Review by Jen Wang
The live-action adaptation of CLAMP’s hit manga, xxxHOLiC (pronounced “holic”), is part gothic thriller and part fairy tale, wrapped up in a coming-of-age story. High schooler Kimihiro Watanuki (Shota Shometani) would rather be haunted by romantic feelings for his crush instead of ghosts so he makes a deal with the mysterious Yuko Ichihara (Anne Watanabe). As a result, he and his friends get pulled into her supernatural world of Faustian pacts and sinister secrets.
Gone are the cute creatures and comically exaggerated personalities from the manga and anime. The playful antagonism with Watanuki and Yuko is still present, but the characters are more somber and the teenagers are full of adolescent insecurity. This grounds the fantastical series in reality, where happy ending and redemption are not always available.
Despite the sometimes hokey special effects, xxxHOLiC is visually stunning. Yuko’s store is a dimly-lit den of mysticism, and her wardrobe is a fashionista’s East-meets-West couture dream. The other supernatural characters look like they walked out of Gothic and Lolita Bible, a stark contrast to the plain uniforms of the human teenagers.
Shota Shometani successfully expresses the subtle changes in Watanuki as he grows and learns more about himself and the world. He has great chemistry with Masahiro Higashide, who plays the stoic yet kind-hearted Shizuka Doumeki. Their bromance is more interesting than Watanuki’s growing relationship with Himawari Kunogi (Karen Miyazaki). Watanuki is supposed to adore her cheerful presence, but Miyazaki just seems sad all the time, even when smiling. If that’s intentional, it gives away too much of her secret.
Anne Watanabe nails Yuko with her Mona Lisa smile and commanding presence, but the real stunner is Yumi Adachi as Jorogumo, the Wasp Spider. She charms when she’s luring her prey, making her voice sound so cute and sweet. Then, when she becomes tired of games, she lowers her voice, speaking in clipped words while glaring daggers. It’s a shame that the shortness of the series only allows her to be in a couple of episodes.
One thing to note about xxxHOLiC is that it has several triggering scenes. It contains depictions of self-mutilation, child abuse, murder, and attempted sexual assault, as well as a good deal of blood and gore. Nevertheless, it is a compelling drama about human nature seen through otherworldly eyes. For those turned off by the cartoonish nature of most anime adaptations, this is an alternative worth checking out.