Reviewby Theron Martin,
15-year-old Santa was so named because he was born on Christmas Eve, but Christmas has generally been a miserable time of year for him since he's always been separated from his working-overseas parents and never gets actual presents. A Santa Claus-in-training name Mai, who normally appears as an underdeveloped teenage girl, takes it upon herself to change that by using her “happiness power” to give Santa a good Christmas for a change, but along the way she falls in love with him. Santa isn't sure what to make of this hyperactive fruitcake and her plushie reindeer Pedro at first, but one thing soon becomes clear: the power of her magic depends on people's belief in Santa Claus, and when Santa starts believing, she can undergo a dramatic transformation.
Can we say “Christmas-themed magical (Santa) girl” series? And yes, it even has the transformation scenes, gratuitous nudity and all.
Knowing that this two-episode 2005 OVA series is the brain-child of Ken Akamatsu, the manga-ka responsible for titles like Love Hina and Negima!, goes a long way towards understanding how this story based on based on a one-shot 1998 manga turned out the way it did. Knowing that it was apparently published either right before, or just as, Akamatsu was beginning work on Love Hina also explains why it lacks the storytelling and pacing refinement evident in Akamatsu's more recent works. Fortunately for fans of his later works, Akamatsu apparently worked the kinks out of his style after this one.
To say that much of both episodes progresses at a frenetic pace might be an understatement; think Negima! on speed with racier fan service mixed in. After a sad little intro about Santa's situation, Mai zooms onto the scene, already going 100+ mph as she comes off the on-ramp, forcing cars off the road left and right, and not easing up on the accelerator at all until a full eight minutes into the first episode. Series like Kodocha have proven that such pushy, sustained stream-of-consciousness hyperactivity can work, but here it – and she – just proves to be obnoxious.
No one could blame Santa for not wanting to have anything to do with Mai at first, and the transition to the more romantic side of the story in the second half of the episode does not save it. Mai claims to have fallen in love with Santa, but she never actually gives any indication of such feelings until she says it, and Santa's supposed loneliness is not very convincing, either. Some may find the content cute, it does actually associate Jesus with the holiday, and the notion of a fleet of junior Santa Clauses sharing the gift-delivery effort is a clever one, but such positives cannot bail out an episode where so much of the emotion it wants to convey comes off feeling forced and/or artificial, not to mention the way it saddles itself with a plethora of lame jokes or crams what probably should have been 40-45 minutes of animation down into a 28-minute episode.
The second episode, which offers entirely new material, fares no better despite adding in a trio of new characters: Mai's kid sister Maimai, her higher-achieving friend/rival Sharry (or Shally, depending on whether you watch the dubbed or subbed version), and Santa Academy teacher Noel. Its pedestrian plot primarily involves Mai and Sharry squabbling and Sharry trying to help Mai confess her love to Santa before she gets forced to go back to school, but nothing here separates it from any of dozens of other romantic comedies. Its problems start with a deliberate recycling of jokes that were not funny the first time around and extend through the writing's annoying tendency to give its characters needlessly long-winded dialog.
Despite the problems with the writing, the series might have still been salvageable had it been able to fall back on a better musical score. The first episode offers only a pathetically weak and unimaginative effort, however, with the only bright spot being a decent light-rock closer sung by Aya Hirano. The second episode delivers minor improvements, with a different Hirano-voiced closer again being the highlight, but not enough so to bump up the overall grade.
Some might consider the plentiful fan service to be a saving grace, as the series rarely passes up the opportunity for a panty shot and does feature some nudity, especially in the magical girl-styled transformation scenes. (That this one actually gets a TV-PG rating despite frontal nudity, rampant panty shots, and some sexual innuendo is just the latest in a slew of jaw-dropping rating inconsistencies for anime DVDs. UPDATE: As can be seen here, Funimation has become aware of this accidental mislabeling and has recalled the series to correct it.) The general artistry and animation courtesy of UFO Ultramaiden Valkyrie producer TNK, while hardly a top-tier effort, actually does not look bad, either, and certainly does capture the Christmas spirit in its warm, bright use of color. Character designs are all standard looks comparable to other recent Akamatsu-based productions, albeit with the female leads all getting highly stylized, ultra-sexy female Santa outfits.
To say that the English dub is inadequate would be unfair, as its voice actors do try very hard to make something out of almost nothing. The Japanese dub sounds less irritating, however, primarily because Aya Hirano works the same magic she later uses in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya in turning Mai into a mildly palatable character. This is more a testament to Ms. Hirano's vast talent than any lack of skill by English counterpart Brittney Karbowski, as few other voice actors in either language could have saved this role. The English script follows normal Funimation looseness patterns, including toning down references to Mai's lack of a mature figure. The only other significant changes are more pronounced references to the Christian aspect of Christmas in the English script compared to the Japanese script.
Nothing can be said about Extras that don't exist, although the back side of the cover does offer some bonus art. Also note that the preview for episode 3 given at the end of episode 2 is apparently a fake; no such episode exists at this time.
Overall, My Santa most closely resembles the Christmas-themed Ai Yori Aoshi bonus episode “Miyuki,” which shares many thematic similarities but executes every aspect of its production far, far better. It may be one of the most holiday-specific anime titles you will ever find, but it suffers from too many flaws to be worth watching it even as part of the Christmas spirit.
Overall (dub) : C-
Overall (sub) : C
Story : D
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : C-
+ Substantial fan service, Aya Hirano's acting and singing.
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