Ho ho howdy folkses! Welcome to the Tenth Day of The Twelve Days of Shitmas celebration for 2021! Our Ninth Day offering proved the old adage that it's only a bargain if it's something worth having...and of course it wasn't. Day Ten is no great bargain, either, but it is part of a venerable, much loved and critically acclaimed Manga series that's about to celebrate its seventieth anniversary. There's certainly a lot to be said for that kind of longevity, but when you've had as many iterations as this franchise has had, it's nigh-on inevitable that you'll occasionally leave a stinker floating in the bowl. Fortunately for us that's exactly what The Twelve Days of Shitmas is all about.

Shitmas! Nothing else smells quite like it!

We're posting a brand-new review of a Christmas special every other day beginning December 3rd, culminating in what we consider the worst of the bunch on Christmas morning. Now, here's the deal, people: This year we're featuring a Secret Santa sneaky link in every article, which you'd already have known if you weren't so busy playing with your jingle bells. And no, it's not the kind of sneaky link where you gave up your dreams of being a marine biologist to marry the older, fabulously wealthy CEO of a Fortune 500 company, hoping for a life of ease and fulfillment, but by the end of the first few months you were already kicking yourself, realizing you'd made a terrible mistake, and now it's ten years later and you just can't see any way out of it. Sure, those occasional afternoon flings with Carlos the groundskeeper have been distracting, but ultimately they've only served to highlight your bitter loneliness and ever-growing sense of self-loathing. Then you met Madam Ilska Xavier at one of your husband's friend's swanky soirees. You'd never swung that way before, but there was something in her steely, mesmerizing gaze, the firmness of her handshake and the cruelty of her smile that sent electric shock waves of concupiscent thrills through your suddenly moistening loins. She knew you'd felt could hear it in her cold, acerbic laughter, could see it in the arch of her eyebrows, the sensual curl of her lips. When you got home that evening you found that she had surreptitiously slipped her business card into your clutch. Now every other Thursday from two to four-thirty you find yourself wearing a diamond-studded dog collar, having your luscious rump whipped raw with a riding crop, and begging to please your new mistress in ways you could never have imagined. Nope it's not a sneaky link like that at all. Our sneaky link is just a plain old link to a weird or creepy depiction of Santa Claus we may or may not have found sealed inside an old cellophane bag and taped to the bottom of a chair salvaged from a long-demolished adult theater from the old red-light district of 1970's New York.

But wait there's more! What's better than one Secret Santa we ask you? Why two Secret Santas, of course! As we've now entered double-digits with our Shitmas offerings we're going to double up on sneaky links, too! That's right, there are two, count 'em, two Secret Santas secretly secreted somewhere amidst the screenshots below! We know you think you're tough and all, but do you think you can handle that much Secret Santa? Come along little doggies. We're all gonna find out together.

Alrighty then...who among you hasn't heard of Astro Boy? I'll wait. Yes, of course you have. Artist/author Osamu Tezuka's groundbreaking series of graphic novels, originally called Mighty Atom and chronicling the thrilling adventures of a little boy robot who wants to be human, revolutionized Japanese Manga when the first chapters were published in 1952. When they were adapted into Japan's first animated television series in 1963 the modern age of Anime was born.

They sure do love their tiny boy-shorts.

The cultural cachet and lasting influence of Tezuka's work simply cannot be understated. He brought a new level of artistry, narrative complexity and depth of character to Manga and sparked a national, and later international, obsession with Japanese animation that continues to grow unabated to this day.

"Now get the fuck out of here so I can get some rest."

I'm not much into anime now, but I certainly watched and enjoyed my share of it during my largely misspent youth. My earliest exposure to the form was through Speed Racer (1967-68), which ran in syndication in the United States throughout the 1970's. My mother half-appreciated, half-disapproved of it, thinking it was far too violent for a child my age, but she let me watch it anyway, along with a shit-ton of other stuff that was far further beyond the limits of age-appropriate, but I'm sure it never did me any harm and did not contribute to my juvenile delinquency in any way. Later, the exciting serial Star Blazers (1979-84), an American adaptation culled from three series of Space Battleship Yamamoto (1974-80), was an after-school staple in our house, as was the less exciting but still entertaining Battle of the Planets/G-Force (1978/1986), a pair of re-edited adaptations of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (1972-74).

During my pre-teen and early teen Anime sweet spot, however no television stations in my area carried either the original Astro Boy (1963-66) series or the revived version of 1980, of which today's special was a part.

There's an Astro Girl, too, but she's not in today's episode.

After having had such a blast reviewing Ultraman Taro: The Ultra Christmas Tree (1973) as last year's Day Four, I was excited to find another Christmas program from Japan to put on this year's Shitmas list. As I detailed in that article, Christmas is an extremely popular, but mostly-secular holiday there, with festive decorations, gift-giving and Kentucky Fried Chicken the primary modes of celebration. It's not surprising then that Astro Boy: The Light Ray Robot is a Christmas episode only in the sense that Die Hard (1988) is a Christmas movie, in that it takes place at Christmas but isn't actually about Christmas...still, it sure could have used at least a modicum of holiday spirit and goodwill.

It's not particularly good, and it's also not terrible, but it is terribly, inappropriately sad and cynical in a way that makes for a deeply unpleasant viewing experience. I know every culture has its own unique values, tastes and modes of expression, but I can't help but wonder what the hell these people were thinking when they decided to make this particular tale their Christmas episode, and also why poor Astro Boy, who had already been through so much heartache in his then-twenty-eight years of existence, should have had to endure the trauma and indignity of it. It's enough to make you cry in your saki.

OCD Disclaimer: The episode is from 1980, the english dub version is from 1982, hence the copyright notice.

A huge part of Astro Boy's appeal is that although he is heroic and powerful he also largely experiences the world from the point of view of a child. He possesses a strong moral compass and a desire to do good, but he still has childish needs and emotions, and the admittedly few stories I've personally seen have explored this in a way that makes me wonder how he can continually find the good in humanity after being shit on relentlessly by the humans he encounters.

Today's story will be no exception, in fact it may be the most acute example, but before we get started we have a frenetically paced intro featuring a jaunty theme song extolling the many virtues of the Mighty Atom. We are told he is "stronger than all the rest," and he "will pass the test," and although he is "small in size," he is "brave, gentle and wise."

Also, if you "give him sass" he'll shoot "a laser from his ass."

The episode proper opens on a huge convention center somewhere in the futuristic city in which our hero resides, where an annual robotics contest is underway. This is apparently a big deal for this society, in which human beings and robots live side by side, so it's well attended both by the media and the general public. We see many sundry robots on display, each demonstrating their unique forms, functions and abilities, but one of the podia appears to be empty. Still, a smarmy master of ceremonies announces over a PA that this particular display is made from "P/H Glass," a game-changing material that has made possible the construction of our titular Light Ray Robot.

If you gave him a top hat he'd be Snidely Whiplash.

The assembled crowd is confused and thinks perhaps someone is playing a joke on them, and one spectator even tries to climb up to the platform to feel around a bit and examine for himself if there's anything there, but the MC tells him to back off, and if he'll just keep his panties in abeyance until he can turn on the polarized lights everyone will be able to see it. And so he does, and so we do, and it turns out to be a child-robot, slim and sleek, and designed to appear about the same age as Astro Boy himself is meant to be.

Something may have been lost in translation here, as my strong impression when I first saw Light Ray is that it was supposed to be female, and when it eventually speaks later on it clearly has a female voice, but everyone in the entire episode uses the pronouns "he/him." I'm not properly trained for sexing robots in Astro land, but I am respectful and supportive of non-binary folks, so I'll try to use this as a teachable moment regarding my own biases and expectations.

Girly-boy? Boyish girl? Gender fluid? Androgenoid? If you don't ask you might not know.

Astro is in the crowd with his friend and classmate Elajo, a regular character who will otherwise have nothing else useful to contribute to the episode. They're both impressed and agree that this sleek android is a shoe-in for the top prize at this year's competition.

They're not the only ones there who take an interest in him, though. We see a shadowy man in a black trench coat watching the demonstration from far back in the crowd. He drops a half-smoked cigarette on the floor and snuffs it out with his leather loafer--as sure a sign of cruelty and perfidy as ever there were. He snickers under his breath and mutters "Light Ray Robot, hmmmm..." as he slithers his way out of the building.

Later, a swanky, all-robot brass band plays a triumphant fanfare as the various robots line up on a stage in the main arena to await the announcement of the winner.

They're also available for weddings, birthdays and bar mitzvahs.

The MC introduces Dr. Elefun, a professor of robotics and Minister of Science in the Astro Boy world. He is also a passionate advocate for robot rights and Astro Boy's legal guardian, having rescued him from a cruel robot circus where he was forced to fight other robots against his will. Elefun treats Astro as his own son, providing him a good home, moral guidance and a quality education.

In the event of a flood his nose may be used as a floatation device.

As Elefun walks towards the stage he seems to run into something invisible heading in the opposite direction and falls backwards in front of the dias. Without realizing the significance of what has just happened he takes his place on the stage and announces the Light Ray Robot as the grand prize winner, but when the stage lights dim, and the polarized spotlights focus on where he's supposed to be standing it instantly becomes apparent that the robot is gone.

Next we cut to a bank somewhere in the city where an employee is grabbing handfuls of cash from a bag and shoveling them willy-nilly into a huge vault by hand.

No need to count it. They've got plenty.

Suddenly one of the piles he's handling levitates and flies right out of the vault. More piles of money that happen to be sitting around unguarded on the various cashiers' desks also rise up and all of it flies right out of the building.

I hope they're FDIC insured.

Next, we cut to a jewelry shop where a hapless society lady watches helplessly as the diamond of her dreams floats away from her, just beyond her reach, before she's even had a chance to fondle and drool over it. It joins a handful of other expensive jewels and flies out the door just as did the cash.

This is just the start of a whole rash of crimes involving an invisible thief, where more than eight million dollars' worth of cash and goods are stolen.

Naturally the authorities believe the missing Light Ray Robot is responsible. Dr. Elefun agrees, but feels that Light Ray would not have done it on his own, but is being manipulated by some nefarious person. He explains that the recently-activated robot is like a child, naive to the ways of the world, and without a firm sense of morality he could easily be swayed to believe that right is wrong and wrong is right.

"Much like Republican Evangelicals."

I'm on board with this setup so far. It's offering plenty of classic sci-fi moral dichotomies, even if the execution has been a bit thin and cheap. Unfortunately, most of the characters are not nearly as complex as the concepts being presented and they aren't quite up to the task of exploring them. It's a problem that will only get worse as the special grinds on, and as the moral conflicts become increasingly dark and ambiguous.

Astro visits his friend Daddy Walrus, a teacher and part-time detective, and asks him if there's been any word about Light Ray. Just then a news flash plays on the TV reporting that police believe a recently escaped criminal called Skunk is responsible for the thefts and is using Light Ray to carry them out. Astro announces that he's going out to look for Skunk's hideout, and, as is his wont whenever he flies, he strips down to his tiny metal boy-shorts.

Thankfully they're permanently attached.

Despite Walrus' protests to stay in and do the homework he gave him during school break, Astro flies off on his mission and leaves the crotchety old coot fuming by the window. To be honest, I'd have done the same.

What kind of asshole assigns homework over break?

No sooner has Astro flown away than Walrus' phone rings. It's bad-hombre Skunk, apparently an old nemesis, calling to taunt him about breaking out of jail and stealing Light Ray to commit his crimes.

Walrus thinks he has a brilliant plan to trip Skunk up. He pretends he doesn't believe him and tells him flat-out that he's too stupid to have pulled off such a scheme. Apparently, Skunk is kind of touchy about his intelligence being questioned in this way, a fatal flaw of hubric insecurity. He immediately offers to prove that he has Light Ray by inviting Walrus to meet him and the robot alone in the city's central park that evening.

Walrus is elated, and as soon as he hangs up the phone, he does a little allegedly comic jig to celebrate, believing Skunk has fallen into his trap. Skunk, meanwhile, tells his minions that he's the one laying the trap, and plans to capture Walrus and teach him not to say hurtful things about people's cognitive abilities.

I don't know about his intellect, but he does seem to have a serious iron deficiency.

Now we cut to the appointed meeting time, with Walrus in the park, ostensibly alone, anxiously waiting for Skunk to arrive. We pan across some trees and see that he's brought reinforcements in the form of a whole gaggle of uniformed police officers, guns drawn and awaiting an opportunity to bum rush the anemic villain.

These guys really suck at hide and seek.

Skunk and his gang arrive in their tricked-out silver and red hovercar, and when they step out of it the Light Ray Robot is with them, wearing a trench coat, slacks and fedora to indicate that he's there. Walrus steps boldly towards Light Ray, but Skunk pushes him away.

Just then Astro Boy appears in the sky and swoops down to attack Skunk's men. Walrus shouts at him to stop, pissed off that he's shown up and stolen his thunder, and you'd think at this point the two or three dozen police officers we saw hiding earlier might have stepped out and made their presence known, but for some reason they stay put.

Skunk orders Light Ray to render himself obscure by casting off his clothes then hops in his car and escapes, leaving the juvenile android to clean up his mess.

Only now do the officers decide to emerge from their hiding places, but it's too late to catch Skunk and the fully invisible robot makes mincemeat of them all, even grappling with Astro, who might well be the stronger, but can't get a decent grip of something he can't even see.

"Oof! My nipples!"

After only a few moments all of the officers are strewn about the park unconscious and Light Ray has scarpered off. Astro runs over and helps Walrus to his feet, but the old fellow is furious, berating him for interfering in his plan and blaming him for Skunk's escape.

It seems to me it was really the baffling and illogical delay of the police's response that was the deciding factor here. If Walrus had instructed them to dry-gulch the bastards the instant they'd stepped out of the car even Light Ray wouldn't have had time to stop them, but Walrus is a blame-shifting blow-hard, so he berates poor, put-upon Astro for what was clearly his own lousy planning.

"May your shits have antlers!"

Later that night Astro is in his bedroom, lamenting that every time he tries to help something gets screwed up, and oh, how I feel ya, buddy. As he lays his head down to sleep, or shut down, or reboot, or go into power save mode or whatever the fuck robots do, he hears footsteps approaching his window. He looks up to see the silhouette of Light Ray in his little Sam Spade outfit peering through the slats of the blinds.

Light Ray lets himself in, and instead of a smack-down they have a friendly chat.

"I see you're not wearing any trousers, either."

Light Ray is confused, wondering why Astro's legs were hard instead of soft and easily breakable like the legs of those stupid police he clobbered. Astro explains that he's a robot just like him, but Light Ray doesn't even know what a robot is, let alone that he is one himself.

Astro explains that robots are supposed to help humans, not hurt them or steal from them. He offers to show his new friend what he means, so the two of them fly off together to the city to look for good deeds to do.

Oh,'s Christmas. I almost forgot.

The only reason I even bothered to watch this special was because I'd seen it listed as a Christmas episode on some list online, but up to this point there had been absolutely no indication of it being anything other than a regular old, run-of-the-mill weekly episode, and I was beginning to wonder if I had been had.

Now we see that enormous "XMAS" sign, see city folk parading along the busy sidewalks dressed in warm, snuggly coats and carrying gift-wrapped boxes, and we hear the plucky, jolly tones of "Jingle Bells." It's suddenly quite ostentatiously all about the holidays, as if they just remembered they were supposed to have a Christmas episode but forgot to write it, so they had to quick shift gears and make this one passably festive when they were already halfway through the process of animating it.

It's particularly jarring, too because the introduction of these yuletide-merry elements coincides with a sharp tonal shift towards something decidedly dark and desperately sad.

Astro Boy and Light Ray fly into the city to do some charitable things so the latter can find out how good it feels to be kind, and right away they see a little boy and his mother walking down the sidewalk along a busy street. A stiff breeze catches the boy's beanie, and it ends up in the street, hopelessly caught between speeding lines of opposing traffic. Light ray swoops down, grabs it and sets it on the crying boy's head. When the mother turns to thank him they both see he ain't got no legs...and instead of getting all the warm squishy feels from having done a nicey-nice, poor Light Ray is made to feel like a freak and an outcast when they run away screaming, believing he must be a ghost.

Probably should have worn those trousers.

Seeing that Light Ray's lack of a visible lower body makes people scared, Astro has him climb on his shoulders and tucks himself up under the trenchcoat so it looks like his friend has legs.

They Walk a little further down the street and when they peer down an alley they see that something terrible--and terribly adult--is happening. A skeevy drunk is harassing a frightened woman, slurrily insisting "Come on, baby...let's have some fun together!" He grabs her by the shoulder and leans in to sexually assault and possibly rape a children's cartoon...while "Jingle Bells" is playing...on a fucking ukulele.

There is nothing that is not wrong with this.

Light Ray taps the guy on the shoulder and he spins and tries to throw a punch, but he's too inebriated to make it land and falls to the ground. When he looks up at Light Ray his eyes go blurry and he sees three empty trench coats instead of one. He gets up and stumbles off, shrugging his shoulders and mumbling to himself about having had too much to drink.

Light Ray once again tries to do the right thing, asking the cowering woman if she's okay, but when she sees he ain't got no face she flees from him in terror.

Between this and Mr. Drunky-Feely she's going to need some serious therapy.

Astro, ever-helpful and determined, suggests that maybe Light Ray shouldn't wear anything at all, since looking like an empty coat is freaking people the fuck out. He sees some Salvation Army types at the other end of the alley, standing on the sidewalk and begging for donations, so he tells his new friend that since he won't need the coat and hat anymore he should donate them. When the charity workers see the coat that's being offered them hanging in the air, and realize that whoever is holding it ain't got no body, they too, predictably flee in terror from the poor little robot who just wants a little peace, love and understanding.

This entire sequence is played for laughs, but it's not funny, and all the attempted levity can't mask the misery of the unfortunate robot's predicament.

I think maybe Light Ray is going to need therapy, too.

Now the two walk along an avenue of shops, and the inexperienced Light Ray, now completely invisible, sees his first Christmas tree and finds it to his liking. Astro tells him he's having a Christmas party at his house the following evening and invites him, but Light Ray says he should ask his boss, Skunk first. Of course, Astro says he shouldn't, that it should be their little secret, but this just makes Light Ray nervous. When Astro pushes the envelope just a bit too far and asks him where Skunk's hideout is, Light Ray gets so frightened and uncomfortable that he sneaks away, and Astro is left kicking himself for clumsily betraying the trust he'd been trying to build up between them.

Subtlety isn't his strong suit.

The next day Walrus is sitting brushing his teeth in his living room, the traditional spot for dental hygiene procedures in Astro City, apparently, when Astro calls to apologize for fucking up his plan the day before. He also informs him that he met Light Ray and befriended him, that he invited him to their Christmas party later that day and hopes that despite his awkward faux pas of the previous evening his new pal will come. Walrus sees this as an opportunity to redeem himself with the authorities, and mumbles to himself as he formulates another of his famously well-considered and virtually foolproof plans.

The evening arrives and the party has begun. As Astro boy sits on a sofa with some friends, the front door opens and nothing comes in, or rather Light Ray comes in, and Astro runs over to greet him. He hands him a party hat and asks him to put it on so everyone will know where he is. Light Ray takes the hat but says he can't stay long because he "has to work."

Just as Light Ray turns to go, Walrus shows up dressed as Santa, blowing Christmas Crackers out his ass and ho-ho-ho-ing like his ho-ho-ho owes him money.

"Traipsin' bee-itch!"

"Gifts for all!" he cries as he places a necklace with a pendant around Light Ray's invisible neck. Light ray is confused and asks what the hell it is, and by way of answering Walrus pulls out an airbrush and sprays his legs with red paint.

The poor robot freaks out, throws off the hat and bolts out the door and down the lane, so the neighbors may enjoy the risible sight of a pair of disembodied, tomato-red hot pants wandering the snowy streets.

Around here we call that "Tuesday."

Astro is understandably furious and complains to Walrus that Light Ray will probably never speak to him again, but the old bastard is thrilled, because not only can they now see the robot's legs, they can track him using a homing beacon inside the amulet and follow him all the way back to Skunk's hideout.

Which is where we go now, with the pale poltroon himself bragging to his gang about one of his own famously well-considered and virtually foolproof plans. This one involves getting Light Ray to plant a bomb at Walrus' house and blow him to blubbery sea-mammal hell, but when he reaches out to hand the explosive over to his invisible minion he realizes he's not there.

Suddenly the legs come running in and Light Ray whines to him about Walrus spraying him with paint. Skunk's goons try to remove it, but it won't come off, and Skunk realizes that the robot is now worthless to him since everyone can see where he is. He decides, however, that Light Ray can still perform one final task, an unwitting suicide bombing, so he hands the explosive over, assuring him it will be a big surprise for everyone involved.

Light Ray finds the bomb aesthetically pleasing and enjoys the ticking sound it makes. He wanders away from the hideout, fed up with Skunk's orders, steadfastly refusing to deliver or part with his newfound treasure.

The instant Light Ray is gone Astro Boy bursts in and starts shooting up the place with his laser beam ass-cannon.

He must eat a lot of roughage.

During the melee Skunk pops off down a manhole in the floor and tries to escape through the sewers. As Walrus and the police arrive to arrest the rest of the gang Astro goes down after him.

The villain reaches a panel just beyond an archway and hits a switch, causing a pair of huge horizontal metal doors to clamp shut, but Astro is stronger than the tempered steel of which it's made, and manages to pull them open

Actual video of a robot live birth.

Skunk tries to beat down Astro with a steel beam, but you can probably figure out for yourself how that goes. Next thing you know the mightly little robot has fashioned a neck-shackle out of the thing and is carrying the ashy felon back upstairs to be arrested and sent back to jail.

As the fuzz are shoving him into the paddy wagon Walrus asks Skunk about Light Ray, and he tells him cryptically he'll "find out at midnight." As Walrus and Astro ponder what exactly that clue might mean an officer comes running up to say that Dr. Elefun called in a panic, relaying that Light Ray is heading for he and Astro's house with a time bomb.

Back at the house Astro finds his adoptive dad waiting at the door. It seems Light Ray was there but when Elefun tried to get the bomb away from him, he ran away, and now they only have two hours to find him before the bomb goes off.

"Now if you'll excuse me I'm gonna go get a little bombed myself."

As Elefun heads back into the house to fortify himself for the search with a few snorks of leftover punch from his party, Astro zooms into the sky to go looking for his friend.

Now it turns into a massive, city-wide pants-hunt, with police roadblocks on all the major highways and thoroughfares. Light Ray hops down from an overpass and hitches a ride on a red hovercar, hoping to escape the ungrateful town full of scheming, duplicitous humans and enjoy his pretty, ticking bauble in peace.

"You can't see me! I'm camouflaged!"

Somehow someone figures out that he's heading for the mountains, so Astro leads a convoy out of town in the direction he was last seen heading. Walrus believes, for unknown, unexplained reasons, that he's going to the "National Hospital," the largest in the country, which some misanthropic civic planner has situated out in the midst of a vast wilderness instead of in a place where people who might need it actually live.

"Chest pains? We'll have an ambulance there in an hour and twenty minutes."

One of the detectives finds some footprints pointing towards the hospital and the police chief orders his men to prepare "the electrical decomposer," a powerful weapon that can destroy any material known to man. Elefun, full of rum and fruit, sways boozily, looks at his watch and mutters that there's only five minutes left before the bomb detonates...though how he knows that is anyone's guess.

Astro lands and tearfully begs Doctor Elefun not to let the police kill his friend, and as the clock ticks down to less than a minute he takes off again, desperate to find Light Ray before the bomb goes off. With only twenty seconds left they finally spot him struggling though a snow drift in the distance.

Astro shouts in a panic, warning him to throw away the bomb, but the police chief cries that it's too late for amicable solutions. He orders his men to open fire with the decomposer.

Light Ray go boom.

Astro steps up to the smoking lumps of glass that were once his friend and Elefun comes up behind him to offer the thoroughly empty, utterly bullshit plattitude "I know how you feel, but it couldn't be helped."

Really? Could it really not have been be helped? The poor little guy was nowhere near the fucking hospital, he was in the middle of a huge snowy field, with a half-mile between him and the nearest tree, well beyond the blast radius of any handheld explosive, however powerful or futuristic it may have been. Maybe he'd have been killed by the bomb anyway, maybe he he'd have thrown it away and survived, but the police authorities firing a military-grade energy weapon and killing a robotic child? Yeah, fucker, that could definitely have been helped.

Light Ray was an innocent, unwitting victim of forces he could neither control nor understand, born into a hostile, hateful world in which he could never find peace or belonging, then brutally executed by the morally bankrupt capitalist God-state that had created him. He was summarily tried, convicted and sentenced to death for the crime of simply having existed at all.

"That's some goddamn Blade Runner shit, right there, man!"

The End.

Welp...that was fucking depressing. Thanks, Japan!

Shitmas Bonus!

I have a secret. A secret I've never told. It's an old, dark secret going far back into my childhood, a secret so hurtful I've kept it to myself for lo' these many years. Seeing Astro Boy: The Light Ray Robot, for reasons you shall soon understand, brought this long-buried memory back to the forefront of my consciousness, and now, finally, I feel it is the time to speak of it. Perhaps revealing it now will ease my lifelong pain.

You see, I once had a special friend, just like Astro Boy did, and much like Astro Boy's friend my friend was invisible, and much like Astro Boy's invisible friend, my invisible friend did bad things. Very bad things. Even now my lip trembles as I recall the day he wrote "The Marvel Cinematic Universe is Boring and Repetitive" on the wall of my parents' bathroom with my mother's lipstick, earning me a week's grounding and a whipping with my father's belt. "It wasn't me!" I insisted, but my father did not believe me.

The irony is that what he wrote is absolutely true.

Even today I can see the candy slowly rise from the bin at the sweet shop, how it flew across the aisle and directly into my pockets, and when I begged my invisible friend to stop, the cashier came over and made me made me hand the candy back. "It wasn't me!" I cried, but the cashier did not believe me.

Jelly favorite.

I can still hear the wail of the sirens from the day my invisible friend lit a match and made the forest behind our house burn. "It wasn't me!" I pleaded as the firemen arrived to douse the flames, but the firemen did not believe me.

It was rather pretty, though...

A few years later my juvenile probation officer, frustrated by my lack of social progress but impressed with my budding literary skills suggested I take up haiku as a way to make some sense of my troubling thoughts and deep frustrations. I took to it like a duck to a l'orange. The simplicity of the lines, the economy of form, the condensed nature of the expression appealed to my natural taciturnity, and soon I was communicating almost exclusively in haiku.

The greatest benefit of this was that my invisible friend fucking hated it, and after a few months of trying to get me to stop he gave up completely and moved to Washington State, where last I heard he was working at a microbrewery making intolerably bitter, hop-heavy ordeal beers for bearded hipsters to pretend to enjoy.

It's like guys who eat a ghost pepper and expect us to be impressed.

With your kind permission, I would like to share with you now some of the haikus I wrote during those difficult times, those that brought me the greatest peace, pleasure and spiritual comfort. It is my sincere hope that in the reading of them they may do the same for you.

"Konichiwa, bitches!"

Merry Christmas, folkses.

Next Installment: December 23rd!

As always, Cheers and thanks for reading!

Written by Bradley Lyndon in December, 2021.

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