomes more and more intense, to the point where they are connected even in physical ways, and it’s not hard to see how ‘shippers like me are born, when Yuuko spends a good nine volumes trying to get Watanuki to figure out that Doumeki (unlike Himawari) is his perfect partner. However you want to interpret that. This relationship is complex and nuanced and we’re constantly finding out more about it, even as it changes. In many ways, this relationship is the heart of xxxHolic for me, and I know I’m not alone in feeling that way.

The Art

Not everyone is a fan of CLAMP’s style of art, but I personally think it is beautiful. There is so much atmosphere in every moment and the color pages and covers are just incredibly beautiful, in my opinion. I love the long lines, the striking use of black, the curls of smoke snaking their way through the frame. xxxHolic looks like no other comic I’ve seen, including others by CLAMP, and its smoky, heady, otherworldly quality is unmatched. I personally find it intoxicating.

The Books

I know people read scanlations of new chapters as they are released but, and I can’t possibly stress this enough, please get your hands on the Del Rey books. Seriously. This is not about copyright (as worthy as that cause may be). This is about artistry. I understand that the lure of scanlations is great, but when it comes to pure reading experience, William Flanagan, who does the translations for Del Rey, really has the ability to make the English language soar. His detailed notes at the end of each volume allow the manga to remain true to its setting with no Americanization and when I read a volume of xxxHolic I feel always that it has been put together with great attention and care. There are 12 volumes released so far in English and I have read them all over and over again, that is how satisfying and rich they are. Volume 13 is scheduled for release in March of 2009 and I am counting the days until I can rush out and buy it at the nearest bookstore.

Warning: THIS MANGA MAKES YOU HUNGRY. Watanuki is someone who believes that all problems can be fixed with food.

The Bottom Line

xxxHolic is thoughtful, funny, mysterious, and insanely beautiful. It has compelling characters in complex, moving relationships. It has 163 chapters and more coming, presented with obvious care by its North American publisher. I wish I could tell you everything that is wonderful about it but I can’t do that without giving everything away. There are only a few special series that have made as strong an impression on me as xxxHolic or have inspired in me such an obnoxious need to proselytize. This has to mean something.

JOIN ME. :)

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Comments

  1. Well said on all-counts! And you are most definately not alone on the Watanuki/Domeki front ;) I love their relationship to no end and watching it evolve as the series’ progressed has been my favourite part (of the many parts of this series to love)!

  2. Ed Sizemore says:

    Melinda,

    Excellent post. You’ve done a great job articulating all the reasons that this is a great series. Thank you for mentioning William Flanagan. I agree he is a brilliant translator and wonderful wordsmith. He used to run a website about translating, but has let it fall to ruin since he moved back to Japan.

    I’m so in love with the artwork of this series I collect all the pencil boards and art books I can get my hands on. I especially love the full color prints they have done for this series. (I also collect all things Mokona. How can you not love that little guy.)

    Thanks for making this article public and spreading the love for Xxxholic.

  3. Ed Sizemore says:

    Yes. That is the book. I hope there is a con discount for you.

    I will be at NY also. Vampire Hunter D is another passion of mine. So I’m getting some books signed.

    So when I’m fighting for Xxxholic merchandise, now I know who my opponent is.

  4. You did such an excellent job encapsulating all the various things that make xxxHOLiC so unique and wonderful. My only disappointment is that you didn’t show the awesome panel of the fox spirit eagerly awaiting his name. :) I love that CLAMP manages to combine dark, somber, and mysterious with funny and cute.

    And count me on board the Watanuki/Doumeki ship as well.

  5. Dear Melinda:

    I’m with the others and do so appreciate this wonderful post of yours. I was interested in reading xxxHolic before I read this, but now it just cements my plan of collecting the volumes. I especially like how you talked about “Hitsuzen” and its meaning and relation to the series. It has me quite intrigued. Also, being a Yaoi reader of sorts, I, too, will join the Doumeki/Watanuki boat. Being that this manga is serialized in a Seinen magazine, I’m curious as to how CLAMP plans on evolving their relationship (or not).

    I am now currently on a CLAMP kick, whereby I must get my hands on all of their available titles in English. (It will take about $1000.00, but I’ll get there!) How do you feel about CLAMP’s earlier works, namely X/1999, Tokyo Babylon, Magic Knight Rayearth, and RG Veda? Are they worth a purchase, too?

    I love the fact that you chose examples from the manga to support your text, rather than inserting just random pictures. The beautiful, full colour illustration of Doumeki/Watanuki at the end was just beautiful, so thank-you for sharing that.

  6. Most of CLAMPS work cross over with one another in one way or another. In holic alone there’s every series they’ve ever done if you look at the hints, especially in the treasure room.

    What i love is that the Zashiki-warashi relationship with Watanuki, it’s on the same level as his crush for Himawari. The stuff she does for him is insane, yet he doesn’t seem to notice it. I really feel sorry for her to be honest, cause she’s so cute.

    I disagree with you on one point though, i do think it’s essential to read Tsubasa as well. Certain events take place in holic that can’t really be understood unless you read Tsubasa as well. Especially the events in the later volumes of holic.

    I really wish the anie had been done better though. It’s a good series, but it pales in comparison to the manga, which is a shame. Whats worse is that the second season only ran for 13 episodes.

  7. El Dustino says:

    Great article. One minor quibble. While it the predominant source of morality is Shinto, it’s established that Doumeki is Buddhist and lives at a Buddhist temple.
    That’s why Watanuki is caught off guard by the “person in the other room” during the ghost story chapter.

  8. looks awful.

  9. You’re welcome! I do appreciate that Legal Drug was serialized in a magazine with a little more freedom (from Kadokawa Shoten, rather than Kodansha). That’s why it was more able to have more Shonen-ai elements. I do hope they set a plan on completing their unfinished series’ soon.

    Thanks for the suggestion for Tokyo Babylon. I’ve seen it in store and it has gorgeous full-colour pages. And manga can be quite an expensive hobby, so the used book store is an excellent option to collect more for less. I actually found Vol. 1 of xxxHolic for $5.99, but the pages smelled like smoke (previous reader was a smoker, I guess). Sometimes you can come across amazing bargains, though (like when I found Vols. 1 + 2 first edition Legal Drug with the pretty colour leafs that cost the price of one!) It’s great that we can enjoy manga no matter what happens, right?

    I hope you get richer soon, so you can tell me what the other CLAMP series’ are like :)

  10. Great! I can’t wait to read it. I think I’ll be getting a fresh new copy of xxxHolic later, though. Have you collected the out-of-print CLAMP volumes from Tokyopop? I would love to find volumes of Suki somewhere. Scanlations just don’t do it for me. Would you have any recommendations of non-CLAMP work? I would love to know! Happy reading!!

  11. Thanks for your recommendations. I do like that you didn’t pick outright Yaoi titles, because I’m actually quite pissed at the genre. My reasons are that: even though I own many Yaoi titles, I don’t find myself enjoying them and re-reading them as I do non-Yaoi manga. But Banana Fish looks like a good one because Viz mentions that it gained a huge crossover audience (meaning Shojo and BL lovers, I guess).

    I guess gayness in manga is losing its appeal to me, since it used to be so exciting, but now it’s overused in my collection (no longer special).

    And funny thing, I picked up Vols. 1 & 2 of Suki at my comic shop just down the street. It’s the only out-of-print CLAMP title that they had, so my luck was high. When I go to many comic shops and bookstores, sometimes they’ll have a random volume of an out-of-print CLAMP title, and I think it’s important to snatch it up so you don’t spend lots on shipping for online orders. By the way, if you can find it, Suki is a wonderful read.

  12. Hear, hear :-)

  13. xxxHolic is on my list of Clamp titles but I figured I’ll read all the old stuff. Before I start a newer series but xxxHolic is definitely on my too read list. As a side note as far as shipping in this Manga goes I am a complete Yuuko/Watanuki shipper it’s that tendency that makes me want to read the series even more.

  14. I’m curious; have you had the chance to read the ending (chapter 213)? It was very CLAMP’y, I’m afraid.

  15. Did you also write this on Livejournal? Because I found this post, word by word, pic by pic, on there. Either that’s you or someone else went ahead and stole what you wrote.

    http://emotionalperil.livejournal.com/44121.html

    By the way, great review! XxxHolic has to be my favorite manga of all time, and what I believe to be CLAMP’s masterpiece. The art, the story, the writing: it’s just perfect.

  16. Hmmm I do need to check out the manga since the show stopped short (thought I couldn’t stop watching!).

    Interesting thoughts as well particularly on the philosophy behind it. I’m BIG into that stuff. Though I wouldn’t say the fate/action-reaction is exclusively non-Christian since the Bible is full of people choosing the paths God puts before them. It’s called reaping and sowing.

    That and the “bad habits” Yuko confronts people with are alarmingly similar to New Testament writings of struggles with spirit vs. flesh, spiritual strongholds, etc. These bad habits literally creates holes in our being/temple that allows demonic entrapment/harassment.

    Cheers, good stuff!

  17. Hmmm I do need to check out the manga since the show stopped short (thought I couldn’t stop watching!). I LOVED the music.

    Interesting thoughts as well particularly on the philosophy behind it. I’m BIG into that stuff. Though I wouldn’t say the fate/action-reaction is exclusively non-Christian since the Bible is full of people choosing the paths God puts before them. It’s called reaping and sowing.

    That and the “bad habits” Yuko confronts people with are alarmingly similar to New Testament writings of struggles with spirit vs. flesh, spiritual strongholds, etc. These bad habits literally creates holes in our being/temple that allows demonic entrapment/harassment.

    Cheers, good stuff!

  18. Thank you! :D Hee, my original fannish version of this had an entire section on the pairing, including a list of fic recs, but I figured this wasn’t really the place.

  19. Ed, thank you!

    Oh, I’m envious of your collection of xxxHolic art! I eyed some at Anime Boston this spring, but cash was too tight to justify a purchase. Yes, I think the color prints are just gorgeous. I do have a Mokona backpack that I cherish deeply. Mokona is actually one of my favorite characters in the series, and I’m a bit disappointed in myself for not including him more in this post.

  20. Ed Sizemore says:

    Melinda, I’m glad you didn’t mention Mokona too much. He will be a wonderful suprise for people just starting the series. Just like the fox spirit ;-).

    My favorite items are matching cup/pencil holders of Mokona and Modoki. I liked the backpacks too, they’re very cute. I hope your funds will let you get the Mokona/Modoki storybook. It’s in Japanese, so I don’t know what the actually story is, but the illustrations are marvelous.

  21. Ahhhh, I will look out for that storybook! I’m planning to go to NY Anime Fest in September, so perhaps I can track it down there with a con discount. :) This is the book, I assume?

  22. Beware, I’m scrappy! ;D

  23. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA yes, I LOVE that panel! Maybe I’ll scan it in when I get home and at least stick it here in the comments. :D

  24. I love that Tanpopo does it first then Mugetsu mimics it. :) In fact, part of the reason I actually started using Livejournal was just so I could use this icon

  25. Oh, the CUTENESS. *heart*

  26. Oliver, thank you! I’m so glad my post has cemented your resolve to read xxxHolic! I really hope you enjoy it! You’re a fan of Legal Drug, if I recall? There’s actually something you’ll appreciate especially in… I can’t remember what volume, but you’ll know it when you see it! :D

    Yeah, I’d be surprised, considering the content of Young magazine, if CLAMP made Doumeki/Watanuki explicitly canon, but they are definitely walking the line. I’ll be interested, too, to see where they end up with it.

    I actually haven’t read much of CLAMP’s earlier work, though I’ve started Tokyo Babylon. I definitely want to read it all, but my household lost a major portion of its income earlier this year, so I’m subsisting for the moment on what I can get from my local shop’s used shelf. When we’re a bit more flush again, I plan to catch up on all this! So unfortunately, I can’t help you much here, though I will say that I like what I’ve read so far of Tokyo Babylon. My friend Deanna has plowed through them all–if I can catch her around somewhere, I’ll try to get her to come over here and report. :)

    Again, thank you! I think you’ll really enjoy the color illustrations that appear throughout the series. They are all gorgeous like that. :)

  27. Gah, thank you for the correction! I don’t know how I’ve missed that point in all my re-reads. I’ll make a note in the post. Again, thank you.

    (edited to add) Or actually, I’m just going to take out the reference to Doumeki there. It isn’t necessary, and I am having trouble figuring out what to say in a note.

  28. I do know people who seem to be getting along pretty well without reading Tsubasa. It wouldn’t work for me without it, but it seems to for some people, which is why I was not quite that adamant about it in my post. I agree, though, that even if a person can follow events without Tsubasa, having read it certainly provides a richer understanding, and I think the further into the series one gets, the more this is true.

  29. Obviously, I disagree. :)

  30. Ugh, sorry you’re stuck with a smoky copy of xxxHolic! I do think my friend is writing up some recommendations of earlier CLAMP work that she will link here when it is ready, so perhaps you do not have to wait until I’ve become richer! :D

  31. Hee, it feels funny to be asked for recommendations, because I always assume that everyone else has read a lot more manga than I have. I’m kind of assuming that about you, too, though maybe we’ve at least read different things? I know you like BL, so I can go with that…. hmmm… if you’ve never read Banana Fish (which you probably have), I’d recommend it highly. It’s not technically BL, but the two main characters are very obviously in love. Black Cat has an obviously gay character, though his love is unrequited and he’s pretty much, uh, evil. So I don’t know how you feel about that. Hmmm, I don’t know, tell me more about what you like, and I will try to do better! :)

    No, I don’t have any of those older CLAMP volumes, but I’m seeing that there are some Amazon sellers who appear to have Suki, and some even claim to be new!

  32. I’m kind of glad that you haven’t read Banana Fish, because I love introducing it to people. :) Actually, the crossover audience was boys and men who would normally read shonen manga! Banana Fish was a shojo title that a lot of guys also read, because it is all about street gangs and organized crime. Lots of guns and action. I’ve seen it classified as yaoi by some, but it really is not. Shaenon Garrity did a great write-up on it for her Overlooked Manga Festival, if you want to check that out.

    Oh, I’m so glad you found Suki! I will have to look for it as well. :)



Trackbacks

  1. [...] Beasi explains why you should read xxxHoLiC, with words and pretty, pretty [...]

  2. [...] has written a beautiful post explaining why we should all be reading xxxholic here.  She has plot breakdown, character descriptions, relationship configurations and oh yes.  Lots [...]

  3. [...] it’s true, in my big xxxHolic post, one of the things I said I particularly enjoyed was a lack of focus on western concepts of good [...]

  4. [...] was getting into when I picked up that first volume of xxxHolic last April. I had read Melinda’s beautiful persuasion post after all. I had no idea that, like Watanuki, the reason I had entered Yuuko’s shop was because I [...]

  5. [...] an introduction to the world of xxxHolic, check out my post, Why You Should Read xxxHolic at There it is, Plain as Daylight. Comments [...]

  6. [...] to Noah Berlatsky et al. for allowing me to play ball! If you’re looking for additional, in-depth discussion of xxxHOLiC, be sure to visit Manga Bookshelf, where Melinda Beasi explains why you should read the series. [...]

  7. [...] it marks the release of the latest volume of xxxHolic, a series I’ve discussed, reviewed, and proselytized over pretty vigorously ever since I began talking about manga to begin with. It was one of the [...]

  8. [...] at the first volume of xxxHolic, which I picked up and bought that day. The rest, of course, is history. Anime Ink is closed now, so I guess I’ll never know her name. But I’d like to thank [...]

  9. [...] edition of the book. So I knew they existed. A few years go by and I own smatterings of Legal Drug, xxxHolic, Tsubasa Chronicle, Magic Knight Rayearth and a few others. But strangely, it was the discovery of [...]

  10. [...] count several of CLAMP’s manga among my very favorites (Tokyo Babylon, Cardcaptor Sakura, and xxxHolic are a few I’ve praised vocally over the past few years), my feelings for others range [...]

  11. [...] very personal choice, though I’d argue its merits forever. Nearly four years after I posted Why you should read xxxHolic here at Manga Bookshelf (and at least one year more since it originated in my old fannish blog), [...]



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