A Review of “xxxHolic” – Wish Granting Wisdom

Continuing on with our theme of spooky anime, we’re going to take a look at a work straight from the women of CLAMP. “xxxHolic” is one of those shows that is deliciously creepy and spooky without being overtly so. “xxxHolic” strikes a balance of comedy, spookiness, mysticism, and, in a way, coming of age. Just how well does it accomplish its goals? Does the freakishly long-limbed animation put off before it even gets started? Well, step into my shop dear friends, and I shall grant your wish for knowledge.

Warnings and Notable Objectionable Content – Despite its name, “xxxHolic” is a clean series. No sexuality, nudity, violence or foul language here. I would clear this series for anyone up and over the age of 12.

Series Availability – Funimation Entertainment, in a familiar trend of recent, has re-released “xxxHolic” in a S.A.V.E Complete Collection set with reversible sleeve. Major anime retailers like Best Buy, and FYE should have it available in both brick and mortar stores and online. The series is also available for streaming VIA Netflix and YouTube by way of the Funimation page.

Story Premise – “xxxHolic” is a 24 episode series based off a manga by CLAMP. This series follows our main character, Kimihiro Watanuki, your typical high school student, who was orphaned at a young age. Watanuki has the unusual ability to see supernatural spirits and ghosts, who just so happen to find him irresistible and follow him constantly. One day, after a particularly antagonizing haunting, Watanuki finds himself at the residence/business of Yuko Ichihara, a mysterious woman who claims she has the ability to grant any wish, so long as proper payment is given in return. [Almost reminds me of “Fullmetal Alchemist”…in fact, Yuko uses the exact quote Alphonse Elric uses in the opening sequence for the first “Fullmetal Alchemist” series”] Though skeptical, Watanuki decides to try it by wishing he were no longer plagued by the spooks and demons. Mysteriously, Yuko is able to grant the wish, but the payment in turn is that Watanuki works in Yuko’s shop to equate the value of the wish. Reluctantly, Watanuki capitulates and begins working in Yuko’s shop after school; preparing her meals [and booze], cleaning her massive stock room, and running various errands for her. Throughout this time Watanuki learns about the mystical world he has found himself involved in; a world where what was once considered fantasy, fiction, and folk tales has evoloved into the possible, permeable, and pertinent. Each episode brings about a new person or a new situation requiring Yuko’s intervention and requiring Watanuki to expand his mind and evolve his ways of thinking. Overall, I LOVE the story that “xxxHolic” tells. While it’s easy to discount this story for being episodic, it’s the story that is told throughout each episode that makes “xxxHolic” interesting. It’s like hearing 24 ghost stories using the same cast of characters. In a way, it reminds me a bit of “Mushi-Shi” with its story telling style; Character “X” comes to Yuko with a problem or a wish, Yuko drags Watanuki along [albeit reluctantly…], Yuko accesses the issue, completes the clients wish, accepts payment and some kind of way, Watanuki winds up learning something that expands his character. The underlying plot of the story is changing and evolving and it is subtly enforced with the use of butterflies throughout.  It’s a fascinating and enjoyable story to watch, straddling the line between comedy, drama, and spookiness perfectly. The ending is passable, considering that there is a second series that never got released by Funimation Entertainment, but even if you had no idea about the second season, viewers can still find some kind of satisfaction with how the story ends. [25/25]

Favorite Episode – I have to admit, I love episode 5 “Game of Letters”. Not only is it a great story and the little fox is just so freaking cute, but this episode actually taught me how to play Shiritori! I also have to select this scene from a follow up episode if for no other reason than to hear Watanuki spaz out while Domeki just stands there deadpan. This is why Todd Habberkorn rocks.

Characters – Our male lead, Kimihiro Watanuki, is a unique person. Sadly, he lost his parents at a young age, causing him to live alone in an apartment and become, more or less, self-sufficient. In addition, for some mysterious reason, he seems to be a magnet for ghosts and spirits and they tend to follow him wherever he happens to be. For what it’s worth, Watanuki is a strong guy and there’s little to no trace of emo, though he has every right to be. Considering the hardships and difficulties in his life, Watanuki is remarkably normal…even a spazzy dork at times when it comes to love interest Himawari. Our female lead, Yuko Ichihara, is the prime definition of “femme fatale”. Though, that might be a little unfair, as Yuko is an overall good character, and one could argue that she’s probably one of the more honest characters in the entire show. She’s not one to sugar coat, and she is in sharp competition with Misato Katsuragi for “Anime Drunkard of the Century”, yet she has a gentle nurturing side about her that makes her a joy to watch interact with Watanuki. Shizuka Domeki is the textbook definition of  a stoic character, and though at times he can be quite…boring…there are moments when he does something or says something that makes you stand up and take notice. He also plays perfectly off Watanuki, who sees him as a threat for the affections of  Himawari Kunogi. Ah, Himawari…well…there’s no other way to say it…she’s a cute little dingbat. She’s so absolutely clueless when it comes to Watanuki and Domeki’s relationship and she’s also clueless to see that Watanuki has the hots for her. However, she does serve a purpose at key times during the series, [SPOILER ALERT!!! SPOILER ALERT!!! HIGHLIGHT TO READthanks in part to her perpetual bad luck as revealed in the mangaEND SPOILER ALERT!!!] so she’s not a completely useless character. Our mascot character Mokona is funny, cool and…well…a drunk. Yeah, umm…if memory serves, haven’t we already seen a mascot character that imbibes beer? Ah well, in any case, Mokona serves his purpose well and then some. Finally, shop assistants Maru and Moro are unabashedly cute. Their back story is slightly tragic, and I wish we had learned a bit more, but the bits and pieces we do get are enough to make you just wanna hug ’em pieces! [25/25]

Animation – WOW. Umm…yeah, talk about extremes. The last anime I reviewed had main characters that were absurdly curvy. This time around, or characters look like well done stick figures. Seriously, these characters look like they’ve gone through a few sessions in Willy Wonka’s stretching machine. Almost everything is exaggerated; torso legnth, arm legnth, leg legnth, fingers, toes, just about everything…except for the heads. Honestly, the heads look tiny in comparison to the rest of the character bodies. Though, I have to admit, the character designs do remain true to the manga, for better or worse, and personally I find the designs to be extremely different and I got used to seeing these lanky, gangling characters after about two episodes. Character designs aside, everything about “xxxHolic” is extremely well done on the animation side. Colors are vivid, backgrounds are detailed and pop out at you, and the contrasts between light and darkness is subtle yet not unnoticeable. [11.5/12.5]

Music – Our OP this time around is “19sai” [“Nineteen Years Old”] by Suga Shikao. It’s haunting, yet it has a hipness to it that makes it very cool to listen to. The opening animation compliments it very well upping the “haunting” factor by ten. Our first ending for episodes 1-13, “Reason” by Fonogenico is…well…it’s NICE…but for some reason, it just doesn’t click with me. Please don’t get me wrong, it’s a cool song, but I don’t know if I would’ve picked THIS song for an ending. Though I have to admit, the little sleeping/dancing Mokona warmed my heart. The second ending, “Kagerou” by BUCK-TICK, closes out episode 14-24 and I have to say, it’s MUCH improved. The pop/rock mix is excellent, and the animation featuring Maru and Moro playing air guitar with air drum accompaniment by Mokona always leaves me with a smile on my face. All the incidental music and chords hit on all points and do not get in the way of the action or dialogue on-screen. [9/12.5]

Performances and Production –  “xxxHolic” was created by Production I.G with director Tsutomu Mizushima at the helm. Mizushima-san has directed quite a few shows in his time including “Big Windup!”, “Haré+Guu”, and, interestingly enough, he also directed the meta-anime turned real anime “Kujibiki Unbalance”. Here in the US, this project was, of course, licensed and dubbed by Funimation Entertainment. Now here’s a shock for you; co-directing this project is none other than Brina Palencia for episodes 1-8 and Monica Rial for the remainder of the series. Honestly, prior to this review, I did not know either one of these ladies had any directorial experience, but I’m glad to be proven wrong, as this project is amazing! Colleen Clinkenbeard as Yuko Ichihara is…well…wow. This was a PERFECT casting decision. It’s about 99.99% there with the original Japanese V/A and 2011’s Best Female Voice Actress (Japan) Sayaka “Ara, Ara…” Ohara. Todd Habberkorn as our male lead Kimihiro Watanuki is…well…awesome. Does he sound EXACTLY like the original V/A, Jun Fukuyama? No. But his voice and his performance are in a class all its own. He gives an energy and a life to Watanuki that I can say, was somewhat lacking in the original. This is NOT an aside to the original V/A, but I just think that Todd’s performance shown just a little brighter. J. Michael Tatum as Shizuka Doumeki is deliciously deadpan, which is as it should be. Cherami Leigh as Himawari Kunogi is very well done–she is one of the few actresses who can play bubbly without being freaking annoying. Carrie Savage as our character mascot Mokona is too freaking funny. Finally, Leah Clark and Brina Palencia as Maru and Moru is excellent and cute–the two synchronize very well, especially when you consider that the two might not have recorded their lines together. All in all, the “xxxHolic” dub passes across the boards. [25/25]

Scoring Summary:

Story Breakdown – 25/25
Characters – 25/25
Animation – 11/12.5
Music – 9/12.5
Performance and Production – 25/25

Final Score – 95/100 = 95% – (A)

Lagniappe (A Little Something Extra):

  • As with many other “CLAMP” productions, the manga for “xxxHolic” crosses over into another CLAMP series, “Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle”. In fact, the main characters of that series often interact with Watanuki and have an active wish/payment relationship with Yuko. However, this relationship is non-existent in the “xxxHolic” anime and the characters from “Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle” are never mentioned.
  • There are several references to other CLAMP shows in “xxxHolic”. For example, in one episode, Maru and Moro are seen and heard reading the book “The Town With No People”, the same book Chi read in “Chobits”. Also, in the same episode, Watanuki is seen, reluctantly, using a set of headphones that look identical to Chi’s ears.
  • In Episode 15 “Release”, several “xxxHolic” posters can be seen, slightly faded, in the background behind the twins.
  • It should be noted that the “xxx” portion of the show’s title, “xxxHolic”, is SILENT. The show is pronounced “Holic” like “alcoholic” without the “alco-” prefix.
  • A running gag in the show is that Watanuki’s name can also be written as “April 1st”, which just so happens to be his birthday and April Fools Day.

So where does that leave us? Well, I have to admit, “xxxHolic” granted MY wish for a great anime with an enraptured story line, lovable characters, interesting animation and music choices and a voice acting/directing combo that’s a one-two, knock out, out of the park home run! And what was the cost? About $12 with free shipping. Can’t beat that.

And there’s another review in the books, ladies and gentlemen! Spooky October is moving along at quite a nice pace, if I do say so myself! Coming up next, OtakuAndrain will be doing a breakdown of what has to be an anime created specifically for Halloween! Will it pass muster in his books? Is it cool enough? The main male character would be inclined to agree. So tune in next time for OtakuAndrain’s review of…

“Soul Eater”

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