Ken Akamatsu's the creator of Love Hina, Negima!, UQ Holder! and others. (The only one of those I know is the harem comedy Love Hina, a lot of which I like, but it's aged badly and it goes downhill in the post-series specials.) This, though, was an early work. It's a short one-off manga that isn't even long enough to sustain two OVA episodes, of which the second is an anime-original story.
I picked up the DVD because it looked like fun. Santa Claus is a hot anime girl and she's come to brighten up Christmas for a boy who needs her help! I wouldn't have been surprised had this turned out to be trash, but I was hoping it might be a laugh.
After watching it, though, I've decided that it's not a very good adaptation. (You don't even need to have read the manga to know that, although the forgettable hero and underwritten romantic developments will surely be straight from Akamatsu.) The pacing's off in ep.1. It needed another ten minutes, to give the jokes room to breathe and the character beats a chance to come alive.
Ep.2 is an improvement, though, and I even wish they'd made ep.3.
EPISODE ONE: MERRY CHRISTMAS
Our hero is a fifteen-year-old boy who hates Christmas. He's nowhere near as interesting as Ebenezer Scrooge, but initially I quite liked his reasons. Firstly, his parents never came home to see him on Christmas and would at best just send him a photo of themselves... celebrating with a bunch of other children. Gee, thanks. Secondly, he was born on 24 December and so his parents called him Santa. (I know which of those I'd be grumpier about.)
This year, though, Santa meets the real Santa! Well, one of them. She's a Santa-in-training, a granddaughter of the real one, and her name's Mai. She has an adorable little reindeer on her arm and she can magically summon any object whose Japanese name begins with "san".
(SIDE NOTE: I'm going to set some terminology, or else this review will get confusing. Mai is Mai. Santa is the protagonist who has that name on his birth certificate. Claus is Father Christmas.)
The episode's reasonably fun, but romance develops way too quickly. Mai falls in love faster than it takes you to leave the house in the morning. Santa says he doesn't believe in her (even though she's standing right there) and then later has a guilt trip when it's almost too late. Sigh. Like Tinkerbell, the spirits of Christmas need belief as their magical fuel.
Theoretically the jokes and the comedic ideas are fine, although the episode suffocates them by going too fast. The romance is rubbish, for which blame can be shared around equally. That said, though, Mai is amusing and likeable, with characterisation that matters much more than Santa's. (Her voice actress has trouble saying "ho ho ho", though.) It's a pretty bad episode, to be honest, but not without a certain charm. If nothing else, I liked the flying sleigh squadron at the end and the way we see this outrageous anime Claus fulfilling his/her traditional duties. Mai travels from house to house on Christmas night, leaving presents for children. That was surprisingly nice.
There's also fanservice, incidentally, with a boob-enlarging nude Father Christmas transformation sequence. (There's something you don't see every day.) Santa needs slapping with his comments about Mai's figure, though.
EPISODE TWO: MERRY CHRISTMAS ONCE AGAIN
The Santas are by the sea! It's swimsuit time! Then, though, our two Santa heroes are joined by two more! There's Mai's little sister (a mostly joke-free waste of space) and a childhood friend and rival called Shelly.
Shelly's the best thing about this very short series. Her characterisation isn't particularly original, but her relationship with Mai feels alive in a way that never happens when a boy's on-screen. She's a loud, judgemental over-achiever who's been fighting with Mai for as long as they've known each other, but underneath that she cares and would go to considerable trouble for her. She's capable of being very silly in her attempts to help, in fact.
What's more, the Santa-Mai relationship is about to get smashed up. Mai's been neglecting her Claus Classes back home. The only question is whether she's going to manage to pluck up the courage to say goodbye before the deadline. I'd been confidently assuming that this was Disney fluff plotting and that it would all undone with a groanworthily convenient Power of Love resolution... but no, I was surprised. That was mildly impressive, although don't expect anything to get dark. It's all still happy and comfortable to watch. Mai gets a positive emotional journey and you'll also want to stay for the post-credits sequence.
This doesn't exist, except as a gloriously silly "Coming Next Episode" bit at the end of ep.2. If anyone made that, I'd buy it.
This isn't a good series. Ep.1 is bad but likeable if you're willing to cut it a lot of slack. Ep.2 is often somewhere between "watchable" and "genuinely good", I think, but it falls back into being lazy anime nonsense when Santa's around. The show never worked out how to use him. It's quite a nice show, though, if you can accept a competence roller-coaster and some very anime-ish eccentricities. I'm glad I watched it.