Kazuko SugiyamaHidekatsu ShibataM.A.OJapanese
Kurayami Santa
Episode 1 also reviewed here: Anime 1st episodes 2015: K
Also known as: Santa from the Darkness
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2015
Director: Manabu Nakamura
Writer: Hiromu Kumamoto
Actor: Kazuko Sugiyama, Ami Himesaki, Hidekatsu Shibata, Katsue Miwa, M.A.O, Kouki Akiyama
Keywords: anime, horror
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 13 three-minute episodes
Url: http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=17205
Website category: Anime 2015
Review date: 14 September 2016
It's a weird little retro horror series, done in black-and-white 1960s style. That look is the best thing about it. It looks like nothing else in decades. It also has a fantastic basic idea. However it's inherently insubstantial, which is almost unavoidable given its running time, and I don't think it quite manages to be special enough to sell itself. I thought it was okay. It has a memorable look and concept, but I wouldn't say there's much to it beyond that, notwithstanding one or two good episodes.
Our hero is Santa, who's on a mission to go around killing people with his hammer and sending their souls to hell. He really does this, by the way. He leaves corpses lying in their own blood.
...oh, and this isn't Santa Claus. There's no Christmas connection at all, which is a shame since I'd have enjoyed seeing Santa Claus killing naughty boys and girls. Mind you, it might be significant that it's an anagram of "Satan". No red coat. No reindeer. Instead we have a small boy with a pudding bowl haircut, a bow tie and a head spike. I think the latter's part of his hairstyle, but it looks like a German Pickelhaube helmet from WW1.
Anyway, I liked the darkness. There's a lot of potential in a disturbing protagonist who's liable to kill the innocent and I'd have raving about the show had it gone wholeheartedly down this road. Unfortunately, it doesn't. Santa kills bad guys. There are a few wrinkles around the edge of that statement, but basically it's true. Worse still, we eventually learn that hell's actually quite a nice place. It's enlightened. It's part of the Buddhist cycle of life. All that happens there is that you'll do a solid day's work, relax, watch TV and be a model citizen so that you can be reincarnated one day and return to the land of the living. Tch. Disgraceful. If even sending souls to hell is a nice thing to do, can there be any hope for darkness and evil anywhere?
If you can ignore this distressing angle, though, there are still some pleasingly disturbing moments here. Ep.1 shows Santa ignoring some gangsters and instead killing the victim they'd been bullying. (He has a reason, but it's still an attention-grabbing start to the series.) Ep.8 has Santa doing something freaky to a tragic orphan girl. She thinks it's a happy ending. That's sweet. I agree. Some people might think it's a living nightmare, though. My personal favourite though is ep.10, in which Santa does nothing as a gangster dies in front of his eyes, then goes to the man's dying son in hospital to deliver the news. Unfortunately Santa isn't a people person. "It stands to reason that a bastard like that should end up dead." This only gets blacker and funnier, with another "happy ending" to keep you awake at night, screaming.
...well, until that "hell is nice" revelation two episodes later. Drat and blast.
Those episodes I liked. Mostly, though, we're watching a bunch of standalone episodes about something bad happening, usually with an environmental angle. Santa investigates and generally kills someone. The end. This is watchable, but it's not a very challenging formula, especially when we realise that Santa isn't as bad as we'd been expecting.
There's a supporting cast, albeit only occasionally glimpsed. Mutsuko is a colleague of Santa's, who disapproves of excessive happiness because there's only a limited amount of it in the world (eh?) and it needs to be kept in balance with misery. This is demented, but also disturbing from a girl whose job is to go around killing people. They also have an even more rarely glimpsed colleague, Ichinosuke, who just can't stop murdering people and has actually been told off for this by Lord Enma.
The show really does look cool, though. You don't see much black-and-white anime, let alone period-style like this. It has the simple character designs and general lack of detail that you'd get from a 1960s children's TV show... but with serial killer heroes. There's also lots of stock footage from the show's period setting. Yes, live-action. It was provided by Kyushu Asahi Broadcasting and it's being integrated with the hand-drawn animation. Santa's visiting 1960s Kyushu (particularly the now-uninhabited Battleship Island off Nagasaki) and the show's mildly educational in showing us social conditions of the time.
Overall, I quite like it. I love the show's idea and aesthetics. It manages to be distinctive and memorable, which is pretty good at that micro-length. I also like the environmentalism, which is being played wholeheartedly. Santa himself is a very watchable lead character in a dour, deadpan way, as are his colleagues. (Well, Mutsuko.) There are a couple of episodes that really showcase the show's evil potential and I think this could have easily been expanded to a longer series. At the end of the day, though, most of its episodes are comparatively anonymous "Santa vs. a bad guy" stories that don't really grab you.