Lots of anime have Christmas episodes and so this year, to celebrate the festive season, I watched a bunch of them. Important discoveries were made and I'm here to share them!
Warning: Japan isn't a Christian country, so their notions of Christmas are second-hand and skewed. They've borrowed all the imagery, e.g. snow and Santa, but it's not celebrated in any way we'd recognise in the West. It's not even a holiday. Everyone goes to work, while the traditional Japanese Christmas food is Kentucky Fried Chicken. (I'm not joking. It really is.) It's seen as a day either for children or for couples, so any anime Christmas episode is likely to contain romance.
EPISODES I DIDN'T WATCH
Millions of them. You have no idea.
EPISODES I DIDN'T WATCH FOR SPECIFIC REASONS
(2003) - because it's a feature film, not an episode from a series. It's a lovely piece of work, though.
Ai Yori Aoshi: Enishi
episode 0 (2003, 15-minute alternate continuity Christmas special) - because my DVD only had the English dub audio track.
episode 13 (2006). I adore Kamichu, but this is more like an anti-Christmas episode. Matsuri decides that Christmas is the enemy and attacks it by inventing a rival Shinto festival instead. The show's still charming and thoughtful, though, and under any other circumstances I'd be all over any excuse to rewatch it.
episode 10 (2000) - because it seems I've sold my discs. I was disappointed, although not completely surprised. The show isn't great, although it's not without its charms.
1. Azumanga Daioh
episode 17 (2002). I'd forgotten how great this show is. It's just a bunch of schoolgirls hanging out and interacting surreally, but what makes it unique is the weird, deadpan style with which they do it. I've never seen anything else like it. It's basically a 26-episode non-sequiteur. Yukari-sensei is a loony and should be sacked, little Chiho is endlessly cute and I'm mesmerised by the combination of Osaka's accent and spaced-out dreamlike delivery. I want to rewatch the show just to listen to her. Without hyperbole, Azumanga Daioh
2. Strawberry Marshmallow
episode 12 (2005). Like Azumanga Daioh
, it's a lightweight, meandering look at the silly world of friends. No boys again, thank goodness. These girls are younger than Azumanga Daioh
's, though, and it's not set at school. The show as a whole isn't that special and has a character to drive you insane (Ana Coppola in denial about being able to speak Japanese), but I think there's something delicate and charming in this episode, with its child's eye's view of Christmas. Matsuri still believes in Santa. Her friends end up doing something daft, but sweet. I'd strongly recommend this one.
3. R.O.D the TV
episode 10 (2003). Avoid. That was a mistake. Admittedly I dislike this show, with its shapeless plot, faintly upsetting villain reveal and tone of dreary joylessness. The Read Or Die OVAs were a ton of fun, but this really isn't. However I'd heard that this episode was heartwarming and, in the end, it does sort of manage that... but only because Maggie and Michelle had previously abandoned a child to a fate of misery. Admittedly they end up returning for Anita afterwards, yes, but I call bullshit. Watch this if you want to feel guilty about enjoying Christmas instead of being depressed. (I'm thinking of Anita's monologue when she thinks she's going to see in the festive season as a homeless orphan.) The 007-lite theme music's fun, though.
4. Love Hina
Christmas special (2000, 45 minutes). This was a very popular and successful harem comedy with some characters I love (Shinobu, Kaolla) but it became irritating towards the end of the show's run. Love Hina
Again is barely watchable, while the central pairing of Naru-Keitarou is oddly charmless. She's violent and aggressive, especially towards Keitarou, while he's a wet noodle even compared with other harem heroes. This TV special sees Naru being even more unlikeable than usual... but, as it happens, it follows the TV series and has people saying things they'd spent 26 episodes not saying. The status quo gets nuked, despite an attempted reset back to idiocy at the end. What happens here, for these characters, is massive. It also ends really well, justifying pretty much everything we'd been putting up with courtesy of an excellent speech from Naru.
It's still a curate's egg, though. I care about Shinobu a hundred times more than I do about Naru-Keitarou, but this has a plus side. Shinobu. There's some very good stuff here, but it's still a harem anime with the best stuff at the periphery and Tomoko would have clawed out her eyes to avoid it.
5. Ranma 1/2
episode 125 "A Xmas without Ranma" (1992). This is one of the later episodes in the show's run, so Ranma and Akane are being more honest about their feelings and the episode ends almost romantically. I liked it. It's a silly runaround, obviously, but no one writes a deranged supporting cast like Rumiko Takahashi. The Kunos, good grief. Tatewaki! Kodachi!
6. Ranma 1/2
OVA 2 "Tendo Family Christmas Scramble" (1993). More Ranma fun. Kasumi invites everyone to a Christmas party, which does indeed mean everyone. Look out for cameos for obscure blasts from the past. Nabiki sees a chance to rip off her family for bucks. Ranma gets caught in the middle. Ryouga is a loon. Refreshingly, the only fanservice is for fangirls, with Mousse and Ryouga (i.e. men) in the bath. Neither of these Ranma 1/2
episodes is a big deal, but they're amusing.
7. Urusei Yatsura
episode 10 "Pitter Patter Christmas Eve" (1981). Eugh. I don't like early Urusei Yatsura
and this reminded me why. Ataru is repellent. His relationship with Lum is basically abusive and it's extraordinary that we don't dismiss her as a moron for sticking with him. She's fantastically well portrayed, though, with real reactions even in the middle of patented Rumiko Takahashi insanity, and we feel for her. That just makes the episode even more unpleasant, though.
That said, the episode does find a head of comedic steam halfway through as the evil plan starts taking shape against Ataru. It also ends romantically. If you can stomach the Ataru-Lum relationship of these early episodes, you might well find it charming. Me, I couldn't.
8. Urusei Yatsura
episode 79 "The House of Mendou - Summer Xmas" (1983). Amazing. This and Ranma are both long-running comedy blockbusters by Rumiko Takahashi, but this show's particular gift is its inventiveness. Ranma is formulaic. I like it, but it is. Urusei Yatsura
, on the other hand, will cheerfully do ghosts, gods, aliens, horror movie parodies, dream worlds, Fist of the North Star cameos, body swaps, superpowers and anything else it feels like doing this week. Once it had hit its groove, there's no way on Earth of knowing where Urusei Yatsura
, its gags or its deranged cast will go next. This episode starts out with Mendou's mad (so, so mad) sister announcing a summer Christmas party, with a death match competition for her guests that involves climbing a Christmas tree the size of the Empire State Building. Mendou hates Ataru so much that he keeps jumping down to get at him, falling the full height of the tree, not dying (HOW???), climbing back up and doing it all over again. Everyone is nuts. There's no experience like Urusei Yatsura
at full blast. This episode made me laugh harder than anything else in this Christmas rewatch, except possibly for Maison Ikkoku
(also by Rumiko Takahashi).
9. Kodomo no Omocha
, aka. Kodocha
episodes 37-38 (1996). It's my favourite TV show. Episode 37 is comparatively staid, with people getting stressed about Sana acting in a commercial where Naozumi has to kiss her. Episode 38, though, is about Sana's Christmas party and is much more distinctive. Akitaroh Daichi, as usual, is taking the show's energy levels to the levels of Loony Tunes, but within a realistic narrative and in his trademark style. You've got Akito's dad, who has the voice and manner of a serial killer. You've got Zenjiro's Christmas date. You've got Naozumi's carol singing, which out of nowhere embodies the Christmas spirit better than anything else in all these episodes. You've got the dog. It's sincere and even moving, but at the same time it's going at that runaway comedic pace. And this works! It probably shouldn't.
10. Cat Planet Cuties
episode 10 (2010). I was glad to have an unapologetic "aliens, robots and spaceships" SF show in the mix, but it's hardly a must-watch. It's okay. I like it, to a moderate extent. I appreciate the show's thoughtfulness, e.g. the Catian's discussion of the meaning of Christmas, or the Dogians' battle tactics, but unfortunately at the end of the day it's a show about its female characters' boobs, albeit usually covered in skintight latex spacesuits.
I actually watched episodes 10-12, since it's a three-part finale that all happens on the same day. I shouldn't have bothered, though. The other two episodes don't mention Christmas at all, bar a couple of minutes at the end of part 12. There's lots of snow when they're in Russia, though.
11. All Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku
OVA episode 6 (1993). It doesn't have that much Christmas content, while furthermore I couldn't believe in its mega-laser in orbit. This thing can apparently be programmed to identify and kill with surgical precision any human on the face of the Earth, even if they're inside a hundred-story building. The laser is so powerful that it'll vapourise all the concrete above you and reduce you to a grease stain without touching anyone standing nearby. That I don't object to, but how does it identify its victims? Does it have super-eyes that can see in the dark and through solid objects, identifying you by the top of your head? Can it smell you or something? Oh, and apparently its energy source is "natural microwaves bouncing off the Earth" and so it will never need recharging. Presumably this laser's energy requirements are similar to those of a solar powered calculator or something.
Apart from that, the episode's lightweight bubblegum. I like the family dynamic. Dad looks after the children and builds schoolgirl cat androids, while his estranged wife runs a mega-corporation making weapons of mass destruction. It's refreshing to have no teenage characters and no romance. (The androids are younger than they look.) I'm also amused by Nuku Nuku's friendly attitude towards Eimi, even though the latter's repeatedly trying to kill her.
12. Marmalade Boy
episodes 40-41 (1994), except that my DVD died halfway through. Marmalade Boy
is a romantic shoujo anime. It's just boyfriends, girlfriends and people who'd like to be. There aren't even any villains, with the love rivals being kind, good people who respect Miki and Yuu's relationship. Paradoxically that only complicates the situation, especially since one of them's gravely ill with a 50-50 chance of survival.
I'd forgotten how good Marmalade Boy
is. It's subtle and well-written. Yuu and Miki's parents are still childish and faintly unsettling in their freaky domestic and marital arrangements. Just be aware that it's basically a soap opera, so you won't be watching a self-contained story.
13. Gunslinger Girl
episode 4 (2003). Not your traditional Christmas episode, being about brainwashed little girls who've been turned into killing machines by the Italian government and made emotionally dependent on adult male "handlers" who don't always even like them. They get shot, abused and occasionally killed. It's horrific, but in an oddly delicate, reflective way. There's nothing exploitative about the show at all, which is fantastic. Anyway, this episode is mostly about trying to protect a turncoat from Mafia hitmen, but it's also got some thoughtful stuff about the giving of presents and how this relates to the uncomfortable but evolving Triele-Victor relationship.
To my surprise, this episode proved far more Christmas-friendly than, say, R.O.D the TV
. It's still murder-ridden nightmare fuel, obviously, but at least this episode doesn't have any double suicides or butchered protagonists and paradoxically ends up somewhere almost sweet. It's about daughters.
episode 5 (2001). It's okay. Quite nice. I've nothing much to say. Just try to forget about the show's final episode when watching it.
15. Maison Ikkoku
episodes 2, 18, 39-40 (1986). I'd been afraid to rewatch these. Maison Ikkoku
regularly made me crawl up in pain, because I'm a big wuss when it comes to embarrassment comedy. This show is being like stabbed repeatedly by a genius. You can see the stiletto coming, but that just makes it worse. Godai, Godai, Godai. How can anyone be so hopeless? He's a lovely guy, but what a twonk. This is a man who can spend an entire episode tying himself in knots trying to pluck up the courage to give Kyoko a Christmas present and still not have succeeded when the credits roll. You might assume it's the first of a two-parter, but no. Episode 3 has nothing to do with Christmas at all.
That said, though, these particular episodes aren't painful at all. Godai's a menace to himself, obviously, but I'd clearly been overreacting to my memories of watching the show. It was interesting to start as early as episode 2, when Godai still didn't know the first thing about Kyoko, i.e. that she's a widow. Episode 18 then already has Mitaka and Kozue-chan, while also being a sequel to episode 2. I howled. Finally episodes 39-40 have Godai running all around town trying to find a stone. This isn't his fault, for once, until of course he finds a way to mess up.
This is Takahashi's most mature comedy and it's interesting to see her using the poverty she'd later revisit in Rinne. It's excellent stuff, both clever and funny. Recommended.
...and that's the lot! In summary:
That was lots of fun, always interesting and sometimes a terrible mistake. Next year, maybe I'll binge on Christmas episodes of anime I've never seen before?