First of all, this persuasion post is specifically for the manga. The anime is nice enough in its way, but it can't even begin to compare to the manga, and I think it is better to watch it if you've already read the manga, so that you can fill in the blanks with your own mind.
xxxHolic (pronounced "'holic," the "xxx" is a variable) is about a high school boy named Watanuki Kimihiro, who has the ability to see spirits, and to whom spirits are irresistibly attracted, which unfortunately brings him into contact with many things that wish to harm and/or eat him, none of which other people can see. At the beginning of the story, he stumbles into the shop of Ichihara Yuuko, a witch who grants wishes for an equivalent price. Watanuki's wish is to no longer be plagued by spirits, which Yuuko can grant, but in order to pay for it, Watanuki must indenture himself to her as part-time help in the shop, cooking, cleaning, and whatever else Yuuko deems necessary. His wish will only be granted after the price has been paid.
In the beginning, the story seems to be about Yuuko's shop, and the various people who come in to have wishes granted, most of which do not turn out well, as most of them have desires or addictions that are not beneficial to them (hence the title, "xxxHolic" ). As the story progresses, however, it becomes apparent that Watanuki is not Yuuko's servant, but in fact, her apprentice, and that he has a much greater role in the world than simply helping to grant people's wishes.
xxxHolic is one of those stories that appears to be one thing at first, and then at a certain point you think, "Ah ha! This is what it is really about!" Then several volumes later you think, "AH HA! No, THIS is what it's really about!" I have had a couple of these moments already, and I expect to have more before the series is completed. Watanuki's growth as a character is extremely compelling, particularly as it relates to his relationship with his schoolmate and "rival," Doumeki Shizuka, and Yuuko's world is endlessly dangerous and fascinating. In recent volumes, it has become clear that Watanuki has some kind of world-saving, epic battle to wage, though we do not yet know what that really means.
This series crosses over with Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle, and while it is not essential to read Tsubasa in order to understand the events in xxxHolic, I found that by the time I reached volume 9 or so, I really wanted to know the whole story, and I ended up racing through that series in the matter of a couple of days. Now I keep up with both, though my focus is definitely on xxxHolic.
|Watanuki Kimihiro sees spirits, and is tormented by them daily. He lost both his parents at an early age, and lives alone in an apartment building run by managers who looked out for him when he was a young orphan. He has a great love of cooking (and a special gift for it as well), and though he complains constantly about the work he must do for Yuuko, he does it diligently and extremely well. He has a lot of compassion for the people whose wishes Yuuko grants, though he is not often able to help them. Also, he flails. He flails a lot.
Ichihara Yuuko, also known in Tsubasa as the "Witch of Dimensions" runs a shop that grants wishes. She dresses lavishly, drinks heavily, and seems to get a lot of enjoyment out of tormenting Watanuki, though this is supposedly to prepare him for the difficult road ahead. Despite all this, she seems to truly care for him, and for this world she endeavors to protect. There is a lot of mystery surrounding Yuuko, and I expect there are things still to be revealed about her before the end of the series.
Doumeki Shizuka is Watanuki's classmate and "rival," though this rivalry exists only in Watanuki's mind. He is the strong, silent type, a good student, popular with the girls, and an accomplished archer. He has the natural ability to repel and exorcise spirits, and for this reason, Watanuki frequently requires his help, or at least his presence, much to Watanuki's horror. He speaks very little, though he has a sarcastic wit, and stands loyally by Watanuki, though he has no obvious reason to do so.
Kunogi Himawari is Watanuki's special crush, and a very sweet and kind girl, though Yuuko constantly insists that she is not Watanuki's angel of fortune. She spends much of her time with Watanuki and Doumeki, though she often seems to be otherwise engaged when Watanuki wants to spend time with her alone. She frequently remarks that "Watanuki and Doumeki are such good friends!" which is always protested by Watanuki. I can't tell you much more about her, without giving away a pretty big spoiler, so I will refrain.
This doesn't even begin to cover all the non-human characters in this series. Oh, they are all so wonderfully detailed and idiosyncratic! I love them all! Mokona! *heart* The kudakitsune! The foxes who run the oden stand! Oh! The Zashiki-warashi! Maru and Moro! Oh, *heart* they are all wonderful.
One thing I personally find very compelling about xxxHolic is that it so often addresses issues of morality, but from an obviously non-Christian point of view, which is so refreshing for me. The universe is steeped in Shinto beliefs (Doumeki even lives at a shrine, where his grandfather was once high priest), and we are spared from western ideas about "good" and "evil" in favor of the study of action and reaction, and how our choices affect us (and others) over time. The concept driving the series is "hitsuzen," a Japanese word for which there is no direct English translation, but which has been sometimes translated as "inevitability" or (less accurately) "fate." The Del Ray translation of the manga defines "hitsuzen" as "A naturally foreordained event. A state in which other outcomes are impossible. A result which can only be obtained by a single causality, and other causalities would necessarily create different results." When reading the manga, one comes to the conclusion that it is all our choices and the choices of others that create hitsuzen. Every choice we make, even the most insignificant, casual choice, sets certain things into motion, and when combined with the choices others have made, creates an inevitable outcome.
Yuuko frequently states "There is no coincidence, only hitsuzen." It is hitsuzen that brings customers to her shop (including Watanuki), and the wishes made throughout the series contribute to (and are part of) hitsuzen as well.
Not everyone is a fan of CLAMP's style of art, but I personally think it is beautiful. There is so much atmosphere in every moment, and the color pages and covers are just incredibly beautiful, in my opinion. I love the long lines, the striking use of black. xxxHolic looks like no other comic I've seen, including others by CLAMP, and its smoky, heady, otherworldly quality is unmatched. I personally find it intoxicating.
Okay, this is the part most of you are probably waiting for, at least those of you in my fannish circles. Doumeki/Watanuki is the overwhelming OTP in the xxxHolic fandom, fueled greatly by the fact that CLAMP, regardless of this series' demographics (seinen), seems to be pretty much writing it that way. The manga is full of references to their "deep connection," and Yuuko spends a good nine volumes trying to get Watanuki to figure out that Doumeki (unlike Himawari) is his perfect partner, however you want to interpret that.
The following is mostly pulled from something I posted once in a discussion of the main relationships in xxxHolic as a demonstration of Doumeki's inexplicable loyalty to Watanuki:
Fact: Watanuki Kimihiro sees spirits, and is especially attractive to them, so he is often plagued by spirits who wish to harm and/or eat him. He also has the ability to communicate with them, which is sometimes useful.
Fact: Doumeki Shizuka has the natural ability to repel evil spirits, and can also exorcise them from this world, by shooting arrows of his own spiritual energy at them. (It is mentioned by the ame warashi that he has "a pure soul," though this hasn't been fully explained.)
Fact: Doumeki would do anything to protect Watanuki. It is not yet clear exactly why or how he developed this complete devotion, but for some reason it exists.
A small (somewhat spoilery) sampling of things that Doumeki has done for Watanuki:
1. Risked his life against a giant, invisible snake, and injured his arm catching Watanuki, who otherwise would have fallen to his death from the roof of a school building.
2. Ripped up his hands digging uselessly under a giant hydrangea (in the rain) under which Watanuki had disappeared. Once Yuuko arrived, he paid her the price for telling him the *actual* way to rescue Watanuki, and then stood in the rain for ten hours, holding a ribbon, in order to pull him back to this world.
3. Exorcised a kind, motherly spirit who was slowly killing Watanuki, despite the fact that it would possibly cause Watanuki to hate him forever. Quote from Yuuko: "He made a decision. He chose to shoot the woman, even if it hurt you... even if it made you hate him. He didn't want you to vanish forever."
4. Given Watanuki half his eye.
5. Given Watanuki half his blood.
None of this is including the pretty much daily protection he offers Watanuki, looking out for him in every moment, carrying him to safety whenever he's ill or injured, always being right there whenever Watanuki is in trouble, keeping harmful spirits away, believing in all the things he can't see without question, making Watanuki wait for him when he fears there may be danger, and inserting himself into any situation involving someone who might be dangerous to Watanuki, even when Watanuki very loudly protests.
It has taken Watanuki a long time to learn to appreciate Doumeki's presence in his life, but this seems to be happening more and more as the series progresses, and as they become more and more connected, even through their bodies, it seems inevitable that whatever kind of relationship this is, it is pretty damn permanent.
The OTP is commonly known as either "donuts" (which I dislike) or "104" (which I kind of like, based on the geekiness of it--it is formed out of the kanji in their names), and I have not personally talked to a fan of the series who does not believe that CLAMP is writing this pairing on purpose.
The most important thing I can say about the fic in the xxxHolic fandom, is that there is not even *close* to enough of it. I have read as much fic in this fandom as I can find, and there is so little, really, it makes me weep. Here are a few favorites for those who are new to the fandom:
Ritual and Return by sophiap. This is a fic that is so good, after I first read it, my brain made it into canon, and I forgot that it was a fic. Seriously. I was just trying to remember how it had never made it into my recs, and it is because my brain somehow transformed it into canon. Without telling you anything more about it, that should be enough to run directly over to read, no?
Eat Your Heart Out by rageprufrock, Doumeki/Watanuki, PG. Quote: When she lifted her head this time, Yuuko looked much less hung-over and far more intrigued. “Oh ho!” she said. “Somebody else is making Doumeki bento?" “BAD BENTO,” Watanuki emphasized. This fic is just completely, utterly, delightful. Everyone is perfectly themselves, and everything is all about lunch, which is perfect in itself. This is one of those fics that makes you feel like you're watching a really good episode of the anime as you're reading it. Plus, you know, kissing. Wonderful.
One Ordinary Night, with Wisteria by sophiap, Doumeki/Watanuki, PG. Author's Summary: "Being the catalyst for someone else's epiphany is a dangerous job." I've read that this was one of the first fics in this fandom (or at least the Doumeki/Watanuki fandom), and it has that unmistakable "fandom classic" feel about it. Here's a quote that I think really captures the feel of the piece: "You've seen some of the people who come into my shop, and what they are and aren't willing to pay. Some people think the price I demand is exorbitant and are surprised in the end to find out how cheap it really is. For others, the exact opposite is true. They think they're getting a bargain, but they don't realize the true cost, not until it's much too late." Exactly.
Balance by orpheneritus, Doumeki/Watanuki, PG. Author's summary: "Watanuki’s stubborn independence still annoys him. In particular when he is gagging on the smell of oppressing spirits and would rather risk upheaving his breakfast on Himawari’s shoes then requesting Doumeki to take a step closer." I actually think this summary does not do the fic justice. It is pretty angsty, a little melodramatic, and definitely 'shipfic, but it managed to make my heart stop, just for a moment, in that way that fic sometimes does, when it just hits you right there. You know what I mean, right? Also, I admit I have kind of a thing about Watanuki's first name, and I love fics that use it well.
Made for Nights Like These by peroxide_fic, Watanuki, Doumeki, PG. Author's summary: "Watanuki wants to make new memories." I couldn't bring myself to label this with a pairing, because it is only Doumeki/Watanuki if the source is, so do with that what information what you will. Contains fireworks. The real kind. Very pretty.
Button Pushing by hydr0phobia, Doumeki/Watanuki, PG. This is a hilarious and surprisingly touching fic in which Doumeki gives Watanuki a cell phone. Much better than it sounds. Includes discussion of American comics.
Measure for Measure by hydr0phobia, Doumeki/Watanuki, PG. Author's summary: "He’s only, like, the most popular guy in school. (AKA: Doumeki would not make a good celebrity. Because of his poor management skills, Watanuki suffers in a very roundabout way.)" This is kind of silly, and then kind of not. Funny, fun fic about the girls at school being jealous of Watanuki. Great characterizations. Plus rescuing. Pretty awesome.
I keep a xxxHolic recs page here, but I'm telling you, there is just not enough.
For a list with a lot more recs than mine, mushroom18 has a huge one here.
There are also a number of great resources (as well as recs) in aishuu's Doumeki/Watanuki 'ship manifesto, which is a great read as well, though it hasn't been updated since it was written, and the manga has progressed significantly since then, along with the 'ship.
Also, check out the xxxHolic tag at del.icio.us!
My fic in this fandom can all be found here, though I have only written a few so far.
I do read the scanlations of new chapters as they are released, but, and I can't possibly stress this enough, if at all possible, try to get your hands on the Del Ray books. Seriously. This is not about copyright. This is about artistry. I am as grateful to the scanlators as anyone could be, but when it comes to pure reading experience, the person who does the translations for Del Ray really has the ability to make the English language soar, in a way that the scanlators generally don't. I have read most of the scanlations at this point, and I repeat again: if at all possible, get your hands on the Del Ray books. There are 11 volumes released so far in English (volume 12 comes out in June), and I have read them all over and over again, that is how satisfying and rich they are.
Warning: THIS MANGA MAKES YOU HUNGRY. Watanuki is someone who believes that all problems can be fixed with food.
The Bottom Line:
xxxHolic is LOVE. It has 153 chapters and more coming. It has an OTP to die for. I wish I could tell you everything that is wonderful about it, but I can't do that without giving everything away. Seriously, this is the only manga that has made me fannish in this way outside of Hikaru no Go, and that should MEAN SOMETHING.
JOIN ME. :)