Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Welcome back to Yuko's mysterious shop, where those with wishes can have them granted...for a price. Kimihiro Watanuki is once again a high school student helping Yuko with her business, and this time he and his sort-of friend Domeki both watch and help as Yuko encounters and advises a mysterious voice and two women with identical cellphone charms that are most certainly more than they seem...
Yuko the Space-Time Witch's shop is open for business once again. As in the start of CLAMP's previous series about the mysterious Yuko and her semi-unwilling protege Watanuki, Yuko and her childlike helpers Maru and Moro live in an old-fashioned Japanese building behind a gate bedecked with crescent moons. Only those who have need of the shop can see it and enter it, and Yuko conducts her supernatural business garbed in a series of exotic and elegant outfits. When she's not working, she's tormenting or teasing Watanuki, who is, in this series, once again a high school student. So where does this fall in the original xxxHoLic timeline? At first glance, it looks as if maybe we have simply returned to the first series to fill in the gaps, the time we as readers were not privy to. But a glance at the cover shows us that Watanuki's eyes are the same color, and Yuko's repeated phrase for the volume is that “It is all the result of man's wishes.” Does that mean that Watanuki has returned to high school and Yuko's care because he wished it? Or has the series come back because we wished for it? Would that indicate that we are in a totally new time, one created out of a desire to return to the relatively halcyon days of early xxxHoLic volumes? The answer may be much more simple than any of this, but given the overall themes of Yuko's and Watanuki's tales, it seems very possible that there is a much more complex reason, one that will ultimately tie in with the trajectory of the series.
All of that aside, Rei's first volume has an otherworldly feel that contributes to the supernatural elements of the story without being too in-your-face about it. Unlike in the previous series, the story runs naturally through the book, without any sense of it being episodic: the first plot ends in the same chapter the second one begins. This is both an improvement and a detriment. The book most certainly does flow better written like this, but it also takes away from an easy stopping point to ponder the results of the first story. Since there generally is a point to each tale, having the little pause brought about by a chapter ending was a good way to force the reader to think about what she just read. On the other hand, this format makes it much less obvious when something is symbolic, which dramatically increases the story's subtlety.
While both “cases” in the book are interesting, the first, which is also longer, is a bit more instantly captivating. It deals with two women who loudly proclaim that they are best friends, although they never come into the shop together. Both have identical cellphone charms – two impractically large stuffed animals, a rabbit and a cat. As their visits go on, one of the women shows signs of injury...and so does one of the charms. While it is not too difficult to figure out what is going on, the conclusion still manages to be chilling, implying rather than outright telling us what happens. Unfortunately we never really learn why the women felt they had to come into the shop in the first place, and Yuko does not exact any payment from them, which seems very out of character. This could, of course, be due to the new format of this sequel series, but right now it feels off.
The second case is equally unexplained, and this one, while it has a lot of implications about the true nature of Rei, feels much more inconclusive. It features Yuko (and possibly Domeki) using Watanuki as bait for a truly creepy looking spirit, with the end implying that there is some question of choice for those around Yuko. What are they choosing? When must they choose by? Is Watanuki really aware of any of this? None of these questions are answered, and while it's pretty clear that CLAMP is setting this up to be a running theme of the series, it doesn't make for a particularly strong ending to the book. It does, however, make you think, which may in fact be the point.
Apart from the new story flow, Rei should look very familiar to xxxHoLic fans. Yuko's fabulous outfits – often gravity defying in the breast region – are still here, and the wispy trail of incense smoke continues to drift through the pages. The art is more settled than in the previous series, and less gangly, although CLAMP's trademark long limbs and small heads remain. Kodansha has not provided any color pages for this book, which is a bit sad, as it could confirm the eye color thing to have more than one image, but the pages are a little better about not having text too close to the binding than other recent Kodansha releases. The usual notes follow the story, with the one about the character with which “rei” is written being the most useful and interesting.
XxxHoLic Rei's first volume is a pleasant and mysterious return to the world of the previous series. Just why and when we are back in Yuko's shop is unclear, but Watanuki definitely feels more like an apprentice than a jack-of-all-trades this time, and that may prove to be significant. The improved story flow and more refined art help to make this very readable, and while I wouldn't suggest picking it up without having read the first series, it looks like one of the more readable, interesting titles to come from Clamp recently. So come back to Yuko's – surely many mysteries are awaiting you.
Overall : B+
Story : B
Art : B+
+ Less episodic than its predecessor, art is smoother. Interesting cases that use implication rather than explanation very well.
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