Christmas is never going to be the same again.
Story/Art: Sakura Tsukuba
Translation: Tetsuichiro Miyaki
Adaptation: Nancy Thistlethwaite
What They Say
Sad at the thought of spending Christmas alone, Kurumi Sagara goes out for a walk. While she’s crossing the street, a boy bumps into her, and a rein suddenly appears that binds them together. The overjoyed boy tells her she’s his master and that she’s a Santa Claus. Kurumi dismisses him as a crazy person, but then he transforms into a reindeer?!
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Just when I thought there was no premise that would weird me out in the world of manga anymore, in steps Sweet Rein. This is The Santa Clause as seen through shoujo manga eyes, by an author who seemed to have S&M on the brain but is writing for a middle school audience.
Still with me here?
Japan already had an odd take on Christmas, which is a strange holiday to begin with if you start to overthink it. Santa Claus is an American invention based on other ‘santa’ traditions in the old world. So by the time the concept hits Japan, weird things are bound to happen. This story strips it down to the bare essentials; you have a santa who is out delivering toys with a reindeer and a sleigh. I’ve seen the santa’s helper story come up in other media many times, from kids books to movies, so that’s not far out there either.
The first chapter of this story reads like a one shot. Kurumi is walking down the street minding her own business and happens to bump into a guy named Kaito who promptly declares that she’s his santa as a leash wraps itself around her fist. At breakneck speed Kurami is suddenly meeting his family of shape shifting humans who turn into magical flying reindeer. Kurumi is fated to be a ‘santa’ and to deliver toys to children on Christmas Eve.
I didn’t even think they did that in Japan, I thought they just went on dates and ate fried chicken of X-mas eve. That’s the other strange part, a lot of mentioning of god in this story despite it being Japan. I’m guessing it’s Kami-sama with a capital K.
The silliness of the story is pervasive, and it lightens up with whole weirdness of Kaito repeatedly calling Kurumi master. Despite Kaito having to do whatever Kurumi orders, the end result is usually just a sight gag and nothing naughty. When the first chapter is over and the story continues onward into other stories of Kurami dealing with Kaito in the off season the mood turns melancholy. Kurami befriends a kid with cancer and later Kaito is visited by the ghost of Christmas’ past in the form of his grandfather who warns him not to get into relationship with Kurami. That’s heavy material for such a silly story! They’re both supposed to be feel good chapters, and they are, but I wasn’t expecting the lurking aspect of death to be more of a focus than the master/servant relationship!
Weirdness aside, Kurami and Kaito are fun to watch. Kurami is appropriately confused and annoyed at first but quickly finds herself giving into the situation and making the most of it. Kaito is endlessly cheerful and exceedingly one note, he’s just happy all the time and thrilled to have found his partner in toy delivering.
The last quarter of this volume is a short story unrelated the the main story called Sweet Bite Mark. How convenient for Viz that the side story just happens to be about their top selling sub-genre! In it, a vampire named Ren gets a visit from a child who claims he is her father, and after some cute antics and a mildly dangerous situation takes the girl in. I was getting deja vu reading it, then I recalled that short lived TV show Moonlight that aired several years ago had some similar story beats, right down to the drinking blood from medical bags thing and the eyebrow raising ending.
Once you get through the absurdity of it all, if you can get through it, Sweet Rein is a super cute series about two super sweet teenagers who are taking this whole Santa Claus thing very seriously. Kurumi is a fun lead, spunky and just a little lonely. Kaito is refreshingly free of brooding angst that seems to plague shoujo males, without falling into the trap of being a complete idiot. This volume moves fast, and feels short due to the extra chapter being a one-shot. Still, the premise of this series is so weird man! So so weird. I’m not sure how I’ll feel about it if a volume is released in summer time when the last thing I want to hear is sleigh bells!
Content Grade: B +
Art Grade: B
Packaging Grade: B
Text/Translation Grade: A
Age Rating: 13+
Released By: Viz Media
Release Date: November 5th, 2013