It’s Valentine’s Day – and while Domeki is showered with chocolates and cards from girls, Watanuki receives none. To make matters worse, he must also do the usual chores for Yuko, which includes making chocolate cake for her and Mokona, as well as the treats his boss wants to give away as gifts. But when Watanuki discovers he has a shy and secret admirer who is not quite human, he finds that chocolates can be more than just sweets.
Then, after seeing identical twin sisters pass by in the street, Yuko makes a curious remark: that there are chains that only humans can use to bind others. Watanuki meets the sisters and senses that the relationship between them is not what it seems…
Volume 4 of xxxHOLiC continues the mystical and spiritual misadventures of the excellent cook but unlucky in everything else Kimihiro Watanuki, a high school student who has been plagued by youkai (spirits), who seemingly have a very strong attraction to him, for all his life. A chance (?) meeting with the trans-dimensional witch known simply as Yuko Ichihara, a mysterious and beautiful (if a little self-involved) woman whose business it is to grant wishes, promises to rid Watanuki of these spirits for good – but as a fair exchange Watanuki is now forced to work in her mystical shop!
So easily-excitable and over reactive Watanuki now finds himself cooking and running small errands dealing with both the supernatural and normal household chores, all while having to deal with his stoic and athletic ‘rival’ Shizuka Domeki, who has all the luck with women and seems to be the exact opposite of Watanuki! And then of course there is Himawari Kunogi, sweet little Himawari, who Watanuki would just die for – it’s just too bad that she doesn’t seem to feel quite so strongly about him!
This time around it is Valentine’s Day, and as expected, the girls aren’t exactly lining up to present Watanuki with any chocolates this year! However, with Watanuki’s strange attraction of all that is spiritual, it comes as no wonder that there is a particular little girl that takes an interest in him – and who steals a very special ‘chocolate’ in order to present to him – the consequences of which leads to a very madcap and desperate chase around the skies of the city!
The second story arc for this volume deals with two beautiful twins who seemingly get on with each other like a house on fire but happen to be complete opposites in terms of personality – and it all has to do with the ‘chains’ that only humans can use to bind with explains Yuko. Of course, unable just to leave the problem alone, Watanuki (and Domeki) find themselves drawn into the lives of the twins which may just prove too tough a nut to crack for either of them!
The volume then closes off with two quick fire encounters which serves to teach Watanuki the smallest of lessons, but lessons that are sure to make him grow just that little much more.
xxxHOLiC is produced by legendary, all female mangaka group CLAMP, responsible for some of the most well known manga titles to ever reach us out here in the West. These four ladies started out producing doujinshi (fan fiction) but soon word of their work caught on and because it was of such a high standard, they quickly began to make a name for themselves in the professional world, with some of their previous credits including Chobits, X/1999, CardCaptor Sakura, xxxHOLIC and Magic Knight Rayearth just to name a few! They are currently publishing three ongoing titles in Japan, namely Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNICLE, xxxHOLiC and Gohou Drug.
As per usual, the story is drenched in Japanese folklore and legend and oozes with spiritual and supernatural phenomena which provide the backbone for all of Watanuki’s unusual encounters. A strong theme throughout the series is the ongoing growth of Watanuki through serious and often dramatic scenarios and Volume 4 continues this tradition very nicely. The writing style is the usual madcap mix of drama and comedy, with the very hyperactive and over-reactive Watanuki taking first and foremost stage. The comical relationship between him, Domeki and Himawari is plumbed for material as always, with the odd little black mokona and Maru & Moro providing a little extra comical relief when needed.
All the stories contained within the book are nicely laid out, easy to follow and all try to say something, which makes xxxHOLiC even more enjoyable to read as you can enjoy it on both an intellectual and just plain fun level at the same time.
Artistically, CLAMP continue their tradition of exaggerated proportions which gives the book a nice and unique feel without being too jarring all at once. They make frequent use of super-deformed and exaggerated facial expressions for the comedy bits, and this blends in well with the overall style of the book. All the characters are beautifully designed and detailed, particularly Yuko and the multitude of finely designed costumes that she wears every day, but it must be noted that CLAMP seemed particularly lazy when it came to backgrounds in this volume because they are rather sparse in appearance and are often just substituted for a bunch of linear lines instead of surrounding objects! Still, their relatively solid and clean lines make for a very easy viewing and this helps the book flow just that much better.
Overall, xxxHOLiC volume 4 is a nicely self-contained read that delivers on everything that is good about xxxHOLiC. It looks good, reads straightforward and provides a generous dose of comedy and drama, all drenched in Japanese folklore, ghosts and mysteries. So if you liked CLAMP’s other works, then you’ll probably enjoy this one as well!
Related link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/XxxHOLiC