The dimension witch Yūko has vanished, leaving her protégé Kimihiro Watanuki in charge of her magical shop – a shop he can now never leave. As the years pass, Watanuki carries on Yūko’s work of wish-granting, supported by regular visits from his friend Dômeki, now a student (“We’re not friends!”) and black Mokona (“More sake!”)
But the sudden appearance of a glamorous and seductively-clad blonde customer strikes a chill into Watanuki’s heart; she is the Jorô-Gumo, the spider who once consumed his right eye. She’s back with a request – but this time he’s older, wiser, and ready for her wiles (the pipe fox is also protecting him.) She wants Watanuki to bring her a red pearl, a wish that necessitates him leaving the shop – which, of course, he cannot do. Dômeki and Kohane act as his scouts in the outside world. They trace the source of this unusual treasure to an apartment block, enabling Watanuki to travel there in dreams. But the person he encounters there will have a significant influence on the way he comes to understand his own plight.
Here, as often before, Watanuki learns something significant about himself and, as with the best of CLAMP’s work, it is a bitter-sweet revelation. Elements of Japanese folklore are woven in again, leaving the impression that reading a chapter of xxxHOLiC is not unlike sniffing the steam off some rare tea, or opening a box of oriental incense to release a fading yet evocative scent.
xxxHOLiC is only two volumes away from its conclusion in #19 and still relying on the ‘customer of the week’ format to progress the story. From #16 onward, the title has changed to ‘xxxHOLiC Rô’and now only Watanuki appears on the cover. Translator William Flanagan tells us that the kanji used for ‘Rô’ can also be read as ‘kago’ or cage, summing up Watanuki’s predicament.
The artwork is as stylish as ever, showing the same influences: Art Nouveau, Beardsley and Japanese woodblock art, yet so much more than the sum of these parts. Gorgeous though the colour plates are, the stark black inking is the most striking, especially when depicting Watanuki travelling through the medium of dreams – or Dômeki drawing his bow.
The high quality of the Del Rey editions, established from the very first, is maintained here with William Flanagan still delivering the goods with a fluid and eloquent translation and those useful translator’s notes which have become a staple (and which – I’m happy to see – Kodansha Comics USA seem to have preserved in the first volumes of their new series to come out this summer/autumn.)
I’m one of those readers who was both baffled and disappointed by the conclusion to its crossover series Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, so I’m crossing all my fingers in hoping that this time around CLAMP will provide us with a satisfying ending (something, in spite of all their talents, they’ve rarely been able to bring off.) One of xxxHOLiC’s strengths, the depiction of the ongoing friendship between the odd couple,Watanuki and the taciturn Dômeki, with its dry and gentle touches of humour, is further developed here when Watanuki gives his friend an unusual – and magical – gift on his birthday. From certain hints and asides, it seems as if Dômeki may soon need to use this powerful artefact (ostensibly a simple ring) “if things get dangerous.” For, as Watanuki murmurs at the end of this volume, reminding the reader of the theme lying at the heart of the story, “There is no such thing as coincidence in this world. The only thing is Hitsuzen. Isn’t that right…Yūko-san?”