All right, friends. We’ve covered a lot of ground since we started this journey into second-tier heroes from lesser known members of the galaxy, spanning Green Lantern Corps to that time Swampy left John Constantine to the librarians and smugglers of the far far away (the permanent gift that keeps on giving). We’ve even profiled loyal fire ferrets and long suffering cabbage merchants.
I think it’s time to really stretch and take on some personalities from non-Western comics, don’t you?
Good, glad you agree.
Fellow Rioter Vernieda Vergara has been guiding me through the world of ’90s manga since I’ve come to it later in life, and wow is there a lot. I’d have no idea where in the back catalog to start if not for her patient and enthusiastic instruction. One of the books I’ve gotten completely lost in (as in “I live here now”) is CLAMP’s xxxHolic, a truly epic work that spans seven omnibus editions. (I may or may not have purchased the remaining six immediately upon finishing the first. Who am I kidding, y’all know me by now.) It crosses over with several of the mangaka group’s other books, including Cardcaptor Sakura and Magic Knight Rayearth among others. It’s okay if you haven’t read the other books—you have to start somewhere, and the xxxHolic omnibuses have bonus sections at the end of each arc that fill you in on the pertinent bits, along with cultural hints and translation notes.
In brief: xxxHolic revolves around high school student Watanuki, whose family legacy means spirits are attracted to him, haunting him constantly. One fateful day he is drawn into Yûko’s orbit, and the “space-time” witch strikes a bargain with Watanuki: if he works in her curiosity shop until his debit is paid off (whenever she deems that is), she’ll release him from his “curse.” Watanuki agrees and the adventure begins.
Watanuki, however, wouldn’t have entered the shop in the first place had Moro and Maru, two odd and enthusiastic little girls, not led him inside by physically grabbing his arms and pulling him through the doorway and into Yûko’s room. Oh, the impropriety!
Of course, Yûko isn’t really one for propriety and Moro and Maru aren’t really little girls.
Moro and Maru appear to be adorable twins, though their hair and clothing make it easy to tell them apart: Moro has short pink hair and her clothing is more childish. She whines about chores and cheats to win the games the girls play to pass the time. Maru has longer hair and more mature clothing. She is better at chores and wins the games Moro doesn’t cheat at. They get along well most of the time.
It’s clear from the first panels that Moro and Maru aren’t actually human, but it isn’t until later in the story that Yûko explains to Watanuki that they are in fact spirits with a very important purpose: it is Moro and Maru who hold her shop, which exists as a pocket dimension, together. The reasons the girls never run errands or go to jobs with Watanuki and his crew or with Yûko is that, as spirits, they don’t have souls, which are a requirement for existence on the mortal plane; if Moro and Maru were to leave the safety of the pocket dimension, they would cease to exist.
Moro and Maru make demands constantly, but never for themselves: they do so for Yûko, for Watanuki, and even for Watanuki’s frenemy Dômeki, but they don’t have any personal needs. They are never seen eating, bathing, or attending to any other bodily needs. Yûko, despite her higher status as a space-time witch, does all of these things, is affected by heat during the summer and cold during the winter, and is quite the fashionista while the “girls” each have one summer and one winter outfit. They do show preferences for reading material, various types of music, and certain people.
I’m curious to find out what kind of spirit Moro and Maru are (yes, I know, it’s an old book—but I’m reading it for the first time and I’m trying not to wiki too much because I’m really enjoying watching this particular story unfold slowly). Plus, as you’re all aware, mythology and comics are my reading version of chocolate and peanut butter. Are they a specific type? Did Yûko make them? Do they serve her willingly? Are they clients like Watanuki? Did they also make a deal? Why? What was their wish? So many possibilities!
Oh, and a little parting trivia: the omnibus’s translator, William Flannagan, pokes fun at Watanuki’s prissy reaction when Yûko tells him the spirit’s full names are Maru-dashi and Moro-dashi which he says both translate as “exposing yourself in public” and are equivalent to Yûko having named the duo “streaking” and “flashing.”
There are a lot of great B-Listers in xxxHolic which, I have to say, is some of the most fun I’ve had reading in the last several months. More to come for sure!