11 October 2006
The xXxholic television series just finished airing in Japan, and its also just been licensed in the United States, so it's bound to be heading to DVD in another year or so. As such, now is the perfect time to review it!
xXxholic is based upon the CLAMP manga series by the same name, and tells the story of Watanuki Kimihiro, a high school student who can see and is chased by spirits wherever he goes. When fate leads him (somewhat unwillingly) into Yuuko's shop, she offers to grant his wish - to no longer be chased by spirits - at a price. In his case, the cost is that he works there part-time, and as such gets to witness many of Yuuko's unusual customers who come to have their wishes granted - often for very steep prices indeed. Most have one thing in common; an unusual addiction or bad habit, which is from where the series gets its name.
xXxholic is a highly esoteric series - not just in content, but in its construction. The entire anime is comprised almost entirely of stand-alone stories, with only a few recurring themes and references tying them together in any sort of chronological order. As such, there's no real climax at the end, but since each of the individual short stories is so compelling, that's easy to ignore. Fans of the manga will be pleased to note that for the most part the anime remains faithful to the source material - the major differences are in a couple of completely original stand-alone episodes and the order in which the stories are told. Most other changes are small and relatively inconsequential, and if anything make the viewing experience more enjoyable for those already well-acquainted with the original telling of the story.
The mood throughout the series is nicely balanced, also. With so much of the material in xXxholic heavily fantasy-based and dealing with the uglier aspects of human nature, the mood can get quite dark and depressing at times, but it's cleverly mixed with doses of humour ranging from Mokona and Yuuko's somewhat cruel pranks to Watanuki's extravagant tirades. Combined with the show's more whimsical elements, xXxholic becomes a unique viewing experience indeed. While it's unlikely to appeal to more mainstream anime tastes, viewers will find it hard not to become enamoured with the dynamic and memorable cast. Veteran anime fans will also particularly enjoy many of CLAMP's self-referential jokes - such as Yuuko making Watanuki wear Chobits ear muffs in one episode, or making a Jin-Roh Wolf Brigade snowman in another. Interestingly though, given that xXxholic crosses over with Tsubasa Chronicles, there is almost no mention of the sister series in the TV anime - there are one or two comments made by Yuuko and Mokona throughout, and you see Marudashi and Morodashi using Fye's staff as a rug-beater at one point, but that's the extent the crossing over goes. This could possibly be due to the fact that different studios are producing the two animes, but the end result is that Tsubasa Chronicle lovers won't get to see any crossover action in the TV series. Go to the movie for that.
With a unique cast and story comes also a unique visual style. With the animation for xXxholic being done by Production IG, you expect relatively high quality animation, but alas this appears to be one of their lower budget offerings. That's not to say that the animation isn't good - indeed, seeing Watanuki's spastic movements animated was quite enjoyable - but there are times when the cheap crowd shots are a little too in-your-face. Harder to swallow is the artistic style adopted for the series - much like what was done for the tv series of Tsubasa Chronicles, Production IG attempted to mimick CLAMP's lanky character style, only this time it was even more extreme. The result was frequently jarring, and nary an episode went by without my thinking that a character's head looked far too small on their body, or that there was no way anybody could be that tall and thin. In the extremely dynamic shots the style worked well, but the rest of anime could only get away with it because of eclectic nature of material. Indeed, I don't believe that any other anime could have possibly pulled off that extreme style and made it work, and even in xXxholic most of the time is just looked out of proportion and badly drawn.
While the art might have been a mixed bag, the soundtrack was quality. The voice acting fit all of the characters quite well, and while not all of the voices were carried over from the movie, they were all close enough not to be jarring to any viewers who saw the movie first. The actual sound effects were of a relatively low production quality, but their use was consistent and unique and gave the series a distinct aural identity. The music was especially noteworthy, matching the style of the series perfectly and featuring a number of memorable pieces that will make tracking down the OST worthwhile. The opening theme song and the second closing credits song were also quite enjoyable - it's been the first time in a long while that I've sat through every opening and closing animation, rather than just skipping straight to the episode. Though in the case of the second closing, that may have been more to watch Marudashi and Morodashi play air guitar with disturbing accuracy. Easily one of the best closing credits sequences I've seen in recent times.
Overall Score: 830,104/1,000,000. How much you enjoy xXxholic is heavily dependant on your personal tastes, and the animation is definitely nothing to write home about. However each and every short story is captivating, it's a fun cast of characters to watch, and at times its examination of human nature is so insightful that you're left feeling uncomfortable. I wouldn't mind seeing another season that covers the new arcs in the manga sometime in the future. For CLAMP fans, this is a must-see. Everyone else ought to at least check it. Your fate is inescapable, after all.