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"xxxHOLIC" Vols. 4, 5 and 6: It's Scary How Lame This Series Turned Out to Be

I long ago stopped hoping that xxxHOLIC would turn into an honest-to-goodness supernatural-themed spook show. That, as it happens, is a benefit to being a congenital pessimist: one is so rarely surprised when everything just goes to crap. It would have pleased me no end if the final three volumes of the series had upended my expectations, but they proved to be just as deficient as earlier volumes. I don’t know what this series was aiming to be, but I stopped having fun watching it long before it finished imposing itself on me.

It has also been apparent for some time that the viewer’s tolerance for xxxHOLIC will vary in direct proportion to how much he or she can take of Watanuki, who goes into spastic freakouts at least a dozen times per episode. He’s no calmer in the last three volumes, and Yuko is also as smug as ever. Only in being slow, excessively talky, and very, very boring do the episodes on these three DVDs excel.

Volume 4 opens promisingly with “Transfiguration,” which features a schoolgirl who has begun to sprout wings that only Watanuki can see; it turns out that she is being consumed and manipulated by a “fallen angel.” That sounds like the premise for a creepy story, but nothing really happens except that the girl yells at a few people; and given recent studies showing that a screaming schoolgirl is a good deal less scary than ninety-eight percent of the people you will meet in a bus station, we’re not talking about major thrillage. And after she’s rescued from the spirit, Yuko shows up to give one of her little pat speeches that explains everything, thus negating what little creepiness it managed to work up.

And once you’ve watched “Transfiguration” you need not watch any more of these discs, because they are not going to be much different, are not going to get any better, and in many ways are going to get worse.

Take the two-part “Seal”/”Release,” for instance. This story tries mightily to puff itself up with talk about “waves” and “chains,” so that it can at least pretend that there’s something supernatural going on with a girl who is perpetually sabotaged by her extreme lack of self-confidence. But it is mightily unconvincing, since you don’t need to invoke the supernatural to understand why someone who believes she is already defeated pretty much already is. That leaves “Reunion” as the only possibly interesting episode on Volume 4. That story has Watanuki plunging down a well into some magical world, after which hijinks ensue; those more versed in anime might recognize in it a fine parody of genre conventions, but I was just bored.

Disc five is even worse, if you can believe it. Where “Seal”/”Release” at least invented some supernatural folderol, “Self-Mutilation”—which is about another woman who likes to sabotage herself—doesn’t even try. The main character in that story, it turns out, just likes to throw herself into traffic because she’s screwed up psychologically. It also doesn’t help that Yuko (seriously!) talks for a more-or-less solid ten-minute bloc at the end. There’s only one reason to watch it all the way through: to confirm that the second half can be as dull than the first.

The other three stories on disc 5 are a step up; one would hope they would be, since the alternative is scarcely conceivable. But there’s not much positive to say about them. “Ground Cherry” has Domeki and Watanuki getting the equivalent to a ticket to a monster parade, and it contains about as much drama and suspense as the Tournament of Roses—albeit a Tournament of Roses in which the parade participants open up the throttles on their go-cart motors and start chasing a few spectators down the street at 5 miles per hour. The comedic “Unreasonable,” meanwhile, pits all the characters against each other in a snowball fight. It is, I am guessing, meant to be a sort of parody of “Pokemon”-type shows, since it is the characters’ snowmen who actually do the fighting; but unsurprisingly, most of the comedy (what there is of it) revolves around Watanuki losing his cool. Finally, “Atonement” introduces a girl who is tormented by a haunted photograph. Again, a promising premise is sabotaged by a lack of chills and drama, and is finally and fatally undermined by Yuko’s love of her own voice.

Volume 5 comes with the hint that Watanuki is being groomed for some kind of destiny; the two-part “Temptation”/”Choices” on Volume 6 looks for awhile like it might be a climactic moment, when the orphaned Watanuki meets and befriends a woman whose dead child would have been Watanuki’s age. It has a tender, melancholy air and is blessedly free of Watanuki’s usual spasms; Yuko is also out of town; and the suspicion that the woman is not all that she appears to be is only gradually stoked. I’d refrain from giving away the ending as a spoiler, but I’m deuced if I can even say that it has an ending. Suffice it to observe that it all wraps up in exactly the same way that previous episodes have wrapped up, and returns the characters to exactly where they were when it started. There are hints that the makers thought they were imparting an oblique revelation about the woman. If so, I was too dense to get it; and, truth to tell, was also far beyond the point of caring.

The final volume also comes with “Nail Clipper,” which (and I am not making this up) posits that the superstition against clipping your nails at night arose because if you do clip your nails at night a giant pair of nail clippers will materialize and try to take your head off. This appears to be xxxHOLIC‘s idea of irony. The volume closes with a side story, “Reminiscence,” which is just about the best episode in the series. It has some ooky-spooky moments, if you can get past the fact that Watanuki is being menaced by Thing from The Addams Family, and it has some touching character interactions, if you do your best not to anticipate who or what Watanuki’s new friend will turn out to be. It is not, however, worth the DVD’s purchase price just by itself.

When it gets right down to it, the only truly scary thing about xxxHOLIC was its complete and utter collapse of ambition to be anything more than “The Watanuki Freakout Show.” Purchase the final three installments of the series only if you resented the way that hints of supernatural mischief in earlier volumes took the focus off Watanuki’s flailing limbs.

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