xxxHOLIC Vol. 5
Yuko Ichihara is scary when she's annoyed, and in the opening pages of the latest volume of xxxHOLIC, she is berating the fact that Syaoran and company (of Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE) haven't sent her gifts for White Day.
Okay, you probably weren't expecting a low-down on Japanese culture when you clicked on this review, but trust me, it's integral to the plot. White Day, which takes place on March 14, was invented by Japanese confectionery companies as a response to Valentine's Day, where girls give the boys they like chocolate. On White Day, the boys return the favor by giving the girls white chocolate.
Last time, the long-suffering Watanuki, Yuko's personal cook/slave also received a Valentine's gift from a zashiki warashi, an elemental that appears as a beautiful young girl. It is Watanuki's quest to fulfill his White Day duties in return that forms the umbrella arc throughout this volume.
Of course, Watanuki gets sidetracked. First by a spirit of the rain that comes to Yuko's shop, requiring Watanuki's help and his unique abilities. Then he sees a girl with wings on her back, but she's no angel; just a normal human in the grips of something magical, and it's not good. Finally, it's time for our hapless protagonist to fulfill his White Day duties with the aid of an over-sized, but ever so cute pipe-fox spirit and a magical urn.
As usual, Del Rey have done another fine job with the translation. The original sound effects are retained, and there are comprehensive cultural notes as an appendix, including information about fox spirits, food, festivals and kanji. However, there's no sneak peak of the next volume, in either Japanese or English, which is a little disappointing as I, like many fans, can't wait to see what's going to happen next.
As usual, the cover depicts Yuko, and is taken from the corresponding Japanese release, but the colors are brighter than the muted version used on the Japanese tankouban. The airbrushed logo fits well and it doesn't overwhelm the main focus of our attention: Yuko herself.
One of the reasons I like Del Rey releases is because they retain the original color panels from the Japanese release, complete with English translations. Del Rey, however, has once again repeated the same panels as black and white pages. The reason why they continue to do this eludes me, but I live in hope they might eventually stop, allowing us to plunge straight into the story rather than to endure a four page repeat.
As usual, the art is darkly gothic. Yuko looks terrifying, and this makes the entire volume feel more like a horror manga, yet it also provides some uplifting and almost comic moments. We even get to see Yuko in a kimono twice, which in my opinion, makes her look a lot less creepy and slightly more human.
The nice thing about this volume is that we get to see a little more of Yuko. She tells Watanuki a little more about her child-like servants Moro and Maru (aka Streaking and Flashing), and we even get to see her working her mojo whilst Watanuki is off spirit-hunting with his new pet. Normally, because Watanuki is the main protagonist, we stay with his point of view, but it makes a nice change to watch Yuko creating a shikigami ('servant-god') in the form of a butterfly to hunt down the source of the dark magic, which Yuko calls 'vermin' that caused the girl's wings in the previous chapter.
As usual, I'm than happy to shell out the extra dollars for this wonderfully dark series, simply because Del Rey put their heart and souls into making this an excellent translation.