Watanuki can see spirits and they bother him fairly continuously. One day, as he is being harassed on the street by spirits he touches a fence and suddenly they back away. Entering the house he meets the mysterious Yuuko who offers to fix his problem in exchange for Watanuki working in her store where she grants wishes for a price. Though reluctantly, Watanuki accepts her offer and enters a world full of strange and supernatural occurences.
The idea of a mysterious person being able to grant wishes for a price is hardly a new one in fiction. Its pretty much as old as they come when you consider Rumpelstiltskin and other fairy tales that play on exactly that notion. What makes xxxHolic interesting is that you never really know if Yuuko is out for personal gain or not. While the price she demands at times seems steep, she always follows through on her end of the deal and considering what is being asked of her it only makes sense that it come at heavy cost.
So the premise of this story works fundamentally very well. As does the slightly spooky and yet glamorous setting of Yuuko’s store/house. It is unsettling and yet visually compelling as is Yuuko’s basic appearance. She is beautiful but beautiful in a way that makes you sense something slightly inhuman about her. The opening music, the butterfly motif, all of the aesthetics work at creating a truly enjoyable atmosphere for a mysterious story about spirits, contracts and other supernatural occurrences.
What I like less about the show is Watanuki himself. He is an incredibly irritating character. His hissy fits, his moments of self-delusion as he imagines himself with the pretty girl from school that he clearly has a crush on even though she’s clearly up to something, his sudden bursts of anger, his constantly underestimating or misinterpreting Yuuko’s actions… He is an incredibly childish character and most of the time you just want Yuuko to put him straight and yet for the most part his actions go without rebuke. Occasionally she’ll deliver a cutting remark to make him reflect and then we get the even more painful Watanuki being humble scene usually before he flies into yet another unwarranted rage.
This means I kind of have a love/hate relationship with the show. I watched xxxHolic because I loved Tsubasa Chronicles and Yuuko’s brief appearances in that anime fascinated me. On learning there was a story focused on her I just couldn’t resist. And she is fantastic while Watanuki is just kind of tiresome.
It isn’t as though he doesn’t grow some through the course of the series and certainly the follow up season did have him grow significantly. However, despite liking the overall premise of the show and loving Yuuko and the aesthetics, Watanuki is a bit of a sticking point. He just isn’t a lot of fun to watch as a character.
The rest of the cast are all kind of interesting or forgettable by various measures but they help to fill out the world and give direction for Yuuko and Watanuki so that isn’t really a problem. Watanuki’s friends (?) from school each have secrets of their own though in the first season of xxxHolic little is revealed about that.
Each episode is more or less a stand alone story, however artefacts from previous stories come up later and Watanuki becomes more knowledgeable and asks less questions later on in the series. Still, the basic set up is someone comes to the store or Watanuki stumbles upon something, there’s a brief consultation with Yuuko and Watanuki will usually be unimpressed with her initial response so do something stupid, there’s another consultation with Yuuko where someone will make a deal and she’ll either take action or direct someone to take action to resolve the problem. It is fairly formulaic but it doesn’t feel overly repetitive given the sheer number of different issues the characters face.
If you are in the mood for a slow paced story with a little bit of mystery and a focus on the supernatural, xxxHolic is certainly something worth checking out. Not to mention, some of the quotes that you will come across in this show will stick with you long after you finish watching it.
If you’ve watched it, please let me know your thoughts.
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