Most often, Christmas anime episodes are either a light-hearted, slice-of-life-style celebration of established friendships and romantic relationships, or they’re the culmination of some kind of dramatic arc, with everything working up to a snowy love confession or its heart-breaking prevention. In the land of anime, Christmas is a time of showcasing relationships and romance. This overlaps with the Western tradition too, though it’s more family-oriented over here. In either case, Christmas is a momentous occasion, an exceptional (and often fraught) time shared with one’s family or friends. Christmas is not at all a normal day, and with it comes all the drama and intensity this implies.
Not so with the Christmas in Deaimon: Recipe for Happiness, though you wouldn’t guess it, going into the episode. This quiet drama about an abandoned little girl, Itsuka, and her growing bond with her adoptive family and father figure, Nagomu, has all the makings of a typical yuletide anime episode. There’s a love triangle, broken family relationships that are now on the way to mending, and a found family whose bonds are growing tighter. Basically, three entire relational plots that are teetering on the edge of resolution, so close that the breeze from a single hearty “ho ho ho!” would send them all into each others’ arms for a tidy hat-trick of happy endings.
But that’s not what happens.
Instead, Deaimon (and the writer behind it, the peerless Reiko Yoshida) uses the holiday in a much more realistic way, to simply continue—one small step at a time—to progress the relationships among the cast. There are no breakthroughs in understanding, no earth-shattering revelations or confessions, no emotional climaxes or tears, healing or otherwise. There aren’t even any significant presents. In this Christmas episode, there are only small gestures as characters tentatively reach out in an attempt to draw nearer to one another.
These gestures are so small that they can easily be missed or misunderstood by the one toward whom they are made, as indeed they are. In terms of the love triangle, Nagomu remains clueless about the affection that both Kanoko and Mitsura hold for him, despite a pleasant evening spent with them below the Christmas lights. (You can practically hear his mother sighing as he bumbles about obliviously.) Meanwhile, Itsuka and her estranged mother still don’t understand one another or, particularly in Itsuka’s case, fully trust each other. The mom realizes this and her guilt leads her to misinterpret Itsuka’s mumbled grumbles about Nagomu as relating to her. As for the new family bonds that are the focus of the series, Itsuka and Nagomu do not spend any time together at all over the holiday season, neither on his birthday the week before, nor over Christmas itself. There is the promise of a day spent together when Itsuka’s birthday comes around in March, but nothing more. These are all small steps forward, certainly, but the question marks hanging over these relationships like the sword of Damocles remain.
So much for the main plots. But there is a subplot in the episode as well, relating to Nagomu and his deceased grandfather, who was his closest family member while growing up. Like Itsuka, Nagomu has some mending to do with his family, having just recently returned home after an absence of ten years that virtually amounted to estrangement. As he toils away this episode, pressing yuzu fruit for use in his family’s sweet shop, Nagomu learns that this taxing tradition had been inspired by his own birth, in honor of which his grandfather developed a new sweets recipe using the small citrus fruit. Faced with this moving realization, Nagomu’s expression flickers but briefly before he ultimately pulls a face and dwells more on the pain of juicing the yuzu than the significance of his parents having kept up so labor-intensive a celebration throughout the decade of his absence. Emotional Christmas breakthrough averted yet again.
There is one moment of fullness in this episode, though. One moment that is not cut short by the failure of understanding to blossom between characters. It is so brief that if you blink, you miss it. But it’s powerful all the same. Itsuka is enjoying the seasonal illuminations with her mom when she catches sight of Nagomu being oblivious with Kanoko and Mitsura. And in that moment, she breathes a simple prayer, “May everyone be happy.” And then the next shot—perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not—reveals a cross on high, outlined in white Christmas lights.
“May everyone be happy.” This is the culmination of the dramatic arcs weaving to and fro throughout the episode and maybe even the series as a whole. This is the moment when a little girl—an abandoned child who has learned to live by a code of self-restraint and to overachieve and be a grown up before her time because that’s the best way to be sure there will be someone to welcome her when she comes home and that there will even be a home to come back to—it’s the moment when such a little girl, after so many years of living on edge, finally exhales. And with that exhalation, she expresses her heart freely for the first time.
Itsuka breathes out her love and her hope for those who have come into her life, and maybe also the one who has come back into it and is now standing beside her. She has been so guarded all this time, and with good reason. But now, before the cross, on the day that celebrates the birth of the Savior, she turns a corner. A very small, quiet one, but she turns it nonetheless. No one else knows: not her mother beside her, or Nagomu before her, or her friends Kanoko and Mitsura; not the old couple, Nagomu’s parents, waiting for her back at home, or any of her co-workers at the sweet shop where she pulls her tiny weight and helps out so diligently, earning her keep in her mind’s eye. No, only Itsuka knows. It’s a small thing, a very small thing, this Deaimon Christmas.
But you know what? I like this version of Christmas. This simple version. It’s true that there are no big dramatic moments, no grand gestures or redefined relationships. Instead, there are only small steps taken toward deepening connection, small offerings of trust and affection, all made in full awareness of the distance yet to go, of the impossibility of redoing the past, and of the need for courage in order to stay the course. What there is in this episode, then, is a steady beating of hearts that want to draw close to one another. It’s a story of the mundane everyday, the consistent, persistent follow-through that takes much longer and demands much greater courage, strength, and dare I say, love, than those grand one-off gestures that burn so bright but also burn out so fast.
Christmas celebrates the glorious moment of Jesus’ birth—the grandest gesture ever made and the turning point in the most pivotal relationship in human history: the relationship between humanity and its Creator. But Christmas celebrates much more than just that dramatic moment. It also celebrates the fullness of the life that began that day, the life of God himself in human form. And after that day, there were thirty years’ worth of days that we know little about. Days where Jesus progressed, little by little, into the mature, reliable, trustworthy man he became, the one able to drop seemingly out of nowhere into the very heart of people’s lives and situations and transform them in an instant. I think we often forget about those mundane days, where the miracle baby of Christmas grew steadily in stature and wisdom. At least I do.
It’s too easy to despise the days of small beginnings, the days without breakthroughs, turning points, epiphanies, or grand transformations and resolutions. I hunger to get to those climactic days faster, and in a way that is so dramatic that I can see the difference in myself, my life, and my relationships—preferably in a mere 23 minutes or thereabouts. I despair of the days of tiny motions and persistent misunderstandings, of distances yet to be bridged and healing yet to set in. I want the dramatic Christmases—every day, preferably. But these gentle, quiet, courageous Christmases are what I need— the Christmas of Deaimon, where my only resolution is a prayer breathed in sincerity and hope and love, and the faith to keep looking up to the cross in the meantime, as I wait for those dramatic Christmas breakthroughs.
This post is part of an annual series entitled, “The 12 Days of Christmas Anime.” Join us from December 14th through the 25th, as each day we examine an episode of anime (or sometimes a movie, manga, or light novel!) set at Christmastime and see what it brings to mind about the holiday as celebrate the birth of Christ, who was born to set us free.
Deaimon: Recipe for Happiness can be streamed on Crunchyroll.
- First Impression: SHY - 10.02.2023
- Film Review: The Tunnel to Summer, the Exit of Goodbyes - 07.14.2023
- First Impression: Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead - 07.09.2023