Thursday, December 26, 2013

Xxxholic by CLAMP

Title: Xxxholic
Author: CLAMP
Volumes: 19 (completed)
Volumes (English): 19 (completed)

Watanuki Kimihiro is haunted by visions of ghosts and spirits. Seemingly by chance, he encounters a mysterious witch named Yuuko, who claims she can help. In desperation, he accepts, but realizes that he’s just been tricked into working for Yuuko in order to pay off the cost of her services. Soon he’s employed in her little shop—a job which turns out to be nothing like his previous work experience!

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Goodreads | LibraryThing

For the cliff notes version, skip to the bottom of the page for final thoughts.

What can I say about Xxxholic? Seriously, what can you say about a series that takes it in equal turns hurting your heart and mind? This is a series that will take you through a range of emotions, one moment laughing and in the next crying uncontrollably. This series is a crossover with its companion series Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle. While many of the same themes are present in both series, Xxxholic is the darker of the two.

There is an atmosphere of languid mystery surrounding Yuko, the Time Witch, and her very unusual shop. Watanuki trades his servitude to the Time Witch for relief from the spirits that constantly hound him. From this agreement several absurd and even eerie events unfold. For most of the series Watanuki acts as comic relief, especially while interacting with Doumeki and Yuko. For all of his hamming he also has a naive earnestness that lends the series some of its more poignant moments.

Working for Yuko brings Watanuki into contact with a host of unforgettable characters. My favorite character is Doumeki. Doumeki is Watanuki's opposite in most ways. He's completely calm and unflappable regardless of the situation. He's also incredibly comfortable with himself. He's a true friend and devoted to Watanuki even as Watanuki, out of jealousy, denies their connection and friendship during most of the series.

A pivotal moment in the growth of their friendship is in volume 7 (Spider (Spiderweb) in the anime) when Watanuki sacrifices his right eye to restore Doumeki's eyesight. In return Doumeki shares the sight in his right eye with Watanuki. (At this point their friendship is pretty much sealed, regardless of Watanuki's protestations.) Watching the progression of their friendship is one of the more satisfying elements of Xxxholic. While the ending of the series is jolting, you never doubt the rightness of their friendship and the depth of feeling between them.

Yuko is perhaps the most intriguing character in the series. She's cloaked in mystery that none of the other characters are able to fully see through. She's crude, sexy and outrageous at times, but she has a quiet dignity that comes across when she's performing her Time Witch duties. Her story arc is one of my favorites in the series. Of course the majority of her arc is unveiled in the last few volumes.

[Xxxholic's overall ending left me feeling cheated, confused, heartbroken, dissatisfied and maybe just a little awed. Yuko's ending is quite satisfying however. Her revealed back story is both romantic and compelling. The best part is that even when the big reveal happens CLAMP doesn't reveal all, still maintaining an aura of mystery.]

Himawari is the character I like least. She's not a fully developed character and her primary purpose in the series is to act as Watanuki's unrequited crush and cause friction between Doumeki and Watanuki. She's not a terrible character; she just doesn't really add to the series. [VIEW SPOILER]

[She does lend a bit of tragedy to the events surrounding Watanuki's ultimate decision to replace Yuko and remain in the shop indefinitely. Otherwise she's an forgettable character.]

The premise of the series is that people visit the shop to have their deepest wishes and desires granted. As the Time Witch would say:
"For everything you wish, you have to pay an equal price in return. You can't get more or give more. You can't get less or give less. It must be in balance, or else there will be chaos."
This leads to some interesting consequences for the shop's patrons. My favorite story is in volume 7 (Atonement in the anime) and involves a photograph. Like photographs in the Harry Potter universe, this photograph has captured a moment in time and the people in the picture are moving. Unlike Harry Potter, the moment caught in the photograph is both sinister and disturbing. The consequences from this wish is not only just, but diabolically clever.

While I loved the ending of Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, Xxxholic's ending left me feeling uncertain. [VIEW MAJOR SPOILERS - SERIOUSLY FUCKING MAJOR SPOILERS]

[I loved Tsubasa's ending! Even with the atypical ending, it's essentially a happy ending with everyone remaining together (or at least with easy access to each other). Xxxholic's ending transcends time and generations. In the last volume you realize that most of the characters you grew to care about are dead and gone (in Tsubasa, as well as Xxxholic, which makes it doubly horrifying). Watanuki is the only major character still alive and he's spending his life waiting for something that's never going to happen. We then discover that generations of Doumeki's family are in this codependent relationship with him. While in one sense it's touching that Doumeki's depth of devotion and feelings endured even after death, it's also an unhealthy situation for all parties.

It's bad enough that as you're reading the last volume it gets progressively more depressing as everyone around Watanuki is aging and moving on with their lives; Himawari is married, Doumeki is starting a family with Kohane. The worst though is when it's revealed in the last chapter that Watanuki has been conversing with Doumeki's great grandson. At that point I had to re-read the last volume to determine when Doumeki exited the narrative and his decedents took his place. The ending is powerful, but not at all satisfying. Especially for someone who likes happy endings.]

Final Thoughts
Xxxholic has a well crafted intricate story and has a dramatic artistic style. The chapters range from the haunting to the surreal with a little creepy thrown in for effect. I recommend reading Xxxholic and Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle together. While you could read one series without reading the other, each compliments and enriches the other. There are other CLAMP series tied in with these series, but you don't have to read them to enjoy Xxxholic and Tsubasa. The obvious one is Cardcaptor Sakura, but you may want to checkout some of their other works like Chobits, RG Veda, Magic Knight Rayearth and Tokyo Babylon. (This is by no means the entire list.)

If you liked Xxxholic, you may also like Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, Library Wars, Black Butler, Death Note and Orphen.

Follow Amy Gideon's board CLAMP on Pinterest.