xxxHOLiC Vol. 1

216 pages, black and white
Published by Del Rey

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—I never have the slightest idea what I’m getting into with a new book from CLAMP. The four-woman creator collective’s books range in style and story wildly, and with four different possible creators that could be taking the lead role, there’s a number of possible outcomes. With one of their three series currently running in Japan, xxxHOLiC, I knew the contents would be a surprise. The only real question was, a good surprise or a bad one?

Watanuki Kimihiro’s had better days. He’s pursued by spirits that only he can see, and they’re starting to drive him crazy. When he stumbles into the witch Yuko’s store, he thinks he’s finally found a way to escape the ghosts that follow him everywhere… but was being her unpaid assistant really the right answer? And as Yuko’s other clients appear, Watanuki quickly discovers that Yuko’s help is anything but orthodox.

CLAMP’s writing for xxxHOLiC brings to mind shows like The Twilight Zone and Outer Limits, with lots of small, intricate little puzzles of problems for Yuko and Watanuki to solve. The woman whose lies are slowly paralyzing her, or the computer addict that just can’t give up being online. They’re short little interludes that both act as a story-within-a-story, and as part of a greater whole as we learn how Yuko “helps” people. In many ways Yuko’s presence doesn’t so much solve people’s problems as it accelerates them, both for good or for ill. I appreciated that a great deal, with a mystical book ultimately not magically solving people’s problems but forcing the victim to solve it for themselves, if they can. Based on that it’s easy to see how Watanuki’s assisting Yuko will help solve his problem of seeing ghosts and the series will end, but in some ways knowing the eventual conclusion of the series is a good thing. It lets you not concentrate so much on what the destination will be, and more on the journey there. Maybe it’s just me, but I find the latter a far more interesting prospect for xxxHOLiC.

The art in xxxHOLiC is a strange cross between what I do and do not like in other books drawn by CLAMP. The pages vary startlingly from too much to not enough detail; with thin ink lines covering the pages in a jumble one moment, to a background-free, stark image the next. Everyone in xxxHOLiC is tall and lanky, to the point that you start wishing people would eat a cheeseburger. But that’s not to say that I hated all of the art, mind you. When it all comes together, you get great images like the woman with the cloud of her lies enveloping her, or a simple but near-perfect image of a shop clerk looking for a hangover remedy. It drives me a little crazy because just when I’m enjoying the art again, it suddenly shifts into the style that I’m not so fond of. After the expansive, graceful art of Suki, it’s disappointing to see a CLAMP book get near-claustrophobic with the approach to the art style.

In the end, xxxHOLiC‘s strengths far outweigh its weaknesses. If the “strange problem that needs to be solved” formula keeps giving fresh and original plots and resolutions, xxxHOLiC will be a definite hit. As a non-CLAMP fanatic, I did appreciate the footnotes in the back of the book that explained the links between this series and the others, although I do hope they stay minimal once the crossover with Tsubasa in volume two is over. For now, though, I’m giving xxxHOLiC a hopeful thumbs up… Just please don’t ask me what the title of xxxHOLiC has to do with the book itself. I’m completely oblivious as to the connection, but hopefully that’ll surface before too much longer!

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3 comments to xxxHOLiC Vol. 1

  • Rachel

    The title xxxholic refers to : the xxx’s in the title mean different things in america and japan in the original Japanese title, they are not letters at all but multiplication signs, which can resemble either small or capital X’s depending on the font they are viewed in. In Japan, this character is used to indicate a relationship or crossover between things, while in the west an ‘x’ is traditionally used to represent something unknown or omitted.
    And as for the holic part ‘HOLiC’ refers to the unhealthy habits, addictions and compulsions etc. that Yűko’s customers suffer from.

  • Gabriel

    Interesting Rachel, but you skipped over the most used relation of XXX in the west. XXX means pornography. It was the rating denominating adult material. Well, the porn industry instantly jumped on that and plaster triple X’s onto anything with a naked person. The harder and more disturbing the adult material, the more XXX’s they put onthe box.

    I certainly hope they change the title for the west. Otherwise, lazy employees are likely to relegate it to the behind-the-count adult section at the local comic store.

  • i believe the name ‘xxxholic’ refers to the fact that everyone is addicted to something, which is the basis of the wishes made in the manga. so “xxx” just means a blank, like fill-in-the-space. the equivalent would be naming the manga “___holic.”