With the strength of one person’s emotions, time stopped. And I was stopped within that time. It was for the sake of two worlds. For the sake of two futures.
Volume 15 is the thematic climax of xxxHolic. Watanuki asks his client, the woman who refuses to eat her own cooking, to see him at Yuuko’s shop for their weekly cooking lesson. Yuuko seems surprised at Watanuki’s initiative, but agrees anyway, asking for tasty snacks as the price of the use of the kitchen.
As the lesson proceeds, Watanuki reveals that he doesn’t remember how his cooking tastes. For a manga that focuses a lot on eating (and drinking), where there is at least one scene where Watanuki prepares lunch for Himawari or Doumeki, or prepares snacks to accompany Yuuko and Mokona’s nightly drinking parties, this revelation appears so distressing. I know he eats, so why then does he not remember how his own cooking tastes like? Watanuki confesses that he trusts the compliments of his friends instead, who tell him how delicious his cooking is.
While reading this section, I was reminded of Yue (Card Captor Sakura) who doesn’t need to eat and merely feeds off the magical energy of his master, Clow (and later Touya). Meanwhile, Yue’s human form, Yukito, eats and eats yet never feels full.
People meet…the person they must meet…at the time they must meet that person. And parting is exactly the same.
The following pages show Yuuko meeting Watanuki amidst a backdrop of sakura blossoms, one of CLAMP’s favorite motifs. Unlike their usual conversations, this time Yuuko seems wistful and gentle. As a teacher, her time has come to an end and the time for parting has come upon them. Watanuki realizes that she is wearing the same outfit as he once saw her in a dream. He grabs on to her as she fades away in a shower of cherry blossom petals. The analogy of Yuuko as the butterfly, couched within the traditional Japanese symbol of the sakura, are possibly not accidental. Impermanence permeates every aspect of our lives — including the time spent with the people we care for. The transience of life and change will happen, whether we are ready for it or not.
Yuuko, then, has been kept alive only through Clow Reed’s strong wish magic. At her death, Clow wanted her to keep her eyes open, and that small thought alone has been enough to pause time, and delay Yuuko’s death. I think there’s a something little romantic about that.
Despite his constant whinging in the past, Watanuki acknowledges that Yuuko’s presence has enriched his life. In meeting her, he’s become more open to people (and not-people) and experiences that he otherwise would not have welcomed. She really has become one of Watanuki’s important persons, and in her final moments, she says that she grants him his wish: when she is gone, he will no longer be able to see the spirits that have troubled him all his life.
Watanuki asks her what wish she would like him to grant, and she replies simply, “I wish for you to exist. Just that would be enough.” He promises to fulfill her wish, by staying in the shop until she returns.
Of CLAMP’s main characters, few have had to put up with the misery and sheer bad luck other than Watanuki. The scene where he’s pleading with Yuuko, in absolute denial of what’s happening, trying to figure out if she’s pulling his leg yet again, was just absolutely heartbreaking. He’s been an orphan, and if Yuuko, the only mother that he’s ever known goes away, he will be alone once again. Watanuki himself knows that the reason why he doesn’t want to rely on other people is because he cannot let himself be too vulnerable if they’re gone. With Yuuko, he’s been able to lower his guard and find real friendship and love.
I love that Yuuko and Watanuki’s final conversation takes place in a pitch black world, you can really imagine it as the place where time has stopped and where they only have a few moments before the universe catches up with them. It lets you as the reader focus on the two characters exclusively. There’s no background, no noise, no air. The emotions are raw and intense and you can’t look away. When Yuuko begins to be engulfed by the darkness, each small motion in the panel is tense. You know and I know that there’s no going back, but it’s not something that we want to happen either.