This volume begins with a celebration of Watanuki's birthday, which is on April 1st, and almost immediately dives into even weirder territory than usual. All throughout the events of this volume, Watanuki keeps falling asleep (or at least that's what he thinks is happening) and having dreams about Haruka (Domeki's grandfather) and Sakura (see Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle if you don't know who I'm talking about - Sakura showed up very early on in Xxxholic, but hasn't had much of a role since then). While Watanuki tries to puzzle through his dreams, he's also worried about events that are happening when he's awake. For instance, Kohane, the young medium Watanuki befriended, has been having problems as a result of others believing that she's a fraud. Watanuki, accompanied by Domeki, goes to visit Kohane with a gift of food, which makes her happy, but Kohane's mother is angered by his visit and hurts him.
After Watanuki has another dream of Sakura, Domeki and Watanuki are on their way to school when they get caught in the rain and seek shelter in an inn - they barely manage to get away from the inn's inhabitants, ravenous birds who hide themselves in the forms of beautiful young women. Later, Watanuki is having lunch with Himawari when he notices a dark hole no one besides him can see. A scaly and webbed hand reaches out of the hole and grabs Watanuki's sherbet, and shortly after that the sherbet container is returned, full of flowers. The volume wraps up with a strange dream conversation and Watanuki's confusion over what is real and what is a dream.
There is so much that I wasn't able to put in this summary, simply because I'm not really sure what's going on yet. This series started off as somewhat strange and fairly episodic - this volume makes it clear that it's become more than that, or maybe that it's always been more than that and I just never noticed. So much of Watanuki's life is strange: he can't remember his parents' names, he can't remember ever eating any of the food he so often makes, he shares the same birthday as Sakura and Syaoran (again, see Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle), and he's no longer even sure which of his experiences are dreams and which are real.
Some of the things Yuko says in this volume make me wonder if Watanuki is actually in a deep sleep or in a coma somewhere, hiding his mind from the real world and only now starting to feel for the things and people he's left behind. Yuko says that Sakura will eventually die if she stays in dreams too long, and Watanuki is horrified at that prospect because of all the people who will be saddened by her death, but I can't help but wonder if Watanuki isn't unwittingly in the same situation. If he really is constantly stuck in dreams, that could be the case. Watanuki also mentions that the only things he can remember having eaten are the nectar given to him in volume 6 and the oden the fox spirit made - both foods are things of the spirits, so maybe he's in some kind of spirit world or he's a spirit himself.
Sakura reveals that coming into dreams was the price she paid Fai from being stabbed by Syaoran. I don't think I've read that volume of Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle yet, and I have to say that this is the first volume of Xxxholic I've read that makes me think that readers might actually have to read both series in order to really understand what's going on. The two series have been linked since nearly the beginning of Xxxholic, but the events of this volume seem to indicate that the characters and series are more closely linked than CLAMP had previously indicated. For instance, people keep telling Watanuki that he and Syaoran are either very similar or the same in certain ways. I wonder if Watanuki is some missing part of Syaoran, or vice versa.
The ending of this volume, with Watanuki confused and in tears, trying to sort through the jumble that his life has become and wanting to grant Yuko's wish, whatever it might be, was lovely and heartbreaking. I've really come to like Watanuki, and I like him even more now that he's finally developed the strength to try and sort through his own problems. I also like him for thinking to ask Yuko what her wish is. He asks her twice in this volume, but judging from the surprise on her face I don't think she really takes it seriously until the second time.
As far as extra go, there are four beautiful full-color pages and five pages of translator's notes. Unfortunately, considering how many odd and confusing things happen in this volume, I don't think the translator's notes are very good. While the explanations that are included are useful, they're only the tip of the iceberg of all the things that the translator could've written about. Just as an example, I would've liked a reminder about the identity of the boy Watanuki sees in a dream near the end of the volume - he looks familiar, but I can't remember what volume he appeared in.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle (manga) by CLAMP; Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle (anime TV series) - Those who were intrigued by Sakura's appearance in this volume and references to Syaoran may want to try this series. The plots and characters of this series and Xxxholic occasionally cross paths, which can be a bit maddening if you're only reading one series. In Tsubasa, a group composed mostly of strangers travels from one dimension to the next, trying to find the missing pieces of Sakura's memory, which have taken the form of glowing feathers.
- The Cell (live action movie) - A psychotherapist uses a revolutionary new technology to help patients by exploring their dreams. She enters the dreams of a comatose serial killer in an attempt to save his latest victim before she dies. This movie is considerably more frightening and horrific than this volume of Xxxholic. However, those who don't mind that and would another story in which it isn't always clear what's real and what isn't might like this movie.
- Paprika (anime movie) - In the near future, a device has been created that allows psychotherapists to access their patients dreams. Unfortunately, someone has stolen one of the prototypes and is misusing the technology, interfering with people's dreams and minds. Dr. Atsuko Chiba and her dream alter-ego Paprika may be the only ones who can put everything right again. Those who'd like another story in which it isn't always clear what's real and what isn't may enjoy this movie.