xxxHolic Vol. #3 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, June 17, 2008



What They Say
There are many unusual things in this world. Every day, events occur that cannot be explained...

Watanuki's life has never been normal, but working for Yuko has fast become an exercise in all things strange. Visitors from other realms mingle with ghosts down hidden corridors and a pinky swear can mean things far from expected. Every lesson exposed comes with a toll...

Not all endings are happy, not all happiness final. While the witch can give you direction, each journey comes complete with inherent distractions. Each path is unique save for one fact: there is always a price to pay...

Contains episodes 9-12:
Pinky Promise
Lamplight
Confession
Summer Shade

The Review!
The more that Yuko toys and plays with Watanuki, the more it seems like she's teaching and training him for something. All while having a lot of fun with it.

Audio:
xxxholic gets a pretty good treatment for its audio portion of the release but it really doesn't seem to get much from the bump. The bilingual release includes the original Japanese stereo mix which is encoded at 192kbps as well as an English stereo mix which is done at the same rate. Both of these mixes are pretty good as the show is dialogue heavy with only a bit of music here and there to add some extra atmosphere. The inclusion of an English 5.1 mix at 448kbps is surprising since it really doesn't seem to gain much from it. Generally areas such as the opening sequences come across as a bit bigger and more vibrant but even this great opening song feels the same as the stereo mix. Dialogue doesn't gain any greater clarity or placement either. All in all, the mixes are good and we had no problems with them during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing in 2006, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. xxxholic is a series with a good mix of real world designs that meets the supernatural. The visual design of the show is one that has a good sense of depth to the backgrounds while the characters feel a bit out of place because of the designs. The transfer for this captures it pretty well. The small problematic areas are inherent in the source there as elements like Mokona shows some gradient problems and a bit of noise.

Packaging:
The framed imagery of Doumeki along with Yuko is really great here, especially as Yuko is brighter in the front and both have very interesting expressions on their faces that make you want to see what it's all about. Similar to the earlier volumes, there is just a certain kind of class and elegance that comes across from this as we get various small story elements mixed into it as well. This is a very rich looking cover, the kind that you want to have framed on a wall. The back cover takes the general design and reworks it nicely with a brief summary of the premise and a pair of small strips that contains shots from the episodes. The episode numbers and titles are clearly listed below it as well as the extras that are on the disc. The remainder of the cover is given over the technical grid - which is really small again - and the standard production credits. The reverse side of the clear keepcase has a full length anime image of the four main characters and Mokona all in their finery as they eat a meal.

Menu:
Taking its cues from the front cover design, xxxholic utilizes many of the same elements and layout ideas here. The simple black background has the same kind of framing throughout it while the main part of the cover artwork is used as the main visual draw. The navigation strip is kept to the right where it has basic submenu access and the play all selection. Add in a nice bit of music to it and overall it's a fairly standard and serviceable menu that fits into the theme well with a bit of simple style. Access times are nice and fast and the layout easy to navigate. The disc did not read our players' language presets unfortunately and defaulted to English 2.0 and sign/song subtitles.

Extras:
The extras for xxxholic aren't much of a surprise but the couple we get are certainly welcome. In addition to the clean opening and closing sequences, we get a brief image gallery for these episodes.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Moving up to the halfway mark of the series, xxxholic brings about four more episodes of fun and curiosity as Yuko weaves her spell over Watanuki. So much of the show is really just character driven that the little plots and stories that make up the individual episodes at times are fairly unmemorable, leaving us rather to enjoy how the characters interact and react more than anything else. While it is easy to see that some of the characters could be grating for some, I continue to find a lot to like and enjoy about this little cast, even Watanuki's outlandish flailing at times.

The four stories across this volume are pretty fun and engaging, but they're not ones that stick with you for too long afterwards. It's the little light moments between, the expressions and the serious aspects that keep you in tune with it. The opening episode for example deals with a young woman who wanders into Yuko's place where nothing happens by coincidence. She claims she doesn't have any reason for being there, but Watanuki finds himself compelled to follow her and see what's going on as there are things reminiscent of an earlier customer with an obsession. Tied to the story of the red string of fate, Watanuki tries to discern what it is about her that bothers him so and what he can do to help her. It's all straightforward, but it's made a lot of fun by the inclusion of a "pipe snake" that Yuko lets loose which takes a serious liking to Watanuki. It practically controls Watanuki at times which drives him mad until he realizes how helpful he can be.

Another story delves into the continually growing relationship between Watanuki and Doumeki. The two are very much an odd pairing, and you can see why the slash writers all have fun with it, but there are subtext pieces to it that push something larger for the two. Doumeki has an amusing habit of showing up out of nowhere and doing things that just frustrate the overly sensitive Watanuki. This happens once again when Doumeki eats some ohagi that he had made for Himawari and that just pushes him over the edge. It takes an unusual turn however when a spirit of some sort wanders over to them and retrieves it from Doumeki's stomach, essentially stealing his soul. That forces Watanuki to try and save him which in turn pushes their relationship in a new direction. The completely opposite nature of their personalities works rather well in how it plays out but it does leave a lot of anticipation in seeing where it will really go.

One of the more amusing episodes is the final one on this volume in which Yuko decides that everyone needs a bit of a break to do some summering. The foursome plus Mokona take a trip out to a really great little house along the ocean and they get set to spend some fun there. Unfortunately, Watanuki is such a draw for spirits that you know something is going to go badly right from the start. The story progresses in a good haunted house sort of way where he knows there's something going on but nobody else really realizes it. Before long it all spills over and the revelations are positively charming as we get to see why all of it was occurring. This is a really solid episode for making Himawari a bit more caring and interesting as well as showing one of the reasons why Watanuki has an interest in her. It also tackles a bit more of Watanuki's reticence about asking for help and just how difficult it is for him to deal with that.

In Summary:
With ghost stories, pinky tales and fun in the sun, xxxholic covers a whole lot of ground in these episodes. There are spirits abound and plenty of mysterious moments but it's well balanced by the cute moments with Mokona doing something silly or the way that Yuko has a certain smirk to her face that tells you she has something in mind. xxxholic has become less about the stories themselves but rather the strange and unusual family that's growing here and the things that they experience together. Each character is utterly charming in their own way and the manner in which they shift from serious to silly is simply beautiful. The more I watch it, the more I remember why Doumeki was a favorite of mine from the manga. This series is visually engaging and filled with interesting characters that make me want to see it all over again already. Good stuff and definitely recommended if you're in the right mood.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Clean Opening,Clean Closing,Image Gallery

Review Equipment
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B-
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: TV 14
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment, Ltd.
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: xxxHolic