Reviewby Melissa Harper,
Watanuki, still blind in one eye from a spider's curse, discovers that a war is being waged in the spirit world for possession of that eye. Friendly and not so friendly spirits alike are fighting for it, and if Watanuki doesn't act quickly, he may lose more than his vision. Watanuki must go to the spirit world and fight for his eye, and for his friends that are stuck in the crossfire.
This is definitely not the volume to enter this series on. The events in volume eight tie up a bunch of loose ends that have been floating around the xxxHOLiC storyline for a while, and if you are unfamiliar with those storylines, you will be completely lost. That said, the ends are tied up in a very neat fashion, and fans of the series will surely be pleased with the direction events take.
The main focus of this volume is Watanuki's eye, which he had previously given up in order to save Doumeki's vision. Now all manner of creatures in the spirit world are fighting over it, and the Zashiki Warashi, a spirit with a crush on Watanuki, has gotten in trouble because of it. This storyline follows the same basic pattern that readers of xxxHOLiC are sure to be familiar with by now. There is a problem that Watanuki needs to solve. Yuuko obviously knows what it is, and how to do it, but keeps mum on the details, only giving cryptic, cool-sounding advice. Watanuki plunges headfirst into the dilemma, and flails about for a while, but eventually realizes what it is he needs to do, and does it. The same pattern of events may be tedious after eight volumes to some readers, but the story is fresh and interesting, so it keeps boredom at bay. However, it is nice to see Watanuki really flexing that spine he's been growing over the course of the series. He actually gets a confrontation scene where he gets to be the cool hero, instead of letting Doumeki rescue him. A little bit of coolness from Watanuki is a refreshing change to the pattern, indeed.
The rest of the volume covers two filler stories. One has Watanuki encountering Raiju, the thunder beast, in an electronics store, and is a cute, one chapter diversion with more of Yuuko's cryptic musing about how unobservant humans are. The other features a snowball fight as only Yuuko can do it, which is basically a few pages of the gang being happy together.
The character development in this volume is a solid reason to pick it up. Yuuko remains unchanged, but the other characters and their relationships to each other are all very dynamic. Watanuki is shown developing quite a bit of faith in Yuuko, relying on her tidbits of advice to get him through his battle. He doesn't seem to be getting anywhere with Himawari, but Watanuki is definitely less convincing these days in his battles with Doumeki. These two continue to sacrifice and give for each other, and are rapidly becoming the most interesting pair in xxxHOLiC. CLAMP is also showing us a little more from Doumeki's perspective, which helps the increasing friendliness between these two characters. The decisions he makes in this volume seem like they will have a lasting effect on both the characters and the plot of this series.
Volume eight continues the long, lanky, woodblock art style that makes xxxHOLiC distinctive. This is a love or hate issue; it is easy to dislike the ridiculous legginess of the characters, and the stark black and white illustrations that have very little shading to ease the contrast. It is definitely unique, however, and the look suits the mystery and traditionalism that is the story's trademark. CLAMP continue to use lots of traditional Japanese images to really increase that feeling, along with an excess of smoke, which is included in every situation plausible. Smoke makes everything more mysterious, right?
The usual extras are included at the front and back of the book; Del Rey always provides a guide to Japanese suffixes at the front, and includes the suffixes in the translation, which really helps the material make it through translation intact. At the back is a glossary of cultural references, and a good thing too. In a story like xxxHOLiC, filled with Japanese spirits, superstitions and folklore, the average American would be totally lost without a little bit of background information.
This volume may not be the finest entry in the series yet, but it is a very nice transitional volume. It answers quite a few questions from previous volumes, then gives the reader a nice little break. If you haven't been keeping up with the story, this one is probably a waste of your time, but that's to be expected at this point in the series.
Overall : B+
Story : B
Art : B+
+ Character development gets interesting.
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