You can take away a man's gods, but only to give him others in return.
— Carl-Gustav Jung
Case in point: Kimihiro Watanuki of ×××HOLiC. His god, as it were, is his unwanted ability to sense spirits and draw them to himself. Diabolical auras. Impish tengu. Haughty weather spirits. Yes, he’s even heard the mermaids singing, each to each, and he’d rather they not sing to him. He’d rather trade in his gods. He receives a goddess as a replacement instead.
Or, rather, a witch: Yūko, she who runs a strange little shop where wishes are fulfilled but never without a price being paid. She can take away his affinity for the spirit world, but it will cost him. That cost is paid in the form of being her part-time employee: slaving in her kitchen over a hot rice cooker, throwing spur-of-the-moment parties for her and her two childlike spirit-servants and that “black dumpling thing” named Mokona. And every now and then he has to run errands of a supernatural bent, which throw him back into contact with the very things he hates, hates, hates.xfuni=107
No, Watanuki would rather be serenading his school sweetheart Himawari, and doing his best to avoid his dour and reticent classmate Dōmeki. The latter comes between him and the former all too often, but it’s apparently unavoidable — or as Yūko puts it in one of her oft-repeated phrases, inevitable. It was inevitable that Watanuki would come to that little shop, inevitable that he would trade his watch and work part-time in her shop to ward off the spirits once and for all, inevitable that he would find himself spiritually bound to Dōmeki (since he wards off spirits the way Watanuki draws them in), and so on.
Or maybe none of that is true. Perhaps she is goading him, however underhandedly, towards being more comfortable just as he is. Perhaps she knows, from personal experience (which she doesn’t speak directly of) that for him to dump these abilities and live “normally” is a Bad Idea. These powers of his may seem like annoyances, but she knows how valuable they can be — not to others, not even to the world at large, but to himself. It’s a mistake to just rid one’s self of them the way someone would throw out a ruined suit of clothes.
I’ve seen ×××HOLiC
in two lights for a long time now. One is as the adaptation of CLAMP’s
manga, which I’ve enjoyed and stumped for and defended in the face of
people whose most substantive objection is that the characters look
weird. (I guess they forgot they were, you know, reading manga. Everything
in manga looks weird. It’s the territory.) Light #2 is what I’ve been
outlining above — the real story under the story, the things Yūko does to
trick Watanuki into becoming more comfortable with being exactly what
he is. She’d rather not have to put him into karmic hock to be
something he’s not, because the parade of people who come through the
shop for just such a thing are poster children for unpayable karmic
mortgages. The lady who can’t break her internet addiction. The girl
who can’t stop lying about even impossibly trivial things. The woman
who comes into possession of a wish-fulfilling monkey’s paw with
Small wonder Watanuki cherishes most the slower moments in his life — the days when he and Himawari can sit and enjoy a meal, or when he can cook something for her and not have Yūko or Dōmeki or Mokona gobble it up. But as times goes on, it becomes clearer to him that he’s part of something larger that he cannot wall himself off from. He is part of all this strangeness, just as it is a part of him — and in fact there’s a great deal about it that is not strange at all once you train yourself to look at it as Yūko does. “If you think everything’s decided, then it is; if you think nothing’s decided, then it is, too,” as she points out early on. Your world is what you choose to make of it, even if you seem at first to be at its mercy. That said, it’s one thing to simply talk about such things and another thing entirely to live them out.
re-reading what I have written here, I realize now I’ve probably made
this show seem like a grim slog through Fate and Destiny and
Responsibility. It’s not. It’s often quite funny, with a good deal of
the humor milked out of Watanuki’s spastic (and slapstick) reactions to
things — mainly, the way other people do not react to the things
he does. A good deal of humor in the series also comes from the way
CLAMP loves to wink at their fans: at one point Watanuki wears, to his
immense disgust, a two-way radio that looks exactly like Chii’s ears from Chobits. (There’s an additional side-reference to Chobits
in the same episode, involving a storybook…you can probably guess what
I mean.) But the show’s funny only because it knows that humor is a
good way to soften up an audience — and a cast of characters — in
preparation for difficult truths.
×××HOLiC wraps up its heady collection of ingredients in one of the oddest and at the same time most appealingly strange packages I’ve encountered. The ingredients should not fit together, but they do. There’s gentle romantic comedy, David Lynch-ian weirdness, and a certain amount of blunt life lessons, all in about equal proportions. There is also the presentation — the lush, vaguely decadent visual style that everyone either admires or winces at, but which always gets people’s attention. It’s fun to look at, but it also gets under your skin. All the better a way for it to communicate its message, which is both cautionary and visionary.