Review: xxxHolic – A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2005)

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xxxHolic is Clamp’s other anniversary series. Created side by side with Tsubasa Chronicles and intersecting frequently, xxxHolic is a little more frivolous, more fun, like afternoon matinees with a supernatural twist. In it, Watanuki Kimihiro is a more-than-average high-school student working for a mysterious woman Yuuko. Yuuko as she appears in the premiere episode of Tsubasa is known as a dimensional witch, however her day job consists of fulfilling the wishes of others.

This isn’t a euphemism, despite the way Yuuko is drawn. Her business consists of helping others for a price, and her services generally lean towards the weird and wondrous and Watanuki, in need of her special brand of assistance at the start of the series, becomes a long term house servant as a means to repay her. This of course is the start of something bigger; like Arthur with Merlin, Timmy in The Books of Magic or Harry Potter, Watanuki is a diamond in the rough and is obviously being trained, through a series of crazy and occasionally dangerous misadventures, for a reason only Yuuko knows.

You can imagine then that the mostly episodic approach of xxxHolic is somewhat moralistic. Like narratives straight out of The Twilight Zone, most episode characters hardly ever come out on top. Rather, their fate has the effect of teaching Watanuki something important, which really when you think about it isn’t exactly a positive marketing point for Yuuko’s wish-fulfilling business. There are for this reason some truly creepy episodes in the xxxHolic series, but this OVA – as with most OVAs just a big-budget, feature length episode – isn’t really one of them. As with the usual series episode premise, the story starts with a customer’s: she would like to get back into her house please. In anyone else’s world, fulfilling this wish would merely require a call to a locksmith’s, but in Yuuko’s world you can be sure that something out of the ordinary is going on. Yuuko, Watanuki and fellow student, the deadpan Doumeki, visit this prejudiced premises and find themselves at a strange party where all the attendees are collectors of some kind and where the house seems to have a mind of its own.

The fight to unravel the mystery in time is of course unspoken part of Watanuki’s indenture as a house servant. Partly through mistake and partly through desperation, Watanuki and Doumeki navigate the strange house and its threatening, Dali-esque qualities, but any acknowledgement of traditional horror cinema conventions – Japanese or otherwise – is diluted by Watanuki’s hilarious, physiologically impossible reactions. This show might have been scarier on a big screen with the full force of the spectacular visual treatment behind it, but its nevertheless entertaining enough on the smaller one. Watanuki’s antics are played for laughs and his attitude towards frightening things refreshingly normal – seriously, if there was a ragged, shadowy girl banging on the outside of a glass door wanting to get in in the middle of the night in a haunted house, you’d probably find a reason to be somewhere else as well, although you may not scream like a girl while you were doing it.

As a taste of the actual series, xxxHolic: Midsummer Night’s Dream serves as a good primer; as part of the series canon it barely puts a foot out of place, although the high production values might have been better spent on one of the longer or more substantial plotlines of the series. Still, it’s hard to suck when the source material is this solid and fans both old and new would be hard pressed to be disappointed.

7 Escher-designed tatami rooms out of 10.
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