Reviewby Casey Brienza,
The beautiful witch Yuko Ichihara will grant any wish…for a price. But it is a price that high school student Kimihiro Watanuki is nominally willing to pay to be rid of the spirits that are inexplicably attracted to him. To this end, he becomes a part-time employee at Yuko's shop. However, working for Yuko soon proves to be much more than life as a glorified houseboy; wish-granting requires up close and personal encounters with the supernatural—and the sinister. As Watanuki's employment at Yuko's shop draws him further and further into her world, it becomes increasingly clear that all of the things happening to him are happening for a reason.
If you expect or require the hard-hitting punch of a satisfying series resolution, be warned that xxxHOLiC is not going to provide you with much in the way of closure. The original manga, though rumored to be nearing completion, is still in serialization (as of this writing), and a second season of the anime, which picks up where the previous left off, is currently airing in Japan. The first season alone consists of twenty-four episodes, and the first two FUNimation DVDs feature four apiece.
And at a suggested retail price of $29.99 per volume, xxxHOLiC will be a not insignificant financial expenditure for completists. There isn't even much in the way of bonus material to offset the sticker shock. Packaging, besides a double-sided jacket with art on the back side, is perfunctory, and bonus material is practically a joke—textless opening and ending themes and an image gallery. As such, these DVDs are likely to be attractive purchases only to the most hardcore of hardcore CLAMP and anime fans.
Prospective viewers not fluent in Japanese should be warned that the subtitles included on this DVD can be exceedingly confusing, poorly-punctuated, misspelled, and, on occasion, outright unintelligible. The first episode is especially bad in this regard, but improvement in subsequent episodes is not what it should be. The problems persist onto the second DVD, so this could well be a systemic problem for the series. Fortunately, the English dub is a decent alternative and pleasantly easy on the ears. Colleen Clinkenbeard's deep-throated, seductive performance as Yuko is particularly impressive and worth a listen on its own terms.
Even after setting aside banal considerations of price and Region 1 production quality, one cannot help but wonder what fans already familiar with the franchise are going to get out of the xxxHOLiC viewing experience given that the anime follows the original manga's storyline and style quite closely. After a speedy introductory episode that gets Watanuki's “elevation” to houseboy status out of the way as quickly as possible, the rest of the major players—including classmates Himawari and Domeki—are introduced in equally short order. As in the manga, the black Mokona becomes a series mascot of sorts, though not through a complicated cross-over subplot with Tsubasa.
All eight episodes on the two DVDs are basically self-contained and taken directly from chapters of the manga. Volume one contains plots featuring a serial liar, an occult game gone very wrong, and an afternoon quest for a real fortuneteller. Volume two begins on a lighter note with a talking fox and his oden (fish cake) cart. In the subsequent three episodes, Yuko helps a housewife kick her Internet addiction, stands idly by while a young graduate student orchestrates her own destruction, and sends Watanuki off at the behest of the Ame-Warashi to come to the aid of a magnificent hydrangea bush.
Nothing else about this anime takes things to the next level, either. Production I.G's adaptation of the manga's superior styling is solid but not exceptional. The animation and Japanese voice talent quality is likewise solid for a TV series but not exceptional. The soundtrack, particularly the insipid opening and ending themes, is outright disappointing, especially when compared to older CLAMP-based anime, which were virtually operatic in scope (not to mention superior in other respects as well). Perhaps the creators were hoping that viewers would be too distracted by all the talking heads lecturing on about wishes and free will to notice.
This psuedo-philosophical maundering while lounging about in colorful kimono might do it for some people, but it has always left me cold. Indeed, what fast becomes truly distasteful about this series (both anime and manga versions) is the way in which it consistently advances such a militantly conservative libertarian view of the world. In this iteration of CLAMP-land, everyone chooses one's own destiny, and if you suffer from misfortune, it must be your own fault. Oprah and the rest of the self-help industry would be proud. How far CLAMP has come from those early days of Tokyo Babylon, where the dehumanizing effects of the modern urban social setting were to blame! Talk about taking out the disillusionment accompanying middle age on the fans. Liberals have been fairly warned—your thoughts won't be much provoked by xxxHOLiC, but you might be. Still, if you turn off the brain cells (and if you've read the manga, forget what you know), there are far worse places to look for a bit of animated entertainment.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : B
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : D+
+ Readily assessible to those unfamiliar with the franchise and faithful to CLAMP's original manga.
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