xxxHOLiC Book 1

Illustrating the oddities of interpretation and the passage of time…

This is the second time I’ve tried reading 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.

xxxHOLiC Book 1 cover
xxxHOLiC Book 1
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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.

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.

13 Comments

  1. Johanna, I’m glad that you gave this series a second chance. I love everything about the book, especially the artwork. The color pages are luxurious. The details are wonderful and really contribute to the mystical air of the work. The smoke from Yuko’s pipe doesn’t just rise straight up, it slithers and meanders with a life of its own. The character designs make everyone seem ethereal and slightly surreal. I’m reminded of Ditko’s work on Dr. Strange and how he could evoke this wonderful sense of otherworldliness. I think it is rare for comics really give a sense of the occult and still keep the work connected to the mundane. Mokona is incredibly cute and a great comic relief. Plus, he can drink his weight in sake!

    I think the series is really about Watanuki’s growth and maturity. He has a lot to learn about himself, life and the spiritual world. I’m very interested in what the final outcome of his apprecitship with Yuko will be. He wish is never to see the spiritual reality again. I wonder if Yuko will really honor his wish or show him the true potential of his ability. Especially since he is learning that everyone is affected by spiritual side of life whether they acknowledge it or not. So he can’t escape the effects of spiritual things by not being able to see them.

    (Now if I could just get you to re-read Land of the Blindfolded)

  2. [...] Reviews: Johanna at Comics Worth Reading re-reads xxxHOLiC and likes it better the second time around. At AoD, Jarred reviews Mitsukazu Mihara’s RIP. David Welsh likes volume 2 of Omukae Desu. [...]

  3. Color pages? I have no color pages. Perhaps that was only the first printing (which is a terrible decision on the publisher’s part, to change the extras based on reprinting).

    The Dr. Strange comparison is great, and you have a wonderful description of that part of the series’ appeal.

  4. [...] So much for the hope raised by the first book. Book 2 emphasizes everything I disliked and eliminates what I liked. [...]

  5. I loved everything about the book (especially the atrwork) and i am trying to find somewhere that sells them…..does anyone know anywhere???

  6. Use the “buy this book” in the post above to order it from Amazon.com.

  7. [...] Inspector is an enjoyable supernatural manga. It’s similar in style to Xxxholic, Nightmares for Sale, or Antique Gift Shop. The book has seven chapters, each composed of a [...]

  8. Dark Humor. Clamp takes something dark, and lightens it a bit with cute scene’s and references of other books for fun. But the book also had scenes that get serious and gives the readers more variety.

  9. [...] because some of the things I’ve said here have appeared in the comments sections to Johanna’s reviews of previous volumes. [...]

  10. I’m so glad that you gave this another try. I just love this series, and it was the one that really pulled me into loving manga of all kinds.

  11. [...] surprising how similar the opening pages of this book are to the opening pages of xxxHolic. Both series begin with a high school boy being chased by spirits that only he can see. The [...]

  12. [...] and bring peace to a variety of “clients”, may remind readers of CLAMP’s later xxxHoLiC, only without the all-knowing [...]

  13. […] never totally succumbed to the first xxxHOLiC series, but CLAMP (Legal Drug, Chobits) has its fans, and Ed always recommended the […]

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