It’s been a little while, but the rough and rowdy teenage psychopaths of the Tokyo Manji gang are back. You can read my impressions of the first episodes of the season here, but the cliff notes version is that Christmas Showdown has so far picked up right where last season left off, for both good and ill.
For the good, we pick up right where that fantastic cliffhanger left off and get much higher stakes and a clearer picture of what Takemichi needs to accomplish in the past. He’s got to stop the merging of Toman with their rival, Black Dragon, and figure out why Kisaki is so obsessed with Hina. Those are good, clear goals that separate it from previous conflicts while promising to answer one of the longest-standing questions about the story’s biggest villain. With Future Takemichi in prison, we won’t be getting any more trips to the future until this whole thing is solved, which should allow for a much tighter story. Black Dragon are an immediately intimidating threat, to the point where it’s hard to see how even Mikey could beat them. That’s all an excellent setup for a new arc.
The ill mostly comes from pacing and delivery. So much of the Bloody Halloween storyline boiled down to Takemichi being dragged between different characters and having things explained to him, often with him loudly repeating everything for the audience. It got tiring quickly, and that exact labored exposition is in full force here. Episode one had the excuse of establishing a new status quo for the Future half of the story. Still, everything after that has no justification for how repetitive and slow it is.
“Wait, that guy is the leader of Black Dragon? But Hakkai called him his brother? Does that mean that this guy…he’s Hakkai’s brother? So if that guy is the leader of Black Dragon…that would mean Hakkai’s brother…is the leader of Black Dragon!”
So goes a good third of Takemichi’s inner monologue across episodes two and three. He reacts to every revelation with slow-witted surprise as he pieces the most obvious information together in his heavily concussed brain. By the time we’re flashing back to scenes from 30 seconds prior, it feels like the show is playing a prank on the audience. Surely it couldn’t possibly think we’re so inattentive that we couldn’t figure this out without having it spelled out in our hero’s head, right? It’s excruciating and only mitigated by the new characters and story being pretty interesting in their own right.
Mostly I really love Hakkai. He’s got a great design, with his blue hair standing out among the rest of Toman and his unsettling eyes making sure you know he’s dangerous. But like many of the Toman crew, he’s also just a cool guy to hang out with, down to trounce Takemichi at billiards or whack-a-mole in good humor before declaring them bros. He’s an immediately likable personality that encapsulates Toman’s brutal delinquent side while highlighting that these guys are all still awkward teenagers who blush when girls talk to them. The hook that his older brother is the vicious leader of Black Dragon is a great way to make this new conflict personal, and from the way Taiju treats his younger siblings, you almost wonder if Hakkai killing him in the future wouldn’t be all that bad.
On top of all that, we also, mercifully, have somebody in the past who’s in on Takemichi’s secret. Chifuyu was basically the real protagonist of the previous arc, so bringing him in is only deserved. More directly, it should mean we’re not stuck with Takemichi trying to kickstart the hamster wheel in his skull over every problem, freeing him up to be the emotional heart of the story rather than the brain. If that happens, I’m optimistic that Christmas Showdown can be a nice present under the tree, not a lump of coal.