By Rachel on October 22, 2008
Alcoholic- someone addicted to alcohol. Workaholic- a person who lives for work. Suga-holic- an individual who can’t be parted from sweets. Put -holic at the end of any word (x) and you get x-addiction.
No matter what anybody says, we’re all addicted to something in life. Be it something as innocuous as kittens and lollipops to more sinister addictions, such as drugs and alcohol, everyone has something they can’t live without having or doing. In CLAMP’s manga turned anime, xxxHolic, people’s bad habits come to frightening light. What’s your xxx-holic?
Ever feel like someone, or something, is watching you? That’s what Kimihiro Watanuki feels, and knows, every day. This eccentric high schooler has been plagued by spirits his entire life, and the poor guy can see them as well as feel them. Unfortunately, Watanuki is pure catnip for ghouls and attracts them in droves.
One day, as Watanuki is being chased by an especially noxious entity, he stumbles into the shop of Yuko Ichihara, a mysterious woman who promises she can put an end to Watanuki’s spirit woes. But there’s a catch to Yuko’s offer- everything given in her shop must be paid with something of equal value, and Watanuki must pony up payment by working for her part-time.
Keeping house for Yuko involves much more than just airing out the rugs or dusting the mantle. Watanuki must also play cook as well as maid for Yuko, and he must cater to her alcohol and snack cravings as well as cleaning the shop. That and avoid all the magical objects and creatures roaming about Yuko’s place, which alway seem to latch onto Watanuki.
Watanuki’s days, and nights, are filled with more paranormal happenings than ever before, but at least he has his crush, Himawari Kunogi, and his quasi-rival cum casual buddy, Shizuka Domeki, to keep him company. Watanuki puts life and limb on the line to fulfill his end of Yuko’s bargain. Will he ever see a day without ghouls or is his destiny more entwined with the spirit world than he knows?
In xxxHolic, people’s bad social habits come back to infect them in a physical way via the spiritual world. Yuko acts as mystic counselor to those wanting to ditch their lingering problems. But Yuko’s advice can come with a hefty price to those who aren’t willing to give up their habits easily.
It’s entertaining to watch as Watanuki struggles in his own way to help out the shop’s customers, but even more entertaining is how Yuko tells these same customers to help themselves. The episodes center around these visits to the shop by both humans and spirits alike.
xxxHolic is an honest anime which details the life of a haunted, but altruistic teen trying to untangle the meaning of his relationship to spirits and the world. The episodes connect on an emotional level by grasping basic human sentiments and tugging relentlessly. You know that feeling you get when you watch someone close lose something precious? Tug. Remember when you met your first real friend? When you lost them? Tug, tug. How’s about that time you realized you were alone in the world? Yank! xxxHolic is more than just an anime about a wacky, over-stimulated teen with physic powers. The true charm of xxxHolic is its complex nature as an entertaining and emotional drama laced with moral lessons and the paranormal.
There’s also a hefty amount of traditional Japanese folklore and cuisine references throughout the series. While anime isn’t the best place to learn about Japan’s bountiful culture, it represents a starting point for newbies and seasoned fans alike. The culinary references in the series are a real bonus for someone into the native cuisine. Keep your eyes and ears peered for a taste of Japan hidden in the series!
The pacing for the series was good overall, but a little slow in some episodes. It seemed as if almost every other volume had one episode that meandered around and made little to no sense. Out of twenty four episodes, three were worth skipping while all the rest were must-sees.
Episodes of the series had a slightly repetitive feel, but not one large enough to detract from the story. The repetition presented itself with Yuko handing out help to those looking for it. However, the story moved forward in each episode in the way of story and character development by highlighting how Watanuki reacts to these new clients. His interactions with the spirits and humans around him are the main plot line, but in the peripheries are moral lessons about self-reliance and addiction to bad social habits. It’s not a formula for non-stop, go-go action, but the mixing of traditional Japanese mysticism, teen angst, moral dilemmas and self-discovery are more than enough to entertain.
The anime did a great job connecting people with the characters:
Watanuki is an oddball who gets worked up over the most minute instances, yet is a stalwart friend and all-around good guy. He can get a bit annoying when he screams and hops around whenever Domeki makes an appearance, but turning on the Japanese audio seems to dampen that significantly. Throughout the anime Watanuki is built up and rounded out until we get a good sense of who he really is. His character is the most straight forward and likable. He has nothing to hide and is an honest and decent human being. Watamuki is a character many people can connect with.
Domeki is more a mysterious and intriguing guy. Not much background is offered up as to who he is, except in odd instances when he brings up his grandfather. He doesn’t say much in the series and is more of a doer than a thinker.
Yuko is a fantastic character, filled with girlish antics and a profound fashion sense. She’s a contradiction of sorts- what with her heavy drinking, smoking and eating, she’s the last person who should give advice on kicking harmful habits. Yet when it comes down to it, she’s a serious practitioner of her art and the anime paints her in a complex light.
The cast is an all-around good set of characters who play well off each others personalities.
Designs for xxxHolic come from the manga and are exquisitely unique. Characters are drawn in an overly-elongated fashion, with long arms, spindly legs and almost grotesquely lengthy necks. Over exaggeration is used in defining xxxHolic’s cast, and the effect is shocking at first. After an episode or two, the fantastic designs blend with the spiritual themes of the story and become another part of the storytelling.
An interesting design element are the blank people populating the anime. Masses of unknown and inconsequential people are drawn as delineated white outlines. Most of the time only main and secondary characters are fully drawn and detailed. The blank people give the anime a feel that the material world is an empty and meaningless place.
Yuko is given the star treatment in the anime and is drawn with a new hair-do and wardrobe for every episode. Her fashion sense adds a touch of high style at odds with her ancient profession. It adds more contrast to Yuko’s character.
xxxHolic takes place in modern Japan, but most of the the spirits’ designs are straight from feudal legends. From the kimono-clad kitsune, to the long-haired female apparitions, many of the paranormal characters are modeled after Japan’s rich spiritual past. The exceptions are the gothic lolita rain sprite and a few others, which are nonetheless, evocative of Japan.
Production IG, the studio behind xxxHolic, did an average job with the animation. The anime had a grainy, unfocused feel, which wasn’t completely out of place with the otherwordly nature of the series, but still felt sub par in places. Some scenes could have been drawn better than they were, and the the series deserved better animation than what it received. xxxHolic didn’t look so much as an anime than characters from a manga that were cut, propped and shot.
19-sai, the opening theme by Sugo Shikao, is a perfect fit for the anime and is good song in itself. It has a bit of an underground feel along with mainstream appeal. I’m reminded of My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult by the first strains of the song. Anyone familiar with the band would agree their supernatural themes and riffs are a good match to an anime about the same.
The ending for the first half of the season is a slightly sassy number called, Reason, by Fonogenico. It’s soft, with a bit of a beat. The second half of the season closes with Kagerou by BUCK-TICK. Kagerou is straight up rock and has some great vocals reminiscent of enka. The two songs are apropos EDs for the anime.
Both the English and Japanese voice casts are well done, with the Japanese being somewhat better. Yuko’s English voice actress, Colleen Clinkenbeard, nailed Yuko’s lazy airs. Some people may find Kimihiro’s character annoying in English. If that happens, switch to Japanese.
xxxHolic has a lot going for it as a series- charm, sincerity, magic, drama and the odd bit of hilarity. The anime takes great plot, blends it with strong storytelling, adds a generous dash of Japanese culture and mixes it all with a stylistic twist. It’s a recipe that spells win for the first season of this enchanting drama.
xxxHloic, Season One gets 4 outta 5 Hammies!
- Publisher: Funimation
- Release Date: March 25, 2008- October 21, 2008
- Retail Price: $29.98
- Run Time: 100 minutes
- Rating: TV-PG
- Language: English, Japanese
- Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
- Format: Animated, Color, Dolby, DVD-Video, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen