xxxHOLiC Vol. 8

192 pages, black and white
Published by Del Rey

In an ongoing serial comic, it’s easy for creators to take the easy route, keeping the status quo from one installment to the next and no real lasting effects shaking out. In some ways that’s part of what helps xxxHOLiC stand out so much for me; not only are the individual stories that make up the book interesting, but the book’s characters continue to grow and change in interesting ways.

Kimihiro Watanuki’s had better days. He recently lost one of his eyes to a supernatural spider, something that would certainly qualify as a really bad event in his life. Now a spirit that’s in love with Watanuki is trying to rescue his eye from the spirit world, only to get captured herself—and Watanuki has no choice but to enter the spirit world himself to try and rescue them both.

At a glance, xxxHOLiC seems like a pretty standard horror-anthology-as-series set-up; people coming to a magical shop to get wishes granted, only to have their real desires and motivations revealed over time. What makes xxxHOLiC different, though, is that there’s a real progression from one volume to the next. The Watanuki from the first couple of volumes was a scared, skittish student ready to do anything to be rid of everything supernatural from his life. Eight volumes in, things are dramatically different. Watanuki’s a stronger individual, willingly risking his life to try and rescue the Zashiki-Warashi spirit, with his own potential gains secondary. At the same time, though, it’s still shown that Watanuki has a lot to learn as part of his servitude to the space-time witch Yűko. His being lectured on his own feelings of worthlessness while in the spirit world is a strong turning point for the character, showing which aspects of Watanuki’s character are still vulnerable and need growth even amidst everything that he’s improved on.

Perhaps even more importantly, CLAMP took a route in this latest volume of xxxHOLiC that looks to have one of two possible conclusions: a big reset button to a recent development, or a big fake-out for the readers. The end result is instead neither of these, providing something even more satisfying and long-reaching than either predictable solution. That’s what is one of the best things about xxxHOLiC; every time you begin to grow complacent, CLAMP offers up a surprise to keep things moving. It’s a situation which is rare in just about any form of fiction these days, and doubly so when handled in a manner that never feels like twist endings are being thrown in merely for the sake of being a twist. Each surprise in xxxHOLiC makes perfect sense, and that’s what really holds the entire series together.

The art in xxxHOLiC is up to CLAMP’s high standards that they’ve established for the look of this book. It’s a crisp, elegant style, with stark black and white images that stand out the page. This is helped with the curving, flowing nature of some of the art, especially the ever-present trails of smoke, or Yűko’s hair. Each page is a composition in its own right, made to stand on its own as something to admire and appreciate. Best of all, though, is how well movement is shown on the page. You can almost see the fox spirit slither and slide its way across the page, for instance; it’s the posture that CLAMP draws their characters in that denotes movement so well. For a book that’s not big on action sequences, xxxHOLiC manages to still always bring a real sense of motion to its pages.

Eight volumes in, xxxHOLiC has not only failed to grow old, but continually improves and refines itself. Any early missteps and worries I had about the series are long gone now, and while it doesn’t seem to share quite the same popularity as their other ongoing series Tsubasa, I think it’s the one that everyone should really be paying attention to. Bewitching and enchanting, xxxHOLiC has me craving my next fix. All addictions should be this good.

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