Nothing could have thrilled Kimihiro more than stumbling upon the bizarre wish-granting shop of the beautiful but unnerving Yûko Ichihara, who solemnly promises to make the spirits plaguing Kimihiro go away just as soon as her fee–rendered in daily afternoon chores at her shop–is paid in full.
Of course, the thrill wears off as soon as Kimihiro realizes that his payment plan bears a disturbing resemblance to indentured servitude . . . eternal indentured servitude. Still he soldiers on, ready for whatever number of adventures lie ahead. But in Kimihiro’s case, three may not be the charm!
His first assignment–to procure a pair of fake eyeglasses–is exceptionally pointless, even by Yûko’s standards. Or at least it seems that way, until Kimihiro watches a woman throw herself into traffic. He soon discovers that the doors of bespectacled perception can swing both ways.
Next, when a classmate seeks help solving a mystery involving text messages from the dead, Kimihiro is glad to play Sherlock. But he must turn to Yûko to determine whether the root of the riddle is otherworldly shenanigans, deceit, or murder.
Finally, however ready, willing, and able Kimihiro thinks he is to face the most unusual of circumstances, he still finds himself completely bewildered by the stranger who chases away his darkest spirits, condemns Yûko as a craven charlatan, and offers Kimihiro a way out of his preternatural predicament–and a fortune besides.
NisiOisiN's attempt at tackling xxxHOLiC's characters and themes is an interesting one. In many ways, it seems a precursor to his Monogatari Series, though perhaps this just speaks of how fitting an author he was to be offered his own chance at realising this unique universe. However, while this novel definitely has the palindromic author's unique touch, it is definitively cut from the same cloth as the manga serialisation. The general construction, plotting and interactions in this novel are more NisiOisiN than CLAMP, but it makes for a more interesting setup, with Yuuko and Watanuki slightly re-written as more compelling leads. For this reason, it
offers more value to those already familiar with the xxxHOLiC universe. It feels somewhat cut-off otherwise. That said, perhaps paradoxically, I found it more nuanced and compelling than the main series for a few reasons.
While xxxHOLiC is predominately a supernatural series that revels in the spectacle, that isn't so applicable for this incarnation of the series. It greatly enhances the insight and themes that bookends the standalone stories in the manga, but the supernatural has a fundamentally different presence and interpretation in NisiOisiN's hands. It would be accurate to say that nothing of particular significance happened in AnotherHOLiC, and that no one had moved from their starting positions. And yet, I found this interpretation of the franchise to be the most enjoyable, interesting, and thought-provoking.
Like with all of NisiOisiN works - and particularly the Monogatari Series - AnotherHOLiC is filled to the brim with dialogue, talking directly to - but more often - around the reader. It's a style of storytelling that you love or hate on first glance. Rarely will you finish one of his works without having thought deeply upon one of the ideas he presents, and AnotherHOLiC is no different. It presents three distinct narratives with the only threads connecting them a common theme of responsibility for one's state and actions, the two leads Watanuki & Yuuko, and Watanuki's world of spirits. In the end, despite the mystery and supernatural elements, AnotherHOLiC is predominately a character study laced with witty and slightly strange humour.
The most enjoyable and most developed facet of the novel are the characters and their interactions. NisiOisiN injects much more nuance into Watanuki's character than the manga, and for that matter, the central 'victims' of each chapter. Even missing Doumeki and Himawari, AnotherHOLiC still entertains with Watanuki and Yuuko's more comedic relationship. The psychology of the characters is rendered in greater detail and takes a more prominent role in AnotherHOLiC, clearly at the core of the novel's themes. The switching perspectives make things more interesting and gives the reader greater insight - and for once, a NisiOisiN novel is written in third-person! The novel is quite tightly-written, being of a modest length and without any of the more unfocused storytelling of the Monogatari Series. Watanuki is written as a more grounded and far less obnoxious adolescent with subtleties that are more enjoyable and interesting to explore than the manga's counterpart. Yuuko's character remains largely intact, though she seems to take on a bigger presence from Watanuki's perspective. I also enjoyed how well NisiOisiN defined and explored the themes of the original serialisation in the novel such that Yuuko becomes a more well-defined character.
There isn't a lot of it, and what there is might not actually be much at all, but AnotherHOLiC is another take on xxxHOLiC, in many ways more interesting, detailed and nuanced than the main series. However, it also feels bizarrely empty because of the incredibly small cast of characters, especially in comparison to NisiOisiN's usual style. It's worth a shot whether you're a fan of xxxHOLiC or a fan of NisiOisiN, and works best if you're a fan of both. If you've heard of neither the author nor the series, then AnotherHOLiC is also worth a look just on the novelty factor alone. The mystery aspect is interesting enough to engage a first-time reader, and the prose is more tightly-written than NisiOisiN's other stuff, so it's not a bad introduction to both the series and the writer. The cover's also pretty cool. But the Del-Ray translation is too many times stilted because of its steadfast refusal to use contractions in prose.
AnotherHOLiC has become one of my favourite novels because of the degree the attention paid to weaving in interesting themes into the narrative - both complex and subtle, both large and small - despite it earning the label 'uneventful'. And the characters are more than drivers or personifications of these themes, because NisiOisiN always manages to create characters that feel fundamentally human for the strangest reasons. Quirky and genre-reliant, but always more than the sum of their parts in unique narratives where character and story blend together seamlessly and naturally.
But for the same reasons I hold it up as a well-written and interesting work of fiction, it can just as easily be damned as a half-baked exploration of character and psychology that bears no significance and holds no stakes, nothing having happened and nothing gained or lost, a criticism particular to the third chapter of AnotherHOLiC. Less a story than an essay. Less an essay than a diatribe of ego and selfishness. For the same reasons I find AnotherHOLiC enjoyable and significant, every second reader might find it boring and worthless in the end.
There's no way to tell. The best type of story, to me, is one that alienates half of its potential readers in order to tell a stronger and more truthful narrative, with uncompromising characters. It's a joy that I'm on the side of the fence that enjoyed AnotherHOLiC.