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Anime: xxxHolic v01


It’s easy to give very little thought to what goes into translating dialogue from another language into English. I’m sure that for some languages the translation process is relatively smooth, however the more anime and foreign films that I watch, it’s becoming more obvious that Japanese isn’t one of those languages. In some cases what could have been an extremely entertaining show, is rendered confusing nonsense by poor attention to the meaning behind the dialogue. So far, for me, xxxHolic is the first anime title that I’ve watched which left me thinking that the English Dub has done it a disservice.

To call this series strange, would be an insult to that old guy I see running around the area near where I live. He’s constantly jogging — even on the spot at traffic lights and crossings — while listening to music via a massive set of head-phones, and waves and smiles at anyone he catches looking his way. That guy is strange… xxxHolic is something else altogether.

Also unlike that old jogging guy, xxxHolic seems pretty slow, almost as though it’s uncertain of what it’s suppose to be. It’s an odd mixture of styles, both from a visual perspective and in the way it tells the story: Imagine Tim Burton got together with some Looney Tunes fans come anime artists and they watched too much South Park before starting work on this series and you’d be getting close to seeing something like xxxHolic.

Kimihiro Watanuki is an independent high school student, who is constantly plagued by a type of spirit monster, known as Yokai. These Yokai, which are unseen by the people around Watanuki, cause him no end of frustration and trouble, until one day when he finds himself compelled to enter a strange ‘shop’. The proprietor of the shop is the alluring and mysterious Yuko Ichihara who tells Watanuki that she is in the business of granting wishes (no, not THOSE kinds of wishes, get your mind out of the gutter!) and says that she can, for a price, grant Watanuki desire to have the spirits leave him alone. Reluctantly Watanuki accepts the deal and soon finds that the spirits are indeed gone, but now, to repay his debt to Ichihara, he must work for her. Watanuki chores initially involve everything from cooking and running errands, however he soon finds that he, along with his love interest, Himawari Kunogi and his nemesis, fellow student Shizuka Domeki, are drawn into a strange, spiritual world.

The xxxHolic 1 DVD has the first four episodes of the 2006 television series, based on the manga series of the same name. These episodes initially feel a little wonky and, like the visual design, seems unsure of itself. But during these introductory episodes it either manages to find its feet, or it slowly reveals the show’s intended plot without you realising it. I’m not sure if it’s by design or not, but had I written this review midway through the third episode I don’t think that I’d have had a whole lot say about this show, and I certainly wouldn’t have been wanting to see more of it. However something happens before the end of the DVD though, and it’s the fourth episode (duh!).

The episode, titled ‘Fortune telling’ takes a longer look at the main characters, and is comprised almost entirely of dialogue between them. Ichihara teaches Watanuki a little something about mystics and fortune-tellers and while the episode isn’t really that eventful or action packed, it manages to build on the very small, and mostly superficial, character development from earlier episodes. By the end of ‘Fortune telling’ I’d actually become engaged in the characters and a little intrigued by where this series is headed.

Unless you’re completely adverse to reading subtitles, I’d strongly suggest watching this series with the original, Japanese dialogue. The differences in the translation are subtle, but significant. More importantly, the English voice acting is, I hate to say it, grating and distracting. To really get anything out of this series though you’ve got to be open to watching something a little bit strange – if not, you can always just grab some massive headphones and go for a jog. [source]

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