But that hasn’t stopped Japanese retailers or anime producers from exploiting the holiday for financial reasons. Aside from the secular decorations and gift giving, Christmas in Japan has also been marketed as a romantic ‘date night,’ making it a perfect setting for romantic comedy anime.
In the thirteenth episode, ‘There is No Single Truth,’ the Nadesico, which until that point was a privately owned battleship under command of the Nergal corporation, is conscripted into the Earth military. As the officials prepare for the transfer, the ship’s crew, a wacky and diverse bunch, are busy preparing competing Christmas parties.
The ship, of course, is staffed solely by adults (though young some of them may be) so Christmas on the Nadesico is light on Santa and heavy on romance, or at least the hope of it. The Christmas part only lasts for about ten minutes before everyone’s distracted, but what’s neat is that the episode actually features an original Japanese Christmas song (I’m not sure if it was written for this show specifically, but it’s at least a uniquely Japanese creation).
Urusei Yatsura is a bizarre comedy about alien visitations and supernatural happenings in a small town, and the lecherous creep Ataru who is at the center of it all. In the tenth episode of the series, ‘Pitter Patter Christmas Eve’ (made in 1981), the other boys in Ataru’s class, jealous that the beautiful alien princess Lum is in love with him and that he doesn’t appreciate it, conspire to shame him by writing a fake love letter and having him show up to a phony date.
Lum, taking pity on Ataru (even though he intended to cheat on her), poses as the fake girl and shows up for the date, much to the surprise of the other boys, so that Ataru can save face. Christmas doesn’t play a big part in this episode. There are instrumental versions of carols used for background music, and a few fleeting shots of decorations.
You’re Under Arrest is a workplace comedy about the traffic enforcement officers of Bokuto Police Station. In episode eleven of the first TV series, ‘Santa Claus Panic,’ a man masquerades as Santa in order to burgle houses. The robber is seen by a little girl, who finds her belief in Santa rocked by the discovery that ‘Santa’ is stealing from her parents. Natsumi and Miyuki, partners and protagonists of the series, commit to catching the evil Santa so that they can protect little Maho’s innocence. Their efforts are complicated when the local vigilante super-hero, Strike Man, takes on the new seasonal identity of ‘Santa Man.’
In many ways, this one has the most recognizable version of Christmas, with its Santa-centric storyline and plethora of X-Mas imagery and music. The opening scene is also suspiciously reminiscent of the scene in How the Grinch Stole Christmas when the Grinch is discovered by the little Who girl.
Love Hina is what’s known in fan-circles as a ‘harem series.’ A harem series typically stars a nerdy, awkward boy who finds himself surrounded by (if not living with) a pack of beautiful girls, most of whom love him for no decipherable reason. Despite the set up, harem shows tend to be extremely tame and innocent. In Love Hina, the awkward Tokyo University hopeful, Keitaro finds himself appointed manager of his Grandmother’s hot-spring boarding house, whose tenants are all young women. Love Hina is unique on this list for having an actual, dedicated Christmas special. The hour-long episode, ‘Silent Eve,’ which was made after the series and released direct to video.
There’s a rumor going around that if one confesses their love on Christmas Eve, all their wishes will come true. This presents a two-birds-with-one-stone opportunity for Keitaro, who wants to confess his love to Naru, and have his wish of he and Naru attending Tokyo University together come true. His plan is complicated by a series of misunderstandings, mishaps, and meddling from the other girls from the Hinata Apartments.
This episodes focuses entirely on the ‘romantic date night’ aspect of the holiday, tossing in a new myth about wish granting along the way.
Kimagure Orange Road is a shonen romance series, a love story written for a male audience. Kyosuke is from a family of espers (people with a variety of psychic powers). His powers are somewhat ill-defined, and he often manifests a new one whenever it’s convenient to the plot. Such is the case in the 38th episode of the TV series, ‘Kyosuke Timetrips! The Third Christmas.’
Kyosuke is caught in a love-triangle between the bubbly and immature Hikaru, and the serious and independent Madoka. Madoka and Hikaru have been friends since childhood. Madoka, being the more mature of the two, is protective of her friend, so much so that she represses her true feelings for Kyosuke, lest he break up with Hikaru and cause her pain.
Kyosuke’s friend Komatsu sums up the Japanese version of Christmas quite well when he says: “you know why Christmas is celebrated, don’t you? It’s not to honor Jesus. It’s there for us to enjoy. ‘Tis a great excuse to bring a girl you like to the party.” Of course, that’s a problem for Kyosuke, who likes two girls. He takes Hikaru to the party, as he normally would, since their relationship is public, but that doesn’t stop Madoka from getting mad with jealousy. Kyosuke accidentally time trips to the day before, and is able to try things the other way, only to find that taking Madoka to the party presents its own problems. Luckily, there’s more than one time trip in him.
This is another one of the Christmas-as-date night episode, though there’s a lot of holiday themed decorations, and a few nice lines about the Japanese attitude towards it.
Maison Ikkoku is a classic shonen romance series from the creator of Urusei Yatsura, Rumiko Takahashi (MI was her second long series, after UY. It was followed by Ranma 1/2 and Inu Yasha). Maison Ikkoku is a run down boarding house tenanted by drunks, degenerates, and a perpetually broke university student named Yusaku Godai. Godai would have moved out to escape the constant harassment from the other renters, had he not fallen in love with the beautiful, young woman who showed up one day and announced that she was the new manager. What could have been a nice, simple romance is made difficult when it is discovered that Kyoko is actually a widow, and still in love with her late husband.
In ‘Love is in the Air! Which one does Kyoko Love Best,’ the second episode of the TV series, Godai decides that Christmas is the perfect opportunity to buy Kyoko a gift, thus confessing his feelings for her. Unfortunately, Godai is a coward, and can never seem to screw up enough courage, or find just the right moment to give it to her.
The Christmas theme is very casual in this episode. Aside from the gift, the only recognition the cast affords the holiday is attending a lame Christmas party at a dive bar. Given that Christmas is seen as either a day for romance or for kids in Japan, the fact that everyone in Maison Ikkoku is old and alone makes it just another day on the calendar (and an excuse to get drunk).
Super Gals! is an example of the ‘frantic comedy’ style of anime that was very popular in the early 2000s. This style is typified by quick shots, exaggerated reactions, and outlandish interjections. Super Gals! stars Ran Kotobuki, the ‘top gal’ of the Shibuya shopping district. Gals, also known as Kogals, are adherents of a fashion-obsessed subculture. Basically, they’re the cool, popular, fashionable teenagers; but unlike their Western equivalents, Ran is actually a good person. She comes from a long line of police officers. Though she has no interest in joining the family business herself, she seems to have inherited the sense of service and the compulsion to protect her friends and Shibuya.
In the 39th episode of the TV series, ‘Christmas Eve Jingle-Jingle Emergency Bell of Love,’ Ran and her friends are looking forward to the numerous parties that the Shibuya establishments will be hosting on Christmas Eve, particularly the one held at Palm Tree, a cafe owned by the former top gal. Ran’s friend Miyu is earnestly preparing a gift for her boyfriend (Ran’s older brother); but Ran feels that this is beneath her position as a top gal (she should be getting gifts, not giving them). This causes her boyfriend, Tatsuki (whom she treats more like a fashion accessory than a boyfriend), to feel unloved.
Christmas is just an excuse to party in this episode, but there’s a lot of decorations laying about, and Ran sings a few lines of ‘Jingle Bells.’
Mahoromatic is a sci-fi comedy from Gainax. Of course, any time you use the name ‘Gainax,’ you have to nmention that they are the studio that produced Neon Genesis Evangelion. Mahoromatic is about a former robot soldier named Mahoro who retires and is given the chance to spend the last year or so of her battery life doing anything she wants. Her wish, it turns out, is to work as a maid for a teenager named Suguru, the son of her former commander, whose death she feels guilty for. Suguru and his friends share pleasant and mildly-wacky adventures with the kind and generous Mahoro, blissfully unaware of her expiration date.
In the fifth episode of the second season, ‘Will I Catch a Cold Tomorrow,’ Mahoro and a new former-soldier-turned-maid, Minawa, prepare a Christmas party. Mahoro goes all out, using her super soldier skills to traverse the world picking up the best food and decorations on Earth. Meanwhile, everyone prepares for a Secret Santa gift exchange. Suguru’s friend Toshiya draws Minawa’s name and, because he is secretly in love with her, frets over finding just the right present to express his feelings.
Like Super Gals, Christmas in Mahoromatic is an occasion for a party (though this one is much more laid back than the one in Gals). There are a lot of decorations, though, and the series has a kind of gentle, happy tone in general that makes it feel a little Christmas-y.
Ai Yori Aoshi is another harem anime, much like Love Hina. Kaoru is the somewhat illegitimate son of the powerful Hanabishi family (his father never married his mother). When Kaoru’s father dies, the Hanabishis are left with Kaoru as the sole heir, much to their chagrin. Thus, Kaoru’s grandfather sets out to mold him into a proper Hanabishi, but Kaoru never forgets the treatment he and his mother received from the family, and once his mother dies, he cuts ties with the family and heads out into the world alone.
There was, however, one good thing that came out of Kaoru’s connection to the Hanabishis: Aoi, the daughter of the Sakurabo family, to whom he was betrothed as a child. Aoi loves him deeply and leaves her own family to join him in exile. They set themselves up in a large, abandoned boarding house and are soon joined by a cadre of young women.
Prior to the commencement of the second TV series, Ai Yori Aoshi Enishi, a special, fifteen minute ‘episode zero’ was produced. Entitled, ‘Miyuki,’ it’s an alternate universe story in which Kaoru never reconnected with Aoi and is living alone in a sad, little apartment. One Christmas Eve, he meets a ‘Santa’ (who looks and sounds just like Aoi), who asks him what he wants for Christmas. His first thought is of spending the day with her, so Santa, who can read his mind, grants his wish (which is all very similar to Ah! My Goddess). They go to an amusement park, ice skating, and other innocent things. Throughout the episode, they run in to the various girls who lived with them in the primary universe.
Aoi spends the episode in a Santa outfit, but this version of Santa is different from the one we’re familiar with; there are apparently a lot of them, and the only gift they bring is pleasant dreams for children. That aside, the episode is wintery, but has little in particular to do with Christmas.