Watanuki is a highschool boy who lost his parents when he was young. He seems to attract spirits, much to his chagrin. One day he runs away from a particularly clinky spirit and ends up in Yuko's "shop". She grants wishes -- for a price! Watanuki starts working in her shop (mainly by cooking for Yuko and Mokona), in order to repay Yuko for granting the wish to make him less susceptible to spirits.
Yuko is an easygoing drunkard (she drinks a lot, and can always think of an excuse to drink more), and she loves to play pranks on Watanuki and his friends -- there's Himawari who Watanuki has a crush on, and the stoic Domeki whom Watanuki can't stand. Domeki has one trait that makes him the ideal companion to Watanuki, though -- Domeki can banish spirits, a skill that saves Watanuki more than once.
When it comes to her job, Yuko does get serious. She can't do much for the people who visit her -- because if she would fix all their problems, she would have to ask too high a price... Instead, she tries to coach people to fix their own problems: her clients have to want to sop obsessing over the internet, or to stop lying, or to stop two-timing. Ultimately, it's not Yuko who has the problem!
On a personal level, this resonated strongly with me. In the world of xxxHolic, there is no easy fix, no silver bullet. You have to fix your problems yourself: if you have a bad habit, you need to take responsibility. Yuko can tell you what is happening, but she can't make you change yourself -- you have to do that.
The episodes all follow a certain plot-line. There is something in Yuko's storeroom that has an occult effect, or a client comes in with a certain problem, or Yuko thinks up some mischief to taunt Watanuki. Then Watanuki gets involved, often by seeing spirits and dealing with them (either directly or through Domeki)...
This formulaic, episodic approach actually works pretty well for this series: the stories are all rather independant and separate, and still there is some character development. There is no over-arching plot, though some things from previous episodes pop up in later ones.
Visually, the series has the same elongated character designs than Tsubasa Chronicle has, only more exaggerated, which I found a little bit jarring. The designs are all pretty basic, but the animation and the backgrounds are really detailed and fluid. The music is pretty cool, especially the opening and closing themes.
- No silver bullet;
- Interesting stories;
- Good music.
- Episodic (if that's not your thing);
- Slightly jarring character designs.