AVAHS – Niko 2: Little Brother Big Trouble (A Christmas Adventure)

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Plot: Niko has been spending a lot of time with his father, Prancer, since last year. However, his mother’s none too keen on Prancer letting him stay out late or trying to go Santa Speed. Despite this, Niko still wishes for and believes that his mother and father will get back together some day.

When Oona reveals to him that she is indeed interested in bringing a father figure back into their family, he is ecstatic since he believes his mother is getting back together with his father. However, he’s quickly crestfallen when he discovers that not only are both Oona and Prancer uninterested in getting back together, but the father figure Oona had in mind was a reindeer named Lenni.

Niko is clearly upset at this news and becomes even more devastated when he learns Lenni has a young son named Jonni. Not interested in gaining a new dad or a new little brother, Niko pushes both of them away as much as possible. But when he tries to ditch Jonni during a game of Hide and Seek, Jonni gets taken away by eagles who are working for Black Wolf’s vengeful sister, White Wolf, and it’s up to him to be a good big brother and get Jonni back.

Breakdown: Last year I talked about how Niko and the Way to the Stars was a welcome surprise in the holiday movie genre. It wasn’t a masterpiece, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable little family movie for Christmas.

Niko 2 is also a perfectly enjoyable movie, but it’s only barely Christmassy and it’s not really as good as the first one.

Much of the movie focuses entirely on a plot that has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas. In fact, the Flying Forces and Santa and Christmas as a whole seem really tacked on. Prancer and Oona butt heads, but they never settle things between them. Niko and Prancer only spend the first scene together and then nothing.

They never would have revisited the Flying Forces or Santa’s Fell again after the first act unless two stupid things didn’t occur. First, White Wolf decided to get to Niko through his father, which is why she and the eagles attacked the Flying Forces. Piss poor excuse to get them involved. It’s really such a bother to catch one flying reindeer fawn who can’t even go Santa Speed so target the Flying Forces?

Second, Julius decides to lie about Jonni being taken to Oona by saying Prancer and Niko decided to spend time with Jonni, basically pinning responsibility for the whole thing on poor Prancer, a guy who is seemingly trying to be a good dad to Niko but keeps getting the short end of the stick. (And, what’s dumber, Julius basically becomes an honesty advocate and head shaker towards Lenni and Niko for continuing the lie HE made in the first place)

Not to mention, Santa’s Fell somehow feels even worse this time around. It never seemed too fantastical, but the factory is a lifeless toy factory with literally no one in it. No elves, no nothing. It’s self-running and maintaining equipment apparently. Santa makes a brief appearance cloaked kinda in shadow just to say hi to Niko and reunite with Tobias. And Niko visits his dad all the time but it seems like Santa hasn’t seen Niko in ages.

Well, if Christmas isn’t a big highlight, I guess the only thing we can bank on is the main plot. As a whole, the main plot isn’t that bad. It’s a predictable cliché from start to finish, but it isn’t that bad. I never felt bored or annoyed for the most part, and it’s totally harmless. However, I have to call out some laziness in the conflict.

First of all, the antagonist being the sister to the antagonist from the original movie, wanting revenge for their death; wow, that’s Disquel levels of unimaginative.

Second, the eagles are a total joke. At least Black Wolf and his pack were kinda threatening in the last movie. The eagles are just complete comic relief. The only reason White Wolf even has eagles as a posse are to get to Santa’s Fell without going the same long route Niko took in the last movie. And yes, the eagles carry her like a fish to Santa’s Fell. It’s a bit ridiculous.

Third, White Wolf is in no way scary or threatening. She’s a ‘hands-off’ ‘let my minions do everything’ villain. At least Black Wolf was proactive for the entirety of the first movie. White Wolf just sits in the shadows of the eagles’ domain and commands them to do things for half the movie. She’s not even commanding the eagles out of respect or fear, she manipulates them because they have a crush on her and later because the Flying Forces banned them from the skies for no given reason. Her eyes don’t even constantly glow like Black Wolf’s. Guess that trait wasn’t genetic.

She also wasn’t taken care of in a decent manner. She’s basically tied up and that’s it. I guess she’ll just die of starvation or else the plot really isn’t over since eventually she’ll get out of those ties and go after Niko again, even more fiercely.

Lenni and Jonni are both perfectly fine new characters. I was really worried they’d make Lenni out to be a secret jerk and then Oona and Prancer would get back together or Jonni would be an annoying little brat and I’d end up wanting to play reindeer games with his face, but they’re both perfectly nice characters.

If anything, Oona’s the one I’m more annoyed with this whole movie. She obviously sees how much Niko loves his father and wishes they got back together, so what does she do? Instead of sitting him down gently and explaining that she and his father will never work and he should learn to love their slightly disjointed family and maybe learning to lay off Prancer and then later leaning into ‘Hey I’ve been dating this new guy….’ what does she do?

One day, out of the blue, after essentially leading Niko to believe that she and Prancer will be getting back together by being vague in their conversation and not disclosing who she’s talking about, she reveals that she’s been dating Lenni behind Niko’s back for some time now and that he’ll be moving in immediately. Oh and also, he has a young son, he’s Niko’s little brother now. Deal with it.

Then she pretty much expects Niko to be instantly fine with all of this, even though it’s clearly bothering the hell out of him. She briefly speaks with him about it, but it’s, again, basically just expecting that Niko will be fine with everything.

When Lenni lies to her about the situation with the boys, he says he wants to go up to Santa’s Fell to confront Prancer and she’s all ‘Whoo! I’ll go with you and give my two cents!’ Whoo yeah, he needs a talkin’ to what with his mild leniency with Niko; having fun with him and spending time with him and training him in flying and whatnot. What an ass.

Also, the reason Lenni and Jonni suddenly moved in is because she’s pregnant with Lenni’s kid. They give ‘subtle’ hints at it throughout the movie, but it’s obvious she’s preggers and both Lenni and Oona know and have known for a while. And she never tells Niko. She had to have told him some time between the final climax of the movie and the birth of the kid at the end, but she doesn’t mention it before then. Mother of the year.

We get another new character in the reindeer, Tobias, who is a pretty old reindeer living by himself out in the wilderness. His shtick is Mr. Magoo. He’s blind as a bat and frequently does silly things because he can’t see well. Also, he’s kinda looney. I went back and forth with liking Tobias. On one hand, he can be funny, but on the other hand his shtick is horribly cliché and one-note. On one hand, his backstory is kinda interesting and his life at the moment is a bit sad, but on the other hand his backstory kinda doesn’t make sense and is a bit dumb.

Last note, the thing with Niko attempting to go Santa Speed is arguably the most predictable part of this movie. It’s completely obvious that he will be able to do it by the end.

The art and animation are about on par with the original movie’s, though the lip-synching is noticeably worse.

The voice acting is alright, though, again, the emoting and vocal volumes need work.

The music is completely forgettable, and we don’t even get a song from Wilma to spice things up.

Bottom Line: I have more problems with this movie than I did the last, but it is a perfectly fine movie. If you were a fan of the original, give it a shot. If not, skip it. Also skip it if you’re looking for a fun Christmas movie. Despite the tagline being ‘A Christmas Adventure’ there is a staggering lack of anything really Christmassy. If anything, it seems to purposely skip out on it, and the stuff they do include seems really forced.


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AVAHS – Arthur Christmas

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Plot: We all know that Santa delivers presents to all the little girls and boys at Christmas, but what really goes on at the North Pole? ‘Santa’ is actually more of an inherited title than it is one singular person. Generation through generation, new Santas take the helm of the sleigh, and it’s nearing the time for a tech-savvy calculating man named Steve to finally take the reins. Figuratively speaking, of course, since Steve has turned the North Pole into an ultra-high-tech hub for Christmas preparation, and the old sleigh has been replaced with an equally high-tech air ship named the S-1.

Steve’s little brother, Arthur, works in the letters department and loves nothing more than any and all things Christmas. He greatly admires his father, the current Santa, and he also strongly believes in his brother to become the next Santa.

His faith starts to waiver, however, when the ultra-efficient Steve somehow misses a girl named Gwen. He tries to convince both his brother and father to go back and deliver her present, but they decide against it, leaving Gwen in the ‘margin of error.’ Arthur won’t accept that, and is recruited by his grandfather, the grandsanta, to take his old sleigh and reindeer out to deliver the present themselves, accompanied by an energetic wrapping elf named Bryony. Can they manage to deliver the present on time, or will one little girl end up thinking that she’s the one kid Santa forgot?

Breakdown: Alright, now we’re talkin’ newer holiday traditions. Ever since I first watched this movie several years ago, I have watched it every Christmas. It is one of the very few newer Christmas movies that manages to fill me with the Christmas spirit.

Arthur Christmas introduces an interesting concept behind Christmas. Instead of Santa being one immortal being with woodworking elves, a sleigh and reindeer, it is a title that is passed through the generations (and is kinda magic considering they seem to live much longer than normal people) with a high-tech command center directing thousands of elves to deliver presents in whole towns at a time…..And Santa maybe puts down a present or two.

Like Steve mentions, the current Santa, whose real name is Malcolm, is more of a figurehead than anything. He loves the title, he enjoys being loved by the children of the world, and he enjoys the fame brought on by the elves, but he does little to nothing besides go through the motions. Steve and the many elves in the North Pole handle quite literally everything. From monitoring the children to ensure they don’t wake during delivery, to delivering the presents, to going through complicated maneuvers to prevent alerting dogs or setting off alarms, and even piloting the S-1. Like I said, Santa is basically escorted into like one house per town, does nothing, then when they’re about to leave, they let him set down a gift.

Steve is all set and ready to rumble for the job of Santa, and he seems more than qualified given everything he does, but he’s also not anymore fit for the job than Malcolm because he doesn’t seem to care about kids at all and sees Santa as a glorified title above all else.

Arthur is more than content working in the letters department. He loves reading the letters from the various children of the world and responding back to them. His office is like a giant shrine to all things Christmassy and Santa. I really appreciate that they didn’t have him be some bitter character who, despite loving Christmas and seeing the meaning of Christmas far beyond any of the living Santas, is angry about not being offered the job of Santa despite being a Claus. They could’ve easily gone down that route, but they didn’t.

Arthur is a lovable Christmas dork, and he is my kindred spirit. I love everything about Christmas. Let me loose in any store with Christmas decorations and clothes and whatnot and, if I had it my way, you wouldn’t see me until closing. And you bet I’d wear they hell out of Arthur’s cute little light-up singing reindeer slippers.

There is a lot to love about Arthur, especially in how he’s willing to brave every frightening aspect of this journey to make sure Gwen didn’t feel left out on Christmas. And there’s a lot to worry about with him. He’s a worrier as it is, but he’s also fairly clumsy and doesn’t understand a lot of the mechanics of both the old and new Santa devices. It does not help that he’s accompanied by Grandsanta, who is equal parts crazy and absentminded. There’s a plot twist with his character that I never saw coming, and I think it works very well in the flow of the story. Let’s just say that forgetting the true meaning of Christmas didn’t start with Malcolm.

The fact that Arthur basically lives in a delusion, believing just as much in the fantasy version of Santa as most children on earth, leaves you worrying as well. You know the poor guy’s going to have his whole world crash around him eventually, and you’re just sitting there getting more and more anxious the closer he gets to the truth. It is almost as painful as watching someone tell a little kid that Santa doesn’t exist. (Spoiler alert) When that plot twist with Grandsanta is revealed, it’s the first big blow to his belief system since he believed Grandsanta was the only one who wanted to uphold the old traditions and keep the spirit of Christmas alive. End of Spoilers.

He also has Bryony with him, a female elf who is a wrapping extraordinaire and can wrap any present with three pieces of sticky tape. Despite just being a wrapping elf, she is extremely skilled and knowledgeable as a field elf who helps Arthur along the way. She gets a ton of great lines in both her quirkiness and her whimsical bluntness. I loved her, especially her punk rock character design.

I will admit, you can see where a good chunk of the movie is going from the get-go, and I didn’t much care for the ‘alien’ sub-plot with the government. I guess it adds to the gravity of the situation, but it’s mostly treated as a joke (Plus, a wooden painted air craft with people singing Christmas carols saying they come in peace, shooting oranges and chocolates is blown up with a missile and they’re all proud of themselves) But the story adds plenty of its own originality and writing to the table to keep you more than entertained throughout the whole movie.

This movie was a product of Aardman Animations. Yup, the claymation Aardman. Except here they’re bringing claymation style to full CGI animation – and it works incredibly well. While I have my problems with the facial designs, for the love of eggnog, who cares? The details are gorgeous. From the hairs on their heads, to the stitches of Arthur’s sweater (even including those little furry hairs some wool sweaters have) to the cities and vehicles and houses – it’s just amazing. This is the second time that Aardman has done a full CGI feature (Flushed Away being their first – co-produced by Dreamworks), and they definitely prove without a shadow of a doubt that they can maintain their talents throughout the mediums.

It is especially prominent in the characters themselves. While I’m not fan of claymation, I have always greatly respected how much tender loving care Aardman puts into their character work to make them seem not only alive but like they’re truly people who exist. Arthur Christmas is definitely no exception. All of the characters look, move and sound like they’re real people (Okay, they don’t look realistic in regards to looking like you and me, but they look like actual living beings). Those looks on Arthur’s face when he thinks about Gwen getting her present are just beautiful.

They also interact with each other and their environments like real people. They definitely feel like a real family with familiar family problems and squabbles as well as the love and respect that is sometimes covered by those issues.

I even loved how they interacted with the elves. I feel a bit worse for the elves this time around, because elves get little respect and love by the children during Christmas as it is considering they do all the work of making the toys and doing whatever else needs to be done during the rest of the year, yet Santa delivers the gifts and gets all the glory. It’s like giving the UPS guy a holiday. Here, not only do the elves do all the background work like making the gifts and wrapping them etc. but they do most of the delivering too – yet they still have to live in the ever darkening shadow of a Santa who does little to nothing.

And then, like Arthur, they don’t seem to care. They just want Christmas to go perfectly for all the kids of the world. And, like Arthur, they are completely appalled when they find out that not only Santa forgot a kid, but they also aren’t going to go back to deliver the present. While it’s obvious that none of the Santas really respect the elves at all (Grandsanta’s treatment of them, Bryony included, is most terrible), it’s also apparent that they respect how they see them, much like how they respect how the majority of the children of the world see Santa. It’s only when the elves express how horrible it is that a child has been missed that the current Santa even tries to do anything about it.

Since Arthur is basically an elf himself, he is friends with most of them, despite knowing that some of them mock him behind his back for being so dorky and clumsy. I legitimately had a pang in my heart when I saw them cheering on Arthur through a video feed. They also just care about keeping up the magic of Christmas and Santa to the children, and Arthur’s the hero they need for the job.

If I’ve gushed enough, this movie has some flaws, but it is a phenomenal Christmas movie and just a fantastic movie period. I watch it every year, and I may watch it again before the holidays are over. And this is coming from someone who never believed in Santa. If you need a holiday pickup, this is one of the more recent movies to bring that warm Christmassy feeling, and maybe a little magic, to your heart.

Recommended Audience: E for everyone!


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AVAHS – My Life as a Teenage Robot: A Robot for All Seasons

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Plot: Jenny has taken over for Santa for Christmas this year when he experiences a debilitating ‘accident’. She does a great job, but finds that she may have missed one sad child named Todd Sweeney who claims he never gets anything he wants for Christmas. Feeling guilty and sympathetic towards the boy, Jenny agrees to basically be his robot slave/living robot action figure for a day. However, when she’s brought to his mansion, she not only finds his house loaded with toys, but Todd reveals that he never gets what he truly wants for Christmas; weapons. He overrides Jenny’s systems and controls her mind.

She wakes up a year later in what seems like a post-apocalyptic universe where she appears to be enemy number one. All of her friends and everyone in town are scared to death of her, except Sheldon. He reveals that the reason everyone’s been scared of her is that, for the past year, she’s been arriving at every major holiday celebration and completely ruining it, destroying property and attacking people. He, however, has never once believed she had gone bad. Enraged at what has happened over the year, Jenny confronts Todd to ensure that he won’t destroy Christmas. But it’s not going to be so easy.

Breakdown: My Life as a Teenage Robot was a show that I definitely watched when it was on, but was also one of those shows that I don’t miss too much. I enjoyed it. It had a decent concept, nice characters and some pretty funny writing, but I never got too much into it.

This Christmas special is almost bookended by Christmas special with typical action plot taking up the middle. First of all, Todd Sweeney. I get the reference, but A) Kids wouldn’t, which I guess is for the best, and B) what the hell does Sweeney Todd have to do with Christmas? He’s a serial killer….

The plot is a tad bit overdone, and the abuse Jenny suffers during Christmas no less when she’s done nothing to deserve it kinda taints the Christmas spirit. I will admit that there’s enough done to the plot to not make it seem terribly cliché, but it’s still cliché.

How did Jenny break out of her mind control anyway? Sheldon theorized that she was under the control of someone else and did have the technology to break the signal, but he didn’t know where she was. I also find it horribly depressing that Sheldon was the one who had to do this. Her own mother, who created her, didn’t think of this possibility and tried to help Sheldon with that device. Hell, the first scene we see her in after the time skip is her trying to design an XJ-10 as a replacement for Jenny. Not even Brad and Tuck believe Jenny can be saved even if the little kid who obviously kidnapped her and did something to her…obviously kidnapped her and did something to her. Nice loyalty, guys.

The action of this episode is spot on, even if Jenny did ruin a bunch of presents during a battle with Santa when she wasn’t under Todd’s control. Speaking of the battle with Santa, Jenny combats many of the citizens of the North Pole, including Santa, and while there were some great moments there, I feel like it fell short.

The main weakness of this episode is really the Christmas parts. Jenny being Santa was fine, and her trying to be a living robot action figure for Todd was a kind gesture, but she was a little too stupid to fall into that trap. Todd’s story is also kinda stupid. Why does he keep getting toys every year by Santa and stay on the Nice list if all he wants is weapons and to destroy all holidays? And Todd’s parents really ditched him for like six or seven years because they just wanted a longer vacation? They never even came back on holidays to spend time with him? What dicks. Apparently they never even spoke with him on the phone or anything because them coming back was a total surprise and they have to fill him in on them being on vacation not retiring.

And the whole ‘it’s the joy of giving, not getting that is best’ lesson was whiplashed to Todd in the end. His face literally crumbles due to smiling from giving a gift. It was just way too drastic of a change in too short of a time frame to me. I do like how they decided to use all of his toys to replace the destroyed gifts for the kids of the town, though.

All in all, this Christmas special was very enjoyable. It has some great action, funny lines and plenty of fun, but there are some glaring flaws. It’s not a must-see Christmas special to me, but it’s great for a few viewings.

Final notes: There’s one Christmas song in this special that was specially written for the episode. It’s really forgettable, but they do manage to revive saying ‘gay’ for ‘happy’ without raising a fuss.


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AVAHS – The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (2000) Review

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Plot: In ancient times, before toys ever existed, there was a deep rift between the world of humans and the world of immortal creatures like nymphs, fairies and pixies. An angelic wizard named Ak ruled over the land of immortals and was one of the few creatures allowed to visit the human world, without interacting with them of course.

One day, Ak finds a baby in the woods. All alone in the world, he decides to take the child in and gives him to the lioness, Sheigra, to mother him. Nicelle, a beautiful fairy with the task of preparing the first nectar of the season, which Ak uses to predict the fortune of the coming years, yearns for a child of her own since immortal creatures cannot have children. Coincidentally, Ak predicts that the coming years will bring a new source of joy to the world.

Nicelle asks Sheigra if she could mother the child instead. Sheigra agrees, and Ak eventually agrees as well. Given the name Nickolas as a melding of Nicelle and Claus, meaning small one, the child grows up happily in the world of immortals, but feels like he doesn’t quite fit in since he is human and mortal. As he learns of and visits the human world he came from, seeing massive amounts of pain and suffering, especially in children, Nickolas decides to live between the worlds of humans and immortals and is given permission to freely travel between the two at any time.

He aims to bring some sense of hope and happiness to the world of human children, and the key to his goal lies in little wooden carvings he calls ‘toys’.

Breakdown: Time to start the second ever A Very Animated Holiday Special! And what better way to start off the holiday season than with the origin story of Santa himself?

If the plot synopsis puts you off, don’t let it, because this movie is actually pretty good. It’s a nice and somewhat refreshing view on the origins of the Santa tale, and they actually go through the trouble of explaining many of the aspects of a traditional Christmas in a believable way to the plot they’ve created. For example, the stocking thing started because Nickolas would put smaller toys in the socks that were hanging up to dry by the fireplace.

I liked their approach to this, even if the initial plot is a bit of a pill to swallow before we get to anything Christmas related. I mean, really, Santa came from a world of fairies and pixies and was almost raised by a lion?

I also appreciate that Santa didn’t start off immortal. They start from the very beginning with him as a baby, keep him human the whole way through, and the way they make him immortal as an old man is well-written enough. I’m surprised and almost impressed that they addressed Nickolas’ impending death because of his age.

Despite liking their story and their classic storybook-type feel to the movie, I did have my problems with it.

First of all, outside of showing that mortal beings age and die, Sheigra had no real point. Her whole character could’ve been removed and nothing would be different. I mean, I liked her because she was nice and motherly, but she didn’t have much of a point. Also, do I even need to bring up how friggin’ crazy it is to give a baby to a lion? I know she follows Ak’s orders, but she’s still feared, and even Ak was concerned she might end up eating the poor kid.

Second, it’s really hard to ignore one major problem with Nickolas aging and dying….his cat, Blinky. When Nickolas first sets out to live on his own, his friends and mother give him a cat that he names Blinky as a gift and companion. Blinky is still exactly the same kitten between when Nickolas is an adult and when he’s nearing death as an old man. Yeah, aging is a big problem for mortal creatures, but apparently not that never-aging 50 year old cat. This is even more glaring because the one animal they used to depict mortality and aging was technically a damn cat.

Third, there’s not much conflict at all in this movie. That’s not necessarily a deal-breaker since this really is just a nice whimsical tale of how Santa came into being, but the only real conflict is in the pretty pathetic Ugguwas. (Forgive me if I butcher the name, I honestly have no clue how to spell it) They’re golem-like creatures who live for causing trouble and making human children miserable. They hate Nickolas and keep trying to sabotage him because he’s making the kids happy.

They also terrorize the immortal creatures, like the pixie sidekick Wisk, to a degree, but most of them have never even seen one. It takes an inordinate amount of time for the immortals to finally do something about them, and they defeat them really easily. There really seemed to be no real point to these creatures other than to force conflict in there. Plus, their motivations were just dumb. They just like causing mayhem to the little human children and Nickolas is making the children happy. Oh no.

Overall, I was surprised at how much I really liked this movie. The animation is…..uhh……it ranges from ‘alright’ to ‘are you kidding me? Were the animators blind?’ It’s nothing great, but I’ve seen a lot worse. It reeks of that direct-to-DVD budget-y smell.

The music is actually really good……except the last song…..that was just painfully horribly constructed.

The voice acting….is something else that ranges from ‘alright’ to ‘Ew.’

Seriously, though, give it a shot. It takes a while for it to finally get into anything Christmas or Santa related, but it’s a bit of holiday fun that brings an interesting and even somewhat somber angle to the Santa tale. I was never bored while watching it, and I’d gladly watch it again.

Recommended Audience: They talk about inevitable death and Sheigra dies off-screen, but it’s completely harmless outside of that. E for everyone!


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AVAHS – The Polar Express

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Plot: A boy who is losing his faith in Santa finds a strange train, the Polar Express, arriving on his doorstep in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve. It’s a round trip to the North Pole to meet Santa, and he decides to get on the train to see if Santa truly exists.

Breakdown: Ah, The Polar Express. A movie that seemed like an instant classic from the day it was released. Today, it airs throughout the month of December, year after year, quickly becoming a staple for Christmas traditions in households across the globe.

I have personally seen this movie several times since its release in 2004, and I have enjoyed watching it over the years.

That being said, rewatching under a more critical eye….this movie has numerous problems. Let’s just get one of the major landmarks out of the way; this movie uses motion capture for almost all of its human animation, something I can’t really find myself getting behind.

Remember the big backlash against rotoscoping? The animation technique where animators trace over live-action footage to animate a scene? Several classic Disney features have rotoscoping, and a whole slue of people find the animation form to be lazy and, to an extreme, not real art or animation.

In a word; cheating.

But despite the fact that it does indeed seem like a cheap way to animate, you still do need the artistic skill and know-how to make it work as an animation. You can tell anyone off the street to trace a few frames of a live-action scene to make an animation and it would probably look like crap. Plus, Disney and numerous other companies usually had the talent and understanding to know that pretty animation and creep-ily realistic human faces only go so far. You need to couple that with strong characters, a good story and emotional connections.

Despite the fact that I find motion capture to be much worse in the means of cheating and WAY creepier with the faces, the same credo still stands; the animation itself and purty visuals only goes so far. You need strong characters, good stories and emotional connections to make a good animated feature.

So how does The Polar Express fare here?

Well, I guess the first red flag would be that three of the four main characters don’t have actual names. They’re simply referenced as Hero boy, Hero Girl and Know-It-All-Kid. Couple that with the fact that no one outside of the final main character, Billy, gets any sort of backstory and has little personality really makes it seem like, yeah, these characters really are just meant to have your face plastered on them so you can take the ride on the Polar Express and meet Santa. That’s the worst approach, but it’s not the best, either.

Hero Boy is probably the worst offender because, hell, at least Hero Girl and Know-It-All have personalities. Outside of constantly being a Santa Skeptic, Hero Boy has no personality.

You’d think after jumping on board a clearly magic train to the North Pole that he would shoo away those skeptic thoughts. But no, it takes him forever to start re-believing. There’s a scene directly after he gets on board the Polar Express where the train passes by a department store. While everyone clamors at all the Christmas stuff, the one thing that Hero Boy focuses on is a robotic Santa in the front window that he shakes his head at. Like, dude, of course a department store display has a fake Santa. Why are you ignoring that you witnessed that from a MAGIC TRAIN?

It is realistic for a kid his age to start questioning Santa’s existence. I can imagine this kid is about 8 to 10. Despite the fact that I never believed in Santa, I imagine many people who weren’t cold turkey bitchslapped with the Santa secret can sympathize with those years of suspicion. But that really is all there is to him.

Hero Girl fares a little better. Her personality is also not much to write home about, but at least it’s not as boring or one-note as Hero Boy. She’s very nice and involved and has a concrete belief and mysticism in Santa. However, each kid needs a big lesson to learn so it’s like they tried to crowbar in a character flaw for her to have to make this work; a flaw that she logically shouldn’t have.

Throughout the movie, she has no problems with confidence. She’s the one who confronts Billy, she’s the one who tries to cheer him up and makes him appreciate the magic of Christmas and Santa, she doesn’t put up with crap etc. So they decided her main issue would be that she can’t make decisions, especially in times of emergencies. She has no confidence in her decisions and freezes up when someone asks her if she’s sure about something, which, in my eyes, greatly contrasts against everything we know about her, the little we have anyway.

Know-It-All kid should’ve been shoved from the damn train. He does nothing but force facts down people’s throats when no one asks him about it. He contributes nothing. And his voice? Done by Eddie Deezen….Oh I’m sorry, need a refresher? He’s the same guy who voices Mandark from Dexter’s Lab.

Yup. It’s him. And he is doing absolutely nothing to differentiate his voice from his Mandark voice, making it both super distracting because you feel like Mandark is on the Polar Express and super annoying because it’s friggin’ Mandark’s voice. Also, awful in hindsight – Eddie Deezen’s a creep. So, yay….

Finally, you have Billy, who is the most interesting character of the movie because he has a name. Billy, in many respects, is very similar to Hero Boy. He’s skeptical of Santa’s existence….But he has a very legit reasoning behind it, especially since he seems to be a few years younger than Hero Boy. You see, Billy comes from a poor family, meaning his Christmases have been pretty bare present-wise. Because of this, Billy believes that either Santa doesn’t exist or he straight up forgets about him.

I thought that this movie might actually have the balls to address a very real criticism of the Santa myth; why do poor kids consistently get looked over? Rich kids, who probably get everything they want year-round, get everything they want and more on Christmas from Santa, but poor kids don’t really get much. You’d think Santa would be more intent on getting good presents to poor kids on Christmas since they have to scrape by through the rest of the year.

Sorry, Billy. Santa couldn’t get you a bike this year. Little Thurston needed a new cherry red Jaguar to go with his afternoon smoking jacket and it took up too much room in his sleigh. Ho ho ho!

Billy also has a bit more personality. He’s reserved and quite shy. In his first scene, he separates himself from the other kids, mostly in shame that his family’s poor, and partially because he knows they’ll be discussing cool gifts and stuff in the main car.

It really makes you wonder why Billy’s not the main character. By all means, he should be. He takes care of everything the main character is and more.

As for the story, it’s fine in its simplicity, and it’s a really cool concept that some kids (chosen by some criteria that I can’t really understand) get to visit Santa once in their lives. However, there are a bunch of big problems with it.

One of the biggest being that this is littered in padding. In fact, you could probably take most of the train ride out of the movie and it’d still be the same movie story-wise. There’s just so much of doing nothing substantial. Like the hot chocolate song and dance number or the fact that there’s a whole scene dedicated to watching a train ticket fly through the air through several points only to get back to the train on its own, or watching a cotter pin fly through the air a bunch of times only to get back to its spot, or stopping the train for hundreds of thousands maybe a million caribou that are crossing the tracks only to literally be parted like the Red Sea with the howls of a man having his beard pulled (It happens) or the weird and sudden Steven Tyler elf concert at the North Pole (It…also happens.)

I can’t even really say this movie is more about the journey than the destination, despite its name. When your destination is the North Pole and visiting Santa, there is definitely a buildup for the destination.

If it’s more the destination than the journey….then that’s also a huge problem because the title of the movie is The Polar Express not The Quick Train Ride to Get to the North Pole to Meet Santa and Have Christmas Adventures.

Not to mention that the destination….is disappointing. Now, you probably saw this coming, but despite my gripes I do actually enjoy watching the train ride part of the movie. It may star nameless blank slates doing nothing, but it’s still a fun ride during Christmas. As for the North Pole…I was always horribly disappointed in that.

The North Pole feels more like a….well, I guess it’s kinda redundant to say this, but it’s like a factory. The entire place just seems like, more or less, a well-decorated industrial complex. When you spend your whole movie screaming ‘LOOK AT OUR AWESOME VISUALS! THE DETAILS! SEE THAT TEXTURE?! LOOK AT THOSE EFFECTS! Ignore the people. WHOA, RIGHT!?’ in our faces, you expect the North Pole, our main destination and the North friggin’ Pole, to be awe-inspiring not….decent.

Oh well, maybe the people are charming…..Nope. The elves are some of the creepiest sons of bitches I’ve ever seen, even if the acrobatic ones are kinda cool, and it really seems like it was intended to be that way. Santa isn’t a holly jolly bowl of jello, he’s a wise stoic fairly stone-faced intimidating man who is almost always filmed at an upward angle, which might be to make him seem more intimidating or accentuate the supposed self-insert point of this movie.

He’s definitely not mean, and he is a bit warm and friendly, but it’s a strange air about him. He hardly ever smiles. I have no problem with different takes on Santa, but I don’t care for this one much.

But what of the individual character hurdles? If anything significant, the train ride was about accentuating the various character flaws that each of them have. They have golden train tickets to further highlight the lessons that they must learn. The conductor uses his hole punch to make two letters in the ticket when they get on the train and he finishes the word IE lesson when they depart the North Pole.

Surely, if anything at all, there’s substance in these character lessons.

….Mmm…kinda?

Let’s start with Billy, who, as I stated, has the most interesting arc. Poor Billy; overlooked by Santa his whole childhood to the point where Billy questions his existence. Billy doesn’t get much of a part for the first third of the movie. He just separates himself from the other kids and stays quiet.

His first big scene is also our second song number of the movie ‘When Christmas Comes to Town’. It’s a duet with Hero Girl, and I only recently noticed that this song seems a bit….cruel? Billy’s singing about how he never gets visited by Santa on Christmas and how he just wishes he can have a good Christmas like everyone else. Meanwhile, Hero Girl is singing about all the good things about Christmas, including presents underneath the tree, that Billy contests with never having experienced most of it.

In other words;

Billy (Coincidentally also known as ‘Lonely Boy’): ‘I never get presents or hear Santa’s sleigh or put up decorations with my friends.’

Hero Girl: ‘Boy, I sure love getting presents and hearing Santa’s sleigh and putting up decorations with friends!’

And that somehow cheers him up. ???

I also wanna pause for a second to point something out; most of the passengers on the Polar Express are privileged American kids, mostly white. Is there any reason at all why there aren’t kids from all over the globe? Who selects the kids every year to go on the train? There are only like 20-30 kids on board. Again, you’d think the less fortunate kids would be the top of the list to see Santa, but nope.

Billy’s next big scene is when he sees the first present on Santa’s conveyor belt is, coincidentally, his. So he latches onto that thing like it’s a lifetime pass to Disney World and refuses to let go. He’s super excited about his gift, especially since he believes it’s one he’s wanted his whole life. Don’t really know what it is, but if the sound is any indication he’s always wanted twenty boxes of cereal.

However, he is saddened when he sees a tag on it saying that it’s not to be opened until Christmas.

Later, Santa approaches him and makes a joke out of forgetting him. It’s played off like a legit joke, even Billy laughs, but dude, the hell? Santa points out that Billy’s made some friends and that friendship is the greatest gift of all. End character arc.

Yup, they decided to not address why Billy was shafted his entire life gift-wise, and considering, based off of his moniker of ‘Lonely Boy’ that he’s never had many or any friends before….what the hell? Did Santa set it up so that Billy would make friends on this trip or is whatever’s in that box worth 7-ish years of suck? Billy never even asks him about it, he’s just happy he finally gets a gift and gets to see Santa.

Plus, Hero Boy and Hero Girl don’t even live in his state, so it might be pretty hard to maintain this friendship, especially if this story is taking place before the internet.

To close out his story, they show Billy arriving at home showing that Santa got to his house and delivered his present.

His ticket word(s) are ‘Depend on, rely on and count on.’ I don’t really get Billy’s lesson here. Is it that he’s to be relied on? Or that he should rely on others more? Nothing in his character arc has really indicated anything about reliability. Did you mean to give that ticket to Joe from Digimon? I’m guessing it’s the latter because the conductor asks Billy if he’ll rely on them to take him home. I don’t get it.

Next there’s Hero Girl. We get our first sniff of her ‘Are you sure?’ problem when Hero Boy asks if she’ll be alright delivering hot chocolate (they’ve got it) to Billy in the other car. Her first highlight of this problem is when she’s tasked to drive the train. Because intelligence. The conductor and engineer aren’t around, and they’re told to stop the train because of something in the tracks. She believes she knows which lever to pull to stop it, but freezes up when Hero Boy asks if she’s sure.

And that’s it. I also have to say, after Hero Boy’s little episode trying frantically to wake himself up from what he believed to be a dream after meeting the Hobo….Hero Girl’s completely fake lockup was just poorly done. The animation puts no emotion or drama into it and neither does the girl’s voice acting. It really kinda seems like she’s faking it, especially after peeking through her fingers, to make Hero Boy make the final decision.

Her character ‘arc’ comes to a peak when suddenly, out of nowhere, she responds to ‘Are you sure?’ with ‘Absolutely!’……Really, there’s nothing to connect the second part and the final one. She goes from freezing and covering her eyes in response to the question to confidently proclaiming that she’s sure. I mean….maybe because it involves her belief in Santa? Hero Boy asks her if she’s sure of where she’s going as she follows the sound of sleigh bells that Hero Boy can’t hear, and that’s when she makes that response.

I just don’t know. It’s like they flipped a switch in her to make her more confident in her decisions.

When Santa approaches her later, he commends her for her strong decision making skills and Christmas spirit. Her ticket word is revealed to be ‘Lead’.

Finally there’s Hero Boy. The opener basically explains his entire personality and character in just a handful of shots. Though, it does make him come off as kinda obsessive over the Santa thing. I mean, he seriously collects newspaper clippings and magazine cutouts which contain evidence of Santa not existing.

After that, on the train, he has a scene with a mysterious Hobo that rides on the Polar Express all the time. He’s supposedly a ghost, but I honestly don’t understand who he’s a ghost of. Did the Polar Express hit a hobo at one time and now he haunts the train?

The Hobo scene, despite my liking it because the Hobo seems like the second most interesting character in the movie, is also merely to emphasize the character dilemma of Hero Boy and explore it a tiny bit more, not really to further the story. You could say the Hobo is an illusion of Hero Boy, but he’s been shown on the train prior to this, and Hero Boy was nowhere around.

Later, the Hobo torments him through a Scrooge marionette (Hi shameless plug for Zemeckis’ next motion capture movie, A Christmas Carol) claiming him to be a doubter. Hero Boy runs off through a creepy car filled with broken toys that are meant to be recycled by Santa and that’s it.

Probably the most impacting of his scenes is his arc’s finale where he finds that he’s unable to hear Santa’s sleigh bells, even when he’s very close to a whole bunch of them. Though, I find this kind of odd. I assume non-believers and skeptics can’t hear the bells, but…he’s at the North Pole. He just took a magical train ride to said pole. He just took a ride on a giant sack of presents. He’s surrounded by elves. He’s seeing the sleigh bells being put on flying reindeer attached to a sleigh. Does he really need to be face to face with the jolly red giant to finally have full belief?

Despite that, this is the first time you kinda start feeling emotion-like things for the kid. It’s been established that he wants to believe in Santa, and the fact that he’s missing out on what is considered one of the most magical parts of Santa and Christmas because of his inner debate is kinda sad.

A single silver bell comes loose from the reindeer and flies to where Hero Boy is. When he picks it up and shakes it to his ear, all he hears is Hobo whispering ‘doubter’ over and over. I should also state that Hero Boy, despite not having a decent look at him because of crazed Santa groupie elves blocking his view, has seen Santa at this point. Apparently seeing isn’t believing.

In desperation, Hero Boy finally says to himself over and over that he believes. Ya know, the whole faith thing kinda loses it value if you’ve seen and experienced what you’re believing in. I’m sure more people would ‘believe’ in aliens, bigfoot and unicorns if they were right in our faces and we had plenty of time to research and experience their existence.

Of course, as he says this, he tries again, and lo and behold he can hear the bell now. Not only that, but Santa approaches them to go down the line of kids to talk to them. Only the kids we’ve been introduced to, of course, because to hell with the rest. They’re basically part of the background. Santa selects Hero Boy to receive the first gift of Christmas, and he asks to keep the silver bell. Santa agrees and states that the silver bell is a symbol of the spirit of Christmas, but of course, say it with me, the true spirit of Christmas is in his heart.

His ticket word is—Do I even need to say it? Just guess. It starts with a B.

Later on, Hero Boy loses the bell because he stupidly put it in a pocket that had a huge hole in it, and he knew it had a huge hole in it. But of course the bell returns to him the next morning as a present under the tree. Closing narration from Tom I-play-most-of-the-characters-in-this-movie Hanks reveals that everyone Hero Boy knew eventually lost the ability to hear the bell, but not him – even in old age – and not anyone else who was a true believer.

In regards to the—Oh yeah, I forgot about Know-It-All Kid. He has a nothing role of popping up between scenes to be annoying and spout out facts. He follows the really main three through Santa’s factory to see his gift and complains about it being underwear. He continues to be a twat until an elf calls him out, and Santa tells him he needs more humility. Then, boom, he’s nice and admits when he’s made a mistake. It’s like car crash character development in here.

His ticket word is ‘Learn’ which is kinda dumb because in order to be a know-it-all you kinda have to learn a bit. ‘Humility’ probably would’ve been a better word.

Bottom Line: There’s just something about this movie that feels….fake. It feels like it’s trying too hard to be this epic impacting Christmas movie for all ages, but there’s something here that just doesn’t feel genuine. Even the characters look like moving plastic dolls instead of actual characters. I’m not saying I don’t feel Christmassy when watching this movie, and it does hit the regular beats that Christmas movies typically have, maybe more, but it just feels like most of it is set dressing for a rather hollow story.

Maybe it would’ve been better as a short?

If not forcing itself to be a classic from the getgo, this movie is clearly meant to be an experience or a roller coaster ride instead of dwelling on silly things like characters and story.

Visually, this movie is just gorgeous most of the time……as long as you ignore the people, and Robert Zemeckis did a fantastic job directing. The angles and reliance on fast-paced action scenes definitely do seem like this was meant to be a Christmas ride. I’m completely fine with this as it is a very fun movie, but you lose quite a bit of the fun of the ride when not watching the movie in IMAX theaters or at least in 3D. So many shots are quite obviously pandering to the 3D that it makes us homely 2D watchers feel a bit left out.

They also make a kinda…weird decision once. There’s a scene in the elf control room where there’s a ton of screens showing children around the world (or just the US/English speaking first world countries). That’s the creepy we kinda have to take with Santa, but the weird part is….all of the kids….are live-action.

Yep, no motion capture for them. They are pure live-action. And it’s not like a glance at them either; they stay on screen for several minutes and we even hear dialogue from one. It’s just so weird. For a movie trying its hardest to make all the CGI look realistic, they didn’t even bother making any of those shots CGI. Either they were too lazy to do so, wanted the audience to more closely connect with the movie or they wanted to see if we could tell the difference, which we obviously can by a freakin’ mile.

To be honest, I don’t even understand that scene. Time’s been frozen at five to midnight for over an hour (roughly?) so how are the kids on these monitors moving?

And you know, for a movie that is aiming for realism, why do they pay such great attention to the individual hairs on the boys’ heads but the damn loop-braided pigtails on Hero Girl never move an inch?

I’m getting off-topic and this review’s running a bit long. The point is, I do really like The Polar Express. It’s a fun Christmas ride that does have a bit of heart beneath the creepy plastic faces and dead eyes. I watch the movie every year, and I can’t see myself stopping that tradition any time soon.

However, I can’t deny that it completely fails to do even basic parts of movie making and writing correctly. If this is just meant to be a self-insert Christmas ride without deep character or story elements to help that feeling along, then fine. I understand that. You’ve made a great roller coaster for Christmas. But it also means that you’re sacrificing quality as a movie. I can’t see myself watching this movie outside of the month of December; something I can do for many great Christmas movies and specials. There’s nowhere near enough substance to even make me think about it.

It’s very flawed, but very fun. And, in the end, movies are supposed to be entertaining. Fun. So, since it’s Christmas, I’m not going to fault the movie as much as I should. Hop on board the Polar Express on the biggest screen you can manage, and you can still catch it in theaters, IMAX and otherwise around Christmastime, so there’s that. No matter if you can hear the bells or not, the ride there is worth it.

Recommended Audience: E for everyone!


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AVAHS – Niko and The Way to the Stars/The Flight Before Christmas

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Plot: A young reindeer named Niko has always been told by his mother that he was the son of one of Santa’s flying reindeer in the flying forces. Because of this, Niko has always held the belief that he would fly, but has always been unsuccessful. He’s a bit obsessed with his flight training, and one day ends up accidentally leading a pack of fierce wolves to his herd’s location while practicing in an area he was told to stay out of.

In order to finally fly and avoid the rejection of his herd, Niko and his father figure, a flying squirrel named Julius, travel to the mysterious location of the flying forces and Santa, Santa’s Fell, to find his father. However, the wolves are hot on his trail and intend to eat him as well as the flying forces and Santa himself.

Breakdown: This was a pretty nice surprise. I honestly didn’t think much of this movie from face value, but it’s a pretty nice Christmas movie. It’s not hilarious or particularly heart-warming, but it is fun, has a pretty solid story and doesn’t try too hard to be anything more than it is.

Niko is a pretty generic character who reminds me a lot of Tarzan. Outcast because he’s trying to be something he’s not, but he’s doing this because of his mysterious past, ends up screwing up everything and putting his family in danger because of it, so he tries his hardest to achieve his dreams and find a place to belong.

I find it a little weird that his backstory is actually that his mom, Oona, had a one-night stand with one of Santa’s flying forces and just never saw him again. I mean, they don’t say it, but she met him once, never met him again and had Niko.

Julius actually has the most interesting backstory that I’m surprised they didn’t balk on. Early in the movie, Julius makes a squirrel out of snow and pretends it’s his Aunt Sally to help Niko lie and get out of trouble. Later in the movie, he makes three snow squirrels and explains to Wilma, a weasel, that these snow squirrels are actually representations of a family he actually had. He had a wife, an aunt and young son. One day, he went off to look for food and when he returned his family was gone. After seeing wolf tracks in the snow he realized that his family had all been eaten by wolves. He took in Niko as a kind of surrogate son since Niko also had no father, which serves as one of the bigger conflicts in the movie.

Wilma was a great character. She was a lot of fun, and I loved her song at Santa’s Fell. That was legitimately funny. I am kinda weirded out that she’s made out to be Julius’ love interest, though. Why don’t animated movies find inter-species mating to be weird?

I also appreciate that they didn’t make out Santa’s flying forces to be a bunch of jerk-offs. While they’re not the smartest nor the humblest reindeer alive, they’re not that bad and they’re perfectly nice to Niko throughout. Would’ve been nice for Niko’s father to have fleshed out a bit more. He really doesn’t stand out anymore than the others.

I found that Niko’s relationship to his mother and his love interest, Saga, weren’t fleshed out enough either. Saga’s whole role is, in a Faline fashion, to be the love interest and nothing else. She’s at the beginning and end of the movie to be simply that.

Finally, the antagonists of the wolves, in particular Black Wolf (guess what color he is) are…..fine. They’re really just terribly generic and their plan makes no sense. I mean, finding the herd of reindeer makes sense because they’re their main source of food. However, planning a terribly dangerous mission to Santa’s Fell to eat Santa’s reindeer and Santa as well as every little girl and boy that they will visit on Christmas? Plus, Black Wolf’s eyes, which are yellow, literally glow throughout the entire movie.

The fact is, he’s more focused on killing Niko, also for no real reason. He has no idea who he is or where he’s heading, he just wants to kill him for existing.

Along with the wolves is a pink poodle named Essie, who also really serves no other purpose than to be a love interest for one of the wolves, Specs, who is basically an example to prove that not all of the wolves are all bad….even though the rest of them are shown to be bad. I actually kinda liked their relationship…it’s much more fleshed out and interesting than Niko and Saga or Oona and Prancer.

This is actually a Finnish movie with an English dub, and you can tell with the various accents that pop up. It’s like they were trying to hide their accents half the time, but were inconsistent with it. Most of the voice acting is decent enough, but my god the VA for Niko is just awful. He can’t emote at all, nor can he raise his voice. Every time he yells it’s like there’s someone in the studio reminding him to use his ‘inside voice’.

The animation is….good. It’s kinda like a mix between Dreamworks and Sony. Trying to be realistic with the backgrounds and snow but wanting a more cartoony look for the characters. I think it works well enough, though I still can’t decide if the snow effects were that good.

All in all, a surprisingly good movie. It’s not forcing some ‘true meaning of Christmas’ down our throats nor does it follow too many clichés. While not doing anything grand or fantastic, it’s still a fun ride.

Recommended Audience: E for everyone!


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Christmas Special Review: Itsudatte My Santa! Review Part 2

Plot: Santa and Mai are now living together and have been for the past six months. They’re enjoying their summer at the beach when an old friend of Mai’s, Shally, arrives to tell her that she’s taking over the area. Mai has to leave and go back to school. Her teacher, Noel, says that she’ll grant her until Christmas Eve at midnight to say goodbye to Santa.

Breakdown: Time to tackle the second half of the stale Christmas fruitcake…at the beach!

Episode 2: “Christmas Once More”: We start out with recycled footage from the first episode’s opening, segueing into a short sepia-toned flashback clipshow of Mai and Santa throughout episode one. Mai narrates about meetings and farewells before we transition to the beach where Mai asks if Santa would like her to rub suntan oil on his back.

The crowd overhears and think she means something dirty by that, and, amidst their clamoring, she slaps Santa again for thinking dirty thoughts.

Oh goody, a complete beat for beat and nearly line for line rip off of the joke from episode one, except this is actually stupid because of the crowd. She specifically said ‘suntan oil’ and they’re at the friggin’ beach where ‘suntan oil’ has to be a pretty commonly uttered phrase. Did they honestly think they were going to get oiled up and do the nasty right there in front of everyone? What perverts.

And Mai is still being a little bitch because she, again, slaps Santa for thinking dirty thoughts when he’s not even blushing or looking shocked in this scene. The crowd makes their assumptions and Mai smacks him again. Because when other people are pervs, it means everyone is.

Mai makes her big declaration, again, that she’s Santa Claus and thinking such thoughts about her is just awful.

Mai gets hauled off by the cops….again—Can I just copy/paste the first episode review and preface it with ‘In summer’? Because that’s what this is basically amounting to.

I don’t get why she’s being hauled away this time. She wasn’t seeming like she was propositioning Santa – they just misinterpreted what she said about suntan oil. And even if she did mean oil for sex or something, that’s still not grounds to be arrested. She has to actually do something first.

Mai pops up sans police escort again and berates Santa for not helping her, but they’re interrupted by the first non-first episode scene which is a little girl with pink hair saying ”she’s’ coming’ over and over. It’s Mai’s little sister…..Maimai……….from the ‘country of Santa Claus’.

Guys….you’re being insanely lazy right now….Like…mind-bogglingly lazy. A little effort? Please?

We see that the ‘she’ Maimai is referring to is another Santa coming up from a geyser in the water….So….Santas are waterbenders now? Or is it that they can control the sea because it begins with S?

The girl, named Shally, the Santa who briefly spoke to Mai while out on her sleigh on Christmas in episode one, bursts towards Mai saying she really wants to catch up, but first Mai has to leave because two Santa Clauses cannot handle the same area. Mai says her grandpa designated this area to be hers, but Shally says she’s more deserving of being Santa Claus of the area because all Mai has done for the past half year is screw around with Santa instead of training or studying.

…Yeah, that’s actually very logical. How has a half year gone by without Mai gaining enough magical power to go home anyway? Surely someone would’ve come for her. It just seems like she’s 1) Not making an effort to get home and 2) She’s not making an effort to work at being a Santa.

Mai defends Santa after Shally calls him worthless by yelling in a similar manner as Santa did in the beginning of episode one saying he’s a precious person who still believes in Santa (Well, yeah, anyone would believe in Santa if they met him and went on a Christmas sleigh ride delivering presents with magic. Faith isn’t faith if you have extensive proof of the thing you have faith in.) She blurts out that he was born on Christmas Eve and was named Santa because of it, further connecting it with the scene this is mirroring.

And of course Shally, like Mai did in that scene, laughs her ass off at this even though, again, they’re all Santa Clauses thus it can’t be THAT funny that a guy is named Santa. Is it seriously the fact that he was born on Christmas eve that’s the kicker?

After the laughter, both Mai and Santa run off comically while crying EXACTLY LIKE THE FIRST EPISODE. Can someone please do something original?

Shally grants my wish by challenging Mai to a contest to see who’s more deserving of being the Santa of that region. The contest is merely making S word items appear. Shally keeps one-upping her by making ‘gorgeous’ versions, really just giant versions, of all of the items that Mai is making.

How the hell does she…or Pedro have enough magic to keep doing the S item magic yet not enough to get them back home?

Santa tells her to stop, but Mai says she can’t because she doesn’t want to leave and give up being with Santa. Somehow she gets around to summoning a giant frog because she said ‘Snake and friends’ If that’s not cheating I don’t know what is. The giant frog is about to crush her, but Santa saves her.

Shally has a bit of a hissy fit about not being the villain, just doing what she’s told because she’s such a good Santa. Then Mai summons a sun room, or at least she says she does, one never appears for her, and Shally reflexively makes a gorgeous version, causing a huge sun room to fall on her.

It’s way too hot and sunny to be in there, especially for someone from a snowy region, so Mai summons (again, merely verbally) a coral reef…oh excuse me, a SEA coral reef. As opposed to all those land coral reefs. Shally, again, makes it gorgeous, breaking the sun room into a million pieces and crushing her.

The match is over after Maimai pops the reef with a needle…..?? and they go eat some watermelon while we get our backstory on Shally. She and Mai were classmates in Santa school and they were neighbors growing up, but while Mai is still a trainee, Shally passed her tests as a Santa Claus and was even placed in advanced classes.

Mai tries to defend herself, but Shally scoffs and says, if she really were any good, she wouldn’t have a toddler-like figure (again, a rehash from episode one….and why does Santa need to be a busty Playboy model in the first place?) and she’d be able to do more than just create S named items. Shally also mentions that, despite the fact that she did so last Christmas, Mai’s apparently not allowed to deliver presents.

Wait, how does she have an area designated to her at all if she’s not allowed to deliver gifts?

They have a small fight and Shally stomps off while Maimai says that she’s still hungry. Oh and haha, she eats a huge boatload of food and is still hungry. That’s not an overused joke or anything.

Mai goes off to buy her more food while Santa babysits.

Back with Shally, she’s so distracted by stewing over Mai that she accidentally bumps into someone, causing their watermelon…to fall….and smash into….pieces…..This better not be the gang lead—YUP. The same gang leader from episode one and his gang…*sigh*

The gang leader yells at Shally, but in a slight twist on episode one, Shally starts yelling and beating up the gang leader…though still in the exact same manner that the gang leader was beating up on Santa in episode one.

The gang yells at Shally in much the same manner as ep-you get the idea, but Shally changes it up a bit while still doing the same spin move that Mai did in that scene. She kicks the watermelon pieces, makes them ‘gorgeous’ and drops them on their heads….which is still nearly the same as the truckload of saury from episode one…..

While Mai is out shopping for food, she bumps into another person from ‘the country of Santa Claus’ named Noel who seems to be a higher up and a bit of a motherly figure to Mai. She says she has no choice but to obey the board of directors (There’s a board of directors for Santas?) and leave, but she’ll give her until…..Midnight on Christmas eve to say goodbye….Midnight on Christmas eve—That’s six months to say goodbye. You’re quite lenient.

Shally is eavesdropping on their conversation and says she’ll do Mai a solid and help her say goodbye to Santa. She yells this proclamation and does a ‘ho ho ho’ laugh over and over….while both Mai and Noel are mere feet away….Seriously, do they have the power of inaudibility and invisibility or is this just poor planning?

Shally tries to give Santa and Mai time to talk…while they’re playing volleyball…against each other no less, but Maimai keeps ruining it by smacking the ball into Santa’s head….Why would they talk about that or anything while playing volleyball? Especially if it’s supposed to be a personal goodbye.

Cut to later that night where Santa, Mai and Maimai are watching fireworks. Shally sneaks over and asks if Mai’s talked to Santa yet. She says no, and Shally takes Maimai away thinking she’s the cause again, which makes Maimai bite Shally.

Basically the exact same thing happens over and over at a hot spring, another hot spring, a bench, and out on the street. This cycle goes on for months….

It’s now December again because we had to get to Christmas somehow, and Shally starts freaking out that Mai won’t be able to say a proper goodbye to Santa and learn his true feelings before she’s forced to go away….

Okay, I have some questions. 1) Why is Maimai here? Has she been here since the end of episode one or did she really just pop up from nowhere at the start of this one?

2) If Mai admitted to Santa that she fell in love with him and they kissed twice in episode one, and they’ve been living together ever since, I find it seriously doubtful that his feelings were never brought up.

3) In another six month time period, Santa and Mai have REALLY never been given a moment alone? Maimai is constantly with them? I know she’s Mai’s little sister, but if she really did pop up from nowhere in this episode, why doesn’t she just go home? It probably would’ve been better to just start this episode in December to not make it so unbelievable, but I guess they really wanted to get those girls in bathing suits…

It’s now Christmas eve. Time really flies during repetitive montages. Shally’s getting increasingly stressed because the deadline’s fast approaching and no progress has been made, so she makes up a nice planned date for the two of them. Shally calls Santa up to discuss the plans and he’s actually super happy about this Christmas now since he has Mai, Maimai and even Shally to celebrate with.

Once Shally gets off the phone, she talks to Maimai about behaving for a change since this is her final chance to give the two of them the time that they need to sat their goodbyes. She starts lecturing her and getting really emotional when Mai walks in and hears what they’re saying.

She’s surprised….even though she knew about this, besides the whole Shally plan thing, and says she simply can’t say goodbye to him, because saying goodbye will mean that she’ll definitely be leaving for sure.

Shally and Maimai try to convince her that it’s for the best that she give him a proper goodbye, and we somehow segue into Shally talking about being Mai’s friend. She insists that, despite their differences in power and skill, she’s still Mai’s friend.

They flashback to when they were kids and apparently Shally was always teased for some reason, but Mai always stayed by her side no matter what. They were separated by the Santa school because Shally, having great grades, was sent to advanced classes while Mai lagged behind. However Mai said that they would still remain friends no matter what, even if she can’t stop time.

Santa Clauses give hopes and dreams to children….except the ones who are becoming Santas. We rip them away from their friends for the rest of their lives merely based on their grades…..HO HO HO!

Mai then realizes that she has to say ‘thank you’ to Santa instead of goodbye and also thanks Shally for being her friend.

…Did…Did I enter into a completely different show? I was ranting off the rails a second ago and now it’s all emotional and actually making an iota of sense.

Mai arrives at the Christmas tree where she and Santa first met and breaks the news to him. He takes it incredibly well and just tells her to go on and come back as soon as she can. He’ll wait for her even if takes a year or two. He wants to see her as a full-fledged Santa, and he knows his feelings won’t change no matter how long she’s gone.

Shally shows up, happy that Mai finally got the chance to say goodbye, but sadly it’s a mere five minutes until midnight….wait, really? How long were they talking back home? She made the reservations, had a short conversation with Santa, had a short lecture to Maimai, talked a bit with Mai, Mai arrives at the tree has a short conversation with Santa and suddenly hours have passed? Eh?

Anyway, the point is that now Santa and Mai have no time to do all the stuff Shally planned for their date, so as a special Christmas present to Mai, Shally and Maimai transform (sans nakedness) and stop time to give them the time they need to have a nice date.

They fly off on Pedro and the sleigh even though Mai doesn’t transform and they go off to have their date.

They go to an oddly empty restaurant to….sit there because the cooks would be frozen in time….They go to the amusement park and ride rides that are motionless because the operators are frozen in time. All the while we get a nice narration from Mai about how lucky she is to have Santa and how her feelings will never change either, even if she’s forced to leave.

The date ends and they both agree to not say goodbye since they will see each other again someday. Mai thanks Santa like she wanted to do and is content in leaving now that she knows she will return one day with Santa waiting for her.

She’s literally beamed up….somewhere and says her farewells to everyone. We get more somewhat touching narration from Mai as she continues to fly up and they just have to ruin it by making her transform. Because nothing says ’emotional moment’ like watching asses and boobs grow in front of your eyes.

She flies off on Pedro back to the school, Santa thanks her for believing in him, and she tells them/us to believe in her and believe in Santa Claus.

Our end credits now include stills of Maimai and Noel, and I did find Maimai’s Santa outfit to be pretty cute.

Hey if they’re gonna rehash stuff, I can too.

Mirroring the end credits scene from episode one, Noel suddenly appears on Santa’s doorstep with Mai. She throws Mai into his house and says it’s not Mai who escaped from preschool, it’s Maimai who needs to be dragged back…..Wait, huh? I thought this was about the higher ups making Shally replace Mai as the Santa for the area and Mai needing to go back to get more training. What is all this about an ‘escape’?….And Santa preschool? This mistook Mai for a preschooler or does Mai suck so much at her job that she’s in preschool for it?

We get a preview for episode three, The Third Christmas, which includes stuff like a giant reindeer mech. This preview is actually a joke….which saddens me deeply because look at that thing.

I demand a Christmas themed Gundam Series.

This needs to be a thing, dammit.

So….does that mean the end credits scene was also a joke? Good, because it completely ruins the ending.

Bottom Line: This was surprisingly much better than episode one. Santa is almost like an entirely different character here. He’s very mature and actually enjoyable to watch. Mai is also much easier to watch even if she does rehash that moment from episode one in an even bitchier fashion.

Maimai, while seemingly being unneeded outside of forcing an intrusion upon Mai and Santa, wasn’t really annoying as she doesn’t speak much. Her mannerisms are cliché and unfunny, but she’s not annoying.

Shally is a decent enough character. It’s made apparent from the getgo that she’s not a bad person and dislikes being seen as such. She just follows orders to a tee and has a bit of an ego. This makes it easier to take her basically changing her attitude entirely to becoming a mostly nice character. Plus, you can really tell that, despite the fact that they push each other’s buttons, they actually do care about each other.

The biggest issue I have is that the first part is WAY too reliant on mirroring the first part of episode one. It’s ridiculous how much they repeat just ‘In summer’.

The fanservicey transformation and end credits scene do create a drastic tone change on what is otherwise a pretty emotional and nice second half. In fact, the second half is so nice it’s really hard to tell that you’re watching the same show. It’s not too bad though if you just muscle through the transformation and believe that the end credits scene is part of the preview joke.

While it is better written than episode one, for the second half anyway, there are still a bunch of issues with the story in terms of plot holes and inconsistencies.

It also takes half the episode to even seem Christmas-y, but what is there is actually pretty sweet.

As a couple, even though they could be more fleshed out, Mai and Santa are pretty cute, barring that one scene I mentioned. You can tell how much they care about each other, and you can believe them more as a pairing because now they’ve spent six months to a year together instead of two or three hours. They also now have some structure to their relationship seeing as how Mai did help Santa finally enjoy Christmas, his birthday and maybe his life again.

Finally, I would’ve liked some sort of update on Santa and his relationship with his parents or friends, but nope. It’s not a huge deal, but it would’ve been nice.

Overall, this was a nice surprise. It’s a decent enough Christmas special if you ignore/glance over a few things. You could probably skip episode one entirely and enjoy this fine as a standalone. It’s nothing fantastic, but it was quite a bit better better sitting through this than episode one.

Merry (late) Christmas everyone! And remember; believe in Santa and you might find that she brings you a special present!…..As long as it begins with S.

Additional Information and Notes: Itsudatte My Santa! was directed by Noriyoshi Nakamura, who also directed numerous episodes of Mister Ajikko, and it was based on a manga by Ken Akamatsu. It was produced by TNK, and is currently licensed in the US by Funimation.

Episodes: 2

Year: 2005

Recommended Audience: Brief boob and ass shot, minute fanservice. 13+


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Christmas Special Review: Itsudatte My Santa! Review

Plot: A boy is left all alone every single Christmas, which makes him hate the holiday and never believe in the magic of Santa. When a girl shows up proclaiming to be Santa Claus, she wishes for nothing more than to make him happy this Christmas.

Breakdown: Let it be known that I went into this wanting to review a good stand-alone Christmas special for the holidays. Anime doesn’t get a whole lot when it comes to Christmas specials, especially stand alone features. I’ve seen the Christmas specials for Cyborg 009, Azumanga Daioh, Ai Yori Aoshi and a few others, but I’ve never really seen a stand-alone anime based on Christmas.

In comes Itsudatte My Santa – an anime special made by the same person who made Love Hina, a harem anime I’ve never seen and have never really wanted to see either.

Reviews that I’ve read about this series are ultimately mixed, but siding on the negative. In fact, the only article-based review I’ve found was completely negative. I did find some pretty positive reviews on it, though. So it seems I’m left at a crossroads. I really want this OVA to be good since it may give me another Christmas special to watch as a holiday tradition.

I made a deal with myself before I wrote this review, and even before I watched the anime, that I would post it before Christmas if I enjoyed it enough, to give people an early Christmas gift, and I would post it between Christmas and New Years if I didn’t like it, to avoid putting a damper on the holiday.

So, yeah, you can not only tell my feelings based on the rating, but also when I released the review. Hooray!

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We start off with narration and a flashback from our main lead wondering when it is that people stop believing in Santa. The normal rate, he presumes, is when children enter elementary school and start understanding reality more clearly. Or it could be due to accidentally seeing presents hidden around the house before Christmas or catching their parents in the act etc. For him, however, he never believed in Santa. His parents were always away for Christmas, and all of his gifts were mailed to him.

He was always lonely on Christmas, even if he points out that his grandma was there and even baked a Christmas cake for him every year.

Not only did his parents ditch him every Christmas, but they told him that if he was a good boy, not only would Santa come, but THEY WOULD COME BACK HOME. What dicks.

“Oh sorry son, we still can’t make it back for Christmas. Guess you must’ve been a little asshole. Maybe next year.”

He states again that, no matter how good he was, he was still alone on Christmas, even though in this very shot we see him being held back by his Grandma and whom I assume is his Grandpa beside him. I understand missing his parents every Christmas, but you can try to enjoy the holiday with your Grandparents whom seem to care about you greatly.

Thus, he doesn’t believe Santa exists and hates Christmas.

Cut back to present (hehe, puns) day where the first line we hear is a girl asking if the main character wants to spend the night with her. Everyone around them hears her, because obviously the middle of Tokyo is just so quiet, especially in the midst of Christmas, and they start gawking and chattering about what she said. She sees the blush and look of shock on the boy’s face and instantly slaps him for thinking dirty thoughts.

If there’s one thing I do know about the creator of this show, Ken Akamatsu, is that slapstick (literally) is kinda his thing, especially when it comes to males being the abuse victims.

This is completely unwarranted. This strange girl randomly walks up and the first thing out of her mouth, and the second, no less, is ‘Do you want to spend the night with me?’ ANYONE’S first thought, as portrayed by the crowd, would be instantly jumping to sexual insinuations. The main character didn’t even say anything, he just sat there with a shocked face and blushed. Yet, nope, he deserves a huge slap in the face for taking that ridiculous line and thinking it’s something dirty. Bitch.

She proclaims she’s Santa Claus and gives dreams and hopes to children, thus it’s awful to think such a thing about her, even though it was such an easily misconstrued sentence that even the cops are quickly taking her away for prostitution.

Santa got arrested for prostitution……I don’t have a joke, I just wanted to say that.

As the main character is about to leave, the girl pops up out of nowhere sans police escort and says she can detect loneliness and sadness on Christmas with her….hair antennae….Because that’s something Santa has right? She detects this in our main character, and says that, because she’s ‘Santa’ and spreads hope and dreams to children, she wants to spend the night with him to make him happier with her Santa powers—okay, now you’re just trying to sound like bad Christmas themed porn.

He runs away only to be latched onto by ‘Santa’. He keeps proclaiming that he hates Christmas and doesn’t believe in Santa, so she should just leave. She doesn’t understand how such a person could exist, so she pesters him for the reason behind his hate.

Surprisingly, he doesn’t mention the stuff with his parents first. Instead he yells that he was born on Christmas Eve and that his parents named him……Santa.

His parents…..must hate him.

I can’t really give any other explanation. The whole thing about not being there for him on Christmas is dick-ish, but maybe understandable if they had to be away for some reason. Saying they’d come home for Christmas if he was good enough was just awful. Naming him Santa is a ticket to asskicking and mocking throughout his life, let alone Christmas. Ditching him around Christmas when it’s also his birthday on Christmas eve is just terrible. Naming him Santa with all of that crap piled on top is borderline evil.

And, really, his parents named him Santa because he was born on Christmas eve? People have holiday themed names, sure. There are even people literally named ‘Christmas’ but out of all the names associated with Christmas, why choose one you really can’t recover from? One you can’t even really shoo aside with a nickname?

So….’Santa’ (the girl one) starts rolling around on the floor laughing her ass off that he’s a guy named Santa born on Christmas Eve. Yeah, you spread those hopes and dreams you bitch. And who are you to talk when you introduced yourself as freakin’ Santa Claus? Is it the whole ‘born on Christmas eve’ thing that pushed you over the edge into hilarity?

I guess we’re also supposed to take that everyone in the crowd’s laughing too since it sounds that way, but they’re not animated to be laughing.

He runs away, upset because that’s the very reaction that makes him hate Christmas—Dude, pick a lane. Do you hate Christmas and Santa because of your name and birthday or because of your insanely douchey parents?

However, girl Santa stops him, apologizes for laughing, says she’ll do anything to make him happy and begs to allow him to spend the night with her.

Seriously, you’re just doing that on purpose now.

He denies her, however, and runs away yet again.

Later, as he’s getting a drink, girl Santa arrives yet again to pester him and we get this line;

“I’ll bring you something tastier, Santa!”

She actually means, however, that she’ll dump pounds of saury on his head, because apparently another of her powers is to make things that start with ‘S’ appear from nowhere because Santa begins with S.

Airtight logic, that is.

He manages to get away again and we cut to a video arcade. Damn, I miss arcades. He’s playing a fighting game when, surprise, girl Santa pops up and says he should play a real version of that game. He gains the power of sambo, the martial art, because sambo also begins with S.

Later still, he’s gawking at a game world icon when girl Santa pops up saying a real world icon is better. She uses the power of her ‘Sample dressing room’–Okay now you’re just cheating. You can make anything a legit S word if you purposely put an S word in front of it.

“Oh gee, I’d sure love a bicycle for Christmas. But it doesn’t start with S. Hm. I know, I’d love a SUPER COOL bicycle for Christmas! *poof* Yay loopholes!”

She uses her ‘Sample’ dressing room to dress up in various outfits and tells Santa to take pictures of her. However, her outfits (and subsequent light fanservice) turns the pervy crowd’s attention to her instead of the game world icon and they start practically dogpiling on her. From how they’re bunching up on her and making grabby hands, I was expecting some huge grope fest.

They escape from the crowd only to bump into some gang leader, causing him to drop his cake. Santa offers to buy him a new one, but the gang guy says it was such a special cake that you need to order it three months in advance (?!) so he just starts beating the crap out of him.

Girl Santa won’t stand for this and kicks him in the head. She then says she and Pedro will take him on for getting in the way of her cheering up Santa. The gang believes she’s talking about Pedro San Jose, some giant guy I can’t find information on. But she’s actually talking about a small plush-toy-like Reindeer that sits on her shoulder.

Pedro the reindeer. South Park was right.

Pedro whips up a Three-Sectional Staff, because staff begins with S. I’m annoyed that they keep bringing up that these things are popping up because they start with S. We know our letters, anime. Thanks.

Isn’t this also cheating? I know S for staff, but technically the correct name for her weapon starts with T right?

She also brings up a whole bunch of other stuff that starts with S for really no reason whatsoever like a set square, a salamander, a seafood gourmet set and a samba festival.

The gang leader is sick of girl Santa’s games and starts fighting her again while Santa leaves. However, through the power of sloppy editing, he decides to also join in the fight.

He knocks out the gang leader, but the gang wants revenge. Pedro’s now powered up by the fact that Santa helped them fight, so they dump a truckload of saury on the gang, showing that his power is 30% increased.

They make their escape and we cut back to Santa’s house where girl Santa, now introduced as Mai (get it? Mai and Santa…..My Santa?) is taking a shower. Oh thank god. I was worried we wouldn’t see anyone shower in this Christmas special.

Mai says she’s A Santa Claus, implying there are several, and that she’s currently in training.

Mai tells him not to peek at her, but he says he wouldn’t anyway because of her ‘baby-ish figure’ (IE Small boobs) and that he likes women who are more filled out.

She gets insulted and points out the fact that she is more buxom when she’s transforms, but she can’t transform due to lack of power since fewer and fewer people are believing. Why…why do so many Christmas specials use the ‘Santa’s running out of power because fewer people are believing in him’ plot line? It is the plot of a bulk of Christmas specials involving Santa. It’s ridiculous.

Santa picks up Pedro, which apparently is a big nono since this prompts Mai to open the door to the shower and warn him about it, even if nothing happens. Then she throws everything she can at him for looking at her naked body when he said he wouldn’t. Another thing that is not his fault.

If someone suddenly opened the door while in the shower, it’s kinda hard not to look. But nope, he deserves to get all sorts of crap thrown at him and somehow what I think is a fridge crushing him.

See, even he points out that it’s her fault. Bitch.

Later, Mai says that she was warning him not to pick up Pedro because he tends to bite strangers. Remember that, because it never matters. Mai points out that it’s dark and empty in his apartment, and he whines some more about his birthday and Christmas. He says his parents are always away on work related stuff and never come home all year round. Wow, really? They never even visit? These guys are total asswipes.

He also says he never has anyone to celebrate any holidays with because of this even though, again, his freakin’ Grandparents, at the very least his Grandma, seem to have taken care of him and were there for him on holidays.

Him saying that he’s always alone over and over prompts a flashback to his mother calling him on Christmas apologizing for not being able to make it but saying that she always thinks of him and loves him. I should mention that child-Santa is being held up by his loving grandmother as he’s on the phone and is even holding the phone for him because he’s having a massive attack of uber-drama.

Immediately after that shot we see him with his special Christmas cake while sitting next to his loving Grandmother.

He says a present he received this year was a photo of his parents happily standing with to a bunch of happy children……Are his parents Satan? Is that really why they named him Santa? So they have that big letter shifting plot twist where he discovers what his family really is? Because that is just…..wow. So horrible.

Mai asks if he has any friends to spend the holiday with. He says he has some, but they ask him to take pictures of them, yet no one asks to see his pictures. This is somehow grounds for saying they constantly take advantage of him. Ever think they may not ask to see your Christmas related photos because they know how upset you might get about it? Considering you really have none? Or do you mean photos in general? Maybe they’re not interested in photography.

Mai hugs him and says her Grandpa and others must’ve known about him for years yet never did anything about it….for no reason. Yeah, that’ll make him want to support Santas. However, she says she’ll stay with him through the holidays and even wants to make him a birthday party.

We get our commercial break eyecatch that even includes Ken Akamatsu’s name in the corner. Because he’s really proud of this for some reason.

Cut back to Santa and Mai where she’s actually created a really nice last minute party for him. It’s only the two of them, but it’s still well decorated. And look, she made him all sorts of food. I’m sure it’s delicious, because the whole ‘can’t cook worth a crap’ cliché is way too overdone for Mr. Akamatsu—oh look the food’s horrible.

To be fair, that is the funniest shot of the OVA, but you’d think he’d realize that it would be awful beforehand because the food certainly didn’t look appetizing.

I mean, come on, that plate to the left looks like raw sewage and it has an eyeball in it! Plus, I can’t imagine any of that smells pleasant. What is wrong with him?

I’m even more confused by this because can’t she just magically make food appear? At least food that begins with S? She made human beings appear from nothing, surely she can poof up some GOOD strawberry shortcake….steak….sausages….shellfish….squash. You get the idea.

He says he’ll eat the rest after nearly passing out from one bite and accidentally shoves the food in her mouth, causing a violent spicy reaction. So….what is actually wrong with the food? Is it disgusting, super spicy or both? And why did she say he tricked her into eating it? He didn’t trick her; he accidentally shoved it in her mouth while trying to sit up.

He laughs and seems like he’s having fun. He even says that, despite the fact that Mai has no boobs, at least he’s with a girl. Mai gets understandably mad. She made you a nice party and then you turn around and call her flatchested? Jerk.

Then she starts blathering that she spends all her time training to be a Santa and has no time to even find a boyfriend.

Prompted by absolutely nothing, Mai demands that he show her his sweetheart and snatches his wallet from…his shirt? First off, this is the first mention that he has a sweetheart. I have no clue why she even thought he had one considering he keeps going on about how alone he is. Second, what guy keeps their wallet in their shirt?

He does indeed have a sweetheart, but it’s just a crush on his senpai. He then laments that she probably has a date right now, being Christmas eve. Will you cheer up, there, Charlie Brown?

Mai then asks if he knows what Christmas really is. He says it’s the birthday of Jesus Christ. She says he’s right. Even though others are preoccupied with dates and gifts, they’re celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ….It really bothers me when Christmas specials just flippantly mix Jesus and Santa versions of Christmas. I guess there’s nothing inherently wrong with it…unless you’re that BC special I reviewed last year, but it’s just so weird.

It’s been nothing but Santa talk this whole special and now all of a sudden we’re talkin’ Jesus. It’s even weirder because her power runs on people believing in Santa, yet many Christian/Catholic families don’t like to spread the Santa story to their children because they feel it takes away from the recognition of Jesus’ birthday.

She tells Santa to look out at the lights of the city and realize that someone under those lights cares about him and is thinking of him that very moment. Santa instantly agrees because one pep talk reverses 16-ish years of emotional trauma, and Santa says Mai must be some kind of holy person. She says she is, of course, a holy person since she’s Santa Claus….Santa’s a holy person now? Well, he is based on a saint, I suppose.

Santa basically rolls his eyes and nods along with her while Mai vehemently states that she is a Santa Claus. Dude, how much magic has she done in front of you? Is it really that hard to believe that she’s actually Santa?

She pesters him about believing that she’s Santa Claus. Whether it be to get her off his back or because he actually does believe, he agrees that she’s Santa. Once that’s settled, she tells him to close his eyes and kisses him. She tells him that Santa Clauses are able to transfer happiness to another person through kissing, so he’ll be super happy now….Why didn’t you just do that before then?

Just then, Santa’s crush, Minako, calls him up inviting him to a party. He’s super excited about the invitation and graciously accepts, but Mai hangs up the phone in the middle of his conversation. He’s angered by her actions, but she says that it’s her magic and only his dream….Yeah, his dream….of being happy on Christmas….with his crush….that you just hung up on.

Santa scoffs at the concept of magic and says she’s old enough to distinguish reality from fantasy. Santa’s magic doesn’t exist in this world, and he’ll never believe that it does unless Santa himself stands before him…Dude. She has done tons of magic in front of you. What is your deal? Are you blind? Some of the stuff she did could be magic tricks, but she made fish rain from the sky! What evidence do you need?…..Granted, none of what she’s done so far could really be called ‘Santa magic’ but still.

Mai is incredibly upset at this and says she did everything she’s done for him tonight because she fell in love with him….You’ve known him for no less than two maybe three hours. And all he’s done is yell and mope about his dickhead parents the entire time. You had that one laugh at the party, that’s it. Are you really that hard up for a boyfriend?

She runs off and Santa also runs off saying he’ll never believe in Santa or magic (*sigh*) He runs to the party that his crush is attending, and she reveals that she didn’t call him. Santa realizes it was Mai’s ‘magic’ that…I dunno, fabricated the phone call and conversation to invite Santa down to the party because she knew they really wanted him there? Oh so that’s proof she has magic, but not the other stuff. Yeah okay, Santa.

Also, doesn’t this just raise the question of, if Mai’s the one who made the phone call…why did she hang up?

Anyway, the group proclaims that they’ve invited him to Christmas parties numerous times and he just prefers to be alone so they were surprised he arrived. See? It’s not the other people who are the problem, it’s Santa. He’s so hellbent on wanting his jackass parents around for Christmas that he denies everyone around him who actually want to celebrate with him. He complains about not having anyone to celebrate with when he turns down all offers. He’s not content being a Grinch – he actively pursues it.

And why was he so excited to be invited to the party if Makino and the others invited him to parties several times yet turned them down?

They decide that since he finally decided to join them for a change that they’ll take this opportunity to celebrate Santa’s birthday alongside Christmas eve. Then we get a flashback telling us that Santa has indeed had big parties for his birthday and Christmas every year with huge crowds of kids and his grandmother.

…………………..YOU FRIGGIN’ LIAR! You spent the last 20 minutes telling us how you were all alone for Christmas and your birthday every year and yet we get a flashback to this

and one of his friends saying this happened every year when they were younger.

Oh but Mai’s narration is like ‘You have people who want to want to be with you. You just never noticed.’ Oh yeah he sure looks like he doesn’t notice the huge room of people singing to him and dancing with him celebrating his birthday and Christmas with him. I can see how that’d be hard to miss. I never even had a birthday party like that. What a massive steaming load.

Santa suddenly feels guilty for telling Mai off and excuses himself from the party to apologize to her. As he’s leaving, his friends keep saying they’ll be waiting for him. Yeah, they sure sound like they take advantage of you, you ass.

Back with Mai at the town Christmas tree where they first met, Mai is lamenting over her night….and seriously, they really couldn’t have known each other for more than a few hours considering it’s still the same night and the same people are on the street. She says she gave all of her power to Santa and hopes he’s finally found a little happiness.

Santa arrives on the scene and apologizes to her. He says he’s not deserving of her happiness power and gives it back by giving her a kiss at the strike of midnight. This prompts her magical girl transformation sequence, and it’s probably one of the dumbest I’ve seen.

She’s becoming a true Santa, I guess, and in order to be that, I guess, she needs a bigger ass, bigger boobs (both of which grow before our eyes) and a sexy Santa outfit from Party City. She also seems to grow taller, get blue eyes, blond hair and a deeper voice. Because those are definite staples of every Santa….???

Pedro also transforms into an actual reindeer and a sleigh comes out of nowhere.

Santa apologizes again, even for calling her flatchested….the only reason you’re apologizing for that is because she’s got a huge rack now. Mai takes him out on the sleigh to deliver presents. She kisses all the kids on the head as she leaves their rooms….which just makes this creepier than the actual Santa myth.

♪ He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he breaks into your house and kisses you in your bed. ♪

Mai asks if there’s anything Santa wants for Christmas, and that she can make it happen as long as it begins with S…..Gee I hope all those kids wished for toys that began with S….and if they did, that’s insanely convenient.

He says no……wha—wish to be with your parents you dumb sack of reindeer crap. It should be pretty easy to tag an S onto that. Mai takes him to some…it’s not an orphanage because the kids have parents…Schoo–No, they’re living there……dayca….someplace with a lot of kids from poor families and explains how, despite the fact that they can’t get an education to become their dreams, like doctors, they have *gasp* Santa’s parents there for them to teach them.

They’re….news photographers? How will that help that kid be a doctor? They traveled the world and realized the kids needed their help, so they decided to sacrifice their desire to be with their son because they have to stay in whatever country this is to help the kids.

……But honestly, they can’t visit? Not even once? It’s a nice sentiment but still a major dick move. They basically sacrificed their son’s childhood and every moment they could’ve had with him growing up, just to…do something never adequately explained for these kids.

These kids have parents, they have housing, they have food, what’s keeping Santa’s parents from just visiting their son once in his entire life? Why wouldn’t they ever think to save up for a plane ticket and invite him there to spend the holidays with all the kids?

And I would say ‘don’t tell me that Santa never knew about this’, but either way it’s stupid. If he did never know about this, then that makes his parents out to look even worse because they never bothered to explain how important whatever they’re doing is for these kids, and they just sent him a random Christmas picture of them with happy kids to their unhappy kid back home.

If he did know about it, then he’s incredibly selfish and immature. Sure, it sucks to never see your parents, especially on your birthday or Christmas, but if you know that they’re doing it for the sake of some poor kids, if you know that they still love you and miss you deeply and still try to contact you whenever they can, then eventually you mature and understand.

You talk with them on the phone whenever you can, exchange photos and take the love of those around you as much as possible. You don’t basically become a big fat Shinji-Grinch and claim to hate Christmas and your birthday and then mope about how no one wants to spend those special holidays with you, especially when it’s shown that you do and have celebrated just fine in the past with huge groups of people, friends and family alike!

Just then, Santa’s mom calls him to tell him the same things she always does – she can’t be there for Christmas, she’s sorry but she loves him and misses him dearly. Santa interrupts and says he’s not a baby anymore. He now understands that their work is important and, while he misses them, he roots for them to achieve their goals with the kids.

The call is interrupted because more bad editing (also, how did Santa’s parents not see or hear them? They were right behind them and he was taking the call while he was ten feet away. Does her magic make them invisible and inaudible?) as we cut to the next scene.

Outside with Mai and Santa, she tells him that they sent pictures of them with the kids every year to let him know how much their work means to the kids. They sent him a camera so he could send them pictures of himself and his friends back……So, yeah….all of this is really Santa’s fault.

As a kid, it’s more understandable, even if that screenshot from before is pretty dramatized even for a kid, but he’s in college or something now. He’s held onto a dumb childish grudge just because he wanted to. He was unhappy because he kept purposely looking for reasons to be unhappy.

He thanks Mai for bringing him to the….homeless shelter? For kids? I still don’t know. And he wishes a merry Christmas to his Grandma, his parents and his friends back home…..who, by the way, are still waiting for him to return….and it’s probably been hours….Dick.

They then run into a whole slue of Santas….because….it makes for a cool shot?

Also, I guess multiple Santas at least helps the whole issue of it not being feasible that Santa could visit every single house in the world in one night, but it still raises a lot of other questions.

Santa puts his head in Mai’s lap—Whoa there, bro. She only LOOKS like a prostitute.

He asks if he’ll see her again, and she says she’ll visit next year and bring him a gift if he’s good. Then Santa restates word for word the opening narration about believing in Santa, but he follows it up by saying that people should just keep the faith, because Santa is indeed real. If Santa is real….why do parents pretend to be him? Why don’t parents question where the kids get random gifts on Christmas?

The end.

Our ending credits show still shots of Mai and the other female Santa who flew by them in a couple costumes.

After the credits, we get a short scene with Mai, now back to her regular form, at Santa’s door stating she can’t get back home because she used up all of her magic power the night before. So I guess she has to stay with Santa until she gets enough power again.

http://www.sadtrombone.com/

Here’s where things get….different. Apparently, only this episode was based on the manga. The other was specifically made for the anime. They basically forced continuation on the story for no reason. And…I don’t even see what this next episode has to do with Christmas from the preview because it looks like it takes place in summer and is a beach episode.

Art and Animation: The art is passable. The animation is poor in most spots, and the editing is flat out terrible. It was produced by Three Fat Samurai, who don’t seem to have many series under their belts, and the only other series from them that I recognize is Papa to Kiss in the Dark, another thing I need to tackle, but I don’t know if I’ll be in the mood for that squickiness.

Music: Nothing special.

Voice Acting: Japanese – It was somewhat flat, actually. It didn’t seem like they were really putting much effort into their roles except maybe Mai’s VA, but she was a little annoying.

Bottom Line: This is a stupid, nonsensical mess of a Christmas special. Santa is just a mopey sad sack, and, in the end, most of his so-called problems with Christmas are his own fault. Mai’s pushy and falls in love with Santa way too quickly, not to mention predictably and stupidly. She has a kind heart, but that’s about it. Everything about the story is insanely stupid and directly contradicts itself many times. Not to mention that they don’t even explain what these Santas really are.

Christmas specials have a certain right in being cheesy and even having an unbelievable story, but this doesn’t even seem to capture the feeling of Christmas, despite the fact that ‘Santa’ and ‘Christmas’ are said so many times you’d think it was produced in the North Pole.

It does no real damage in terms of message, it’s just a waste of time. You’d be much better off watching a Christmas special for basically any other anime, even if you’ve never seen the rest of the show. I’m pretty much wishing I had reviewed Tokyo Godfathers this Christmas instead.

Additional Information and Notes: Itsudatte My Santa! was directed by Noriyoshi Nakamura, who also directed numerous episodes of Mister Ajikko, and it was based on a manga by Ken Akamatsu. It was produced by TNK, and is currently licensed in the US by Funimation.

Episodes: 2

Year: 2005

Recommended Audience: A few shots of boobs, one or two bare ass shots, because nudity’s needed in Christmas specials right? Other than that, nothing. 14+


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