Japanese Title: ホリック xxxHOLiC
Romaji: Horikku xxxHOLiC
Duration: 8 Episodes
Director: Keisuke Toyoshima
Writer: Jun Tsugita (Screenplay), CLAMP (Original Manga)
Starring: Anne Watanabe, Shota Sometani, Karen Miyazaki, Masahiro Higashide, Naoto Takenaka, Yumi Adachi,
xxxHOLiC is the TV adaptation of a popular manga by CLAMP, a quartet of artists who have a huge back-catalogue of supernatural tales all with their distinctive designs which features impossibly long-limbed and waifish characters.
They are so influential they are called in by various production studios to provide character designs and stories – witness Blood-C, the latest entry in the Blood franchise.
Despite their fame and prowess the only CLAMP franchise I have watched is Cardcaptor Sakura back when I was back in high school. Even that I dropped after the first series because, let’s face it, it’s aimed at girls. xxxHOLiC is a title I know of but have missed. I have not read the manga or watched the anime so I am going into this eight part TV adaptation as a complete novice which is pretty exciting because it is virgin territory and I can form an unbiased opinion. After three episodes I can safely say that I like it. Part of the reason I like it is because it feels familiar thanks to the staff and the atmosphere and the other part I like it is the great acting.
The story begins with Kimihiro Watanuki (Sometani) who is a high school boy who can see Ayakashi (spirits). These spirits take on all manner of forms like shades and disembodied body parts and they pop up at the most unexpected points which, when you think about it, is pretty irritating since ghosts seem to haunt everywhere. Even school, is haunted by these supernatural presences. Furthermore, some seem to be aggressive.
His ability to see the supernatural also opens up possibilities. On his way to school he finds himself witnessing a woman pass by with a dark mist emanating from her ‘pinkie finger’. It turns out he will meet said woman later but let us continue with the setup for now… he continues walking down an alley into what looks like a gorgeous magical grove. Seriously, this is ‘take-a-picture and admire the light emanating from the sun’ gorgeous. Watanuki’s about to see more gorgeous things when he steps in a puddle. The scene cuts to a mysterious woman who seems to summon him by taking control of his body and dragging him to her house. Watanuki is stunned at the sudden change of location which is gorgeous but not as gorgeous as what comes next…
Watanuki is seized by a supernatural force and taken to a house where he is met by two cute girls named Maru and Moro who drag him into what can only be described as a mystical chamber where he finds himself in the presence of a (seriously) gorgeous woman named Yūko Ichihara (Watanabe).
Who is she to have these mystical powers? What is her plan in hooking Watanuki? Will the camera lovingly hug her body at every moment?
Watanuki is probably wondering most of the same things but first of all introductions are made. He apologises for being in her house and introduces himself. He is pretty bewildered, a state not helped by the fact that Yūko manages to discern parts of his character by some magic silver disc and a cauldron including the fact that he can see Ayakashi and his blood attracts them. Watanuki, being driven insane by this ability (and being shunted around by an invisible power) loses his temper and shouts, “Who the hell are you?”
Well she is a dimensional witch who owns a shop crammed full of mystical objects. The only people who visit the shop (like Watanuki) are those drawn their by fate, those who have a wish that can alter their lives drastically. She will grant their wish but those people must give her something of an equivalent value. “What’s your wish?” Yūko asks.
Watanuki has a wish. But before that we go to his school where we are introduced to Himawari Kunogi (Miyazaki) and her childhood friend Doumeki Shizuka (Higashide). Watanuki likes (as in really likes) Himawari but she is pretty much blind to the depth of his affection or she’s engineering a love-triangle since she tells Doumeki everything on her mind does not miss an opportunity to tell Watanuki that she’s close to Doumeki despite the fact it openly irritates him… Anyway, back to the interesting part…
We discover that Watanuki’s wish is for Yūko to remove his ability to see ghosts. To do this he must work for her as a part-timer at her shop, moving ancient artefacts and cleaning things, cooking and acting as a maid… butler. Despite his complaints he signs up. Through his connection with Yūko he will come into contact with people destined to meet her and he will encounter the supernatural. And so begins the adventures of Watanuki and the Dimensional Witch!!
Well first of all I’m glad I held off on doing a first impression of this until after episode 3 where it really gets going. The first two episodes offer a great set-up and do a lot to establish the characters and the world they inhabit. The episodes have a standalone feel with an overarching narrative connected to Watanuki’s sick mother and his ability to see the dead. This is given to us during piecemeal flashbacks which have a hazy, jittery feel. After the first two episodes I was concerned that the length of the series would be too short to explore Watanuki’s back story adequately but episode three ties everything up neatly. I really like the standalone nature of the stories as it introduces variety, a monster of the week formula… or should that be a jerk of the week.
The tales themselves are rather simple affairs where customers show up to Yūko’s shop with a problem or desire and we witness their story. The engine for this series is Watanuki’s development as an individual. The jerk of the week formula shows Watanuki’s development clearly as we see he shares some elements of the shadows that the customers hide underneath their personas. Watanuki’s cock-sure, impatient and guarded attitude at the beginning is pretty much mirrored by the other customers and seeing them dismantled by Yūko means he gains some growth from those he comes into contact with. Yūko is like a guide and a catalyst for both Watanuki’s development. As she makes clear “I can only change the outside. The inside is changed by you.” That is a pretty clear message.
The episodes develop at a decent pace and there is a jet-black sense of the supernatural. Episode one is very simple and follows a woman with a penchant for lying. Despite Watanuki’s best efforts she has a head-on collision with her supernatural fate… The kills and supernatural encounters have been graphic and while not spectacular they are pretty well done, classy even. Certainly better than some V-cinema J-horror titles like Dead Waves.
The assured development is partly down to director Keisuke Toyoshima who directed a portion of Tales of Terror (2004), a collection of ghost tales that, while low-budget and rather derivative, are well done for the most part due to the atmospherics built up. His particular part of the omnibus, Line of Sight, is really well-done and his experience shines here. CGI is used sparingly and things like lighting and physical props take precedence. The CGI smoke emanating from the woman’s pinkie, the shades and weird creatures that spring up as Watanuki walks down street are well done but the physical props, the gorgeous costumes and fantastic sets are. Lighting is great, nothing on the level of Retribution but very well utilised and always giving a scene a certain flavour whether it is haunted or magical.
There are great performances from Shota Sometani, Anne Watanabe and Masahiro Higashide.
After the first two episodes I was rather lukewarm in my reception of Anne Watanabe. Although the constant shots of Watanabe’s body – her limbs, thighs, chest, oh-la-la – are all very sexy (and welcome!) and she manages an air of mystery and the slatternly smile I detected in the manga, it was not until episode three that she felt really sexy and, most importantly, really magisterial. Wasted in Ninja Kids!!!, here she is given a lot more to do here as she alternates between a playful supernatural seductress and a domineering guide. Her pairing with Shota Sometani is good because she is way taller than he is and her authority mould Sometani’s Watanuki well.
I know Shota Sometani is capable of big performances as seen in Himizu but it’s always great to see him do more subtle and nuanced things to remind me just how great he really is and he gets to really act here. He cries, he whimpers, he yells, he conveys a character coming to terms with being the plaything of supernatural beings but he really shines as a teenager. His dumb smile whenever Himawari is about and the pained smile that pops up whenever she mentions Doumeki, his condescending smirk when he rejects Yūko’s advice to get along with Doumeki and his impatience are all very, very amusing. He can also make you empathise with his emotional confusion.
Masahiro Higashide was really unknown to me apart from having a key role in The Kirishima Thing but I was impressed by his sure-footedness as Doumeki. Okay, I’ll admit it. Him thumping the chap in episode two won me over. He plays what could be a dull strong-but-silent type role with little nuances as uncertainty and haughtiness slip in from time to time.
Hmm, I’ve gone on longer than I expected (longer than recent film reviews) with this post so I’ll end it. Suffice it to say that after three episodes I think this is a great dorama and like the anime Another, I’ll post about it towards the end of the series. Considering it is the first dorama I am blogging about I am really pleased that I picked a great one!