I always like to end CLAMP month with one of my favorites, but there's just one problem: I already reviewed my favorite of their works, xxxHolic. Thankfully, in recent years the ladies of CLAMP decided to revisit it and its sister series Tsubasa with new sequel series. In the case of xxxHolic, though, it's less of a sequel and more of a 'what-if.'
xxxHOLIC REI (xxxHolic Return), by CLAMP. First published in 2013 and first published in North America in 2014.
Kimihiro Watanuki spends his days working at Yuuko's wish shop, trying to manage the demands of his boss, his friends, and their many clients. As time goes on, though, Watanuki starts to wonder why things feel weirdly familiar. He has knowledge of supernatural beings he shouldn't have and Yuuko keeps talking about making choices. Is Watanuki's world all that it seems to be or do Yuuko and Doumeki know the truth?
A lot of xxxHolic fans were not happy with the ending for xxxHolic, namely because it wasn't so much a conclusion as it was the equivalent of a weary shrug. They gave Tsubasa a similar treatment, but that series is better suited for a "and the adventure continues" sort of ending. xxxHolic fans want to see some sort of closer for Watanuki and company, and surely their hopes must have risen when this series was announced. It's hard to say if those same fans will be happy with the result, at least based on the first volume.
The story itself isn't bad at all. If anything, it's like CLAMP never stopped writing the series, as the clients and mysteries on display here fit in perfectly with those we've already seen. They possess the same mixture of spookiness and sadness that many of the best chapters had. It's also hard to deny how nice it is to see all of the main cast again acting in much the same way that they did before the more dramatic events of the double-digited volumes. It's almost comfortable in a way, like slipping on an old pair of pants. That's precisely what CLAMP wants you to feel, so that they can start unnerving the reader with all the little differences. This might seem like the same old xxxHolic at first glance, but you don't have to read all that closely to figure out that something is up.
It's not just the fact that Yuuko is in charge of the shop again, or that the Watanuku-Doumeki-Himawari trio is back together as is nothing ever drove them apart. It's the general sense of deju vu that pervades the whole volume, and it's something that everyone - even Watanuki - is able to sense to some degree. Things are seemingly peaceful and normal, at least as normal as everything can be around the wish shop, but then there are little differences all around. Yuuko keeps talking to Watanuki about making choices and she and Doumeki keep exchanging worried yet knowing glances. It's clear that something is up; the only problem is that no one is willing to explain precisely what that something is. That has to be the biggest problem with xxxHolic Rei. CLAMP keeps things so vague that it becomes downright frustrating. You can only hint so long at a mystery without any sort of answers before it starts to look like stalling. It's almost enough to make one fear that CLAMP is once again making shit up as they go, and only time will prove if this is true or not.
xxxHolic Rei isn't a series for newcomers. It presumes you are already familiar with the main series and it's not the least bit interested in getting anyone else up to speed or explaining anything that wasn't already explained. Still, it's nice to see CLAMP returning to one of their better series and I am curious to see where it's going to go.
The art has always been my favorite part of xxxHolic, and the same remains true for xxxHolic Rei. It's the same sleek, elegant, dark and lanky style that distinguished the main series. It still has the same slick, almost minimalist approach to the paneling that balances the needs of the story with CLAMP's desire to show off the fanciness of Yuuko's wardrobe. Again, it's like Nekoi never stopped drawing this series because it looks just as good as always. The only downside is that it doesn't leave me with much to say about the art that I haven't already said.
xxxHolic Rei is beautiful and familiar, but it's hard to tell what (if any) direction it's taking and it's the sort of kinda-sorta-sequel that's made only for the oldtimers, not the newcomers.
This series is published by Kodansha Comics. This series is ongoing in Japan with 3 volumes available. All 3 have been published and all are currently in print.