- Titles: XXX ホリック; xxxHolic
- Genre: Psychological Slice of Life, comedy drama, supernatural, school
- Episodes: 24
- Studio: Production I.G
Watanuki is a young man who can see Yokai. All his life this has been his blessing and his curse. But after losing his parents at a young age, this gift is starting to weigh even more on him. For people are not meant to intrude in the world of spirits and those who do, rarely lead happy lives. But something is about to change. For the first time, Watanuki is finding himself surrounded by people who can understand him. The pretty Himawari may not see spirits but she’s optimistic and lighthearted and believes Watanuki entirely. As for Doumeki, as the grandson of a priest, he holds some power over the supernatural. And Watanuki may even have found a mentor. Someone who knows a lot more about this world and holds more power. Someone who could protect him, even if they only seem to care about food and booze. Wait, where have I heard this description before?
Some of you may not know this, it predates my blog by quite some time, but I use to be quite the CLAMP fangirl. Somehow I missed out on Cardcaptor Sakura when it aired, not sure it was airing where I was living, but Chobits and X1999 was my jam! And I sort of really fell into whatever the group was putting out. I still have an old French-language volume 1 of xxxHOLiC. I was a tad too young to really appreciate it but I still liked it. It’s only due to circumstances and lack of availability that I didn’t get a chance to watch the anime until now.
CLAMP productions usually have an “aesthetic”. Sakura s probably the least visually striking as it was marketed towards a much wider audience. however most CLAMP-based anime have a specific look to them. And I don’t mean a signature look. They all look different! I mean that CLAMP based anime is usually very visually striking and unusual. Potentially none more so than xxxHOLiC.
I wonder why that is. I own several CLAMP manga including a lot of xxxHOLiC and although the anime designs are definitely based on the manga, the exaggerations and unusual visuals are anime original. Is it the story that inspires the animators to try things out? Maybe. Maybe CLAMP themselves have an influence.
In any case, xxxHOLiC is a unique looking show. You can see it in the screencaps. The designs are angular and mostly the limb length is exaggerated to the point of parody. It is forcefully unrealistic looking. And although the series does start to show it’s age a bit, especially in the colours, I nevertheless found myself enamoured by just how stylish it looked. You can see the artistic flair and I loved it.
The animation is decent, I would have appreciated some more chances in that regard as well but I was very happy with what I had. Out of curiosity I watched both subbed and dubbed episodes. This is one of the rare shows where I can’t recommend one over the other. Both were really good. It sounded like the English actors were very familiar with their characters and the material. Maybe the director made them read the entire series before starting. In any case, it’s one of my frequent gripes with performances so I really appreciate and the English cast here.
For those of you that didn’t pick up on it, the base premise and even cast is more or less identical to Natsume’s Book of Friends. Somehow I had forgotten that and it really struck me while I was watching. For the record, both mangas started publishing at more or less the same time. Freaky.
You figure this could go one of two ways for me. After all, I’m not exactly shy about how much I love Natsume’s Book of Friends. So watching another show that has so many similarities would either make me love it by association or unfairly dislike it for not living up to the comparison. Except it didn’t do either. Even with all my heavy predisposition towards Natsume, xxxHOLiC managed to be its own thing to the point that I couldn’t really compare the two in any way.
For one, Watanuki is no Natsume and vice versa. In general, xxxHOLiC is much more of a comedy and that shows through the characters as well. For all his hardships, Watanuki is a generally well adjusted (if a little quick to anger) young man. He makes friends, he has plans and hopes and dreams. And he has rivals. Which is important.
Accordingly, his friends are also more sarcastic and playful. Although, Yuuko and Nyanko are pretty much interchangeable personality-wise. I’m not complaining. I want every show to have a super sarcastic, drunk parent figure.
But aside from the tone and the mood of xxxHOLiC, it also is very different in themes. I said I wasn’t comparing xxxHOLiC to Natsume and it’s all I’m doing in this post. It’s just that it’s the easiest way for me to explain. OK, no more of this, let’s start things over.
xxxHOLiC is kind of a weird title. OK, I’ll be straight with you, I thought it sounded a little dumb. That doesn’t mean anything. Psycho Pass is one of my favourite anime and I thought that title sounded a bit dumb too. Like a highschool stoner parody’s idea of something that sounds so dark and epic!
But that title actually has a strong connection to the themes of the story. Well maybe not the xxx part, I’m not quite sure what that’s about. Maybe it’s xxx as in fill in the blank rather than xxx-rated. In any case, at its core xxxHOLiC actually deals with addictions and compulsions (and how they are more or less the same).
That’s a somewhat unexpected central theme. You see, the narrative is set up as completely episodic. I haven’t read the mangas I recently ordered yet, so this may not be the case there. In the anime, however, every week Watanuki and Yuuko are confronted by a different Yokai that’s causing trouble either to an outside person or to one of them. And invariably, those Yokai represent some form of addiction, or to put it in Yuuko’s words “a bad habit”.
Sometimes these additions are fairly recognizable as such. One can’t get off the internet, another can’t seem to stop lying about her life, yet another is a serial cheater. It’s pretty much all women for some reason. They don’t really go into substance abuse but I guess that would be ironic. Having Yuuko lecture and help drug addicts while she drunk pretty much every other episode.
Other addictions are more insidious, those are the more interesting ones to illustrate in anime form, I find. After losing his parents and being isolated due to his gift, Watanuki compulsively refuses to ask for help. He has difficulty depending on others due to his fear of abandonment. He rather not be disappointed so he does everything himself. It’s become an addiction that makes his life worse. There are characters that can’t seem to say no when asked for favours and characters that just want to succeed in school or life. All of these can become harmful when taken to the extreme, and this is where this series comes in.
And that’s it really. There’s few if any arc. Episodes 22 and 23 were a particularly sorrowful look at just how much Watanuki is willing to sacrifice for a semblance of family. It was tongue in cheek and devastating. I noticed only when he was back to normal that I had missed him terribly. But otherwise, all the stories are unconnected and resolved within a single episode. And sometimes, there is no happy ending.
And I loved xxxHOLiC. It’s not for everyone. It has a strong underlying moral core and if you disagree with the messaging, it’s probably going to feel unpleasantly preachy at times. However, it also does give a lot of importance to personal choices. And it’s also kind of odd. The characters veer into caricature at times. Partly out of narrative necessity but also partly out of artistic choice. They are clearly supposed to be facets rather than entire people. A lot of mysteries don’t get resolved. Occasionally bad things happen to good people and stay bad, and bad people go unpunished. That’s just the way it goes sometimes.
After all of this, I still don’t know how to clearly describe this. xxxHOLiC is an old school anime that scoffs at expectations. Since it’s the type of show you can pick up and put down whenever I would recommend watching an episode or two to see if you like it. Cause if you do, there’s not that many anime out there that have quite the same effect.
As for me, I liked it a whole lot. In fact, started buying up the omnibus collection of the manga before even finishing the series. I’m sad I can’t seem to find the sequel Kei anywhere but I will buy it in manga form! Here are a few unrelated manga impressions for you. The omnibus editions which collect 3 volumes in single tomes are useful and easier to collect but the single volumes are way prettier and not that much more expensive. Had I known, I would have opted single volume instead of the omnibus.
Favourite character: Zashiki-warashi. Sometimes I gravitate towards small supporting characters because I don’t like the main cast. This is not one of these times. I liked a lot of the characters…uh…a lot. I just found Zashiki-warashi really lovely and I was super happy whenever she had a role.
Suggested drink: a Seer
- Every time the shop gets a confused customer – take a sip
- Every time Yuuko has a new FABULOUS outfit – be jealous
- Every time Watanuki goes crazy for Himawari – awwww
- Every time Watanuki prepares refreshments or snacks – get some snacks
- Every time Watanuki loses his temper – switch to cool water
- Every time Yuuko is having a drink – join her
- Every time Doumeki is just too cool – it’s probably just luck
- Every time the twins are in synch – shiver
- Every time any lady has a bad habit – take a sip
- Every time Doumeki smiles – take a big sip, you could probably finish your drink
- Every time Yuuko suffers – take the hint
- Every time Watanuki saves Doumeki – be amazed
- Every time Himawari sparkles – take a sip
- Every time we see the pipefox – take a small sip
- Every time there’s a butterfly pattern – take a sip and notice that it’s related to Yuuko. Butterflies are also related to death, so there’s that.
- Every time Doumeki appears out of nowhere – take a sip
In case you’re new here, I have a Pinterest with all my screencaps (there are a lot!). If you can’t find a show you are looking for in my main boards, just go to Anime Screenshots. I move the shows I have reviewed there. Of course, I’m still going to add a few images here!