Once again, Del Rey loves us. By “us”, I mean ×××HOLiC fans, who have been rewarded for their fidelity with The Official ×××HOLiC Guide, a deep-dive into CLAMP’s moody and amused meditation on the nature of fate and the cost of having your wishes come true. It’s a mix of art book, trivia compendium, interview compilation, author’s commentary and various kinds of peeks under the hood — exactly the sort of thing I love to see about any series.
Most of the time, with any body of work, you only see the finished product — the book itself, the show. Any time I’m offered the opportunity to find out more, to hear directly from the creators about why they made the choices they did or how they feel things tie together, I jump for it. Doubly so for a series as rich in detail and as idiosyncratic as ×××HOLiC, and this book’s loaded with such details. It’s like a variety bentō box: there’s a little of just about everything. What’s more, Del Rey has taken the trouble to present this in its original right-to-left formatting, with a translation that’s precise and cleanly-rendered enough to make me think this book was originally commissioned for the U.S. market and isn’t an import.
The first half of the book is a walk through the basics of the ×××HOLiC universe: the setup, the characters (major and minor), the various plotlines and episodes, a gallery of important locations and artifacts. A fair chunk of the middle of the book’s taken up with Yūko — her wardrobe (I don’t thinks she’s shown up in the same clothes twice, ever), her drinking habits, her love for rich cuisine that has caused Watanuki no end of suffering in her kitchen. Then come things like interviews with the creators themselves, with other professional fans of the series (e.g., Hirihiko Araki, creator of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure), the early versions of the various character designs (Watanuki was originally going to be much younger, apparently), rough versions of one chapter of the story. These are for me the really fascinating things that almost never come to light, because the creators tend to hold them that much closer to the chest.
If there’s one place where the book doesn’t really stand up, it’s in representing the gallery of color work done for the series. That’s probably enough to fill a book by itself anyway, and to be honest the series is one of the few I can think of that is designed to take advantage of its black-and-white look. Not that the color work looks wrong for ×××HOLiC — just that it’s a bonus, doubly so, and not as much the main event as it might be with something like Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond. (That series, too, was in black and white, but the full volume of watercolor work created for it seemed all the more like a logical expansion of the original design of the series.)
I’m still waiting on a full-blown artbook for ×××HOLiC for this side of the Pacific — in color or in black and white; either one would be a treat — but this is a nifty exploration of the what, who, how, and why of a series that’s quickly become one I’ll follow most anywhere it goes. It’s the dessert and coffee after the main ×××HOLiC meal, whether you’ve been feasting on the show or the manga.