12 Days of Christmas Anime, Day 1: Bartender

On several occasions in our podcast, I’ve made it clear that Bartender is one of my all-time favorite anime. Despite its technical flaws, its thematic focus through episodic directing and frequently breaking the fourth wall, all while aimed at a more mature audience (in the sense of intellect and emotions, not sexual content) culminate in something truly special. Bartender’s Christmas episode, episode ten, is a continuation of this trend.

Early on, the episode makes it quite clear that the main character of the episode, the professor, is rather the oddball. Growing up, he became fascinated with the “sparkling star” water to the point that he devoted his entire life to studying computational fluid dynamics. This resulted in his academic achievement, but inability to function socially to the degree that society normally expects. Realizing his own shortcomings and disappointment, this Christmas time is when he sees something he is unused to: a “star.”

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With the imagination of his original “star,” the beauty of water, gone due to his own studies and over-analysis, this beautiful woman he passes serves as the target of his fascination that he had almost forgotten was possible. Just like in the Christmas story of the four candles that he recounts, even though his life’s peace, faith, and love might be gone, it is hope that revives him.

This is how he ends up in the bar.

Here, even though he is horribly out of place, Ryuu, the bartender, accepts him and makes him feel at home. Even through the professor’s obnoxious countenance, Ryuu manages to convince him of some of the more fundamental beauties of the world, ultimately showing him a “miracle” that seems against all that he has researched in his studies of computation fluid dynamics (that is, pouring two carbonated beverages of vastly different bodies into a single cup elegantly and flawlessly).

As always, Bartender delivers many real-world applications, and the narrative as a whole reflects elements of the Christmas story as we know it.

The professor’s interest in the “star,” and his following it, is an obvious allusion to the three wisemen who followed the star to the place of Jesus’ birth. This comparison is too obvious to be an accident, though also not entirely significant in and of itself.

In the absence of peace, faith, and love, though, it is hope that ultimately brings him to the place and people that change him. In the Christmas story, it was the Hebrews’ hope in their destined Messiah (though, I think in this case hope and faith have considerable overlap) that brought them through their history of oppression. However, the Messiah they were looking for was not the one they received, yet still what was promised in reality and necessary.

In the end, the professor realizes that he has come to a place where he does not belong. His academic obsessions and other tendencies have ostracized him from the very object of his recently-discovered hope and affection. However, Ryuu does something unexpected a bartender: he accepts him to come as he is. The professor appreciates this, of course, but it does not change his obnoxious countenance.

And thus the story does not end there.

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Ryuu challenges the professor. Though he accepted his arrival as the flawed individual he was, he did not accept his continued behavior. In the end, he performs what the professor believes to be some sort of “miracle,” fundamentally altering what he believed about truth and the implications of his life’s work. While still his own individual, retaining his own quirky characteristics, he began a process of transformation. This is much like what the object of the Christian hope, Jesus Christ, does in the lives of His believers. We are accepted as we are, but not to stay that way.

Conclusively, Bartender manages to sum up one of the most foundational meanings of Christmas without ever once describing an element of any of the standard Christmas conventions (with the exception of a brief reference to Santa Claus by the end). It is anime like this, that narrates strongly yet subtly, that truly affects me, and this episode is an example.

With only eleven days until Christmas, I hope that you can also find hope and acceptance this season.

Merry Christmas!

9 thoughts on “12 Days of Christmas Anime, Day 1: Bartender

  1. How very suitable of you to choose Bartender for your 12 days 🙂 I also remember this episode and my feeling of awe at the “miracle” that Ryuu performed.

  2. Bartender is one of my favorites, too. The calm and quiet atmosphere, the lost souls of the city and the spirit of service and calm personality of the main character made watching it a very pleasing experience: I don´t drink, but I enjoyed it a lot. Concerning Christian parallels (spoilers, sort of), there was this one in the last episode, where the Bartender links his office with the way a monastery in the Alps used the long-aged liquors they made through manual labor to confort an exhausted pilgrim.

    It struck me that most of the monasteries and nunneries I know are like that: “Eden halls” which walk at a different path that the rest of the world, whose inhabitants devote their hours to prayer, always open to give a gentle hand and long-aged wisedom of the heart to us travellers who often stumble through life and are in need of understanding, perspective and the truth of God in our tribulations.

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