xxxHolic – AnotherHolic (Novel)

Posted by DiGiKerot in Novels at August 16, 2009 on 12:05 pm

I like xxxHolic. I’ve been reading the manga since Del Rey started publishing their English print of the series all those years back.

I also like Nisioisin. Minor translation niggles aside, I really liked Zaregoto (insert usual bitching about the second volumes non-release). I also really like Magical Girl Risuka, and his Death Note book was good as well.

You’d forgive me, then for making the assumption that Nisioisin writing a xxxHolic novel would be like combining two fantastic tastes into one. Except in this case, the tastes are like bananas and Hobnobs. Not chocolate Hobnobs, obviously – those are an abomination unto one of the finest tea-dunking biscuits in existence – but regular Hobnobs. Anyway, Hobnobs and bananas taste great on their own, but spliced together?

Surprisingly not bad, actually – a chunk of banana sandwiched between two Hobnobs and dunked into a hot cup of coffee is, astonishingly, something of a taste sensation. Or a hideous concoction that only I’d subject myself to. Either way, it’s possibly not the best of examples, as AnotherHolic really isn’t all that good.

To be honest, whilst I think Nisioisin tried his best with this, I don’t think xxxHolic is particularly suited to be taken to a non-visual format. I think the big issue is that Watanuki is really more of a photogenic character than he is an interesting one – most of his personality tends to come across in his wildly flailing reactions rather than his dialogue. His other defining character traits are his spazzing over Himawari, and his irrational hatred of Doumeki, yet presumably in an attempt to minimize the chances of doing anything overly out-of-canon, neither appear in the book.

Which leaves Nisioisin with a main character bereft of of all that makes him entertaining to work with. This is problematic, as Nisioisin tends to write really quirky characters who’d come up with the kind of dialogue that Watanuki never would, and the result of something of a bizarro-world Watanuki who has something of a distracting ability to suddenly do character breaking things like discussing the cast of Pani Poni Dash. Otherwise, he’s just pretty boring, and Watanuki really can’t carry the book.

Which means it comes down to Yuko to try and save the affair, which is fine whilst she’s in a more playful mood. These are not story-progression-centric xxxHolic stories, though, and much like the same kind of one-off stories in the manga, they are ultimately punctuated with Yuko having to explain everything that’s been going on to Watanuki. What you end up getting is a combination of what was typically a fairly dialogue-heavy chunk of manga, with a heavy dialogue-heavy author, resulting in pages and pages of dialgoue which is more tedious than anything, as it reiterates points that anyone with a passing familiarity with xxxHolic (basically anyone who would want to read this manga) would have likely already figured out.

Which is pretty much endemic of the entire book – Nisioisin manages to make each of the stories presented here start interesting enough, but eventually each is shackled down by the conventions of xxxHolic to the point which reading it becomes more chore-like than interesting. The final of the three stories in the book at least tries to break xxxHolic formula somewhat – the other two are pretty atypical of the franchise, with the first having been used as the basis of an episode of the anime – but it’s not enough to save the book.

Then there are the issues coming from the rendering of the story in English. I don’t mean that there’s translation issues as such – Andrew Cunningham has done as good a job as is likely possible, and is certainly deserving of praise for actually managing to get the shiritori to read relatively naturally – rather there’s things in here which just don’t translate at all.

The books second story, about a girl who is receiving text messages from her dead friend, has a set-up similar to a more traditional mystery novel. The problem is that a key point relating to what is going is something that you literally can’t work out in English even once the solution is revealed (to the point where the books footnotes tell you as much). Whilst there’s story reasons why things have to be rendered as they were, there’s nothing that exterminates all the fun of a mystery story more than being told that one of the clues is effectively invalid for you.

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