On a very special, quasi-Christmas themed episode of Sakura Quest, one of our leading characters, Maki, returns disappointed from Tokyo. She had been an excellent actress and had a few opportunities to act earlier in life. Since then, she’s all but given up until an opportunity suddenly came her way. Her friends and family encouraged her, so she went for the tryouts. She didn’t make the cut and is now returning to Manoyama feeling a bit disappointed. Yet, no one has time for disappointment. There’s a Christmas play to prepare.
The Manoyama tourism board is trying to provide some closing ceremonies for a Middle School that was unceremoniously shut down years prior. Former students of the school barely understood why it was shut down. Rumors swirled of the ghost of a bloody Santa walking the halls of the school. Wait…bloody Santa? What Christmas tradition is this?
While I am ready to talk about Christmas, most of the presentation of Christmas in the episode is entirely superficial. There’s snow. There’s Santa. There’s gift giving. It’s about as generically secular as you can get when describing Christmas. No mention of the Nativity, Jesus, or anything Biblical in nature. Christmas, quite honestly, is more backdrop than central plot point in the episode.
What it allows is for the characters to come together and use a Christmas story as a springboard for them to help the community. In an effort to help the community find closure and recommend some new facility usage, the Manoyama Tourism Team comes up with a plan to hold closing ceremonies for a Middle School. As it’s nearing Christmas, this includes a Christmas play. The play is about a girl who takes up the mantle of Santa when he gets injured, delivering presents all across the globe. It deals with her struggles with going into such a role and her initial reluctance. The plot of the play really isn’t the key to why this episode sticks out to me. That key of the episode (and much of the series) is character development.
Maki just came off a crushing defeat after putting herself out there for the first time in years. Instead of sticking around wallowing for long, she ends up directing and starring in a fabulous play for the closing ceremonies. While balancing these duties and ensuring a great performance, she realizes a lot about herself. She reaffirms her passion for acting. She understands better her own strengths in management and helping/teaching others. She realizes there are ways to pursue her passions which don’t exactly conform to the “perfect scenario” others expect. In so doing, she starts a new, local acting troupe to teach new actors and put on fun performances based on community stories. It’s a great and fulfilling character arc for Maki.
The world expects all of us to follow very specific, easy to understand patterns. We’re born. We go to school. Go to college. Get a job that matches up in a simple, easy to follow industry that becomes one of the focuses of your life. It’s easy to conform because everyone is doing it. It makes it easier for everyone to understand exactly what or why we make the decisions we make. When we don’t – it upsets the apple cart and makes people confused. How can you pursue your passions in a different way? Why would you even try anymore after you’ve failed? How can you not feel your career is the center of your life? How can you stay in a small town that’s struggling?
But Christmas is all about flying in the face of expectations.
On Christmas a poor, unmarried virgin woman traveling with her poor, carpenter fiance travel to a small town for a census. While in town she gives birth in a stable to a baby boy who is also the God of the Universe choosing dwell among man in a limited, fleshy vessel as one of us. After being born, the child is placed in a feeding trough for animals in the stable as a sort of make shift crib. The first people told of this miraculous birth were those on the outskirts of society, shepherds. Not dignitaries. Not Kings. Not the local leaders. The society’s lowest of low were visited by angels to herald in the birth of Jesus Christ. But the entire story does not end there. This unexpected birth leads to a life that is marked by fellowship, praise, teaching, and eventual death. Jesus had to die at the hands of man in order to take on the sins of all mankind, bearing the penalty we were supposed to receive. After taking on all of the punishment from God, Jesus dies in the flesh – but rises again on the third day to remind the world that He is Lord. What kind of hero dies for the villain of the story? What kind of savior shows up in a feeding trough? What kind of God would choose to die for those who rebelled against Him? It’s our story and it’s a beautiful one.
Just as Maki defied the expectations placed before her, Christmas flies in the face of our own worldly expectations. A Savior wielding a sword to cut off the head of Rome is what they expected and wanted. They got an infant coming in peace to die for the sins of the many is what we all received. It’s the best gift I never would have known to ask for.