Christmas is a time for traditions, and as much as I've looked forward to putting up the tree, singing carols, and the viewing of the Christmas episode of Dragnet --- in which Bill and Joe are tasked with recovering a stolen statue of the Child Jesus --- there's one other event that I've been absolutely giddy about this year: ComicsAlliance's annual reading of Sakura Tsukuba's Sweet Rein.

If you missed out the last time I wrote about it, Sweet Rein tells the story of Kurumi, a teenage girl who discovers that she's a Santa Claus when she encounters Kaito, a wispy and beautiful boy who is also sometimes a reindeer, and who is quite literally bound to her with an invisible rein that compels him to obey her commands. Also, they are in love. It is, without question, the single most bonkers premise I have ever encountered in a lifetime of reading Christmas comics, and I've saved the second volume for an entire year waiting to read it. And folks... it does not disappoint.

Because this is the one with Dark Santa.

 

 

Just in case you're not quite clear on the mechanics of how this particular take on Santa Mythology works, here are the basics as I understand them: Instead of there just being a single Santa Claus who lives at the North Pole and delivers gifts to all the good children of the world in a single night, Sweet Rein posits a world where there are multiple Santas, each of whom have their own personal reindeer, who is also a human person unless the Santa commands them to turn into their furrier form that's a little more suited for pulling a sleigh.

The trick is that while the Reindeer always know what's up, the Santas live their lives completely unaware of their yuletide destinies until they meet their Reindeer. When that happens, the rein tethers them together, and then the Reindeer is forced to obey all of the Santa's commands, to the point where their bodies will automatically react to things like, say, "turn into a reindeer."

 

 

And that should answer literally every question you had about how any of this works. For any others, rest assured that the actual answer provided by the text is that God Himself has ordained that it is so.

Anyway, this whole arrangement where you get tied up and obey the commands of your Santa is working out perfectly well for Kaito, who is one million percent into it --- and it also seems like it's eventually going to pay off for Kaito's brother, Rihito, who finds himself tethered to his Santa, a rough but handsome construction boy --- but it turns out that a life of bondage and toy delivery might not be for everyone.

Thus, Akira... The Dark Santa.

 

 

When Kurumi and Kaito go to the beach on the summer after their second Christmas spent delivering toys --- the second of three Christmases that pass in this book, all of which occur while Kurumi is still 17 --- they find themselves faced with a sinister Santa who shows up and decides to test them to see if they're worthy of carrying on with the whole gift-giving thing.

It's never quite explained why he's the one vested with this particular power -- it is once again one of those things that's explained away as being God's own handiwork --- and it's not really explained why it's so bad for Kurumi and Kaito to still be hanging out and occasionally taking orders outside of the Christmas season. What does matter is that he has the power to sever the rein, and he refuses to put it back together until they can pass his test.

 

 

Also, and this probably goes without saying, he naturally shows up naked to have a Santa-to-Santa chat with Kurumi in the hot springs.

There's one more thing to note about the Dark Santa, though. Like Kurumi --- who he keeps referring to as a Saint, which is a strange affectation despite the fact that it's literally what the word "Santa" means --- he also has a Reindeer of his own. But she's... a black reindeer.

 

 

So yeah. Apparently Reindeer can also become immortal by doing something evil, which will free them from the bonds of being controlled by a Santa? Look, far be it from me to question the mechanics of Christmas, but on the surface, making people magically immortal if they do something bad seems like a pretty big flaw in the plan. To be fair, though, Kaito later explains that they're immortal because they aren't allowed to return to God, and so presumably the whole immortality thing is more of a "walk the Earth and be denied even the sweet release of death" sort of thing. Which, you know, is maybe a little harsh for this weird bondage-themed teen romance Christmas comic.

In this case, Nene --- Akira's Reindeer --- is apparently atoning for her past sins by participating in these tests, and, according to Akira, has outlived her previous three Santas. This is the only thing we learn about whatever horrible sin she has committed that has required her to be cast out and forever denied the Kingdom of Heaven. All we really know is that she gets really sad when she sees how much Kaito and Kurumi like each other, and possibly how super into the whole reins thing he is.

 

 

In the end, Kurumi is able to pass Akira's test pretty handily -- literally all she has to do is touch him and say that she wants to keep being a Santa, which turns out to be very easy since they're all hanging out at the same resort on the beach --- and they're reunited with plenty of time to spare before the third Christmas of her 17th year. And that's pretty much that for Sweet Rein Vol. 2.

 

 

Sadly, the series only ran for three volumes, meaning that unless Tsukuba makes a shocking return with even more bizarre stories, next year will be the last time that we'll have a new installment of Sweet Rein to get through together. But don't feel too bad, because this is the plot you can look forward to in 2017: "Kaito is in the midst of his mating season, and all human females are susceptible to his charms."

This comic rules so hard.