xxxHolic Vol. 16

192 pages, black and white
Published by Del Rey

What do you do when your comic book series is past its expiration date but you want it to move on anyway? That’s a dilemma that the manga collective CLAMP had to deal with when it came to xxxHolic, a series about a mysterious shop that granted wishes that was also designed to run parallel to their other title Tsubasa. With the end of Tsubasa (the last volume of which hit bookstores this month), that should have been the end of xxxHolic too. Except it hasn’t, perhaps because CLAMP had become too fond of it, or perhaps simply because they had too good an idea to let it go. And the end result? It’s one of the stranger volumes of the series to date.

Up until now, the basic conceit of xxxHolic was fairly simple to follow. Our protagonist, Watanuki, works for the self-proclaimed space/time witch Yuko in her shop, where wishes of a supernatural nature were granted. Now that Yuko is gone, Watanuki has gone from employee to owner of the shop, fumbling his way through Yuko’s role even as he swears that he will never leave the shop (and in doing so has become immortal) until she somehow, impossibly, returns. It’s an interesting setup, pushing several of the characters up one rung on the ladder. Watanuki becomes Yuko, while Watanuki’s friend/rival Domeki is now inhabiting part of the role that Watanuki had in the earlier 15 volumes of the comic. Strictly from a plotting standpoint, things are slightly different now, of course. Watanuki doesn’t have the depth of knowledge or magical power that Yuko possessed, and his solutions look to be more trial-and-error (just like they were when he was just the assistant rather than the master) than Yuko’s ever were.

More importantly, though, CLAMP chose here to accelerate through several years rather quickly, jumping ahead to a point in time where in theory Watanuki is more accustomed to his role and position. It’s an interesting choice but one that I’m not entirely sure works. I appreciated that we didn’t get 200 pages of Watanuki saying, "Hmm, what does this do?" Still, there seems a lot of indecision going on even with the jump forward in time, and rather being able to hit the ground running the book moves remarkably slow. It doesn’t help matters that by removing Yuko and Himawari from the book, there are less characters to bounce ideas and situations off of; it’s a strange shift. There’s a lot of promise behind Yuko getting removed from the book, essentially taking away the safety net from Watanuki, but right now this doesn’t feel like it feels entirely confident in its own new direction.

I do still like the art of xxxHolic, with its elaborate sweeping lines and character designs. Thankfully CLAMP quickly put aside the idea of having Watanuki wear Yuko’s robes (it’s initially funny, then just slightly tiresome), and shifts back to the more familiar looks of the characters. There are a lot of great small moments throughout the art, like the sidelong glances that Domeki shoots Watanuki, and the languid curls of smoke that were such a trademark of Yuko are thankfully still present. And when the book enters the climax of the first new case for Watanuki, and the background goes dark? It’s a gorgeous sequence of pages, from the flowers tumbling across the panel, to the slowly shattering kimono. Honestly, so long as xxxHolic looks this good, I’ll keep reading.

In Japan, there are two additional volumes of xxxHolic already collected as of the time of this review’s publication. It’s just odd timing that this volume of xxxHolic ended up being the last one published by Del Rey Manga, with their licenses coming to an end on November 30. Some of Del Rey’s books will continue on from Kodansha USA, although so far no official release schedules (or word on which titles will still be published) are released. Hopefully this won’t be where xxxHolic ends for many of its readers and we’ll see more volumes before too long, if only to see whether or not CLAMP’s stories began to show a little more confidence and oomph that the earlier volumes contained. This is a new setup that could work, but we’re going to need more time to see if that actually happens or not.

Purchase Links: | Powell’s Books

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