Watanuki Kimihiro has always been able to see spirits, and to be honest, it’s an ability he’d be happier off without. As it turns out, the space-time witch, Yuuko Ichihara, might just be able to help him with that, but her assistance comes at a price- before she can grant Watanuki’s wish, he must first spend an unspecified amount of hours working part-time at her shop. Open to all who need it, Yuuko’s shop grants wishes at a fair price, and as part of his new routine, Watanuki will come to meet the many and varied people who come looking for solutions to their problems.
In its manga form, xxxHOLiC was a rare example of a series that didn’t need much of a main plot in order to be good. A collection of morality plays and otherworldly events, whatever the series lacked in storyline, it more than made up for with its high contrast artwork and atmospheric setting. Unfortunately, even though the success of the manga hinged upon these very aspects, the anime soon proved itself unable to duplicate them.
From the start, xxxHOLiC made something of an unimpressive debut, cutting out Tsubasa references (an understandable but disappointing loss) and toning down both the content and enjoyment of the early manga chapters. At the time, however, it was still early days, and it seemed wise to give the series the benefit of the doubt, and see if it could settle down into a stronger routine.
And indeed, as the series got into its stride, it seemed as if there was less and less to complain about each week. The minor changes made to the manga stories were still slightly irksome, and the animation was never marvellous, but nonetheless, xxxHOLiC was beginning to prove its worth, and by the time the series had reached its halfway point, it almost seemed as if it would turn out to be a worthy adaptation after all.
As it turned out, it was at this point that everything was to go horribly wrong. Starting with an original story about a haunted house and a beach visit, xxxHOLiC began a downward trend that would rival School Rumble Nigakki in its ability to tell dull and tedious stories that completely failed to engage the brain in any way whatsoever. Chapters that had been enjoyable in the manga now became too long and drawn to retain any of their original appeal, whilst weak filler and a particularly tiresome novel-based exposition episode brought nothing worthwhile to the series. Even characters who had been likable or at least inoffensive in the manga fared poorly, turning into repetitive and insipid personalities with little appeal.
As if to mirror the poor storytelling, xxxHOLiC seemed to make a special effort to ensure that its animation was particularly bad. Where the manga had relied on a striking combination of black and white with little shading in between, the anime became a washed out and colourless grey in comparison. Most background characters were little more than paper cut outs, line drawings lacking in even the basics of colour, whilst the leads ended up with tiny heads and hideously exaggerated limbs. Even Yuuko, an entirely aesthetically pleasing character in the manga, became disappointingly ugly during the series’ weaker moments.
Much as I had looked forward to seeing its onscreen incarnation, by the end, xxxHOLiC TV was a dull and often painful experience that I only continued watching for the sake of completeness. Although there is enough manga material left to allow for the existence of a second season, I plan to steer well clear of any future anime bearing the xxxHOLiC name.