The whole cast returns to wish you a Merry Christmas, one and all, emphasis on the all.
This episode was known to be in the production pipeline before the television series finished its run at the end of the Spring 2014 season.
Check out my thoughts on episodes 1 – 13 of Kanojo ga Flag wo Oraretara (Gaworare) [If Her Flag Breaks] if you are interested in a collected commentary of what I was thinking on a weekly basis at the time.
This write-up felt logical to keep separate though, and not even roll it into the weekly episodic posts.
I still by and large agree with old me from months ago, in that I found it a pleasant enough harem comedy series. The show wears its concepts openly on its sleeve. A parade of over a dozen girls defined by archetypal character role, who each in their own ways have names based on various roleplaying game character classes.
Factors which pushed it more on the positive half of my internal scale fall a lot to how series Director Ayumu Watanabe (Space Brothers, Mysterious Girlfriend X) handled the material. A lot of harem shows fall back on hacky bickering and “catfights” among their girls to drive various “comedic” sequences, and outside of some very select exceptions that almost never works for me. By contrast, the Gaworare girls operate more as a mutual “Oh no, you go first” group, almost universally hedging and falling over each other on ensuring others get opportunities with the leading man before themselves in most situations. Even an episode where multiple character dates are happening, nobody is spying on each other or the like as they would in many other harem series.
It is still nowhere near empowering stuff, to be sure.
But it becomes at least easier to buy into the idea of the girls being friends with each other, or why they would choose to keep living under the same dormitory roof. Nobody is actively trying to either metaphorically or literally murder each other on a near daily basis. Combine that with the trappings of the roleplaying game names, playing straight to archetype characterization, and the titular Event Flag mechanic where Souta Hatate (itself also a pun) can see game type decision points over folks heads in real time, and I found it a nice enough consumption vehicle.
It was rarely ever pretending to be super smart, after all, baring some business near the end of the series.
A Christmas party then gives us our excuse to head back to Quest Hall, and it is one that works well enough for me.
I will take a colorful party of a one off “Episode 14” OVA over something that tries to advance the plot and raise threads it may never get to resolve.
To wit then, it also provides the understandable reasoning to place the entire cast in marketing team ready Santa Claus outfits (and one reindeer costume for Souta). Each of the costumes is customized to the characters wearing them, which is also a nice little design touch. Varieties in collar form and material, some are using belts while others are more dress-like, certain folks have white puff balls running down their middle while peers opt for more jacketed choices, and so on. It is a little thing to some, perhaps. But when almost everyone in the cast is going to be wearing a certain type of holiday attire, it helps a lot if they do not all blur together. As a production choice, it makes the final product feel a bit more polished, and breaks up visual flow on screen to subtly keep the viewer a bit more active and engaged rather than feeling the episode washing over them.
You are going to be seeing a whole lot of the same Santa colors, after all.
This holiday OVA also has the unenviable task of effectively needing to ensure every character gets as much screen time as possible.
As there are over a dozen girls, this is a tall order inside the span of a single episode worth of material. One of the strengths the TV series was able to maintain was that certain characters could be more prominent for a segment, then fall back into the larger ensemble. It could rotate them around, as it had the space and Watanabe was sure to make use of it. This allowed for better comedic timing for various scenes since they could use fewer characters at a time.
The party environment is itself an attempt to come to terms with this, since it keeps everyone both in the same room and festive social spirit. Even there, the OVA does try to compartmentalize and break things up as much as it can. The initial general gathering around the banquet table, with some songs, games, etc, forming the front end of the episode allows some characters to be more prominent for those scenes (Akane, Mei, and so on). Meanwhile, the second swerves for a chain of events where every girl gets to be alone with the lead character for a few minutes. Characters not brought up as much in the main party scene, like Serika, are rotated in while encounters for folks we have already seen a bunch of are handwaved to have happened between cuts).
I understand the creative choices driving this process, by all means. As a special video bundled with the eleventh volume of the light novel series, this is very much intended for people who already enjoy the property. As a result, while a perfect character split would be unrealistic to the extreme, wanting to feature each of the girls with their own keynote scenes is a goal I am sympathetic towards on a professional level. Different folks are going to have their own favorite characters, and they are going to want to see them in the special, which makes the series a difficult one to work with when there are so many girls. Statistically, there is not even enough time for each of them to have so much as a dedicated two minute scene each.
Which does get quite a bit to where my feelings are on this episode, where I just do not find it as amusing. This is a comedy special, and it is presented like any other episode of the TV show. But the comedic timing compared to its predecessor is thrown for a loop. It is perhaps a bridge too far for this series to handle so many folks operating at maximum archetype cliche for so long.
Without the drip feed of characters and rotating pace from the original show, instead trying to handle everyone at once for a whole holiday together, it begins to feel every bit like it is bursting at the seams like so many sardines in a can and slowly suffocating in the process.
Another, and more significant to me, sticking point I have with the OVA concerns the two scenes where it tries to be… sexy.
Those who read my notes on the original series will recall there was a squirt gun incident I spent some time trying to wrap my head around. Generally speaking, the television episodes are actually extremely clean, especially by harem anime standards. It even manages to pull off a hot springs scene rather well all things considered and without dehumanizing the characters involved by making it a quieter moment. But two moments when the show tried to be more aggressively fanservice shot sexy fell flat for me. One being a passing thing of a few seconds involving Akane and a sea cucumber at the beach, and another much longer event that was the squirt gun and wet t-shirt contest. On a tonal level they do not really fit within the show surrounding them, as things momentary grind to a halt during those select bits. But, for a full season of a harem comedy, that is still nearly a squeaky clean track record.
During our one shot Christmas episode, two really out of place scenes are sticking out to me again though.
One involves Lipsticky, a sticky note game where a bunch of the tacky office equipment is applied to someone. Lots are drawn, and they who draws the short straw gets to peel them off with their mouth. By screenwriting laws, this means Souta gets the job, and again everything grinds to a halt. You would think these little paper notes were applied with reinforced duct tape given how much she squirms and yelps during the peel off, which is all framed in this really leering fashion. Everyone in the room knows it is unconformable, sure, and they change to another game immediately afterward. But much like the squirt gun event I do not think having that acknowledgment in-universe excuses the show. The entire sequence is still shot straight like a masterbatory fantasy of cooing and shivering, rather than trying anything else.
The second is a much shorter but more alarming gag attempt involving Kurumiko. The resident youngest member of the group, being a middle school student, and her full name being a reference to clergy. She tends to hang out with Mei a lot in the show, being the happy and positive outlook to the colder distance preferred of the latter. So when Mei is in a panic for what she should do or talk about with her Christmas alone time with Souta, Kurumiko… rolls on her back on the floor and does a “Please be gentle” dialogue line read and pose as the camera focuses on her blushing face.
Which just gets into outright groan inducing and disappointing disgust territory. The same scene blocking and lines (Kurumiko’s name in Mei’s dialogue aside) could have been traded out for quite literally any other girl in the sizable cast, and there would be a better semblance of a joke than using the middle school child.
I do not think I am wrong for thinking this is “fanservice” gone wrong. I am enough of a fan of the previous episodes, after all, and I am not served by this at all. Not only that, but this is about as much blatant sexual material on this level as existed in the entire TV show. In turn, the scale and impact of these looms larger in the mind, as I do consider the OVA separate from it.
We already do not have a whole lot of time to work with, so a seriously misfired joke or two of this nature also seems all the more unfortunate.
While this has no bearing on anything, and I do not hold it against the OVA, I feel a holiday themed ending credits sequence would have been appropriate.
Not redoing the opening makes sense, as that would be a lot of animation (and budget) for such a one off affair. But the regular end credits are a crawl past various static illustrations of the cast members in their school uniforms, with a final animation flair for a flag being raised after they conclude. Given that the design work for the various character Santa costumes already exists in some fashion, either throwing the conceptual art on screen or sprucing things up for some festive pictures to conclude with seems warranted. It would still cost money and time in some way of course, so again no real fault there. It would just be nice little gesture, I suppose, given how the entire episode was already so pumped full of Christmas designs and this is not operating as part of the television run.
In a lot of ways, this sort of “I get it, but…” sentiment may even represent my overall impression of the episode as well.
I understand a lot of the choices made for the Gaworare Christmas special. Why they happened, what Watanabe and Hoods Entertainment were going for, the pressures and restraints inherent when dealing with this particular property, etc. It just… did not connect the same way certain elements did before either. The jokes not having as much room to breathe because the setups and payoffs need to come faster so everyone gets their shots in. The grosser bits more prominent in a shorter space, and probably themselves ramped up because of needing to move along in a hurry.
The entire franchise is built out of being a cliche storm already, so it is a careful balancing act for any given audience member. If one already was not a fan of the series, I would not see this special changing their minds. If someone thought the show was reasonably enjoyable as popcorn entertainment, like myself, they may find themselves like me and not be a huge fan of the mix here either.
I do not think I received full blown coal in my stocking, at least. It is not like I regret watching the episode on the whole. Even in its restricted frame, there are some reasonable enough gags and it was nice to see some characters again after so many months.
It is perhaps closer to a sweater a relative you do not see very often may buy for you. There is a measured level of acceptance, and you can not really return it. While it is arguably functional overall, it may hang in the closet for long stretches at a time due to serious clashes with your personal style.
That is how I have processed it, at any rate.
So into the closet it goes for now, to perhaps come out again to show I still have it at some later anime Christmas buffet.