Prepare to be taken on a tour de force through the world of the supernatural. Or maybe just a regular tour. I wouldn't know. Having only recently experienced the genre of "supernatural" anime, xxxHOLiC (hereby referred to as simply "Holic") was a breath of fresh air from my usual action/fantasy fare.
The story behind Holic is intriguing and interesting, revolving around spirits, ghosts, and the very strange. Geared towards an older and more sophisticated audience, there's little action, but loads of thought-provoking and amazingly insightful dialogue. Holic is the kind of anime that gets your mind pumping about topics such as fate, destiny, and one's purpose in life. Plus, there's a side to it that makes statements about how people live and society in general. Not to mention that it's educational as well. Holic offers an insight into a part of Japanese culture that most people rarely see.
Concerning the plot, however, Holic is another anime that is driven by episodic events. There seems to be no real overall direction for the story. Normally, this would leave me feeling slightly cheated and unsatisfied, but after surviving through the likes of Ouran and the Wallflower, I've come to accept that the episodic plot system is a genre on its own and it's here to stay.
Unfortunately, a plot that doesn't know where it's going hurts any character development. The characters are well made, with their own distinct personalities, but stay relatively the same throughout the course of the plot. No one shows very much significant growth. Granted, everyone is wiser and better, having learned the lessons distributed throughout 24 episodes of madness. Perhaps that's the elusive character growth that I've been looking for?
In terms of artwork, the artistic foundations were laid down in the manga by the increasingly popular mangaka group CLAMP. And they've done a very good job. Yuuko's wardrobe is definitely something to pay attention to (ahem), and though everyone has ridiculously long arms, legs, and necks, it actually provides a sense of levity in a serious setting (that, and the alcoholism). Alas, there's a slight issue with the fact that only the characters important to the plot are actually drawn in. Any bodies that are only required to be "fillers" (like a bunch of random people at a supermarket) are not colored and lack faces. In my opinion, it has symbolic meaning, but it could also be attributed to pure laziness. Dunno which to choose.
Oh, and speaking of laziness, the sound was great. Loved the opening theme, but didn't really pay attention to the background music. Voice-acting was top notch, especially with all the high pitched and slightly unique voices coming from characters like Mokona, Maru, and Moro. That is all.
In the enjoyment section: I finished Holic in the space of a week, and indeed, I was completely hooked. I savored every bit of supernatural strangeness, and I'll be looking for more with the second season.
Finally, Holic certainly isn't unique, for there seems to be an ever-growing list of anime that deal with the supernatural, the occult, and just really weird stuff in general. But as a starter series for the newly-converted, it's definitely worth watching.