Christmas is that special time of the year where even in the land of Japan we get some very intersting and unusual takes on this tradition. The anime and manga staff here have compiled a list of some of the best holiday themed episodes and features that you should check out for this particular time of year to help you get in the mood. While we've kept it to shows that are licensed for release in the US, what other episodes from any series do you think would fit here as well?
1. Tokyo Godfathers
When a trio of oddball homeless characters discover an abandoned newborn on Christmas Eve and set out to find her mother, the stage is set for one of the most unusual, funny, and genuinely heartwarming Christmas stories to come out of Japan. When it’s directed by Satoshi Kon, you know you’re in for a wild ride full of strange twists, high drama, and unlikely coincidences, that somehow manages to come together end the end and just works.
2. Cardcaptor Sakura ep. 35, “Sakura’s Wonderful Christmas”
Yukito’s birthday is Christmas Day, and Sakura is determined to find the perfect gift for him. But while she and her friends are at an amusement park, a Clow card starts setting things on fire, leading to one of Sakura’s more dramatic battles, with important consequences for the rest of the series. But it’s also adorable all by itself as a celebration of the holiday.
3. AMG Season 2 eps. 2-4, "Ah! The Troubled Queen of Vengeance?", "Ah! I Offer You This Feeling on Christmas Eve!", "Ah! I Want the World to be Filled with Happiness?"
Whether it’s Keiichi pulling long hours to get Belldandy the perfect Christmas gift, Belldandy pulling long hours to make Keiichi the perfect gift, or the chaos that seems to trail in Sayoko’s wake, it’s hard to go wrong with Ah! My Goddess when you’re looking for something that’s just happy. And if you ever wanted to see Belldandy drunk, this is your chance
4. Ai Yori Aoshi ~Enishi - bonus episode "Miyuki"
Set before the first season starts, Kaoru is a lonely boy facing yet another lonely Christmas when a strange, blue-haired Santa shows up to brighten things up. Full of fun cameos and campy fun, this is the sort of sweet, happy thing that’s perfect to warm you up on a cold winter night. Not strictly canon, "Miyuki" is actually a bonus episode accessed in the special features of Ai Yori Aoshi Enishi Volume 1. Taking place the Christmas before the series starts, "Miyuki" gives us a look at Kaoru's life between leaving the Hanabishi and reuniting with Aoi. Without the Hanabishi fortune behind him, Kaoru finds himself broke and alone on Christmas, and generally fine with that situation. Anything is better than going back to his family. But he is far from happy. However, when he wakes to discover a comely, young woman in his apartment claiming to be Santa Claus, he finds his Christmas about to pick up. "Miyuki" is somewhat shorter than a typical episode, but it does a really good job of hitting the themes of the overall series. Each character makes a cameo appearance, though with the exception of Tina, Kaoru does not yet know who they are, and the bond that Kaoru and Santa--who not-so-coincidentally looks like Aoi--forms hints at Kaoru's one great regret over leaving his former life: leaving Aoi behind. Essentially, it is a light, romantic episode that would be well watched with a loved one.
5. Maison Ikkoku eps. 2, 18, and 39 & 40, “Love is in the Air? Which One Does Kyoko Love Best?”, “Kyoko’s Gift! What, You Mean It’s For Me?”, “Love Takes Guts! Godai’s Part Time Job Ploy!”, “A Bittersweet Favor! Budding Christmas Love!?”
Godai buys a present for Kyoko. Godai is wishy-washy. Things go horribly awry. But, despite wanting to smack some sense into him, Maison Ikkoku is still an oddly charming romance, with some classic Christmas episodes that showcase, if nothing else, how a year or two can change things in a relationship that moves on a glacial time scale.
These four episodes highlight the insurmountable wall that Godai has to climb for Kyoko's affections in the earlier portions of Maison Ikkoku, not to mention his considerable wishy-washiness. In "Love is in the Air? Which One Does Kyoko Love Best" Godai has decides to impress Kyoko with a beautiful present during her first Christmas at Ikkoku, and he spends every last Yen he can scrounge together to buy a pretty brooch. Of course, being Godai, the hard part is trying to give it to her. "Kyoko's Gift! What You Mean It's For Me?" has a similar theme, this time with some pretty earrings, but he makes the mistake of giving them to Kozue instead, leaving him to scramble to find something new to Kyoko. The last two episodes are actually a two-part storyline that really highlights Godai's struggle. Kyoko has come across a rock in the back of her closet, and she enlists Godai's help to find out what he can about the rock. Godai bends over backwards to help Kyoko out, even though he knows next to nothing about geology. When Sakamoto leaves the rock on a subway train, Godai even spends his Christmas searching every train in the city trying to get it back. The problem? The rock was a gift to Kyoko from Soichiro, meaning that no matter how much trouble Godai puts himself through for her, she is still looking to the past. Despite knowing this, he presses on, determined to do what he can. Maison Ikkoku is a wonderful series, and these four episodes do everything that the whole show does well. There is some good comedy, awkward attempts at romance, and even a few sweet moments. My only regret is that the manga has a great Christmas chapter about the star atop the giant tree at a department store, and that did not make it into the anime.
6. Mahoromatic ~Something More Beautiful~ ep. 5, "Will I Catch a Cold Tomorrow"
What could be more Christmas than robotic maids, secret gifts, decorations, and a party? Mahoromatic is one of those shows that shouldn't work, but somehow has the perfect balance of action, comedy, and amusing character interactions. This episode shows off a lot of what there is to love about the show.
7. Vandread ep. 10, “White Love”
The women are excited about Christmas, while the men are just confused – art imitates life? When the guys of the Vandread find out very last-minute that gift giving is an important part of the holiday, panic and hilarity ensue. Even in space, the holidays can be a stressful time!
8. Azumanga Daioh ep. 17, "Osaka's Scary Story / Feeling Different / Running Teacher / Incredible Santa / Christmas Meeting"
Does Chiyo-chan believe in Santa? How will Tomo cope with the revelation that reindeer do, in fact, exist? Does Chiyo-dad really deliver presents to all the good little boys and girls? And will any of the survive the trauma of Kimura’s white Christmas? This is Christmas from the Short Attention Span Theater, full of the crazy comedy, pure randomness, and whiplash subject changes that Azumanga does best.
9. My Santa, ep. 1
My Santa is short, one off title, the first episode of which deals with the meaning of Christmas. Santa is a young man with the misfortune of being born on Christmas Eve and being named after the most famous person behind the Christmas myth. As such, he has grown up with a general hatred of all things Christmas. Enter Mai--a pretty, young, and decidedly clumsy Santa Claus-in-training--who is determined to make Santa feel the true Christmas spirit. The first episode is fairly reminiscent of "Miyuki" in Ai Yori Aoshi Enishi in terms of both plotline and feel, and as such, My Santa is a pretty good title if you already enjoyed "Miyuki." As a fairly lighthearted romantic comedy, it works pretty well, as there are quite a few moments of sweetness between Santa and Mai as his stone cold heart begins to melt. And with plenty of fanservice, there is a little bit here for everybody.
10. RahXephon ep. 8, "Bitterly Cold Holy Night/The Dreaming Stone"
Leave it to the RahXephon staff to meld the obligatory cheesecake beach episode with Christmas melodrama and end up with one of the series' darker stories. With the Christmas gift-giving season in full swing (and Meg and Haruka both doting on Ayato), Itsuki surprises Sayoko with a beautiful ice crystal set in a pendant. What Itsuki doesn't tell Sayoko is that he recovered the crystal from the remains of a Dolem. The pendant's origins become more obvious once Sayoko's jealousy toward her coworkers starts physically manifesting itself in some very weird ways -- first by the island's summery weather suddenly turning snowy, then by the crystal growing, and eventually by the spontaneous freezing of almost everything around Sayoko. Heading into the episode's second act, the crystal's effects accelerate until it morphs into a Dolem of its own, trapping Sayoko on the inside.
Despite these moody plot twists, the episode ends on a reasonably positive note, with some warmer moments centered around romance and holiday gift-giving sprinkled throughout. It's still not exactly as upbeat as you'd expect from a "typical" Christmas episode; but if you're feeling a little overdosed on holiday cheer around this time of the year, it's a wonderfully atmospheric episode to sit back on the couch and unwind with.