The acclaimed all-female Japanese mangaka group CLAMP is known for several great anime and manga, with its works ranging in style, tone and genre. One of its most notable series is xxxHolic, which actually received praise for its use of the supernatural. Despite this nature as a dark fantasy, the manga and its many adaptations are not horror.
Focusing on the daily lives and adventures of its cast members, xxxHolic never sets out to scare or even unnerve audiences. There are definitely elements that may seem creepy or even disturbing, but the jump to outright horror is never made. In time for the season of spooks, here’s a look at an anime that’s certainly spooky at times — but never truly scary.
xxxHolic Follows a Supernatural Errand Boy
The protagonist of CLAMP’s xxxHolic is Kimihiro Watanuki, a young man who can’t stand his mysterious affliction. Hounded by spirits that can’t be seen by anyone else, he consults Yuko Ishihara for help. This witch offers to remove these annoying spirits from his life, but at a price. For the foreseeable future, Kimihiro must agree to act as her housekeeper and cook in order for her to hold up her end of the deal. He’s also sent on numerous trips for Yuko, many of which become increasingly supernatural and paranormal. His friends Kunogi and Domeki also become further involved, strengthening his relationship with the latter, whom he once disliked.
Beyond its own storyline, xxxHolic crosses over with another CLAMP series: Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle. The series’ central themes are individualism and personal happiness, the latter of which changes greatly from person to person. The characters evolve to understand what it is their hearts truly desire, their supposedly unhealthy normal habits and other attributes of their personalities. Of course, there’s a myriad of supernatural circumstances that take place along the way, but these simply build into the morality tales and are never truly horrifying.
xxxHolic Is a Slightly Gothic Dark Fantasy – But It’s Not a Horror Anime
With the Gothic art style and supernatural elements, it’s easy to see how xxxHolic would be mistaken for a true horror anime. Given the witch’s somewhat sinister nature and how unsettling other plot points are, not to mention the downright creepy art adan designs, those classifying it as such would seemingly be right. The problem with this train of thought, however, is that there’s nothing particularly horrifying about xxxHolic. Be it monsters preying upon or a person’s psyche fracturing amid madness, neither traditional horror nor psychological horror are present in the series.
Again, the paranormal is a common element in the stories, but this is the case in other anime that would never be mistaken as horror. For instance, the original Dragon Ball and even its more sci-fi follow-ups have fantasy and otherworldly elements, including demons, reincarnation and the afterlife. Nevertheless, these don’t get the series classified as horror, namely because these concepts’ storytelling intentions exist for things beyond scaring the audience. More overtly supernatural and dark shonen anime like Yu Yu Hakusho are the same way, yet they’re never considered the anime equivalent to Stephen King’s novels.
The same goes for xxxHolic, in which the yokai and other spirits are simply part of the story’s world and not some bloodcurdling fright. This makes the series an excellent choice for a low-key “spook,” as its art, concepts and settings give off a paranormal vibe without sending viewers diving underneath the covers. The 2005 anime adaptation can be streamed through Funimation and Crunchyroll.