Anime Today: Happy KINMOZA Kurisumasu

TWWK Note: Welcome to the first post for Anime Today, a new column on Beneath the Tangles focusing on current series.  Japes, formerly of the Japesland blog, is joining our group of writers as our first columnist.  Please give him a warm greeting – I’m really excited to have him aboard, as we’ve been close for a while even before he agreed to join the blog.

Today I’m going to be focusing on a new series entitled きんいろモザイク (Kiniro Mosaic) or KINMOZA. For those who are not watching the series this season (I heartily recommend it, by the way!), KINMOZA is a sketch comedy by Studio Gokumi based on a four-panel comic of the same name, much in the vein of Lucky Star and Nichijou.

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Quite stereotypically, the writers of KINMOZA decided to throw in a Christmas-themed episode, which we are getting early this season due to the twelve-episode length of the series. However, in this episode (episode eleven; the latest episode as of writing), KINMOZA did something I usually do not expect, but always appreciate: present a western tradition according to its different interpretations and celebrations.

If you are reading this, then you are likely familiar with Christmas in anime, and perhaps, to a lesser extent, Christmas in Japan. In Japan, the major event of what we call the “holiday season” is not Christmas, but New Year’s, which makes sense since Christmas is an import holiday for the Japanese whereas New Year’s has existed historically. This said, Christmas takes on a whole new meaning. As was mentioned in the episode, Christmas is more like the western Valentine’s Day: a day for couples. In fact, the meaning it shares with the western definition of Christmas is more akin to the secularization of Santa Claus (ironically based on the Greek Christian Saint Nicholas). This is further exemplified by the loss of the etymology of the word Christmas (“Christ’s Mass”). In Japanese, the word becomes ”クリスマス” or, literally, “Kurisumasu.” In the language exchange, the root meaning becomes totally lost with Christ becoming, essentially, “Chris” and “Mass” become different from the Japanese word for mass, or ”ミサ/misa” (due to retaining the English pronunciation). While this is unimportant in and of itself (I believe meanings are more important than words, which is why I am not offended by the casual use of “X-Mas”), it is still quite telling of the cultural priority of the holiday in Japan as opposed to the religious priority, just as with the commonality of the “white dress wedding.”

All of this is (though not explicitly) is shown through the words and actions of the Japanese main characters, Shinobu, Aya, and Youko.

Where this series begins to differ from the majority of anime in the depiction of Christmas is the inclusion of two English characters: Alice and Karen. In regard to the former, we are given a more “classic” view of the holiday. Alice describes here celebration at home and how big of a deal it is with her culture and family. Each year they attend church and spend the day as a family (which she holds as important enough to consider returning home to England for Christmas), as opposed to the couple-centric celebration in Japan. She even goes on to mention the explicitly Christian heritage of the holiday, namely the birth of Jesus Christ.

Now, up until this point, KINMOZA has not done anything terribly creative. Sure, many anime don’t touch the Christian roots of Christmas, but in the scheme of things, many do. What really sets the episode apart for me is what follows.

Following Alice’s comment concerning the birth of Jesus Christ, the Japanese characters are taken aback by the more solemn view of the holiday, apologizing for not taking Christmas as seriously. For comedic effect, immediately following this exchange, the party is met by Karen (the other English character) in full Santa garb shouting “Merry Christmas!” (which, I might add, in her original Japanese she shortens to leave out the “masu” part). Now while this was used for a (relatively) cheap gag, the implications of Karen’s outburst, namely her worldview, say much about the western version of Christmas. Often, the Japanese will overgeneralize the western Christmas as Catholicism-oriented (not on purpose, seeing as I likely overgeneralized the Japanese Christmas with what I wrote earlier), but Karen’s view supports the fact that not all westerners are Christians, or even follow Christian customs (hence the emphasis on Santa Claus).

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Now, I say all of this not to belittle any particular celebration of the Christmas season (obviously, the birth of the Jesus varies in relative importance depending upon whether people believe him to have been an influential man or Son of God), but to point out an excellent example in recent anime of different views of the holiday being more accurately represented (it irks me to no end when westerners are automatically cast as cultural Christians, and therefore not even true believers at all). Although religion is not really explored in KINMOZA (and it likely shouldn’t be for it simply does not fit the tone of the series), small details like this make it much more enjoyable to one with an analytical eye.

11 thoughts on “Anime Today: Happy KINMOZA Kurisumasu

  1. I had started watching this, but dropped it after suspecting (and then confirming, at least via Wikipedia) that the show carried shoujo-ai elements in it. Do the later episodes really push this element? Is my approach too legalistic?

    1. I had this show on-hold, sounds like an interesting episode.

      Faith-related matters are extremely difficult to explain to the Japanese, for two main reasons.

      The first reason is that the majority of the Japanese describe themselves as non-believers AND believe in the existence of heaven, divine punishment, and similar concepts at the same time. The word believer basically has a different meaning over there – you’d have to slap an adjective such as ‘fervent’ in front of it to get close to the image a Japanese person has of the term, and even then remember that the religious groups the Japanese are most consciously aware of are the newly-formed religious sects of all kinds, most of them dangerous and formed to prey on people in their moment of weakness.

      The second reason is that contemporary Japan might be full of the paradox described above, but it is highly homogeneous within that paradox. It is difficult to explain faith as a highly personal thing, which may be perceived differently by members of the same social groups or even within a single family, without losing any of its importance. I’m Polish, and up to 95% Poles declare themselves to be Catholic, while only around 30% regularly attend mass. The difference obviously comes from the “Christian” vs “culturally Christian” issue you mention, but good luck explaining that – it tends to go right over their heads xD. (I might just suck at explaining, though.)

      Excited to see you on the Tangles team, Japesland. Here’s hoping to read a lot from you, though I remember you stating you were busy recently. Ganbatte~.

      1. Thanks for the kind words!

        Yes, it is exactly as you have said. The “Christian vs. Cultural Christian” is already a complex issue here in the west, much less compounding that with far different conceptions of the east (particularly Japan). It is *definitely* beyond the scope of what I wrote for today, but I hope to be able to touch on it in the future.

        You can expect to read from me regularly. As the site’s first columnist, I will be writing on a twice-a-month basis (at least to begin, since that could change down the road). Being on the team here keeps me much more focused than when I was blogging on my own, so it allows me to manage this writing better with the rest of my obligations.

    2. Maybe I’m dense, but I actually only noticed it in the last few episodes. In my opinion, the theme (present only, as far as I can tell, between Aya and Youko) is subtle enough to be taken as simply a very close friendship and Aya as a very shy girl. I would say the larger reason to decide whether or not to watch would be simply if you enjoy the writing.

      In terms of a legalistic attitude… I would say this probably falls in the category of: “Is it a stumbling block?” If I were to not watch anime that conflicted with my beliefs and values, I would likely end up not watching anime at all, so it all comes down to what is the threshold above which anime causes you to sin in your conscience.

    3. Accidentally posted the previous message as a response to you, Rob, so let me make up for it here:

      From what I’ve seen/heard about this show, it’s really no different from most other slice of life shows with a wholly female cast. You’ll have some tease-tease-blush-blush mechanics between characters for the humor, and some jealousy etc. but nothing definite will ever come of it. Desperate yuri fans (see: me), will go kyaa-kyaa over those scenes because they /want/ to see them as yuri hints, while those who want to see those scenes as friendship hijinks will be equally justified in their interpretation.

  2. Nice to hear from you again, Japes! Though I didn’t expect to hear from you here. It’s cool that you’ll be doing this, though.

    Alice’s outright stating the original meaning of Christmas definitely surprised me. Naturally, the show didn’t do too much with it, especially with Karen being Karen. You’re right, though, in noting how the show does not automatically portray the Westerners as all “cultural Christians”, but at least with Karen, showing how some of us just celebrate it for the presents (and hyper love) and other secular elements.

    On a random note, the scenes of the houses decorated with Christmas lights in this episode were gorgeous.

    Regarding the shoujo-ai stuff, it’s as the others have said about it. It’s definitely teased to a good extent, but the focus is still mainly on their friendship.

  3. […] With that said, my theology/religion-related posts are going to continue, but in a different capacity because I am now an official columnist for Beneath the Tangles! If you are interested, my first official piece went up today, which you can read here. […]

  4. An interesting post 🙂 Welcome to the team, Japesland! It’s good to have you here 😀
    Back to the post: I’m not sure if I’ll start with this anime, but I’ve been wanting to watch an anime with cross-cultural themes in it for quite some time. I find it very interesting to see how the Japanese view the western world, and vise versa

    1. Well, Kinmoza isn’t particularly deep, but it’s definitely a pretty good anime to begin exploring that (considering that is one of the largest themes in the series)!

  5. I have already accepted the fact that the Japanese have no idea what Christmas means to Christians. As you said, in Japan, it’s couple centric,

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