xxxHOLiC Volume 1

xxxHOLiC volume 1 cover

Illustrating the oddities of interpretation and the passage of time…

This is the second time I’ve tried reading CLAMP’s xxxHOLiC. I know lots of people love it, but after the first time through, I shrugged. It didn’t do anything for me, and I found the atmosphere of mystery silly and pretentious. The authors seemed to be trying too hard. I’ve since changed my mind.

I came back to it because someone (sadly, I don’t remember who) whose opinion I respect mentioned it as part of a recommendation list. I had enjoyed most of the other titles on the list, so when I had a chance to trade for it, I thought I’d give it another try.

Reading though this time, I found much more to appreciate about it. I realized that the point wasn’t the schoolboy who wanders into the shop of a wish-granting Japanese Madame Xanadu, or the background of the teasing witch and her two impish assistants. They’re just the anthology framing device, characters to alternately provide some comedy and bring home a given episode’s message.

xxxHOLiC volume 1 cover

I only realized what that message was when I went to wikipedia in an attempt to figure out what the title meant. That was the key: “xxx” wasn’t an indicator of adult content or a way to be edgy; it was a variable. The book’s about “-holics”, addicts of one sort or another. Suddenly, I got it.

The first story, a fable about a pathological liar who’s in so deep she lies to herself, resembles a Twilight Zone episode with a more mystical bent. There’s less emphasis on clever poetic justice; it’s more of a blunt “don’t do that, or look what might happen” warning. Yuuko, the mistress of the shop, doesn’t grant the woman’s wish as much as provide the instrument of her destruction, but she blames it on her choices. “The problem is habits. There is nothing anyone else can do to cure them. You have to cure them for yourself.”

That message is repeated in the second piece, about a woman unable to tear herself away from her laptop. The computer is taking time away from her husband and child, and she needs help choosing her family over her online life. (It’s a very modern addiction, and one I think many of us can relate to.) Yuuko again handles the problem bluntly, but ultimately, the customer must live with her own choice, day by day.

I’m still a little put off by the references to other CLAMP series in this book. I recognized the two boys from Legal Drug, and the notes in the back helped explain a little of the Tsubasa crossover, but I’m not interested in exploring the wide world of every CLAMP series ever. I just want more stories. (And a good annotation site.)

I know I haven’t talked about the art. I don’t know exactly what to say about it. It may take a while to get used to reading it, given the artists’ fondness for elaborate layered designs done in 2-D black-and-white. I found myself losing track of detail in the complex panels and flipping back pages to see just when a particular design touch had first appeared.

Yuuko’s character design is classic, though, all slinky glamour and long straight black hair. She makes a terrific host for tales of people trying to shake the addictions in their lives.

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