Faust #1 – xxxHOLiC: ANOTHERHOLiC
A while back Del Rey released the first ever English volume of Faust, a literary anthology originally published every now and then by Kodansha since 2003. Like the original Japanese line, the English volume features short stories and one-shot manga by young authors considered by the editor, Katsushi Ota, to be on the fringe of Japanese pop culture whether their medium be primarily written or illustrated. This first American edition of Faust serves as a kind of “best of” collection handpicked by Ota himself to show as many different kinds of storytelling as possible and I have to say he did a pretty good job in diversifying the pickings to reach as wide an audience as possible. Over the next few weeks I’ll be taking a look at each of the entries in Faust #1 and giving my own take on how the author fared in their particular offering.
First up is NisiOisiN’s treatment of CLAMP’s xxxHOLiC, xxxHOLiC: ANOTHERHOLiC. しかし! / shikashi! first mentioned NisiOisiN a week ago in a post about one of his works, Bakemonogatari, finally getting animated and set to air some time next year. As mentioned in that entry, NisiOisiN’s massive popularity as a writer partially stems from the huge successes he’s had even though he’s still only in his twenties. And it’s this success with his original pop-fueled works that quite possibly attracted the creative forces behind xxxHOLiC and Death Note to greenlight official spin-off novels by the author.
What’s included in Faust #1 is the first of three stories that make up xxxHOLiC: ANOTHERHOLiC. This particular tale, curiously titled Landolt-Ring Aerosol (one characteristic of NisiOisin’s writing style is the sheer absurdity of some of his creations’ names, readers of Death Note: Another Note – The Los Angeles BB Murder Cases will know what I’m talking about), is very much a story on the nature of perception. xxxHOLiC leads Watanuki and Yuko are the main characters along with the woman pivotal to this particular case, Nurie Kushimura, that has a particularly severe condition very much akin to an acute case of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
The story begins with Watanuki once more out on an errand for the mysterious witch Yuko, this time for a pair of cheap glasses from a local thrift store. It’s after making this seemingly useless purchase that he comes across Nurie, who proceeds to make a suicidal leap off an overpass and into the oncoming traffic below. Through what seems to be sheer luck Nurie survives this impulsive action and is admitted to a hospital thanks to Watanuki’s intervention. Surprised by the woman’s behavior, Watanuki immediately appraises the situation as having to do with malevolent spirits possessing Nurie and that perhaps he caught a glimpse of one on her shoulder before the jump. But when he tries to evaluate her for signs of possessions he comes to an impasse and eventually ends up consulting Yuko.
Landolt-Ring Aerosol‘s second half plays out in the witch’s trademark wish-granting shop, with Nurie face-to-face with none other than Yuko herself. A short conversation between the two eventually culminates with Yuko giving Nurie the cheap glasses Watanuki purchased at the beginning of the story, along with a promise that the glasses would magically aid her in curing her affliction. Watanuki, perturbed that Yuko would knowingly deceive Nurie like that, demands an explanation for what his employer was thinking. Yuko calmly explains that Nurie’s issue was merely a problem associated with her subconscious drive to escape pressure. All of her apparently impulsive actions were actually calculated and planned-in-advance somewhere in the back of her mind, all perceived not as true decisions but as urges. She continues that though Nurie’s new glasses may not be magical, they serve as an aid to bring her problem to conscious attention; and so long as she’s reminded of it, she’ll hopefully cure herself of her maladaptive response to stress.
Yuko finally concludes by explaining Watanuki’s fault in perception. Nurie was never truly possessed, all that Watanuki saw that day on the overpass was nothing more than a glint off Nurie’s shoulder bag. Not every strange event is caused by the spirit world that Watanuki so desperately wants to cut himself off from. In fact, the spirit world isn’t nearly as frightening or evil as what humans are capable of. With that, Watanuki and the reader are left to ponder that idea as the story ends with Nurie stopping at a crosswalk, seemingly taking the first step to recovery.
Although some readers, including the excerpt’s own translator Andrew Cunningham, seemed to totally abhor xxxHOLiC: ANOTHERHOLiC‘s formulaic cases/chapters, I have to say NisiOisiN did well in adapting at least one key element of the CLAMP series to prose. Watanuki isn’t as hard to portray given his rather stock boyservant template, but you can tell the author had some fun bringing Yuko to life in the story. I’m not sure to what degree CLAMP may have consulted him on the minutiae of the witch’s character, but pretty much every line reasserts her position as the most interesting mind in the entire series; she easily steals every scene she’s in by oozing mystery, wisdom, and even some playful charm every now and then. If you’re one to argue that Yuko is xxxHOLiC itself, by that definition NisiOisiN hit this Landolt-Ring Aerosol out of the park.
But as much as I was impressed with Yuko in this chapter, I have to admit that there were a few shortcomings here and there. For starters, the magic of CLAMP’s various works is inherent in their illustrations. If you poll a significant portion of the mangaka collective’s fanbase as to what they love most about their idols, there’s a very good chance the top response will be something related to their highly distinctive artwork. The problem with xxxHOLiC: ANOTHERHOLiC, and particularly with the offering in Faust #1, is that CLAMP’s art has a very limited presence; a decision that goes a long ways in inhibiting the immersion into the original source material you would normally want in a spin-off production. Another problem that I found to crimp up every now and then was the tepid chemistry between Nurie and Watanuki, the latter of which was sadly treated as more of a throwaway character in this story. While I understand that Watanuki is supposed to be a glorified errand boy under the auspices of Yuko’s wish-granting shop, I wish he did… well, MORE in this story. Then again I haven’t read the xxxHOLiC manga in a while so it may be that Watanuki really is that boring regularly, only really becoming more versatile when he’s away from Yuko’s huge shadow or with other series regulars Domeki and Himawari.
And with that, we have the first entry in Faust #1. A flawed, yet enjoyable read showcasing only a mere fraction of a young and prolific author’s immense literary talent. If you’re curious about the full-length light novel that Landolt-Ring Aerosol was included in, you’ll be glad to know that Del Rey has plans to release it on the 28th of next month for 18 USD.