(A longish comment on xxxHolic Vol. 1-3 and the roundtable so far)
It’s not difficult to admire the gentle artistry of CLAMP. It’s easy on the eyes and doesn’t deviate significantly from the style readers have come to expect from manga. Still, while there are individual illustrations of some interest every so often in xxxHolic, my eyes were flitting through most of the pages with a general lack of enthusiasm.
My primary feeling upon completing the first 3 volumes of xxxHolic was that of boredom.
An uncomfortable amount of the drawings and panel to panel transitions here function solely as tools to move the story forward, failing to form any sort of pleasant and unique narrative voice. The sparse backgrounds and general lack of variation in page compositions are all typical of deeply commercial stories bound to rapid serialization schedules. These elements are also perfectly suited to the needs of the inevitable anime adaptations. Reading this series was not unlike listening to a relatively agreeable narrator delivering a quick recital of a very forgettable story; no different from the multitude of disconnected, languidly paced, by the numbers dramas we might find on television today.
The frequent repetition of perspectives and pictorial elements (the black fog, the swirling smoke etc. ) inevitably focus attention on the story at hand, and the tales in these initial volumes of xxxHolic present us with so little to latch on to that they become little more than regurgitations of a hodgepodge of supernatural plot lines. The humor is both typical and predictable, the denouements educational and morally uplifting in the worst possible way.
Those looking for complex or novel ideas will be left wanting. xxxHolic is nothing less than a famine of the imagination. Do we really need another tired story about internet addiction and the harmful effects of lying (so typical of the moral banality present in the EC line)? What about humdrum rehashes of the complications resulting from the use of magic circles, a monkey’s paw and improper channeling? How many times have we seen high school kids getting caught up in the occult high jinks found in volume 3 of xxxHolic? The aborted ghost story session in volume 2 may tickle some readers not familiar with Oriental versions of this genre but this half-baked, poorly considered reiteration left me flipping the pages with a mixture of disdain and irritation, wondering why I was wasting time and money on such artistic inertia when I could be more profitably rereading Lafcadio Hearn’s Kwaidan or Pu Songling’s Liaozhai Zhiyi. To cap things off, CLAMP even provides their readers with a sure sign that they have reached a creative dead end as far as xxxHolic is concerned: a token crossover event with the characters of Tsubasa.
While I was reading manga regularly and indiscriminately during the 90s, I quickly came to the realization that there was just as much crap (certainly >90%) filling the shelves of my manga book store as any English language comic book shop. xxxHolic does nothing to disabuse me of this impression. There’s little doubt, however, that the industry needs as many of these heavily polished turds as possible to keep the tills running over.
For some reason, I’ve found that western readers seem to be far kinder to commercial dreck from the shores of Japan, lacing their reviews with only the mildest of reservations. Is this representative of a certain indifference to the qualities of commercial manga or is there some sort of cultural forbearance and variation in standards at work here? Many, for example, seem to be far more interested in castigating the deficiencies of Dan Clowes and Chris Ware – the idols de jour of the “art comics” scene. Certainly, I’ve never been particularly interested in writing about the glorified rubbish which continues to emanate from the shores of the U.S., and there has been even less need in recent years if only because of the stream of good material both freshly minted and reprinted.
I won’t be quite so kind in my summation. xxxHolic is considerably worse than anything from the hand of Chris Ware. It’s certainly more dreadful and synthetic than Ghost World. Reading the first 3 volumes of this mess from CLAMP is not unlike reading some late 60s DC horror comic only without the attendant nostalgia. It is, quite simply, mediocre.
For a more happy take on xxxHolic read:
Melinda Beasi on “Why you should read xxxHolic“ (Beasi’s reviews of the later volumes in xxxHolic at the same site are also worth reading for their strong emotional connection with the series and its characters)
Update by Noah: You can read all posts in the xxxholic roundtable here.