xxxHOLiC Vol. 1
I never know what to expect when getting into a new CLAMP title. Some, such as Angelic Layer, CLAMP School Detectives, or Cardcaptor Sakura, seem geared more towards kids eager for some excitement. Others, like X / 1999, Magic Knight Rayearth, Wish, or Chobits, are decidedly more dramatic, appealing to a more mature audience.
Luckily for me, xxxHOLiC falls into the latter category. It's not that I dislike CLAMP's less dramatic series so much as I feel that they're at their best when they're writing for an older audience.
xxxHOLiC isn't filled with "adult" language - at least, it's not rife with cursing. Nor is it peppered with scenes of actual or implied nudity. Sure, one of the primary protagonists - Yuko Ichihara (if that's her real name) - is an attractive woman, but you can find good looking characters in Archie comics. Manga boasting a character with a nice figure does not necessarily imply that we're going to see her naked. (That's what dojinshi are for, right?)
No, the maturity of xxxHOLiC is entirely due to the deliciously complex writing that CLAMP has decided to provide us.
Not much really happens in the inaugural volume of this new series, one of the first four from domestic manga newcomer Del Rey. Watanuki Kimihiro has better vision than most people. An odd statement when used in reference to a guy who wears glasses. However, let me explain. While Watanuki's visual clarity isn't any greater than the average person, his scope is a bit broader.
Rather than being limited to the typical visible spectrum, Watanuki can see objects of the spirit realm. Auras, ghosts, demons, and other energy forms that he'd most likely rather not see are in his face every day of his life.
In the first book of xxxHOLiC, he may finally have found a way to rid himself of these visions permanently. To his dismay, the person who promised to help him is charging him for the service - and her prices tend to be extreme.
The aforementioned Yuko Ichihara is a self-proclaimed witch as well as the solicitor of Watanuki's serivces. Of course, by "witch," the translators are not attempting to suggest that she's a Western witch. That is, she doesn't wear a pointy hat and fly around on a broomstick. She is lovely enough to have a show on the WB, but she's not that kind of witch, either.
No, Yuko is more akin to a master of an esoteric form of Buddhism. She is aware of more than one level of reality, and has an uncanny knack for dimensional shifting.
With the help of her two young aids, Maru-dashi and Moro-dashi, Yuko runs a business with the sole purpose of granting wishes. Thanks to the handy cultural reference notes at the back of the release, I now know that Maru-dashi and Moro-dashi both translate as "exposing yourself in public."
Sometimes, Yuko can be decidedly odd. In fact, to the casual observer, Yuko's behavior must appear to be altogether desultory. She shifts her focus when speaking often, but you can count on her to always mean more than she explicitly says.
The cost for Yuko's help in removing Watanuki's hypersensitivity to the spirit world is Watanuki's promise to help the witch around her shop, serving as a little bit of a slave and a little bit of a pet to the alluring Yuko. This is a task he's not especially keen on, despite her good looks, but he is drawn by the hope she offers him.
Watanuki figures employment for a wacky witch is better than getting chased by big supernatural colored blobs with an unhealthy attachment to the world of the living. At least, at first he does.
CLAMP's illustrations are always as good as the stories that they write, and naturally, xxxHOLiC does not fail to please the eyes. This particular series has a darker, more Gothic look than the group's work in the past. The heavy-lidded Yuko and frequently grimacing Watanuki present a clear counterpoint to the plucky heroines from Angelic Layer and Cardcaptor Sakura.
The panels tend to be balanced evenly between black and white, with Yuko's raven hair filling what would normally be white space with a little touch of the macabre.
For a freshman attempt, Del Rey has done an admirable job of adapting xxxHOLiC. Adhering to TOKYOPOP's standards, and in some ways going beyond them, the book has a few color pages in the beginning, reads from right to left, and maintains honorifics and sound effects.
The editors have also decided to translate the sound effects in-panel, and while I'm not a big fan of drawing extra words on the original art, they tend to keep the translations tiny and unobtrusive. I'm fine with a sound effect dictionary at the back, but this works well, too.
I'm actually glad to see that they even left some dialogue that wasn't in word bubbles unchanged, with translations off to the side in dead space. It's actually nice for those of us who can read a little Japanese to see what characters are saying in Japanese right alongside the English translation.
The only drawback to this release is the higher than average price. The book isn't of any noticeably better quality than one of TOKYOPOP's releases, but it's almost a dollar more.
If, like me, you buy hundreds of manga a year, then a dollar is a big deal. I think manga prices should continue to trend down, in any case. If it got to the point where they only cost about the price of a mass-market paperback, I'd be in manga heaven.
I'll concede that there is a good amount of extras here, including an impressive amount of extra information that comes in handy when trying to put the work in context. Cultural references, a good biography of CLAMP, and other interesting tidbits, along with a preview of the next volume - in Japanese - make this excellent manga even better. In the end, my soul appreciates this release - it's my wallet that's whining.
Thus, readers who need a new CLAMP title (like people who need air) have every right to get excited over xxxHOLiC. It's a great start for a promising new series, and it even ties into Del Rey's other CLAMP title, Tsubasa. With two new related CLAMP series running at the same time, I don't see how anyone could complain.