Himouto! Umaru-chan was an anime that I was pleasantly surprised by earlier this year. By no means the best comedy to air, even this year, but solid entertainment with some bits of genuine (or exaggerated) Japanese culture and heart-warming drama sprinkled here and there. The Christmas episode, episode 8, of the show exemplifies this well.
Perhaps calling episode 8 a “Christmas Episode” is a bit of a misnomer, as only the first half of the episode takes place during Christmas time, but one could maybe even take this as a cultural note. Let’s take a look at how the presentation of Christmas in the episode reflects elements of Japanese culture, shall we?
First, the male protagonist, older brother of the main character Umaru, works on Christmas Eve. This is not unusual in the slightest in Japan. In fact, Japanese university students sometimes attend classes on Christmas Day, which is utterly unthinkable here in the United States. This goes to show the lack of emphasis Japan as a whole puts on the holiday, which we’ve written about in past years, and you will surely read about during our “12 Days of Christmas” series this year. And this leads to the second note…
Second, more than half of the episode is dedicated not to Christmas, but to New Year’s. This holiday has traditionally been one of the most important times of celebration for Asian cultures, in contrast to Western civilizations highly influenced by Christianity and its subsequent holy days (namely Christmas and Easter).
Well this is all kind of a bit of a downer for the first day of our special Christmas series post, isn’t it? Why, yes, it is a little bit. If you approach it from a purely Western, or specifically a Christian, perspective, then the immediately perceived lack of value spent on family time and familial affection is a bit disappointing (though, of course, par for the course coming from an incredibly different culture). But the episode doesn’t end here.
By episode 8 in the series, viewers should be thoroughly frustrated by Umaru’s chronic selfishness, and the mistreatment through which she puts her brother, Taihei. But for Christmas time, you can see Umaru’s character soften ever so slightly, reminding us again that she personifies a human being with feelings of affection for her friends and family. During the episode she is reminded of the people in her life that have made it spectacular, something far beyond what she could have accomplished by herself. But it’s at the end of this episode that this point is truly hammered home.
Kanau, a female side character who acts both as Taihei’s boss at work and his old high school friend, makes a somewhat comedic and flirtatious appearance at work toward the beginning of the episode. Based on this small glimpse we get of her character, she comes across as incredibly unfairly biased toward Taihei due to her obvious shows of affection, and frankly not the nicest nor most well-put together of people. But the special clip after the credits of the episode reveal more than originally met the eye.
Kanau is obviously lonely, particularly on Christmas Eve (not helped by the fact that the holiday is approached more romantically in Japan, much like Valentine’s Day in the West). But it so turns out that, realizing that Taihei has his own family and friends that would love to see him for Christmas, she lies about her own well-being in favor of allowing Taihei to be with his family. It evokes a response of pity from the viewer, but also forces the viewer to evaluate what really is important in this situation. It is here that Japan’s relative downplay of Christmas combines with Umaru’s temporary personality shift and this unexpected show of attention for family that makes some of the moments in this episode and this series memorable.
Here’s hoping that Kanau gets another shot at Taihei in season 2!
And be sure to check tomorrow for day 2 of our “12 Days of Christmas” series!
featured image by あしたばてんぐ | reprinted with permission