Yatta! Throw 2017 into the books! We’ve made it to the end of another year. I hope it saw you well, and that mighty goodness and wonder colored your lives. If it did not, or you are dreading the approaching holidays, please know our hearts at the Geeks Under Grace team go out to you. Most likely, your year was a mixed bag, and if so, I implore you to love the good and learn from the not so. Christmas is around the corner, and few things can tarnish the inherent joy of the season like reflecting on what could have been better. As such, we, the motley crew otaku at GUG (joined by head of Beneath the Tangles, TWWK/Charles), would like to take preemptive measures to ensuring these next couple days are a just a little bit brighter.
The following are some of our favorite Christmas-themed episodes from anime. There were a lot to choose from, so if you would like to offer a favorite of your own, you are more than welcome to in the comments below. Enjoy!
Cooper D Barham
Seventeen years ago, Digimon—one of the most formative anime franchises I’ve ever seen—aired. While I’ve reviewed the second season at length (back when our conventional Geeks Under Grace format was still in its fledgling stages), the subject of our topic offers me a chance to drill down on one of my favorite portions of the season: the three-part “Digimon World Tour.”
Taking a reprieve from their escapades in the fantastical climate of the Digital World, the Digidestined children have been recognized for their strength by Gennai, a sort of guide and mentor for all Digidestined. With their consistent performances against malevolent adversaries and rapidly increasing influence, Gennai sees fit to ask them to divide and conquer. That is, split up the main party and send them to the corners of the world in an attempt to alleviate many of the challenges being faced by international Digidestined. Thus begins a narrative which touches on the cultures and customs of Hong Kong, Australia, Paris, Russia, and Siberia, as our heroes do exactly as tasked. They spread hope and unconditional aid to anybody, anywhere, with all their cumulative efforts leading to a more united and connected world. Friends are made across the globe—comrades who will be able to assist in the upcoming grand finale of the series.
But this is not about tribulation and battles. It’s about Christmas. After the Digidestined have completed their overseas campaign of spreading hope, they return home to Japan. Ken, the black sheep of the team, orchestrates a Christmas party for everyone, bless his heart (this is him really getting out of his shell). The conclusion of this three-episode arc wraps up with my favorite character, Kari, telling a quick Christmas story to her brother and his partner Digimon involving all their friends. As she tells it, a montage of each of them passes by, and we get to see glimpses of how they are spending their Christmas. Some of the glimpses we catch are simple things, like eating meals…
But some are a little more sentimental, emotive, and stirring: Mimi seeing her family for the first time in a year, having gone away for school in America; T.K. and his partner going caroling; and Ken… Oh boy, Ken. Ken spends his holiday with his partner, doing nothing particularly special except being. This is made significant in that it speaks to Ken’s development as a person, how he’s recovered from his cruelty and abuse and learned to give grace to himself and be forgiven by those he’s hurt. This is the first Christmas Ken has had where he isn’t angry and alone. When Kari’s telling her story and it comes to Ken’s part of the montage, she slows down as if to emphasize the contrition of the moment.
And behind it all plays my favorite soundtrack in Digimon: a simple brass ensemble see-sawing back and forth to create a poignant, yet hopeful overtone. These things all together make my favorite Christmas episode in anime.
“T’was a Digimon Christmas
And everyone was busy
Especially the likes of Tentomon and Izzy.
Joe played with Gomamon,
Matt and Gabumon ate.
Palmon saw Mimi, isn’t that great?
Cody and Upamon shared a little sushi
While Pururumon sat on Yolei’s tushie.
Tokomon went caroling
Ken’s thankful for friends
While in Davis’s dreams, the fun never ends.
Goodnight now, Merry Christmas.”
Victoria Grace Howell
Christmas is a time of cheer for many, but for some, it’s a difficult season when you’re surrounded by people celebrating peace on earth while your world feels anything but peaceful. This is the case for Kirito in Sword Art Online episode three, “The Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
Just a month before the holidays, Kirito finally brings himself to join a guild. He grows to care deeply for this group of friends, especially for the weakest member of the group, Sachi. He promises he will never let her die. Over time, the group boosts their levels, and with this new confidence the majority of them go to a dungeon together—none but Kirito survive. As Sachi is dying from her killing blow, she says something to Kirito that can’t make out. When Kirito delivers this news to the surviving member of the group, Keita, the last member commits suicide in front of Kirito.
With all of this on Kirito’s shoulders, he goes into the Christmas season, his only bright side being that he’s awaiting the holiday event boss named Nicholas the Renegade who, upon defeat, is said to drop an item which could resurrect a deceased player. Kirito seeks him out with the intent to use the item to bring back Sachi so he can hear her last words, even if they are that she hates him. Though Kirito could die trying to acquire the item, he finds the boss and defeats him, only to find the special item works exclusively if used within ten seconds of a player’s death.
Disheartened, Kirito returns to his house that was once filled with his friends. There, he receives a gift box from Sachi. In it is a message left shortly before her death. She tells him she isn’t angry with him, even if he does break his promise to protect her. She tells him to keep on living. At the end, she hums “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Kirito finally lets himself grieve and realizes her last words were, “Thank you. Goodbye.”
Over the years, the holidays have been very difficult for me. I’ve had many bad memories surrounding that time, or I’ve carried the burdens of the year along with me into a season when I’m supposed to be cheerful. Kirito reminds me that I’m not the only one going through difficult times, and that Christmas can be a time for joy, as well as for healing.
After reviewing K-On!’s Christmas episode, I realized there are plenty of reasons for it to be considered a seasonal favorite and just a good Christmas episode, overall.
Firstly, the episode blends right into the continuity of the show. It’s not a “special OVA” or a departure from the main plot (though admittedly, K-On! is rather light in the plot department outside of “cute girls doing cute things and playing music”). Instead, it fits right in with the progression of events while also exploring the girls and their relationships. In particular, we see a piece of Yui and Ui’s history, when Yui looked out for Ui for once, even if it did result in Yui getting in trouble.
Secondly, the episode continues to explore character development, specifically Mugi’s character. Throughout the series, we see Mugi as the rich girl who wants to experience the life of a normal girl. In this episode, she wins a lottery, which has a grand prize trip to Hawaii. Instead of taking the trip, though, Mugi opts to receive a board game. Granted, Mugi is rich and could probably go to Hawaii anytime, but that’s not the mindset she displays in the episode. Instead, it’s about choosing something that she can enjoy with her friends. This also lends to the overall benevolent message of a Christmas-themed episode, as Mugi puts the group above herself.
Lastly, (because they always taught us to make three points in school), the whole Christmas party is very nostalgic for me. While I never had a core group of friends in high school, I have formed one in my adult life, and much like the girls gather at Yui’s house for a party, so too, do my group and I gather at my home at Christmas for a celebration. Typically, we have food, games, and a gift exchange, much like the girls do in this episode, so it’s something I can relate to on a personal level, especially because at this point in my life, that Christmas party is the only time I get to see some of those friends.
So there you have it: a brief rundown of why I have chosen to count the K-On! Christmas episode as my favorite anime Christmas episode. If you’ve never watched K-On!, I would recommend checking it out—both the episode, and the show as a whole. If you have watched it, then please take 25 minutes to sit down and share this episode with your family this season. They’re probably sick of Rudolph and Frosty, anyway.
TWWK (Charles) is old. He has a wife and children, and is a professional historian and director at an agency in the thinks-much-of-itself state of Texas. Cutting his teeth on Toonami, Studio Ghibli, and Evangelion, Charles would still rather watch an episode of Maison Ikkoku than new anime series, but manages to find one or two to his liking each season to write about at Beneath the Tangles.
It’s a Wonderful Life, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and… Love Hina X’Mas Special? For fifteen years now, it’s been a tradition for me to watch the Christmas special for Love Hina alongside other more traditional fare during the holiday season. While the rest of the series has dulled over time, the special remains just as impactful as ever—a lovely installment to watch on a snowy day while you’re curled up in a fuzzy blanket sipping on a cup of cocoa.
There was a time when Ken Akamatsu, the mangaka behind Love Hina (and the similarly relevant OVA, Itsudatte My Santa!), was on top of the anime world. Although he didn’t invent harem anime (or even do anything groundbreaking with it) the success of Love Hina propelled that genre forward, for better or worse, and his mark can be seen in more contemporary series like Nisekoi and Saekano. The setup for Love Hina is pretty standard: Keitaro is studying to get into Tokyo University (Todai) because of a promise he made to a girl when they were children, and while doing so, he also serves as the caretaker for an inn where all the residents are young women. The intelligent and temperamental Naru is also studying to get into Todai; she may or may not be the promised girl.
The Christmas special, best watched after you’ve made it through a good chunk of the series (but still enjoyable, even if you haven’t), is the emotional high-point of the entire franchise. Keitaro has been pursuing Naru from day one, with hopes she is the girl of his promise, but this special moves their relationship away from the “two steps forward, one step back” narrative that’s typical of episodes in rom-coms, inserting some serious angst and authentic emotion. Without spoiling too much, I’ll mention that Keitaro goes to great lengths to make the holiday special for Naru, who is less than responsive. But unlike in the main television show, Keitaro’s gestures aren’t played for laughs, and neither do the other girls let Naru get away with her usual derision.
The special is also framed well. Most anime series decide to go one of two routes with Christmas episodes: let them compliment the storyline or allow them to be fun throwaway episodes. Love Hina, though, goes for broke, making proper use of its one-hour running time to tell a self-contained story from beginning to end. It feels like a motion picture, with enough time to let most of the supporting cast shine, as well and to use their individual stories to help the primary one move forward toward a resolution—and a really satisfying one to boot.
All that said, Love Hina isn’t for everyone. The series can be fanservice-heavy (this episode especially so), and the special is certainly focused on romance, a very Japanese approach to Christmas, and devoid of the more significant meaning of the holiday. But if you’re looking for something a little funny and a little dramatic that will pull at your heartstrings this season, look no further—Keitaro, Naru, and the rom-com goodness of Love Hina have got you covered (and will keep you warm) this winter season.