by CLAMP; adapted by William Flanagan
published by Del Rey Manga; $10.95 US
Review by Ed Sizemore
Watanuki can perceive the spiritual realities around us. Spiritual beings know he can see them, and the malevolent ones desire to kill him and take his spiritual energy. Yuko owns a shop that grants wishes — for a price. Watanuki wants to get rid of his extrasensory perception. He agrees to work for Yuko as an errand boy until he has earned enough to pay for his wish. (He has yet to figure out that Yuko has really made him her apprentice.)
Volume twelve is a powerful installment in this series. Watanuki’s maturation has always been the emotional core of this series, and this volume pays particular attention to how far Watanuki has grown. When we first met Watanuki, he was selfish, self-centered, but not very self-aware. In part, this was because he was orphaned young and always had to fend for himself. These traits may have served him well as a young boy living on his own, but now he needs to abandon these bad habits to mature into adulthood.
Watanuki has changed over the course of the past eleven volumes. It’s been a painfully slow metamorphosis. He was forced to realize that there are people around him who truly care for him and are willing to put themselves in harm’s way on his behalf. (Domeki being the prime example here.) He has begun to reach out to other people and care about them. (Such as befriending the child psychic, Kohane.) He’s also had to look inside himself and be honest with who he is and who he wants to be. It’s never been easy watching him struggle to come out of his shell and wake up to the world around him, but it’s always been rewarding. It appears that Watanuki has even begun to mature past Yuko’s own expectations, as he now wants to be able to grant her any wish she desires.
Through various circumstances, Watanuki’s spiritual powers have also grown over the course of the series. Here, Watanuki is having problems controlling his powers. He keeps slipping in between our mundane reality and the dream realm (not just a place of nighttime fantasies, but a nexus for the many realities of the XxxHOLiC universe). He can be tying his shoes or walking down the road and instantly find himself in a dream. In addition, the dream realm has become just as vivid and tangible as our own world. Watanuki is starting to have problems telling when something happens in a dream and when it happens in real life. He’s experiencing existential vertigo and doesn’t know what to do. CLAMP does a marvelous job of telling the story from Watanuki’s perspective so that as readers, we find ourselves just as off balance and confused as him. The book ends with a cliffhanger as we have to wait to see if there is a resolution to this problem.
I love XxxHOLiC. Of the currently running manga, this is, hands down, my favorite. I confess to being completely emotionally invested in the series. CLAMP has created wonderful characters and a rich fascinating universe. I find Watanuki and his transformation compelling. I want to see the man he becomes and how that man will affect the world. Domeki is equally gripping. He has the spiritual powers of an exorcist, but not the ability to see spirits. He has a quiet and disciplined demeanor that never lets you know what he’s thinking. He’s been Watanuki’s rescuer several times in the series.
Then there is Yuko, ah, Yuko. She is one of the most powerful sorcerers in the universe and yet still down to earth. She can be a glutton, a lush, a creator of new gods, or a wise counselor. She has the wonderful sensuality of a Hollywood femme fatale from the 30’s and 40’s. It’s no secret I have a crush on her. Finally, Mokona, who looks like a black rice ball with rabbit ears. He’s incredibly cute, a great comic relief, and cares deeply for everyone. Plus, he can drink his weight in sake!
The artwork is sublime. The regular pages are pure black and white with no use of tones or crosshatching. To create grayscale, Clamp uses parallel lines and adjusts the density for the desired shading. The color pages are luxurious. I’ve always felt Ditko’s Dr. Strange was the only comic to perfectly evoke a sense of mysticism and otherworldliness. I didn’t believe that anyone else would every live up to his genius. XxxHOLiC is the only comic I would call equal to the artwork of Dr. Strange. It’s the details that bring to life the mystical air of the manga. The smoke from Yuko’s pipe doesn’t just rise straight up, it slithers and meanders with a mind of its own. The characters are elongated and slim, which makes everyone seem ethereal and slightly surreal. I find that I have to read each book twice. Once for the storyline and once to look at the art. I get lost in both so easily with this series.
There is a misconception among some people that you have to read Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles in order to understand XxxHOLiC and vice versa. That’s simply false. I haven’t been following Tsubasa and I’ve had no problems so far. Initially, I did read the two series together, but found very little crossover. Any information in Tsubasa that I’ve needed was always supplied in XxxHOLiC. CLAMP are too consciousness as craftswomen to make readers go to another manga series to understand the one they’re following. (Marvel and DC editors might want to take notes here.)
Good occult comics are hard to come by and XxxHOLiC ranks among the best. CLAMP have proven time and again they are master storytellers. XxxHOLiC is further proof of how meticulously they craft every aspect of a manga. This is one of few comics I would call perfect. Mysticism is not everyone’s cup of tea. Still, I recommend everyone pick up at least one volume of this series to experience the comic art form at its best.
(If some of these remarks sound familiar, it’s because some of the things I’ve said here have appeared in the comments sections to Johanna’s reviews of previous volumes. A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)