xxxHOLIC Vol. 4
Watanuki Kimihiro is still having a hard life. This is the fourth volume of CLAMP's latest series in which the unfortunate psychic must play slave and cook to Yuko Ichihara, an enchantress of mysterious origins who runs a shop were wishes can be granted - for a price.
As if Watanuki's life wasn't complicated enough, he now has to contend with a rival named Domeki, a fellow psychic and gifted archer. Watanuki's troubles don't stop there; Yuko-san is forcing him to make Valentine's Day chocolates for her. In Japan, the girls are meant to make or buy chocolate for guys, who then return the favor in March on White Day, so Watanuki is understandably annoyed.
Released at the end of January, just in time for Valentine's Day, xxxHOLIC is fast becoming one of newcomer Del Rey's signature series. However, this volume serves more as filler and doesn't really advance the plot, instead it is divided into several tales.
The first picks up on the Valentine's Day theme and has Domeki's soul stolen by a female spirit after he eats the special chocolate that Watanuki made for Himawari-chan, his would-be girlfriend. Watanuki is then charged with retrieving Domeki's soul on a giant bird, driven by the black Mokona (I kid you not).
The second arc in the book is slightly more down to earth and concerns twin girls bound together by words, a little human-interest story with a darker edge. The third concerns a young boy who can see the spirits chasing Watanuki, and for a short time, our hapless hero makes a friend, while realizing that not every spirit that chases him is scary or inhuman. The final chapter is more of a teaser for the next volume, because even I know there is something creepy about an arm sticking out of the ground with no body attached.
For CLAMP fans, there is also a short crossover with the fifth volume of Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle. For crossover fiends, there's also more allusions to Yuko-san's relationship with Clow Reed and the creation of the Black and White Mokonas, but as always, no real revelations, just tidbits to keep us all salivating.
Yuko-san is also on the periphery; she plays the watcher and lets Watanuki do all the work, preferring instead to drink good calvados with her chocolate and eat yakitori and teppan. She acts as shopkeeper once or twice, but she is essentially a minor character, as all the action revolves around Watanuki. Yet she is much more serious in this volume, and her darkly comic side is seemingly absent except for short lapses.
Yes, Watanuki is somewhat desperate and you can roll your eyes at his blatant attraction to the angelic Himawari-chan, but he also has a heart. He is sometimes just too nice. Personally, I find the darkness of Yuko-san a refreshing change. She goes from being cold and devoid of emotion to animated and drunk in the space a page, but you never quite know if she's completely safe. For me, that's half of what makes her such an enthralling character.
The art isn't classic CLAMP; it's heavy on crisp black and white images as if to increase the macabre sense of the series itself. Yet this volume is nowhere near as macabre and genuinely dark as previous chapters. The book itself is a pleasure to read. The cover is matte and much brighter than the original, yet the brighter colors seem to make the portrait of Yuko-san look a lot more sinister.
As with previous volumes, the introductory color pages were reproduced from the original Japanese release. I still haven't figured out why Del Rey repeats the same four pages in black and white, but you can't have everything. The pages are crisp and white, unlike the slight yellow tinge that was present in the original Japanese version.
The original sound-effects are basically untouched, and many include English equivalents, and despite CLAMP's love of including minor characters dialogue outside of the main speech-bubbles in each panel, Del Rey have somehow managed to keep large amounts of Japanese text in, as well as providing translations.
As with preceding volumes, our friends at Del Rey have once again gone all out in including a sizeable number of translation notes after the main story. Personally, this is one of the reasons why I love reading both xxxHOLIC and Tsubasa. In this volume, we get explanation of various foods, the cultural significance of Valentine's and White Day, and also a run down on Yuko-san's references and obscure Japanese TV shows.
Okay, this might cost a few dollars more than a TOKYOPOP release, but I think it's worth it. Not only do you get a well-printed and translated book that retains its Japanese origins, you also get a wealth of cultural information, and trust me, you will learn something even if you think you know everything there is to know about Japan.
Finally, just to finish up, Del Rey includes a sneak-peak at the next volume in Japanese. To be honest, I'm not sure whether this is a case of running out of translation time or just to make fans count off the days until the next release (which is in May, just in case you were wondering).
All in all, xxxHOLIC is one of those series which gets me reaching for my credit card. I avidly await the next release date, not only because I love the fact that CLAMP can write a genuinely dark tale when they want to, but also because the characters are so unlike anything they've written before.