xxxholic Vol. #6 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, October 27, 2008
Release Date: Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Quiet and mellow for the most part, xxxholic draws to a close with little fanfare but with some heartwarming moments.

What They Say:

People are capable of wishing for anything they think that they want. It could be happiness, or unhappiness...

The parade of those blinded by desire trudges ever onward, and Watanuki without fail leads the procession of the petitioning. The world is getting smaller and faces from other realms more common every day. Lessons come hard and fast, with Yuko lounging blithely among the chaos. The litany of her demands is the same as it ever was, but how to play the game when the rules are set by one so arbitrary? Even so, there is always a price to pay...

Contains episodes 21-24.

What We Say:

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 strong 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 and for the first three episodes it’s really solid for the most part. The small problematic areas are inherent in the source there as elements like Mokona shows some gradient problems and a bit of noise. This varies from episode to episode in how noticeable it is and how distracting it actually is.

Packaging:
The last installment finishes it all out with the same design style with a really solid image. Having Watanuki sitting in front of Yuko while she leans back on her couch is good enough in general, especially with the outfits she wears, but that she actually plays with his hair a little bit with one hand just makes it work all the better. Like the releases in general, 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 core characters together sitting under the cherry blossom trees enjoying a picnic lunch together. Though there’s a bit more orange than I care for, it’s a bright and colorful piece that’s really appealing.

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 video for these episodes.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The first season of the series draws to a close in a somewhat awkward fashion as it plays out with a single episode and then a two parter that really ends things. The last episode on the disc is a single story episode that serves as a character piece just for Watanuki, keeping the rest of the cast out of the picture until the last couple of minutes. That’s a bit awkward for the last episode, but it does do a good job of bringing Watanuki full circle from when we first met him.

The opening episode of this volume fits in with the way the show works in general. As the series was getting closer to an end, there still wasn’t anything distinct about the series overall that could be covered. So that means we get another standalone piece that doesn’t really have anything that stands out in it. The episode focuses around general superstitions as Watanuki has professed a distaste and disbelief in them for awhile now based on past events. That’s like spitting at fate and fate starts toying with him as various little superstitions begin to haunt him. It’s a cute enough episode at times, such as when he feels bullish and starts to charge Himawari because of the red ribbon in her hair, but otherwise it’s simply a passable episode overall.

In between the two standalone episodes is the latest two part storyline. What’s become apparent throughout the series is that they really do work better with standalone episodes rather than lengthier ones. While I would like to see more of the larger narrative that’s within this, and more actual character growth, it’s something that appears to work better within the confines of single episodes. The two part storyline here with Mayuko, a woman who appears out of nowhere and takes on a motherly role to Watanuki, suffers much the same as the previous two part storyline. It comes across as very padded and without enough impact to it. The story could have been told more effectively within a single episode, or maybe a little more, but instead comes across badly when stretched out. What makes this storyline worse is that it really does keep the focus on Watanuki and Mayuko, with Yuko being gone for the bulk of it and Doumeki and Himawari making only token appearances. While it’s not the real formal ending of the season as we get the reminiscence episode, this is the place where it has the best chance to make its mark. And unlike a similar series such as Mushishi, they can’t pull it off.

The last episode that focuses on Watanuki’s past is intriguing since we see him at a somewhat younger age, just before going into his entrance ceremony for junior high school, and he’s coming across the unusual things he sees even more. There’s a particularly creepy one in a forearm and hand that floats along the ground and elsewhere that’s trying to get him. Nobody else sees it, which isn’t unexpected, but he does come across another person his age who helps him out and tells him he can see it. The two become friends rather quickly and they talk about celebrating Watanuki’s upcoming birthday. The tale is relatively obvious early on, but seeing an early Watanuki friendship beginning as well as seeing him coming to grips more with what he sees helps to flesh him out well. It also works nicely in that we get a better feeling for how he was coping at that age with the loss of his parents and what he has to do in his daily routine as well as those who have helped him.

In Summary:
With another short season out there as well as a couple of OVAs due out in 2009, xxxholic certainly has plenty of life left in it. Some of the material I enjoyed most from the manga hasn’t appeared yet and the series hasn’t worn out its welcome in the slightest. I love the slightly off feeling that pervades it, from the storytelling style to the character designs. At the time of the manga, I was far more drawn to this than I was Tsubasa and that still holds true. Xxxholic has a lot to offer for those looking for the magic and mystery outside of the normal presentations we get. It’s easy to see why things in the series push away people, but most of those elements are what draw me even more to it. Xxxholic stands out as its own show even while playing in the realm of the familiar. FUNimation has done a solid job overall with this release and I’m looking forward to seeing where they’ll go next with it.

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: B+
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: TV-MA
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: FUNimation Entertainment
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