Work has been insane for me this week, as I prepare information for our company’s tax accountant, and it becomes impossible for me to leave work at work at these times of year, so I haven’t had a lot of time to think about anything, you know, fun. Fortunately, last night after visiting our own tax accountant (and by “our own tax accountant” of course I mean “the random accountant we were assigned to this year by H&R Block”), Paul and I had a nice, relaxing dinner, followed by a stroll to the local comic shop, and as a result, I came home with two shiny, new volumes of xxxHolic. I haven’t discussed xxxHolic much here, or anywhere else, leading some friends to believe that it is about porn (um, no), so since I did let myself read the first of my new volumes (volume seven) last night before bed, I thought I’d take a moment to talk about it.
xxxHolic has been a slow burn for me. I left each of the first few volumes feeling not entirely enthralled, but still wanting more. I hadn’t read any of CLAMP’s work before this, and perhaps if I’d already been an avid fan of Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle, it might have grown on me a little faster, but still, the characters began to work their way into my heart, and as I reached the end of each volume, I’d resolve to buy at least one more. You know, just to see. Around volume 5, that casual interest shifted to straightforward need, and after volume 7, I must admit that I am truly lost to it.
Recently, I took one of those silly “What ______ character are you?” quizzes for xxxHolic, and had laughed heartily at being labeled Shizuka Doumeki, the character with whom I identify least in the series. He is one of those characters I find admirable, but not obviously flawed enough to be relatable, so it is interesting that what hooked me in so deeply to volume 7 was, in fact, Doumeki.
One of the ongoing conflicts in xxxHolic is the sort of one-sided rivalry with Doumeki that exists in the mind of the series’ main protagonist, Kimihiro Watanuki. Watanuki envies Doumeki so powerfully that it hurts. He envies his confidence, his abilities, his popularity with girls (especially Watanuki’s special crush, Himawari), and is constantly conflicted over the fact that he needs Doumeki in his life, as Doumeki is the only person around with the ability to repel spirits, which otherwise are unusually attracted to Watanuki (who has the rare ability to see them), and cause him much grief. Doumeki is constantly in the position of saving Watanuki from harm, even as Watanuki is using his own ability to try to help ordinary humans who are plagued by spirit-related troubles, a debt which weighs heavily on Watanuki, and which he makes fitful, desperate attempts to repay, mostly by making Doumeki lunch every day.
In volume 7, Doumeki frees Watanuki from a spider’s web, which he must do by breaking it. The spider then takes revenge on Doumeki by casting a painful web over his eye, which (according to Yuko, Watanuki’s “employer,” who runs a shop that grants wishes) will continue until Doumeki has experienced as much pain from it as he caused for the spider. Watanuki, horrified that Doumeki has been punished for (once again) saving him, asks Yuko if he would be able to transfer the punishment to himself by doing something worse to the spider than what Doumeki had done. She confirms this, and teaches him how to do it. As a result, Watanuki loses an entire eye to the spider.
When Doumeki discovers what has happened, he demands that Yuko tell him how to get Watanuki’s eye back. She refuses, on the grounds that Watanuki’s original wish must take precedence, and he storms off, determined to find out for himself. Before he goes, however, Yuko says something to him which is what really made this volume so worthwhile for me. I don’t have the exact quote available at the moment (I will probably update this later tonight), but she says first something about Watanuki needing to learn how such a sacrifice must weigh on its beneficiary, and then she tells Doumeki something along the lines of, “If Watanuki has any importance to you at all, he should know that, because right now, he has no idea.”
What was so powerful about this for me, is that I think up until that point, even I as the reader had not considered that Watanuki might be at all important to Doumeki, and Yuko’s insight really changed Doumeki’s whole character for me, or at least made him suddenly more interesting. I don’t identify with Watanuki particularly (though he often reminds me of my husband), but he’s definitely the character in this series I care most about, and I’ve been feeling his pain over what has seemed like an unbalanced relationship with Doumeki all this time. I am heartened to feel that it might not be so, and interested to see what the consequences might be of Doumeki’s search for a way to return Watanuki’s eye, especially considering that Yuko implied that it could not be done.
Ah, how unusual it is for me to discuss actual plot when talking about manga, eh? And now my lunchtime is over, so I must leave anything further until later. Perhaps I’ll write again after I’ve finished volume 8, at which time I should probably also discuss hitsuzen.