Sunday, August 23, 2009

Anime Review: xxxHolic

Anime Review # 002
Title: xxxHolic
Release Type: 6 Single Disc Volumes (Complete Series Available Now)

Welcome to the Sunday edition of Blog of a Heretical Dub Lover! It's strange, I didn't really feel like doing anything today but I sat down and started working for hours on this anyway. Why did I work today?

Maybe it was inevitable. I'm sure Yuko would say that. As your Navigator, I Richard J., hereby formally welcome you to a shop of wish granting and a review of xxxHolic. This is a 24 episode (23 main eps and one side story) series by Director Tsutomu Mizushima. Director Mizushima also worked on Funimation licensed series Big Windup and Media Blasters licensed series Genshiken. The series is animated by Production I.G. and based on the best-selling manga by CLAMP. (Do I really even have to tell you who they are or give you that link?) Production is by Ayakashi Research Society.

Now, since it keeps raining so annoyingly around my house, I asked-


Ame-warashi: HEY! What do you mean annoyingly? Do you have any idea what would happen if there was no rain? Do you?

Richard J.: Ow! You hit me with your umbrella!

Ame-warashi: Yeah, so what, you rain hater.

Richard J.: Oh for the love of. . . look can you just do what we discussed?

Ame-warashi: Fine. Only because it's favor for Zashiki-warashi.

Here's the deal folks. xxxHolic is a story about Kimihiro Watanuki, a not-so-average high school student who can see and interact with spirits like other people do stray animals. He gets about the same results too with some of the spirits being pretty nasty and others being very sweet. He's got a bit of a spastic personality but Watanuki's not a bad guy at all.

One day, he wanders into a shop that seems very out of place and meets Yuko Ichihara, the seemingly free-spirited mistress who grants wishes. Declaring his visit inevitable, she proceeds to more or less con him into being her choir boy for however long it takes to work off his debt for a wish to keep the spirits away from him. Watanuki's a first-class cook apparently so this is a big win for Yuko.

By the way you might not know this, and some fansubbers and so-called elite fans will mislead you, but the "xxx" in the title indicates variability, like the variability of the needs of the various customers to Yuko's shop, and it's not supposed to be pronounced. The correct way to say the title is just Holic. So don't pronounce the x's when you say the name and tell anyone who does that they are being stupid.

Also in Watanuki's life are Shizuka Doumeki and Himawari Kunogi. As much as Wataknuki wants to pretend otherwise, Doumeki's the best friend he's ever had. He frequently protects Waranuki by using spiritual powers and his skills at kyūdō to send dangerous spirits packing. Himawari is the girl of Watanuki's dreams but clearly he doesn't get that those are actually nightmares he's having. The first anime series doesn't get to it but that girl is trouble! Let me tell you about her-

Richard J.: Whoa! Hold it! No spoilers!

Ame-warashi: Fine. Whatever. I'm talking about Zashiki-warashi then! She's the one Watanuki should be begging to date him. She's sweet, gentle and a nice being! Powerful too though most people are such jerks that they make her feel terrible just to be around them. Why Watanuki chases after that Himawari is beyond me. That girl is nothing compared to my friend.

So, that's the basic plot. Watanuki works for Yuko and in exchange, some day, she'll make the spirits leave him alone. Of course, beings like myself and Zashiki-warashi are a lot more powerful than mere spirits. Then again, Yuko's power is truly frightening.

It's your turn now, right?

Richard J.: Yes. Thank you for your efforts. Now, I'll give my thoughts on the positive aspects of the show.

Ame-warashi: I'd like to hear them.


Richard J.: Sure, stick around as long as you want.

Okay, here are my thoughts on the positive side of xxxHolic. Funimation has released this series as both a 6 volume single disc release with a snazzy art box and as a single box set collection. This review is based on the boxset but I say if you have the space, the money and a desire for more artwork, the singles and art box are quite nice.

On performances in the series: Our guest host is Ame-warashi, voiced by Kate Oxley in the series. She gives off the strong personality of a being unaccustomed to pleasant dealings with humans with just a hint of self-importance. She's an excellent recurring character in my opinion.

Todd Haberkorn brings Kimihiro Watanuki to life. I don't care what any other reviewer says, she's just plain great as Watanuki! He adds such vigor to Watanuki's comedic displays of anger and annoyance as well as a quiet emotional poignancy to parts of the story that can leave you a bit teary-eyed.

Colleen Clinkenbeard gives Yuko Ichihara a teasing and sometimes childish tone while also managing to be quite sexy and wise sounding. It's a multifaceted performance that deserves some praise given how difficult a character Yuko is to figure out. Is she a mentor to Watanuki? A potential lover? A malevolent being out for his soul? All of the above is a valid character interpretation too with what we see of her in the anime. Despite Yuko's frequent claims that things are inevitable, she seems to be quite interested in changing Watanuki's destiny.

Shizuka Doumeki is voiced by J. Michael Tatum and gives off a gruff stoicism fitting to the character. The only real problem is that it is sometimes a little difficult to hear what he's saying! Tatum's strongest moments are when Doumeki acts to defend Watanuki, even against a being that Watanuki wants to protect. He comes across aloof at times but Doumeki really is one of the best friends Watanuki could ask for.

Ame-warashi: And he has such a fresh essence.


Richard J.: Yeah, he does. Wish I had a friend like him.

Despite being the primary "love interest," Cherami Leigh's Himawari Kunogi is an extremely flat character. She's constantly cheerful and utterly oblivious to Watanuki's obvious affection. However, this is not poor acting on Cherami's part. Rather, the anime fails to get into the part of the story that really deals with Himawari. There are hints of her true nature in Episode 8: Contract.

Brina Palencia voices Zashiki-warashi and also Moru. While she's not the best performance in this series (that goes to Todd's Watanuki) she steals more scenes than any other VA. The character of Zashiki-warashi is a refreshing counterpart to Himawari. She's a supernatural being with a crush on a certain boy who is often accompanied by Ame-warashi or karisu tengu who beat the stuffing out of anyone they think has made her cry. Zashiki-warashi also features a lovely character design that seems consistently wonderful throughout the anime. (Here's a story about where to find a real one if you'd like.)

As Moru, she steals scenes like mad in cahoots with Leah Clark's Maru. Maru and Moru are unsual girls who work/serve/are dependent on Yuko. Their background is, most unfortunately, only hinted at in the anime. However, they are constant scene stealers, always saying and doing things that make a person smile. I don't know if they were intended to be "moe" but they trigger that sort of a reaction in me, although their personalities are similar to children and they are clearly wise and strong. The most moving scene with them in my opinion is in Episode 23: Choices. (Oh and FYI Maru and Moru's full names can be translated as Flashing and Streaking, so keep that in mind when watching the first episode.)

Although she plays an active and important role in Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle, Carrie Savage's black Mokona is little more than Yuko's drinking buddy and another harasser of Watanuki. Mokona has a few moments here and there to shine but they are fleeting. The deeper, snarkier tone Carrie uses for black Mokona vs. white Mokona really fits this one's personality but her talent is wasted as the character could be removed from the anime with few problems.

XxxHolic is a fairly episodic and episodes can be a bit hit or miss. The best episodes are those that focus on Watanuki trying to help or interact with powerful supernatural beings or just learning about the unseen world. Episode 4: Fortune Telling is a very calm episode overall but it is also very effective and features one of the most thorough debunking of a fortune teller ever by Yuko herself. (She knows the real ones from the fakes.) Everything on the second box set disc from Episode 7: Hydrangea which features Ame-warashi's first appearance to Episode 12: Summer Shade in which Watanuki and his circle of relatively human friends travel to the beach, are all very good episodes. Episode 11: Confession features the first appearance of my absolute favorite character, Zashiki-warashi. Personally, I find most of the episodes on the third and fourth discs of the boxset to be good as well but some are very fluffy and do little if anything to advance the plot.

Ame-warashi: This is where you tell them the bad part right?


Richard J.: Sort of. Here's where I explain what isn't so great about the show.

Remember when I said xxxHolic is episodic? Well, that's part of the problem. The anime suffers from some adaption issues due to the manga crossing over frequently with Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle. The anime removes most overt references to these crossovers, as well as moving some stories around, adding a few orignal ones and so on. The result is that the series narrative is a bit jumbled. It's not a horrible mess but it hurts.

Primarily, this means that the series feels almost like a slice-of-life anime rather than a supernatural chronicle of Watanuki's development as a person, which I believe is the true point of the story. As previously mentioned, the first anime also fails to address numerous issues such as the truth about Himawari and why Watanuki is so willing to keep putting his life on the line. Also, Maru and Moru's nature is left largely unexplained. It is more than a little annoying but acceptable.

Some of the episodes feel week and others just leave you going "okay, that was cool but what about Watanuki and getting the spirits to lay off him?" Also, while xxxHolic can hit us with some truly eerie creatures (the monkey's paw and the hand things creep me the hell out) many of the bad spirits that Watanuki is plagued by are just silly looking. Dark cloudy things with oddly placed eyes and limbs and mouths aren't exactly all that frightening. Plus someone really enjoyed doing that animated smoke. When the series focuses on a spirit, they tend to give us a much better design though.

While I'm talking about character designs though, I have to mention that xxxHolic has very inconsistent ones. The designs by CLAMP for the manga are stylistically rather unique and convey a lot of mood and personality but they don't translate well to moving pictures. I'd call them anime off-model but it's more like variable model. Expect some bodies but if you can get past them, expect some interesting story-telling.

So that's my take on this anime! Cat Girl score card reads: Photobucket

XxxHolic is available at the following fine retailers, none of whom pay me a dime for my links, in boxset and singles form. Robert's Anime Corner Store, Amazon, Best Buy, FYE and The Right Stuf.

Singles are available at several of these sites as well but the artbox is harder to come by. Want to watch a few episodes free? Funimation as this one up on their Video Portal!

Since Funimation has already reviewed the packaging, here's a link to Hey Nice Package where you can check it out.

Well, that's it for this review. Complete manga review will be up later tonight.

Ame-warashi: You know, I think you did a good job.


Richard J.: Aw thanks.



  1. I read a volume of the manga at the library, and from this review, I think I'd be more interested in collecting the manga than buying the box set of the anime. I really did like the manga, but I'd forgotten about it until now. I will check out the episodes that are being streamed though, as your review's convinced me it's worth a look.

  2. Ironic that I was just re-watching some of this show earlier today.

    It is a good series, but it's true that I wish it'd focus more on the plot. There was something about Himawari that felt off to me, and now that you mention some truth about her that was skipped over in the anime, it has me wondering... (note: I haven't gotten too far in the xxxHoLic manga, I've only read the first volume). In addition, Maru and Moro definitely had big hits, and I wish it expanded on that some more as well.

    I wonder if any of this gets covered in xxxHoLic Kei? I hope to see that licensed someday.

  3. @ bal-anime: From what I've heard, Kei does cover the twists with her. I also hope that it will be licensed, preferably by Funi.