A big part of the Christmas tradition is getting into the spirit of the season by putting on classic Christmas movies, like Gremlins, Die Hard, and Batman Returns. Japanese media is no stranger to yuletide festivities, though they practice the holiday a little differently, so there’s no shortage of Christmas-y anime and tokusatsu to pick from to add variety to your holiday filmthon. This will be a quick list of recommended Christmas-set movies and TV specials of the genre (i.e. SF, horror, fantasy) persuasion, so we’ll be leaving off some major favorites such as Maison Ikkoku, Tokyo Godfathers, and I”s for simple lack of supernatural content.
Also, this is an opinion piece (and thrown together pretty quick) so please leave your own favorites in the comments! There’s very likely some stuff we just plain forgot!
Honorable Mention: Itsudatte My Santa
A magical girlfriend OVA about a boy that hates Christmas and the Santa Claus-in-training (in this case a sexy girl) who’s trying to bring him around. There are some slapstick magical hijinks, and probably way more time spent on a beach than a Christmas special should have.
5. Tenchi the Movie 2 – Daughter of Darkness
It’s weird to think that the Tenchi Muyo series was the mainstream success that it was, considering how profoundly messed up it is. This film (which is only sort of a Christmas thing since it opens and ends on the holiday, but the bulk takes place in between) sees Tenchi gain a teenage half-demon daughter through magical shenanigans, and some troubling fan service ensues, because, well, it’s Tenchi. If you can get past some of the squickiest scenes of an already pretty questionable franchise, there’s good action to be had, plus some atmospheric sequences (a Kow Otani score certainly helps), and it’s overall one of the stronger outings.
4. Kazuo Umezz’s Horror Theater: The Present
Yudai Yamaguchi’s adaptation of the Umezz story about a slasher Santa Claus feels like it’d be right at home in an EC Comic: it’s bloody, trashy, and gross, but hey, that’s what we signed up to see!
3. Karas: The Prophecy
This dark superhero/yokai hunter story has Christmas as a backdrop, and was one of the few anime high-profile enough to actually play theatrically in the US. It’s pretty to look at, has wicked designs and a great score, but much like Tatsunoko’s other attempt at a new hero from about the same time, SoulTaker, the plot can feel a bit dense and convoluted.
2. Blood Type Blue
This little-seen Toho science fiction flick about the societal implications of UFOs turning random humans’ hemoglobin to a copper base (i.e. literal blue blood) fits in with the grim apocalyptic commentary subgenre of SF movies like Goke the Body Snatcher, Matango, and Prophecies of Nostradamus. It follows an ensemble cast, mostly focusing on a reporter, who’s trying to track down a scientist that may have answers, and a soldier, whose duty it is to exterminate the otherwise innocent people with blue blood as “infected”… until he finds out he’s been sleeping with one and has a crisis of conscience. The movie was definitely an influence on Evangelion, with its many split-second edits to demonstrate what characters are thinking and use of classical music to juxtapose heinous massacres, not to mention the title. The Christmas connection here is the running countdown to Christmas night, when it’s been prophesied that something terrible will happen, and the song “Blue Christmas” (the film’s Japanese title) playing throughout.
1. Survive Style 5+
Why hasn’t Survive Style 5+ been released in America yet? It seems like it has all of the makings of a cult hit. This zany anthology comedy tells five intersecting stories: a man whose wife won’t stay dead, a family whose father thinks he’s a bird, a saleswoman with an overactive imagination and a boyfriend she can’t stand, a hooligan dealing with homosexual awkwardness, and Vinnie Jones being an angry hitman. The whole thing is a wild ride with lots of colorful characters and it’s a wholehearted recommendation to anyone who follows offbeat Japanese cinema (it’s literally the favorite movie of one of the Maser Patrol members). Plus, everything gets resolved on Christmas, so this is the number one pick to pop on during this season…and any other time of the year it’ll be good as well.
Honorable Mention: The Kabutack movie
Not a huge fan of Kabutack, but it was neat that the Christmas movie special brought in B-Fighter and B-Fighter Kabuto… in retrospect it was sort of a precursor to all of those Kamen Rider vs. movies we’re seeing today.
10. Mobile Police Patlabor TV episodes 10 & 11: “Eve’s Trap” and “Eve’s Terror”
The Patlabor two-parter about Kanuka’s grandmother going missing and the scuffle between SV2 and the Shaft labors is pretty engaging. Also, the Dirty Pair show up in a background cameo, which they’d later do again in a different holiday episode.
9. Space Sheriff Shaider episode 39: “The Masked Dancing Choir”
Because of the Kris Kringle Krucifiction. Also there’s a villain named Satan Claus.
8. Tiger & Bunny episode 25: “Eternal Immortality”
All of Tiger & Bunny is set around Christmas, but it’s the final episode that actually takes place on the day of. So really, just watch the whole series.
7. Ranma 1/2 OVA episode 2: “Tendou Family Christmas Scramble”
As one of the first Ranma things that a friend of mine had on VHS, I watched this Christmas special a lot. While I think that the karaoke inserts were a transparent marketing gimmick and the episode is a little light on the martial arts, it’s otherwise quite a standout: the humor is good, there are some nice romantic beats, and practically every character in the series expansive cast makes an appearance. Plus, Gainax did some of the animation.
6. Heartcatch Precure episode 44: “The Christmas Miracle! We Meet Cure Flower!”
This episode gives us the first look at Cure Flower, the often-talked-of alter ego of Cure Blossom’s grandmother, as well as the reveal of the show’s final villain. Not shabby, considering that a lesser show would have relied on the holiday for easy filler content.
5. Kamen Rider episode 39: “The Wolf Man Monster’s Giant Murder Party”
This episode is on the list because that’s the single greatest title a Christmas special will ever have. Otherwise it’s a pretty standard Kamen Rider episode.
4. Big O episode 11: “Daemonseed”
This episode sees the normally Scrooge-ish Roger getting into the “Heaven’s Day” spirit by helping a down-on-his-luck musician…. then using Big O to piston punch an out-of-control spruce tree.
3. Urusei Yatsura episode 79: “The House of Mendou Summer X-mas”
There are a few Urusei Yatsura Christmas stories, but this is my favorite, and one of my favorite episodes in general, because it perfectly encapsulates the madcap insanity that is the series. In this episode Ryoko, out of boredom, decides to hold a Christmas party in the middle of the summer. “Party” might be a bit of a stretch, because it’s actually an obstacle course race: the shindig’s being held at the top of a 200-meter Christmas tree, and the first ones to reach the peak will earn a kiss from either her or Mendou, or a free meal. Naturally all hell breaks loose as the cast battle each other tooth-&-nail while ascending the enormous plant, until Ryoko also tires of this and launches the entire thing into space. It’s pretty great.
2. Ultraman Ace episode 38: “Resurrection! The Ultra Father”
This is the episode where Santa Claus shows up, which is pretty suspicious to Seiji, until old Saint Nick grows to giant size to do battle against the kaiju threat of the week. He then transforms into the Ultra Father, who was previously presumed dead. After the monster’s defeated, Santa summons Yuko, Ace’s former half-host from the moon (long story), to cure someone’s blindness before the pair fly away into the night on a sleigh. Now, the popular reading of this is that the Ultra Father came to Earth, took the form of some random mall Santa, and then decided to intervene, but I sort of wonder if he collided with the actual Santa Claus and fused with him like Ultraman did with Hayata, because otherwise where’d he get a flying sleigh?
1. Super Dimension Fortress Macross episode 35: “Romanesque”
This was really the only choice for the number one spot (sorry other shows) because it’s the penultimate episode of one of the greatest anime of all time…. and boy, is it an emotional gut-punch. It takes place in the last arc of the series (after the vast bulk of both Zentradi and humankind have been wiped out), and deals with the love triangle: Minmay feels worthless and wants to give up singing, so she throws herself at Hikaru out of a desperate need for validation. Then Misa catches them and runs off to get drunk and wander through the snow. Meanwhile, a full-scale war is breaking out, to lead into the finale. So yeah, pretty much perfect for if you want to spend your Christmas wallowing in depression and heartache! Wait…
There’re a lot of other possibilities to chose from, but these were our picks. Until next time, be merry!