Ever since the mainstream westernization of Japanese culture, Japan, and thus anime, has had a rather fond relationship with the “foreign” holiday of Christmas. Although it is no surprise, the Christmas we see in Japanese animation is a more romantic, commercialized Christmas than what we witness here in the West.* With that said, having an anime set in Paris, a staple city of the West no less, significantly changes the presentation that the Japanese anime show us of Christmas.
Enter Nodame Cantabile: Paris-Hen.
If you are not familiar with the Nodame Cantabile series, Paris-Hen is the second season, after Nodame Cantabile and before Nodame Cantabile Finale. In this chapter, our main characters, Chiaka and ‘Nodame’, are studying and performing music in Paris (a major change from the Japanese setting of the first season). Surrounded by western culture, both geographically and socially, one would expect a bit more of an accurate representation of the Christmas celebration, right? Well, that depends on how you define an “accurate representation of the Christmas celebration.”
Nodame Cantabile: Paris-Hen‘s “Christmas” episode does not function as a stereotypical anime “Christmas episode” as much as simply an episode that happens to take place at Christmas. However, there are merits to this approach. Unlike many anime, the commercialized, idealized Christmas is not what takes the spotlight, but the characters. Therefore, western Christmas traditions can be shown in, perhaps, a bit more demure, realistic light.
Take, for instance, the inclusion of the children’s Christmas play. We are given the opportunity to see a European cathedral and its congregation celebrating the religious roots of Christianity with an ordinary children’s play, something none too common in Japan. Additionally, if you pay attention to the background music in the scenes at the cathedral, you will notice the inclusion of several traditional choral Christmas pieces, namely “O Holy Night” and “Angels We Have Heard on High.” In this light, it is nice to see Christmas receiving attention for its original intended purpose, which is quite uncommon in anime.
The flip side of this is that the main characters are portrayed, quite frankly, as outsiders who care quite little about the custom and treat Christmas as merely a cultural celebration.** This is particularly seen in Nodame, who spends most of her Christmas spirit grabbing for attention as a donkey in the pageant and trying to fit an oversized Christmas tree in her apartment.
Despite this, Paris-Hen’s portrayal of Christmas is a refreshing one in the anime world. Santa Claus is never focused upon nor even mentioned (at least that I can recall), the church is treated without disdain, albeit merely as a cultural device, and people who would normally care very little about Christmas reflect how they would treat it: as a fun holiday with little effect on anything else. Christmas, both by the characters and by the writers, is treated simply as another day, though one with a bit of celebration.
You may be wondering why a lack of emphasis on the holiday feels like a breath of fresh air to me, and I would be happy to explain. Christmas, though wonderful for its representation of God’s gift to the world (John 3:16), is not in and of itself a sacred day. Just as the Sabbath was an important day for the Jews and its purpose should be remembered and honored, it should not be done so to the point that our practical actions no longer reflect the purpose of the day. Chiaki and Nodame encounter a powerful turning point in their relationship in Paris-Hen’s Christmas episode, and, just so, Christmas should not be used as an excuse to ignore life.
While Christmas is a day to remember God’s gift to the world, and to reflect that gift to us by giving gifts to others, in the process of reflecting the gift, never forget the reason you are giving, the source that you are reflecting.
On this wonderful night, the celebration of the eve of the coming of Christ, let us remember that Christmas is a day to move forward, just like any other day. Don’t get caught up in the hubbub of commercialism, or the unrealistic expectations of Hollywood, but enjoy the day that God gave us as He has given us every day, which we can wholeheartedly enjoy because He first gave us the greatest gift.
*Although it could be argued that Christmas is just as commercialized here in the West, or at least in the United States.
**Which, despite its universal implications in the context of Christianity, it really is.