Reviewby Carlo Santos,
Kimihiro Watanuki has long been able to see spirits and other mystical creatures, but the newest danger facing him could be one of his own close friends. While running errands for his capricious employer Yûko, Watanuki makes a promise with Himawari, the girl he likes, and unwittingly sets off a chain of ill-fated events. It'll take all of Yûko's spiritual know-how, as well as the efforts of aloof classmate Dômeki, to save Watanuki from his own carelessness. Is Himawari the best thing that's happened to him ... or is she the worst?
There may have been a time, in the early stages of the series, when it would have been correct to label xxxHOLiC as just another episodic supernatural-mystery series. And sometimes that label still holds true, as in the first few chapters of this volume. However, the truth is that the story and its characters have developed into something much more, and we're not just talking about the Tsubasa crossover. Friends and foes alike have become vital players in Watanuki's dealings with the spirit world, and even the most useless main character—sweet, cheerful Himawari, whose sole purpose up until now was to give Watanuki fits of giggles—turns out to have an agenda. The real mystery, then, might be in finding out who else has a secret to hide.
The road to Himawari's dramatic revelation begins right at the first chapter in this book, but few would notice it at first glance—it's a deceptive start, focusing on Watanuki running errands for Yûko like he always does. So yes, here's the pedestrian supernatural-mystery part, with its obligatory air of creepiness as Watanuki finds himself being watched as he carries out his chores. The "solution" to this particular mystery is dramatic enough, but it doesn't seem like anything special compared to what's happened in previous volumes.
Keep on reading, however, and you'll find that it was all just a careful act of misdirection. The turning point in this story comes at an unexpected moment—why would anything weird happen when you're just talking to a friend at school?—and it sets the stage for an intense chain of events that involves every major character in the series ... as well as one from outside the series. The CLAMP universe is always full of surprises, isn't it?
It's hard to say much more without giving away too much of the plot, but this volume closes out with a strong, emotionally moving finish that explains why Little Miss Useless has stuck around for so long. Watanuki's infatuation with Himawari deepens in a way that few would have ever seen coming, and the things he does for her—as well as what his buddies do for him—say a lot about how friendship can emerge as a spiritual power to trump all other spiritual powers.
The artwork in this series continues to impress with its simple but expressive style. Heavy shadows and sharp, sweeping lines create an air of mystery that few artists could ever hope to match. In fact, even graphic designers can learn from this perfect balance of contrasts: ethereal white on pure black; free-flowing curves set in trim rectangular frames; simple character illustrations against elaborate backgrounds. On a less abstract level, the characters also express a wide range of motions and emotions—one moment Watanuki will be throwing a comical fit (mostly because he gets picked on by everybody else), and the next he'll be staring in wonder when something mysterious comes his way. While not as creatively abundant as previous volumes—Yûko's wardrobe of extravagant dresses isn't as prevalent, and there aren't any strange new spirits to meet—this installment still offers plenty of visual delights.
Dialogue in this volume ranges from humorous (once again, Watanuki's fits of anger) to brooding (anything that Yûko says), and fortunately the translation is able to convey these emotional states and other ones in between. The text leans towards authenticity here, with honorifics, references to Japanese food, and Yûko's favorite buzzword, "hitsuzen" (inevitability). A glossary helps to explain various points of language and culture, which of course are essential in a series so steeped in Japanese folklore. The stylish sound effects are left untouched, but the little translations placed next to them are so small that they can be easy to miss.
Fans of xxxHOLiC might open this volume and think they're getting another one of the so-so story arcs where Watanuki runs off doing chores and learns new factoids about the spirit world along the way. What a pleasant surprise, then, to see that he eventually learns much more, not about the spirit world, but about the very people who love and care for him. Himawari, who had been near-useless for so long (even to the point of being the least favorite character for some) finally gets her chance in the spotlight, proving that every person in Watanuki's life has a purpose after all. This is one of the most touching and dramatic volumes in the series, taking its characters to a new level of depth that few would have ever expected.
Overall : A-
Story : B+
Art : A
+ Dramatic revelations and expressive artwork continue to make this one of the best supernatural series around.
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