I’m continuing my review of the Dublin Library’s anime and manga collection this month with xxxHolic, a popular manga series by CLAMP, the team that created Card Captor Sakura, Magic Knight Rayearth, and Tsubasa Chronicle.

xxxHolic is set in modern-day Japan, with occasional crossovers to the alternate universe of Tsubasa Chronicle. It’s a personal favorite of mine, and I’ve been enjoying reading Tsubasa Chronicle and xxxHolic in parallel.

As xxxHolic begins, orphaned high school student Kimihiro Watanuki is plagued by ghosts and demons, thanks to his extreme sensitivity to the spirit world. The unrelenting harassment by the supernatural is making him fear for both his life and his sanity.

Seemingly by chance, he stumbles across a strange little shop located in what he thought was a vacant lot. There, he encounters a beautiful, mysterious woman named Yuuko, a witch who grants wishes–for a price.

In return for shielding Watanuki from the harassment of the spirits, she demands that he come to work for her as a part-time cook and housekeeper.

Watanuki agrees to the bargain, but Yuuko’s solution proves nearly as troublesome as his original problem…much to Watanuki’s disgust, to fend off his spirit stalkers, he’s forced to keep company with his classmate and rival, Shizuka Doumeki.

Doumeki, who is tall, handsome, athletic, and rather taciturn, is the son and grandson
of powerful Buddhist priests, and a naturally talented exorcist in his own right.

Watanuki can’t stand his new bodyguard at first–not only is he wildly jealous of Doumeki’s calm, quiet confidence, but the girl that Watanuki has a crush on is also much too friendly with Doumeki, in Watanuki’s opinion.

Watanuki is a kind and compassionate person who’s suffered some terrible tragedies in his life, but he’s also extremely lonely and insecure, and his insecurities often manifest as childish temper tantrums. He’s a caretaker by nature, and as the series continues and his circle of friends slowly begins to expand, he starts bringing obento (boxed lunches) to school every day for his friends.

In Japanese culture, gifting someone with a bento lunch is a sign of affection and caring. Never very articulate when it comes to discussing his feelings, Watanuki shows his caring by feeding the people important to him.

Yuuko isn’t shy about take full advantage of her bargain with Watanuki (and of his excellent cooking skills), and keeps him busy running her household. She also begins to send Watanuki–with the faithful Doumeki tagging along–out on various errands to fix problems in the spirit world.

Watanuki’s kindness and compassion help to resolve most situations, and when they don’t, Doumeki stands ready to lend a hand with his stubborn loyalty and his exorcism talents.

The series has an X-Files feel about it at times, as the two boys go on various missions and encounter a variety of supernatural beings, from the friendly (such as the fox-demon family who own an oden stand and serve up helpings of their delicious stew to customers) to the utterly terrifying (a spider demon who believes in an eye for an eye, literally).

As xxxHolic progresses, Watanuki finds himself becoming friends with Doumeki against his will, and he also finds a soft spot in his heart for Yuuko, who is by turns manipulative and lonely. Twelve volumes into this continuing series, I also get the feeling that Yuuko is training Watanuki up as her successor in balancing elements and resolving conflicts in the many parallel universes that she guards in her role as the Witch of the Dimensions.

Some of these parallel universes, most notably the universe of Tsubasa Chronicle, intersect with xxxHolic, and characters from the two series appear at various points in each series’ storylines.

The artwork is lush and detailed, with CLAMP’s distinctive style of long, lanky figures, flowing hair, and gorgeously depicted outfits (especially Yuuko’s clothing, which ranges from traditional Japanese formalwear, to sophisticated evening gowns that make her look like a movie star from the Golden Age of Hollywood).

So, is xxxHolic appropriate for your child? The publisher rates this series as appropriate for ages 13 and up, and I agree with this rating.

The publisher has done a very good job translating the original text, keeping the original Japanese honorifics where appropriate to convey nuances of relationships between characters, and providing informative historical and cultural footnotes at various points in the text. xxxHolic contains no sex or offensive language, but there is some gory violence, and occasional disturbing and creepy paranormal story elements.

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