Well 2020 is wrapping up, and I doubt we won’t be reminded of it in the long run. At least as a reference point on where we go from here, now that so much (or so little) has happened. Anyway, somebody decided to do an anime based on the 1973 Disaster Novel by Sakyo Komatsu and started working on it in 2019 – during an evidently more optimistic time. Despite everything that took place during production, Netflix still wanted their show. So here it is: Japan Sinks 2020.
This show is set in Japan in September, shortly after what would have been the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 (This anime was mostly finished by the time the Olympics were cancelled in March. Deadlines are deadlines, and since it was already science fiction, just keep going down that rabbit hole). Our story revolves around the Mutō Family and a few other people who join them in their journey. The Mutō Family consists of Koichiro (Dad), Mari (Mum), Ayumu (Daughter) and Gō (Son). Koichiro is pure Japanese, Mari is pure Filipino, and their children are Filipino-Japanese. Why am I saying this? Because most of the main characters are either not Japanese or are mixed race – and I’ll get to that later in this review. So, episode one, we have a status quo. Mari is on a plane home, Ayumu is finishing up track practice at school (with the dream of representing Japan in 2024 or 2028), Gō is at home playing online video games, and Koichiro’s at work. Then a huge earthquake hits. Their lives are completely changed, and when the family gathers together again, that’s when it becomes especially challenging…or so its seems in those early stages.
Now to discuss Highs…and the disasters:
I watched the show in Japanese with english subtitles and…it’s a mixed bag. I didn’t mind when they were actually speaking Japanese. It was when Gō, Mari and some other characters decide to randomly throw in some english, and it ends up sounding completely off. They sound like people quoting english catchphrases rather than speaking english.
The art style can be seen as a mixed bag as well, as the quality of the presentation actually has a range, depending on what episodes you’re watching. The backgrounds, for the most part, are beautiful, while the character designs looks very sketchy in comparison, and lack highlights and shadows. Kind of like Tekkonkinkreet in places…only less colourful, characterised or interesting to look at. I believe it’s meant to create an opportunity for a greater range of movement on screen, kind of along the lines of what Kill La Kill’s style was designed to do (as well as Tekkonkinkreet). However this show does not express the fantastic range of both intensity and physical comedy that made both Kill La Kill and Tekkonkinkreet standout in animation. I enjoyed the style of the opening theme, even though it may not have suited the show itself. But the animation within the program is a little on the choppy side.
The story and characters…oh boy. Right, let us go into depth. This huge disaster is happening. Japan, as the title suggests, is literally sinking into the ocean like a prologue to Neon Genesis Evangelion. I will be very honest when I say this…and while I might give vague spoilers, I won’t be blatant about it. Okay. Japan Sinks 2020…within a few episodes…killed off the one character who would have been the glue that held the show together for the viewers. When it happened, it definitely created a shock value. But here is the thing: people die in every episode like it was just a regular season of Game Of Thrones or The Walking Dead, and the impact is lessened with few exceptions…and when characters die, everyone else just moves on like it happened a year ago…even though it probably happened within a few hours! It was a disgusting display of apathy that the show attempts to justify as “them being strong”. The second best character is a Daredevil YouTuber called Kite, who is basically a Gary Stu – and part of what we like about him is how ridiculous he is. Japanese main characters are surprisingly few, and many Japanese are presented as xenophobic towards foreigners…something that has actually angered viewers who lived in Japan when the March 2011 earthquake hit the country, and had experienced a tremendous amount of change and loss. In which everybody helped all that they could, and didn’t pick and choose based on race.
By far the best aspect of the show is the music. Especially the opening theme. Reason? It’s a song called ‘Life’, taken from Taeko Onuki’s 2010 album UTAU. Onuki was one of the influences of what’s known on the internet as “City Pop”. This album consists on her singing to a piano…the pianist? Ryuichi Sakamoto! Yep, this is our Christmas connection (Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence). The song is melancholy, like the show. But I believe the show would be a much lesser experience without it. Then we have Kensuke Ushio’s score, which is brilliant! It conveys all of the terror of the circumstance while also creating the right amount of hopefulness.
Would I recommend Japan Sinks 2020? I don’t know if I would…but I could. No single episode stands on its own, and it needs all 10 episodes in order for us to completely understand why it was made. On one hand it is a show about perseverance through great adversity, and despite the presentation of Japan’s destruction, is also a celebration of Japan itself, while creating an aspired hope for the future and telling us to hold onto our families while we have them. Six out of the Ten episodes range from good to very good with the first episode being excellent. But episodes four to seven were the equivalent of The Walking Dead Season two – the momentum pretty much stopped, as everybody got cosy during a time when they should have been trying to find a bigger boat.
Art style: **** (Much better backgrounds than character designs)
Animation: ***1/2 (Great Opening & first episode. Less so everywhere else)
Voice Acting: ***1/4
Story: *** (****1/2 for the first episode)