Throughout the multitude of different worlds and dimensions, she is known by many names, such as ‘The Dimension Witch’ or ‘The Far Eastern Witch.’ But in this gothic fantasy story from CLAMP, she goes by the name Yūko Ichihara.
She is a dimension-manipulating, wish-granting sorceress, dealing in all things supernatural from her esoteric shop in Tokyo. She will grant a wish for her customers, but she will take something in return. One such customer was Kimihiro Watanuki, who requested to be free from the spirits that were constantly following and troubling him. He got his wish; but in return, he has to work at Yūko’s shop. xxxHolic follows Watanuki and his job, and the many supernatural episodes that take place in and around the shop. They are joined by two of Watanuki’s acquaintances from school: the stoical Dōmeki and the object of Watanuki’s affections, Himawari.
Watanuki is the protagonist, and the stories are told from his perspective. Volume 4 contains six chapters, which serve to make up four short stories or episodes. The first is set around Valentine’s Day. Watanuki has to make the chocolate for Yūko to give out, and all the while he wonders if he will receive any for himself. And he’s not so smooth with the ladies, so it’s a big “if”. When he finally does receive a chocolate, he’s delighted, but this being a supernatural story there’s more to the gift than meets the eye. Next, the bulk of the volume is concerned with two intriguing identical twin sisters. Why does one of them seem to fail at everything she does? Watanuki thinks he knows why, but after he helps her, the bad luck seems to have transferred to the other sister. The volume concludes with two slightly disappointing short stories about some lost spirits.
So while Watanuki may be the protagonist, Yūko is really the best character in xxxHolic and the main reason to read it. This is proven by the fact that she adorns every cover, while Watanuki is generally on the reverse. Yūko is just a brilliant character. She is witty, intelligent, urbane, playful, beautiful, and flirtatious. She enjoys teasing Watanuki, and works his fingers to the bone. And yet when the time comes, she is also serious, caring, and sympathetic. For example, she waits with Dōmeki when he gets into a bit of trouble in the Velntine’s Day story. So she’s a very layered character, and I found her fascinating.
The stories in this novel are mostly episodic and unrelated. The story of the identical twins is the main story, and it is excellent. It’s both curious and unpredictable, and also, it leaves the reader with a really positive message. The final two short stories at the end felt more like filler than anything else, although they weren’t terrible, they just didn’t quite match what had preceded them.
The artwork is really attractive. It’s quite gothic, but it’s not too dark. Yūko in particular is always superbly drawn, in a variety of wonderful outfits, and with her long flowing hair and sleek fringe, she looks fantastic. This Tanoshimi release contains their usual high standards, such as translation notes and use of honorifics. I should point out that while xxxHolic does cross over with other CLAMP manga, most noticeably Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHoNiCLE, it is not essential to have an in-depth knowledge of other CLAMP material. Most of the references are small and inconsequential, and any larger ones are explained in the translator’s notes.
I really enjoyed this volume. It contains fun stories with a serious edge, characters with a genuine depth, and manages to convey a positive message. Recommended.