xxxHOLiC – Episode 4

xxxholic 4.mp4_snapshot_12.11_[2015.07.04_20.35.57]Angels aren’t always the saviors we think they are, and high school girls can hide dark secrets under their cute uniforms. This episode is all about choice, and Watanuki begrudgingly forms a duo with Doumeki against bad spirits, letting us witness the birth of a bromance. With Yuuko on our side to cheer on them, let the ship sail!

Song of the Post: xxxHolic Opening Theme Song ~ Suga Shikao -「アイタイ」 (Aitai)

Episode 4: エンジェルさん (Angel-san)

A young girl is lost in a trance, at a séance, calling forth the spirit of Angel-san. She shut herself in her (very messy) room, but the door rattles before yielding to Watanuki’s effort. He’s there with Himawari, who smiles at the girl (name: Chikage), and introduces Watanuki, assuring Chikage that he’s here to help.

But Chikage rejects her hand and growls at them while running to the top of her bunk bed. There, she sticks her pen in her leg, over and over, until Watanuki forces her to stop. Now close, he reads the words she carved into her skin: “Help.” Oh, boy, I can’t watch.

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That triggers a vision that sends Watanuki in a classroom, where a normal Chikage points at a piece of paper (a ouija board) as she says: “Help me.” It was visibly used in a séance but is mostly covered with a graffiti reading “Die.” Ooookay.

The moment Watanuki touches it, his hand is slashed and he’s brought back to Chikage’s room, the poor girl now in a state of deep delirium. Wow, way to start an episode.

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Watanuki relocates with Himawari to the roof, letting her tend to his hand wound. She explains that Chikage got weirdly obsessed with the Angel-san game at her school and is now in this state but though Watanuki sympathises, he can’t help the girl. Himawari’s plan B is to ask Yuuko (or rather ask Watanuki to ask Yuuko), who we see later pointing out that something must be given in return and that Himawari should come ask her in person.

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Watanuki the Knight tries to defend her but is cut short when Yuuko comes closer, looking intrigued: “You…have an awful face.” Whaaaaaaa? Are you blind? She wasn’t talking about his appearance, though, and meant face reading. The next scene may prove her right, as we see Watanuki steeling himself before entering the high school building. At night. Alone. Seriously, how many red flags do you need?

Fortunately for him, Yuuko meets with Doumeki, who still can’t believe he has that power in him. She explains that it emanated because of his ties with Watanuki. Doumeki is skeptical so she points out that even though they only met, the impact is still significant. We know, they’re fated to be!

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Now inside the building, Watanuki scans the place. Damn, empty schools can be so eerie. Especially this quiet, AT NIGHT. He hears a door open and walks warily towards it (WHYYYY?) when a hand suddenly grabs him. Watanuki nearly has an heart-attack but it’s only Doumeki, here to check on our scaredy-cat. Watanuki looks surprised to hear that Yuuko was worried enough to send Doumeki to protect him, though he doesn’t comment on that.

Doumeki knows that Watanuki intends to break the Angel-san curse, but can’t help saying that it’s irresponsible to go without a clear plan. Watanuki flares up in anger: Chikage told him to do so, not that Doumeki would understand, since he can’t see ghosts. Ouch, that was a cheap shot.

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It seems to affect Doumeki a bit, and he looks at the bracelet Yuuko gave him. After all, she said, you can’t ask for something without paying in return, right? Without explanations, she simply told Doumeki to choose what he wants to do.

Watanuki is looking for the music room he saw in his vision, and when he finds it, Chikage appears with two of her friends, chanting the Angel-san invocation. Dressed in her Witch of Dimensions garb, Yuuko is able to see the scene through her magical disk. The three girls are deep into the ritual, rebuffing Watanuki’s help as they desperately hold onto the pen for fear of being cursed if they stop.

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Yuuko watches Watanuki grappling with the girls, and says that this “game” is a way to communicate with the dead. With amateurs performing it, it’s no wonder real ghosts came to the school. But now, she adds, they’re bored. Watanuki manages to snatch the paper and break the girls’ connection.

The air changes drastically, as the girls reveal their ghost appearances, throwing Watanuki across the room. Crap! Yuuko confirms that they’re not humans, and that they’re made of the bad thoughts of the students who used the ouija board for fun, in the hope of witnessing something horrible.

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The ghosts are now kicking Watanuki, and Chikage proceeds to twist his arm to break it when Doumeki finally shows up. Strangely enough, he just stands there, looking unsettled while Watanuki groans in pain. He wonders what’s going on, and we see that, from his perspective, Watanuki is simply sprawled on the floor, his arm weirdly up in the air.

Yuuko comments that indeed, Doumeki can’t see ghosts. He still senses that something’s up, but is hurled to a stack of chairs. The ghosts turn their attention to him, and he’s cut repeatedly. He receives one cut at the head, more profound than the others, making him pass out while he remembers telling Yuuko that he always thought he couldn’t save people like his Grandpa did.

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Watanuki has had enough and tries to fend off the ghosts but finds himself crushed against the wall by a piano. The ghosts pushes it to squash him like a bug, one of them coming next to his face, grinning: “It’s fun.” I’m sorry to find it funny as well, given how ridiculous Watanuki looks when we don’t see the ghosts. It’s like he’s doing weird things with the piano…

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Powerless, Doumeki can only look. Yuuko’s words about choosing what to do makes him scream in frustration, but the bracelet responds to his turmoil by materializing a bow. Handy, that. Doumeki takes it and aims at the ouija paper, now fluttering in the air. As his spiritual arrow hits it, Chikage’s ghost clicks her tongue and they all disappear.

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The boys aren’t too fresh, and Watanuki crawls to check on Doumeki, who fell on his knees. Doumeki points out that he didn’t intervene because he was worried (yeah, yeah), but because he made a choice.

Meanwhile, Chikage wakes up, her face finally peaceful. She goes to her window, tearing all the paper her ghost self put on it to let the light enter the room.

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Back at Yuuko’s shop, Watanuki asks why she told Doumeki and she answers that she wants to keep such a good hard-working part-timer as long as possible. He’s afraid to understand what she means: her help in the Angel-san case will be added to his bill. Muhahahaha. Yuuko is such a loan-shark.

She looks at his face, commenting that it’s bad as usual, and adds that one’s fortune changes depending on who they meet. She can tell that right now, the person closest to him….isn’t Lady Luck. You betcha!

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As if on cue, we see Himawari meeting up later with the boys and she’s horrified at their state, though they assure her that it’s nothing. She still feels guilty, so Doumeki suggests that she bakes a cake. Watanuki stutters that he was the one helping here, prompting her to clasp his hands, thanking him personnally.

Rain falls heavily, and we follow a young girl dressed in a Lolita fashion. She visits Yuuko, coughing as she notes that “this side of the world is dirty.” Hmm. Yuuko makes her sit on a pallet, to prevent the floor from getting wet since this guest is no ordinary girl. The spirit goes straight to the point, when asked. “I have a request for your Part-Timer.” Him, and only him can help.

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Impressions:

Still riding the Japanese horror wave, I see. Perfect for summer, I agree, but preferably not at night.

I won’t delve into the horror genre, and maybe I’m reading too much into it, but what I like about xxxHolic in general is its ability to tie social themes with supernatural elements. The drama version could have had a deeper social commentary, but it fares pretty well with the horror aspect. It’s less about shock and gore, as opposed to the Western kind of horror, and more about your psyche, and how the show builds the tension.

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That said, I have to point out the low-fi special effects of this episode, though I guess it’s due to budgetary reasons. In the manga, Watanuki was pushed off the roof by the ghosts, and Doumeki caught him just in time. They were saved by a giant snake spirit, so that could have gone terribly wrong on TV.

I’m really digging Higashide Masashiro’s portrayal, and what he brings to Doumeki’s character. It makes him more relatable, though I also loved Doumeki’s trademark deadpan style. Manga Doumeki looked too mature for his age, really. In here, his wish of helping people is made evident, as is his complex of not being able to see spirits.

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I noticed it in the previous episode, where he seemed frustrated of not having inherited his Grandpa’s ability. The choice he made here, to involve himself and acknowledge his power, despite his limitations, may be his answer. Yuuko may have helped him realize that, but the final moment was his.

Poor Watanuki didn’t really shine much, as he mostly served as a catalyst. I’m sure he’ll bounce back next episode, with the Ame Warashi!

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