Volumes 11 and 12 of xxxHOLiC continue the story of Kimihiro Watanuki, a high school student whose inconvenient tendency to attract spirits led him to make a rash bargain with Yûko, the space-time witch, back in volume 1. Now fully recovered from his accident in volume 10, Watanuki returns to the activities of his everyday life–going to school, making lunches for his friends, working in Yûko’s shop–and, along the way, he encounters a number of acquaintances from past adventures. These chance meetings appear innocuous at first, but they become unsettling, especially as the line between dreams and reality begins to blur dangerously for Watanuki.In another series, a similar stretch of only loosely connected chapters might feel like the narrative equivalent of treading water. Fortunately that’s not the case with xxxHOLiC. Watanuki’s interactions with the other characters, including those he meets only in dreams, have so much narrative weight behind them at every panel seems loaded with significance. And Yûko’s increasingly ominous comments about “the end” suggest the story is beginning to set the stage for some sort of finale.
Part of this setup involves more crossovers with xxxHOLiC‘s sister series, Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle. Two characters from that series make important appearances in these volumes of xxxHOLiC, and fans who are not reading both series may have trouble making sense of some conversations. Even fans who are following both series may be rather confused, as CLAMP is still only providing the vaguest of hints regarding the mysterious link between the two stories. These volumes of xxxHOLiC would be poor starting points for new readers even without the crossovers, given the number of callbacks to past events; the crossovers only make that more true.
CLAMP’s art in this series continues to be spectacular. They eschew the use of most screentones in the art of xxxHOLiC, and the resulting combination of deep blacks and clean white space is very striking and helps establish the series’ often spooky atmosphere. The imagery is equally memorable and evocative. Sakura petals drift through Watanuki’s dreams; silhouettes of strange winged figures darken the sky; a figure dissolves into a cloud of butterflies.
The gorgeous art also plays a key role in enabling xxxHOLiC‘s storylines to hit every note on the emotional spectrum. One one page, CLAMP can warm readers’ hearts by drawing Mokona’s usual antics or the happy smile caused by a thoughtful gift; on the next, they break those same hearts by showing the maturity, sorrow, or fear in beloved characters’ expressions.
Del Rey has done its usual excellent job with its editions of these two volumes. William Flanagan’s translations and adaptations continue to be fluid and easy to understand, and his cultural and linguistic notes at the end of the volumes are invaluable. Meanwhile, the inclusion of color pages at the beginning of each volume is much appreciated. I can only wish that all manga publishers did such professional work.
xxxHOLiC is a series that will appeal to readers beyond the usual set of die-hard CLAMP fans, even if the crossovers with Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle can be off-putting to those not interested in committing to reading both series. In the end, volumes 11 and 12 of xxxHOLiC may not be good entry points for readers new to the series, but their strength is definitely a compelling reason to try volume 1 for those who haven’t already.
Review originally published at MangaLife.com