Greetings, fabulous people of the Internet! Hanime on Anime here, and some part of me wants to remember 2020 before moving on with the new year. And what better to do that than review a show that summarizes the whole year up in anime form. No joke, as the title of this review implies, this show is almost an anime interpretation of what 2020 was like. And that can be taken in a good way and in a bad way. That being said, let’s revive 2020 with today’s review on Japan Sinks: 2020!
From the director of Devilman Crybaby, Masaaki Yuasa, Japan Sinks: 2020 takes place in modern-day Japan. A series of massive earthquakes cause nationwide destruction and puts the Mutoh family and thousands of others in danger. Soon enough the earthquakes set off massive geological changes in the nation’s landscape. Among those is that Japan, as the title states, is literally sinking. The Mutoh family and other companions including a former track star, a famous YouTuber, and an elderly grocery store owner trek across the sinking nation while facing many dangerous perils along the way. Because that’s the kind of anime we want for 2020, right? A disaster genre show! But seriously, there’s actually more to this anime than you’d think.
If I could summarize this show in a few short words, it would be a mess. But a beautiful mess. There are some elements to the show that are done right, but the problems with it are glaring. This is really a shame because given this was directed by Masaaki Yuasa, I was so ready to backtrack on my thoughts on him in my video re-review of Devilman Crybaby. Unfortunately, as much as these comments were said in poor taste, the problems with this show cannot be ignored and they kind of keep me from being 100% forgiving.
But first, I’ll be nice and start off with what was done right.
The biggest strength that this show has is that it holds up well as a disaster show. When it’s allowed to be that, it becomes intriguing and entertaining. It knows the gravity of the situation and keeps that seriousness whenever it’s brought to the forefront. For instance, it does a great job showing how people can be impatient when waiting for relief or trying to evacuate. You do feel the sense of dread and impending doom that these people are feeling. This also lends itself in other ways.
Normally I like it when a show takes the time to explain what’s going on either through exposition or someone directly telling you what’s happening. But because lives are on the line, there’s no time for that. It just adds to the feel of the show. So as a disaster show, it works for the most part. But putting that aside, though, I found that there were just more aspects to the show that didn’t work.
By far, one of these elements that didn’t work was the tone; it was just wrong. Even though I praised this show for being a decent disaster flick, the show almost doesn’t acknowledge that. There’s no sense of intensity or urgency in the show at all (at least not until the last third). If anything, the show gave off this vibe to me that said “everything is going to be fine.” And in a show that involves an entire country sinking into the ocean, that’s not what you should be feeling. It made me think of other anime shows like Attack on Titan and The Promised Neverland- heck, it even made me think of Primal, a non-anime show. These are shows that have intensity in them by putting their characters in pretty terrifying situations. But rather than have the characters try to find some levity wherever they can, they focus on the situation at hand and try to fight and survive. Things do get better, but the characters go through all sorts of hellish situations to get to that point. And if one of the main characters has to randomly stop to take a picture so that everyone else will remember what happened in that particular moment, then you lose that intensity. Sure, this moment does have a point at the very end, but it’s a tone killer for what’s happening in the show. Seriously, it’s like this show wants you to forget that a cataclysmic event is going on! And in the middle of the show, it almost does! Enter problem number two: Shan City.
This whole arc of the series to me was a total waste of time and completely unnecessary. Towards the series halfway point, the Mutoh’s and company pick up a hitchhiker who leads them to Shan City, a large base that I swear is cult even though the people there claim that it isn’t. There’s this medium woman and child that speak to the dead and…good Lord, I was genuinely more concerned about Ayumu’s infected leg than anyone in this camp or what was going on in it! It slowed everything down for two episodes to practically a crawl. I sat in my recliner watching this asking myself if the show forgot that Japan was sinking. Had this been shortened or completely omitted, then I wouldn’t be that sour about it, because the first and last third of the show was where most of my investment in the show was. Again, this arc made me feel like the show forgot there was a major natural catastrophe going on and ruined the pace of the show.
If it was really that important, then there could have been a way to make it more engaging without lessening the gravity of the current situation of the show. Still, despite how this and the overly optimistic tone of the series frustrated me to no end, I couldn’t think of a better anime to encompass the kind of year 2020 was. Looking at the show as a whole, it almost plays out like the year 2020 itself.
Everything was seemingly fine in the beginning when an unexpected disaster struck. In Japan Sinks, it was a series of devastating earthquakes that eventually cause the archipelago of Japan to sink. In our world, it was the coronavirus. Soon, everything spiraled out of control and we found ourselves separated and isolated. We even lost many loved ones along the way due to the disaster. But then there came a point in time where things seemingly started to slow down, but it didn’t last long. And when things got bad again, we were done. We wanted things to be over. All we had on our minds was that things couldn’t get any worse. But surprisingly, there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and a rekindled hope that things would get better. And coming from someone who went into quarantine twice last month, I know I wanted to end the year holding on to that glimmer of hope for better days, much like the show’s ending message on holding onto a bright new future for Japan even after the phenomenon that befell it.
As I said, I was so ready to backtrack my comments on Yuasa getting lucky with the fame and recognition he got with Devilman Crybaby because he does have talent and has made other great works before like Tatami Galaxy, Kaiba, and The Night is Short, Walk on Girl. But Japan Sinks: 2020 has major problems with it that cannot be ignored. But I’ll give Yuasa this, whether he knew it or not, he gave us a show that beautifully interprets what 2020 was like for all of us.
So for all it’s problems, Japan Sinks: 2020 is a beautiful mess. Its tone isn’t right and it especially drags in the middle. But it works well as a disaster genre show and as a fictional representation of what many are calling one of the worst years in history. But it’s also a reminder to hold on to hope even in the darkest of times. Much like the sunken remains of Japan in the show, it is a mess, but it’s one mess I had no regrets wading through.
Special thanks to Irina from I drink and watch anime for letting me share this post on her blog! As I said in the beginning of this post, I’m Hanime on Anime. I’m a passionate otaku and public librarian from Mississippi, and I review anime shows and films every Sunday and occasionally post some editorials and discussions every once in a while. If you liked this, I have plenty more on my official Hanime on Anime page!
Hanime on Anime