Publisher: DelRey Manga
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: October 2010
Synopsis: “The witch Yuko is gone, vanished and forgotten by the world with the exception of a small handful of people. But Kimihiro is determined to keep the wish-granting shop going, even if the shop’s arcane rules nearly kill him for the crime of setting a wrong price. Now begins a new chapter: XXXHolic Ro!”
Yuko’s absence is both the driving force and overlaying weight atop the entire volume. Watanuki’s resolve to wait for her is a substantially hefty burden to bear but he’s so emotionally committed to it that you can’t help but feel both sympathetic and enthralled as he dons the yukata that seals the deal on his role as the shop’s new owner.
What proved the most interesting part of the book for me, however, was the opportunity to learn more about how the store ‘works’. In taking over the shop, Watanuki also needs to adhere to the same rules and magical contracts that Yuko had – most specifically, the balance of proper payment. Through the character’s discussing it (as it occurred during the story’s time skip), we learn that Watanuki has already paid his share of prices for mis-charging customers, for taking too little while giving too much in return. The imbalance of exchange was then taken from Watanuki, apparently almost killing him with physical injury.
Watanuki almost losing his life to the store’s payment system also drives home the seriousness of his being unable to leave the store. When he almost died, he was unable to leave to get to a hospital treatment and there were no house-call doctors to help him. The fear weighs heavily on his friends that should he take too little from a customer in the future, that the resulting toil on his body could kill him before there’s anyway to get him help. The idea of being trapped in one building for perhaps the rest of your life is a scary idea enough, yet there’s more than even missing the outside and claustrophobia to consider and this turn in the story does well to emphasize it.
Suiting of how big a change in the series, there is some fantastic scene transitions in this volume that are very cinematic. The movement, the pacing, the carefully chosen use of thickly filled in backgrounds and chapter ends – it’s used to amazing effect to make the important scenes stand out. My favourite is the end of the first chapter, as Watanuki sits upon the porch to reflect on his decision and a butterfly follows the trail of smoke from his pipe into the night sky, symbolic of Yuko.
My one disappointment about the time skip though is how drastically different Watanuki’s personality is. He’s been through a lot and this is years later but still, to suddenly don this calm, ethereal personality after always having such a vibrant, temperamental state of being that it feels too stark a change. Then again, he did take up smoking Yuko’s pipe so maybe he’s having some daily doses of mellow. Whatever helps I guess? It still takes a lot of fun away from the story though, especially with so much page time with him and Domeki that used to spark lively interaction without fail.
Despite this blip however, I still adored this volume overall. It’s a strong transition into the story’s new direction and CLAMP’s phenomenal artwork is there to ferry it all along the way. Watanuki’s melancholy is a bit of a downer, something that’s been building for many volumes now in light of revelations and events, but I hope that the series continues to counterbalance it with more intriguing mysteries and compelling character interaction.