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"xxxHOLIC Vol. 3": Wake Me When Something Happens

I suppose every quasi-anthology series eventually reaches a point where it either has you or it doesn’t. The point comes where you decide you like the characters, the settings, the stories, and the design work enough to take whatever it gives you; or the point comes that you just start flicking boogers at the TV screen when it comes on.

Well, xxxHOLIC hasn’t reached the booger-flicking stage with me yet, but that’s only because my eyes go so out of focus while watching it that I can’t trust myself to actually hit anything.

So Watanuki and Domeki and Yuko are still mixed up with spirits of varying temperaments and dispositions, or running into people with various “spiritual” problems; and Watanuki is still in a perpetually roiling freak out while Domeki and Yuko continue to tease him (wittingly or unwittingly). Volume 3 of the series brings no new real changes to their dynamics, which means this particular collection of episodes rises or falls on the merits of the four stories it contains.

“Pinky Promise” is a quasi-reprise of the first volume’s “Falsehood”: Another girl with a stiff and smoking finger shows up, and Yuko offers another warning about breaking a “bad habit.” The bad behavior in question seems to me less like a “habit” and more like a deep character flaw—she doesn’t need a spiritual intervention, she needs someone to shake her really hard and tell her that nice people don’t do that kind of thing to each other. There’s nothing really very occult going on, which means your ability to tolerate this episode will almost entirely depend on how far you can tolerate Watanuki.

“Confession,” meanwhile, doesn’t make any sense at all. It’s got holiday treats and a crying girl and a big flying bird, and there’s some folderol about who is and who isn’t supposed to give gifts, and who is and who isn’t supposed to get gifts, and when the giving and getting of gifts is or isn’t appropriate, and not one moment of it is other than tedious and vaguely irritating.

In “Summer Shade” the gang rents a beach house that may or may not have a long-term occupant. In its favor, this story actually does achieve the best and most genuinely creepy climactic moment I’ve seen in the series’ first dozen episodes. But it also takes its time reaching that moment, and then has to tack on a pat little sermon at the end.

That leaves as the best episode on this disc “Lamplight,” which has the group renting a room in a temple where they can have a party and tell ghost stories. This promises a nice little anthology-within-the-anthology moment, but it’s rather ruined when the first tale told turns out to be the most effective, even after the room itself starts shaking and something starts crawling around on the temple roof. That’s because that first story—unlike the larger wraparound story—has what xxxHOLIC has so far conspicuously lacked: a strong emotional hook. The horror is not in the situation or in the final line and reveal (“She’s been next to you all this time”) but in the suspense over what a certain character is thinking and what this character might eventually say. In this one small anecdote, the show makes us care deeply about someone who hasn’t got a name or even a real face—and makes us care more deeply than we have cared about any of its putative main characters.

Whether Volume 3 of xxxHOLIC is a worthwhile purchase will mostly depend upon whether you are keen to have the complete series set. All by itself, it is not worth spending any money on, and I doubt even those who like the show more than I do would have reason to miss it, or to watch any of its episodes a second time.

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