Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Manga review: xxxHolic

I always find it hard to review manga, because all those manga I have read were longer ones. It is much easier to review a single anime season or a single book as a part of series. In longer runs, books/anime/manga introduce new elements to the story, new characters and so on...Then you have to either summarize the plot too much or reveal spoilers.

For example, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" TV series. It has been quite long ago that I watched it, but if I remember correctly, first season or two consist mostly of single episodes (with no connection to others). It is only in later seasons that we are introduced to longer stories, encompassing multiple episodes or even seasons.

Why am I talking about this? Because "xxxHolic" is similar to "Buffy" (or "Angel" and any number of other action series) in that way. Story follows Watanuki Kimihiro, a high-school boy who is living alone, because his parents are dead. And why he is so special that he deserves a manga? Because he is able to see ayakashi, yokai and other paranormal beings that most people are unaware of. More so, he somehow draws these creatures to himself and is often forced to flee from them. This is about to change when he "accidentally" runs into shop run by mysterious Yuuko. She explains him that she is a witch who grants wishes and that only those with a wish are able to come into her shop. More, she is willing to grant him his wish to release him from curse of drawing ghosts to him. As a pay, he will work part-time in her shop after school, as a cleaner and a cook, until he pays of his debt.

His life won't get much peaceful after that. From one side, he will have his hands full with chores at the shop. On the other side, he will often be forced to help Yuuko with granting the wishes, which are mostly paranormal and mystical in nature. Connection with Yuuko and his abilities will also make him something of a "celebrity" in the spirit-world.

In his adventures, he will often be joined with Doumeki Shizuka from his school. Their relationship is quite complicated (and is often used as a source of comical relief). Watanuki can't stand Doumeki from the time of their first encounter and at the sight of him (encouraged by Doumeki's superior attitude toward him) becomes irritated (in comical way), but for some reason, other people think they are best friends. He will have to accept Doumeki as a part of his life when he finds out that Doumeki, even though can't see spirits, have an ability to exorcise them. One of people who think that Watanuki and Doumenki are great friends is Himawari Kunogi. She goes to the same school as the two of them and is also Watanuki's (not-so) secret love. She will also be drawn in Watanuki's supernatural adventures.

As I said, story at first consist of unconnected "episodes", where Watanuki helps Yuuko to grant various customer's wishes, mostly in detective-style, trying to find the source of their misfortune. He (and Doumeki, and in minor way Himawari) will learn more about the spirit world, its strange inhabitants and even more stranger rules. In later episodes, the true story will begin to unravel. And this story is really epic in its scope.

Unfortunately, reader will never learn it complete. That is, if he/she doesn't read "Tsubasa Chronicle". This manga (also adapted to anime as "xxxHolic") is connected with this in some smaller part of the story. But it is actually this minor part that is crucial for understanding events in later parts of the series. It turns out that main characters of "Tsubasa" are "important customers" of Yuuko; even more, main male character from "Tsubasa" has a complicated connection to Watanuki.

All in all, although it sounds confusing (and it is, unless you read both manga), this is actually very nice manga. "Cases" they solve (or wishes they grant) are mysterious and often based on human psychology. This is also very funny manga. Most jokes are based on Watanuki's character and his relationship with Doumeki. Also, it has very complex and detailed world, based on Japanese mythology (though I can't be sure how much of that is "real" mythology and have much have authors imagined themselves). Also, almost every chapter features some original Japanese dish, for those who like food reference (I do).

Main characters, especially Watanuki and Doumeki are great. They are much idealized, but they also have their own weaknesses. Yuuko is very intriguing character; she is also mean sometimes, especially toward Watanuki, which is always funny. Himawari is one of the main characterc, but mostly passive, occasionally giving advice to Watanuki's or serving as his object of love. There is also a lot of side characters, most of them from the spirit world.

Design of characters is unique CLAMP's, meaning unnaturally tall and elongated characters. Everybody looks nice, even the occasional bad guys.

As bad side of series, I would single sometimes confusing dialogs: conversations often wander into metaphysical discussions and have many jumps. And also, separating the stories between two series ("xxxHolic" and "Tsubasa") means you have to read both manga. And if you don't like "Tsubasa" (like I don't), you have a choice to be unaware of some important parts of the plot or to force yourself to read something you don't really like.

In short, very nice manga appropriate for both younger and older audience, also for readers of both genders. It has nice story and funny jokes, interesting world and complex characters. Sometimes a bit confusing, but a good choice if you are looking for intelligent, non-action manga.

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