xxxHolic Kei is the second season of the anime-adaptation of Clamp’s manga about modern Japanese folklore. In contrast to its predecessor, there are only 13 episodes, but to make up for it, the creators have put into these episodes the rumoured best chapters in the manga. The result is a second season that surpasses its first season in quite a few areas; not only in terms of manga, but also the anime staff learned some new tricks.
Without a doubt, the highlights of the second season are the first three and the final three episodes. Both contain rock-solid chapters, where the main characters Watanuki, Doumeki and Himawari (who have already been fleshed out really well by the first 24 episodes of the first season) really come together and get some major character development. The final episode is surprisingly light-hearted, but it does provide a perfect closure for the series.
The rest of the series is filled with stories, more reminiscent of the first season. They range from Yuuko, teasing Watanuki for the umpth time to some really effective standalone horror-stories. What’s interesting is how compared to the first season, the creators make use of much, much more foreshadowing. The stories in the first season always didn’t feel like a part of a whole, and this is fixed really nicely by the second season, which constantly drops hints and characters of stories that are still to come, which brings an interesting sort of unity to a series that consists out of random stories.
The animation has also improved a lot. You can see that the creators got a bigger budget for the second season, which makes especially Watanuki’s ramblings into some great visual comedy. Unfortunately, the animation dulls a bit in the less important episodes. The creators made good use of their CG to support the supernatural aspects of this series, and also the sound department is better than ever, although some tracks may have been played a few too many times.
Unfortunately, I can’t call the second season better than the first season. There’s something that holds it back from doing this, and it’s not just the length. In the second half of the series, there’s one particular multi-episode arc that breaks the flow of this series: the Kohane-arc. The only purpose of this arc is to show a mistreated little girl, and nothing else. Nothing really new gets introduced, and the way this girl gets abused despite her awesome powers have a good chance of breaking your suspense of disbelief. Especially for a 13 episode-series, if two episodes disappoint, it will be much more noticeable than if there were 24 episodes.
Still, xxxHolic Kei definitely carries the highlights of xxxHolic. It’s less consistent than the first season, due to the disappointing Kohane-arc, but to make up for that, it features the Spider Queen and Himawari-arc, along with a number of successful standalone episodes. The art has become better, and the characters also make use of the time that was spent on fleshing them out, so this series has been just as enjoyable as the first season for me.