A Very Merry Anime Christmas

24 Dec

Back in 2010, I participated in DVD Talk’s December Holiday Challenge, which propelled me to go through my collection and dig out Christmas-themed movies and TV episodes from all sorts of places. I was especially curious to locate Christmas-themed anime episodes and found quite a few. Here’s what I wrote at the time:

What’s been particularly gratifying about this challenge for me is the chance it gives me to go through my anime collection and find Christmas-themed films and TV episodes. I’ve screened 17 so far, from TOKYO GODFATHERS and Pokémon to episodes of “Little Women” and “The Trapp Family Singers.” The oldest so far is from 1981 and the newest is from 2003. The funniest is the “Urusei Yatsura” episode, “The House of Mendou – Summer X’mas,” where Ataru, Lum and the entire cast are motivated to climb this giant Christmas tree in Mendou’s massive mansion by specific rewards waiting at the top. The most unusual was “Mahoromatic Automatic Maiden,” which is about a high-tech female combat android who’s retired from active duty and serves as a maid to an orphaned high school boy, much to the jealous ire of his friends at school. (Kind of like Ataru and Lum in “Urusei Yatsura,” only the combat android is much nicer.)

The biggest challenge was watching the “Trapp Family” episodes in Japanese with no subtitles. I only figured out they had Christmas in them from pictures on the VHS case. They sing a number of familiar Christmas carols in Japanese, though. That was nice.

Urusei Yatsura “The House of Mendou: Summer X’mas”:

The Trapp Family Singers “Christmas Carols”:

For this piece, I chose to re-watch “Love Hina Christmas Special: Silent Eve,” a 45-minute special from the “Love Hina” TV series (2000):

“Love Hina,” the TV series, for those unfamiliar with it, is described this way on Wikipedia:

The story is a shōnen comedy that takes place in the Kanagawa Prefecture, and centers on Keitaro Urashima and his attempts to fulfill a childhood promise that he made with a girl to enter Tokyo University together. However, he has forgotten the name of the girl he made the promise to and hopes to be accepted into Tokyo University in order to find her. Having failed the entrance exam twice and with his parents no longer willing to support him, he goes to stay at his grandmother’s hotel, only to find that it has been converted into a female-only apartment. The tenants are about to kick him out when his aunt appears and announces that his grandmother has given him the title to the apartments. Much to their dismay Keitaro becomes the new manager of the family-owned girls’ dorm Hinata House (Hinata Sō, also known as Hinata Apartments) and must now balance his new responsibilities in addition to studying for the university entrance exam.

In the Christmas Special, much is made of an urban myth that posits the notion that if you profess your love for another on Christmas Eve whatever you wish for will come true. At Hinata House, all the girls take it into their minds that Naru, the one among their number whom the protagonist, Keitaro, seems to be most attached to, will declare her love for Keitaro on Christmas Eve, so they all follow Keitaro and Naru around that day, winding up in Tokyo, where all sorts of mishaps create obstacles to the planned meeting in Shibuya. As midnight draws near, the deadline for making the declaration, it gets very suspenseful.

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What I especially like about the episode is the constant movement through Tokyo—via trains, cabs, cars, bikes and on foot—and the frequent glimpses of the city in full Christmas season mode. Since Christmas is usually treated in Japan as a romantic holiday for couples, we see lots of young people around, love-minded denizens evidently with the same idea in mind as, presumably, Keitaro and Naru. It’s all incredibly sweet.

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The one great feature-length anime Christmas movie from Japan that I know of remains Satoshi Kon’s TOKYO GODFATHERS (2003).

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Here’s an excerpt from my 2004 review of the film for Animerica Magazine:

Tokyo Godfathers is the latest anime feature by Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress) and had a brief theatrical run in the U.S. in early 2004. This flawless DVD edition should be seen not just by anime lovers but by any film fans eager for a funny, edgy, life-affirming comedy-drama about the ups and downs of life on the streets of a wintry Tokyo. Beginning on Christmas Eve, it follows the adventures of three homeless people—a 41-year-old alcoholic man, an aging transvestite, and a runaway teen girl—after they discover a newborn baby in a trash deposit and seek to reunite it with its mother. Over the next two days, their journey takes them all over Tokyo—from a Shinjuku shantytown to a yakuza wedding, an immigrant back alley community, a drag club, a hospital and a cemetery, among other picturesque sights. In the course of it all the three confront their own issues of abandonment and get swept up in a swirl of coincidences that gradually, inevitably, lead back to reunion and family.

For anime fans, the film is especially important as a stunning example of how animation can be executed in a realistic fashion to tell a human story that might just as well have been filmed in live action. The key advantage of animation here is that it allows for a few fanciful moments that might have been difficult to stage convincingly in live-action. Otherwise, the film renders its characters’ movements, facial expressions and wardrobe items in explicit detail and takes them through a living, breathing snow-covered Tokyo cityscape, filled with streets, alleyways, skyscrapers, storefronts, taxicabs, parks and public buildings that make viewers feel as if they’ve stopped for a visit in the real Tokyo. Thanks to such background texture, the fluid animation and the sharp, witty screenplay, the film cements Mr. Kon’s reputation as the one animator who brings modern Japan to vivid, breathtaking life in each of his films.

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I’d also like to single out the Christmas-themed episodes of “Little Women,” which was adapted into anime series in 1981 and then again in 1987 for the World Masterpiece Theater series.

“Little Women” (1981)

Here are links to watch three of these episodes.

Little Women (1981) #1: Christmas Eve

 

Little Women (1981) #2: Angels in Boots

 

“Little Women’s Christmas Story” (1987)

Little Women’s Christmas Story (1987) – compilation of two episodes

 

Some other worthy anime Christmas episodes:

Digimon: “A Very Digi Christmas”

Season 2 / #38. Aired on Fox Kids, March 24, 2001.

The kids known as the DigiDestined try to celebrate Christmas together while one of their number is participating in a Christmas concert with his band in downtown Tokyo when a sudden digital warp unleashes an army of monsters from the digital world and they all have to mobilize to stop them

Maison Ikkoku #2: “Love Is in the Air! Which One Does Kyoko Love Best?”

Originally aired in Japan on April 2, 1986.

Godai, a student studying for his university entrance exams, is smitten with Kyoko, his new landlady, and buys her a gift for Christmas, but can’t seem to find an opportune time alone to give it to her.

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Sailor Moon S The Movie: “Hearts in Ice” (1994)

Sailor Moon movie set at Christmas time. Tuxedo Mask even enters the fray at one point disguised as Santa Claus.

Mahoromatic Automatic Maiden: Something More Beautiful

#5: “Will I Catch a Cold Tomorrow?” (Originally aired in Japan on October 25, 2002)

Cyborg 009 #11: “Christmas Eve Mirage”

(Originally aired in Japan on December 23, 2002 / aired on Cartoon Network in English on July 14, 2003)

The focus is on Cyborg 003, Francoise Arnoul, and her past as a dancer. In the opening, she is seen at a movie theater watching the classic film, THE RED SHOES.

In addition, there have been multiple Power Rangers episodes with Christmas themes. Granted, Power Rangers is not anime, but it is based on the Japanese sci-fi special effects sentai franchise, so I wanted to include at least one example here. Just recently, Nickelodeon ran “The Race to Rescue Christmas,” the 22nd episode of the latest PR season, “Power Rangers Dino Charge.” In the episode, the villains steal Santa Claus’s computer, the one he uses to determine who’s naughty or nice, and Santa calls on the Power Rangers to get it back for him.

At the end, the battle with the bad buys has caused Chase, the Black Ranger, to miss his flight to New Zealand for a family Christmas, but Santa comes to the rescue and offers him a ride on his sleigh.

Finally, here are two other worthy Christmas videos found on YouTube.

The Ray Milland Show: “Christmas Story” (Originally aired December 23, 1954)

An excellent half-hour Christmas show that should be much better known. Here’s my IMDB review  of it.

Happy Holidays with Bing and Frank

A 1957 Christmas special with Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra which I saw last night for the first time when it aired on TCM. It’s 25 minutes and features the two singing 15 different Christmas songs.

Merry Christmas!

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