(season two) xxxHOLiC Kei

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    Review:

    xxxHOLiC Kei is a supernatural/mystery comedy series which first aired in the spring of 2008. xxxHOLiC Kei is the sequel to the original xxxHOLiC. It has two OVA sequels in xxxHOLiC Shunmuki and xxxHOLiC Rou which came out in February 2009 and April 2010 respectively. If you wish to see my review for the first season, please click the link below:

    Season one: xxxHOLiC review

    One of my biggest pet peeves with xxxHOLiC was the episodic nature of the series. While the individual tales were interesting and gave the series a light natured vibe, I also felt this format stifled the series in numerous ways. The lack of continuity meant the level of suspense, tension and ultimately Drama was largely eliminated as any one issue was solved before the episodes end.

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    This lack of Drama also had a more significant and more profound impact however. By limiting any story to one episode it meant the level of challenge and adversity our characters faced was small meaning there was less opportunity for growth. This lack of character growth was quite noticeable and made all the worse due to the 24-episode run of the old series. This lack of character growth also stilted the comedy as it became too heavily reliant on the same characters gags that never changed and were repeated ad nauseam.

    Thankfully those pain points were largely addressed in this second season when many of the stories covered are told over the space of 2-3 episodes. While this may not sound like much the conflicts and challenges presented were big enough that we got a chance to see Kimihiro Watanuki grow. While the choices he makes in uncovering supernatural phenomenon may not be the best what is different in xxxHOLiC Kei is that the actions he takes have a lasting impact. The fact that his choices and actions have future ramifications changes the dynamic of the series completely. Instead of the carefree feeling we got in the original where everything will be all right, we are suddenly presented with harsh truths that strike both us and Kimihiro.

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    This painful realisation that actions have real consequences not only adds a sense tension (even anxiety) to the individual arcs; it also acts as a platform for character growth as Kimihiro is forced to learn from his mistakes that often costs him dearly. This is repeated in more than one occasion and is the main defining feature that separates Kei from its predecessor.

    These larger and more complex stories present challenges that are not just limited to Kimihiro. It also extends to his immediate circle of friends who all play a bigger resolving the large scale issues. The most notable standout being Shizuku Doumeki who grows into a voice of reason that was largely absent than before. His relationship and future role in the xxxHOLiC are also expanded providing depth, nuance as well as generating more interest in Shizuku than before. He is not the simple aloof stoic character we got in season one. Perhaps the biggest boon in all this is the relationship between Shizuka and Kimihiro which matures markedly.

    In a way there is a certain irony to Kei. Whilst I will admit the actual individual stories are actually not as gripping or inspiring as the original stories in xxxHOLiC it is the deeper nature of the tales told in Kei that gives them a more lasting impact. There is more tension and coupled with some of them ending on a bittersweet note means this season has a darker tone than xxxHOLiC. That is not to say there are no light hearted moments as the comedic moments are sprinkled liberally throughout the show. We still get the antics of Yuuko Ichihara and her gang plus the bickering between Kimihiro and Shizuka so if you liked those moments. Don’t worry they are still there. It is just those moments are punctuated by more serious moments.

    Animation for xxxHOLiC Kei is of a similar standard to its prequel. This lack of improvement is disappointing considering the season was shortened to 13 episodes. There are some improvements which is most notable on the various character shots. Like before Kei follows the classic Clamp style with its character designs which can work but looks odds in this series. If you want to see how this design works then check out Code Geass which was actually released at the same time as xxxHOLiC Kei. Like before the human silhouettes for the extras remain. On the brighter side the opening and ending songs for xxxHOLiC Kei do improve. The opening is "Nobody Knows" by Suga Shikao while the ending theme is "Honey Honey" by Seamo featuring Ayuse Kozue.

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    Overall, as previously stated before xxxHOLiC Kei's biggest strength is character growth. In this outing much of the main cast including captain oblivious aka Himawari Kunogi has grown and are they all the better for it. This character development doesn't stop with Kimihiro's immediate circle of friends; we also get deeper insights on some of the recurring secondary characters giving us a greater understanding into the world of xxxHOLiC.

    On the surface, if we take these stories at pure face value, they are not as entertaining as before but what makes them more compelling, at least in my eyes, is the way the tension and resolutions are handled. The stakes are higher, the Drama greater and most important of all there are lasting impacts that are taken onto future arcs. It is these growth and developments that make you wonder what will become of Kimihiro and keep you invested in what happens next.

    Story 7 – Whilst there are still some single episode threads a larger chunk of the stories told are longer arcs spanning between two to three episodes. While these stories are perhaps not as entertaining as those found in xxxHOLiC where Kei shines is the way it resolves the conflicts which adds a sense of tension and Drama to the narrative that was lacking before. The fact there are lasting changes also acts a major driver for character growth.

    Characters 8 – While Yuuko retains her charm the biggest positive that comes from xxxHOLiC Kei is the character growth we get in Kimihiro, Shizuka and Himawari. Seeing as this trio get significant screen time this is a big bonus especially when you see their relationship evolving through this shows running. An added plus is there are extra developments in some members of the secondary cast. All of this growth makes us more invested in their futures.

    Animation 4 – It is disappointing that we did not get more improvements in this area as while things did get better somewhat I expected something more significant considering this season is 13 episodes as opposed to the original 24 episode run in xxxHOLiC. The opening and ending themes are pretty good though.

    Overall 7.5 – xxxHOLiC Kei should appeal to a wider set of fans as there is more to be had with its greater character growth and compelling storylines. These character developments also make us more interested in knowing what happens next with Kimihiro and his friends. If you are fan of the supernatural or series of this nature then add half a point to the overall score.

    Has always there is gallery for xxxHOLiC Kei so check it out!
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