xxxHOLiC: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

xxxHOLiC: Manatsu no Yoru no Yume
Genre: Mystery
Format: 1 Movie
Allegiance: Production I.G
Director: Tsutomu Mizushima
Vintage: 2005
Intelligence Agency Report by: Tremolo
Watanuki Kimihiro is a teenage boy cursed with the gift to see evil spirits that, bizarrely, also seem to be attracted to him. Yuuko Ichihara is his mysterious employer who claims she can end his torment if he works for her long enough. Yuuko, along with other fanatical collectors, receives an invitation for an auction at an old mansion house from an unknown sender. One by one, each collector disappears and Watanuke becomes involved in the strange occurrences that happen during the night. What exactly is being auctioned? Who is the owner of the mansion house? These are questions Yuuko and Watanuke must solve if they ever wish to leave alive.

Field Agent Report by: Tremolo
Overall 8.00

I don’t really like CLAMP. A lot of their output comes across as glorifieddoujinshi, with pretty art and very little else, and it is only their older works that I can genuinely call enjoyable. As such, I had severe reservations about this movie that acts as a kind of theatrical companion-piece to a similar hour-long feature from the horrendous Tsubasa Chronicle anime franchise. Whilst that had twenty-six episodes of pure torture preceding it, xxxHOLiC had only the manga. As a result, this movie has the unenviable task of introducing the basic concept of the story andtelling a standalone story at the same time. Fortunately, this isn’t too hard of a task. XxxHOLiC has a pretty flimsy set-up that is done away with quite quickly in order to make way for the auction story, and this is probably for the best.

I must get this out of the way right now: Don’t watch xxxHOLiCexpecting compelling drama and characters, that’s not exactly what it’s about. What it is about is stunning visuals, atmosphere and quirky set pieces. I say this mainly because the characters, whilst quite entertaining, aren’t exactly very deep or well drawn. Watanuki starts off as a bit of a loud, neurotic nuisance, while Yuuko is your usual enigmatic, cool and collected, long-haired CLAMP female – although her penchant for booze is quite amusing. Watanuki’s friend/nemesis Doumeki provides dry comedic foil to his highly-strung antics. The story is not particularly incredible, but it is rather nice and does keep you guessing to the end, which is always a plus in the mystery genre.

You may think I’m being rather harsh to this anime in contrast to the overall grade, but I honestly enjoyed the hell out of it. But not because of the story or characters, which is rather unusual for me. I’m a big fan of ‘different’ kinds of visuals in animation, be it anime or otherwise, and xxxHOLiC is very different indeed. Production I.G. can always be relied upon for amazing visuals, but here they absolutely surpass themselves. With the use of computer-generated textures for backgrounds pioneered so successfully in Gankutsuou, the animation in this movie comes across as a natural progression from what has come before. With the advantage of a movie budget this technique comes across even more remarkably detailed and gorgeous to look at. Whilst the setting of the bizarre auction house does seem to be apparent in the story mainly to showcase all the wonderful visual creations, it fits perfectly into the general scheme of the film. Perhaps the bizarre and stylized character designs with their long limbs, giant hands and feet, and small heads won’t appeal to everyone, but you can’t deny how different and visually arresting they are.

The action sequences, whilst few and far between, are often extremely surreal and inventive and a real treat for anyone sick to death of the usual shounen action fare. Better still is the atmosphere, which is heightened by creepy music and uses tried and true ghost story and haunted house cliche’s for a deliciously entertaining effect.

Ultimately, xxxHOLiC is a strange beast. It’s an absolute treat for the eyes, especially for strange animation fanatics like me, but it’s a bit too quirky and off-beat for those expecting something a bit more meaty and substantial. Whether the TV series will live up to the promise of this movie remains to be seen, but for now xxxHOLiC: A Midsummer Night’s Dream remains an interesting and offbeat confection.