Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: February 2012
Synopsis: “Kimihiro Watanuki has passed through many trials by fire. Once an indentured servant, he has matured and become the poised and skilled keeper of the shop that grants wishes. But Watanuki’s final wish is for himself: to meet the witch Yûko one more time. With Yûko long vanished from our world, is it even possible? That question and others are answered now in the concluding volume of the bestselling manga xxxHolic.”
Ah, CLAMP. My relationship with them is a complicated one, because I love some parts of their work but have major issues with others. The only real consistent thing I can say about them is that, throughout their ups and downs, the art is always beautiful. But sometimes the story just isn’t there, and though it pains me to say this about one of my favourite CLAMP series from, this is definitely the case with volume nineteen of xxxHolic.
This volume marks the end of the “Ro” part of the series, as well as the series as a whole, set during the time when Watanuki has taken over the shop. Watanuki as he is now is really unrecognizable from the flailing schoolboy he used to be but this is actually one of the best things about the series. He has had an incredible story arc and development which brings him to this point in a natural way. Even more impressively, he has taken over Yûko’s position without merely becoming a Yûko clone (more on her later).
The rest of the main cast have matured alongside him, though the results here are mixed. Doumeki is the most prominent of the supporting cast and he actually hasn’t really changed all that much. There are small differences, however, which show that he has been affected by the events of the story and these are enough to show his character has grown, especially given that he was the most grounded character to begin with.
The two more problematic character changes are for Himiwari and Kohane. The former does not, I believe, even appear on the page during the Ro storyline, instead being relegated to a voice on the phone. This is very disappointing, especially after the time and effort put into early stories surrounding her. Kohane, meanwhile, is done generally handled well, except for a bit of an uncomfortable vibe I got concerning comments Watanuki made to her during her appearance in this volume. I don’t know if this was intended or not but it was certainly strung the wrong cord with me.
All and all, the Ro story had a lot of changes from the initial xxxHolic run; however, even with all the changes in the characters, the series’ spirit is still intact with moments of pure silliness mixed with the constant obsessing over food and drink, as well as story lines deeply rooted in folklore and mythology.
It is unfortunate that after all these positives, I still find myself hesitant to recommend this particular volume. The reason for this comes down to one main thing: this is the final volume of the series and it doesn’t feel like anything out of the ordinary.
The first three chapters are all one-shot stories. For a moment, it seemed as though the first chapter was going to introduce an interesting theme of responsibility but it never turned into anything more than an excuse to bring in Ame Warashi one last time. The other two are also unconnected supernatural tales, which are good but nothing special.
Then finally, four chapters in, the big storyline that the cover copy hints at begins. And it is a mess. The pacing is choppy, with awkward jumps back and forth between scenes at the beginning and end with enough repetition of near-identical scenes to drag the plot to a standstill. But worst of all is the fact that the ending to this story does not resolve anything. Plus, for me personally at least, it doesn’t help to have so much focus on Yûko, who was always one of my least favourite characters.
I have read that things do make more sense if one is also reading Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle, which rather than help things actually brings around another problem: there is no excuse for having major plot points for xxxHolic in another book.
xxxHolic does still remain one of my favourite CLAMP series but the ending really hurts it. I wanted the story to go out with a bang and instead it goes with a confusing, inconclusive whimper.