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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. :)