xxxHOLiC Vol. 4

By CLAMP
200 pages, black and white
Published by Del Rey

When I read the first volume of xxxHOLiC, I liked it but didn’t love it. I was more attracted to the ideas that CLAMP came up with for Watanuki’s missions for the witch Yűko than I was where the series was going in the long term. Now, three volumes later, the makeup of the book has changed a bit… but is it for better or for worse?

Watanuki’s less than pleased. He agreed to work for Yűko in exchange for not having to see spirits and ghosts any more. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to have really made much progress in that area, while Yűko seems to delight in making him do all sorts of chores for her. If that isn’t bad enough, now Yűko keeps bringing popular student Domeki, who’s everything that Watanuki wants to be but isn’t. How can Watanuki ever get Himawara to be interested in him if Domeki’s always around?

The introduction of Domeki several volumes earlier has in many ways changed xxxHOLiC for the better. What seemed like a pretty standard story of a boy learning how to stop an unwanted talent suddenly got much more interesting now that there’s one of the stranger love triangles in comics, thanks to the triangle really only existing in Watanuki’s head. Domeki is in many ways the perfect rival for Watanuki because he really doesn’t mean to be. Domeki is pretty affable about having to help Watanuki out, thanks to Domeki’s own exorcist abilities, and he seems to look at Himawara as little more than a friend. His near-perfection drives Watanuki wonderfully crazy, though, and seeing Watanuki’s increasingly desperate and bizarre behavior around Domeki is the perfect combination of funny and cringe-worthy.

On the supernatural front, CLAMP’s writing in xxxHOLiC both does and doesn’t work for me. The individual stories are still working quite well, with the centerpiece of Volume 4 being two sisters and their relationship with each other. In many ways it’s a story that can have the supernatural elements stripped away entirely and still work just as powerfully, talking about the power of guilt, self-doubt, individuality, and family and the holds they have over us. Some of the smaller stories use elements out of Japanese legends, including mythical creatures such as tengu and zashiki-warashi (both of which are helpfully explained in the glossary at the end of the book, although you really don’t need to know the additional information to enjoy the story), and they work just as well. No, the problem is that CLAMP’s decided to bring to the surface a subplot about how Yűko has planned for all of this to happen with the help of the fabled magician Clow (from CLAMP’s Cardcaptor Sakura series). It’s supposed to intrigue and interest the reader, but instead comes across as forced and unnecessary. The introduction of Domeki to the series suddenly makes the long-term path of the series interesting in its own right; there’s no real need for cryptic hints each volume about Yűko’s secret plans and how Clow is suddenly involved. In some ways, it’s like CLAMP is just trying a little too hard to grab the reader’s attention, when they’d already gotten it in the first place.

I was pleased to see that the art in the latest volume of xxxHOLiC doesn’t feel so cramped and compressed as the first volume did. The panels are much more open here, letting the characters really flourish on the page and look more natural. CLAMP’s art still has a nice level of intricacy, from stylized wafts of smoke curling around the page to an army of fans wielded by the tengu. Best of all, CLAMP’s able to convey a lot of emotion into little moments throughout the book, like a sudden expression of crushing defeat on one of the twins’s faces, or sly amusement in the form of Domeki’s smirk. It’s a much more attractive series than when it began, and I’m really happy to see the art falling into place.

It’s always refreshing to check out a series, like it enough to see more, and then find that each new installment just gets better. There are still some slight missteps in xxxHOLiC, but with so much of the book being stronger now, I’m willing to overlook a cryptic hint every couple of chapters about a subplot I’m not really interested in. For now, xxxHOLiC‘s made an addict out of me.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com

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