As it’s the beginning of a new decade, I imagined if there were any new trends that were going to appear and gradually distinctify this next decade from the 2010s. I wondered how the 2010s would look in hindsight, when the medium looks a bit different and what I considered “modern anime” when I first got into the medium in the mid-2010s became discussed as “old shows”, “hidden gems”, or “classics” like how people discuss anime from the 2000s during the late 2010s. It’s a bit surreal, especially because I only started watching anime seasonally in 2018. Though, it’s a temporal experience I want to catalog just because I want to make the most of this time which can pass so fast (at least for me), so I’ll look back on these small memories someday with fewer regrets. This will be a more casual reflection on anime from this year, just jumping to whatever topics I have something to say about.
How Good Was Anime in 2020?
Starting off with how “good” I thought this year was for anime quality-wise, I watched at least the first episode of almost all of the TV anime that came out this year, alongside a decent smattering of ONAs, movies, etc., and in short, I thought there were a lot of anime I liked, but not many that I loved. Really the only anime I loved from this year was Gotcha! (the Pokemon music video that blew up a few months ago). Hearing that should give you the indication that my tastes are probably radically different from yours, and also that I used to be an obsessive fan of Pokemon, both the anime and the games. But hey, I got more joy out of rewatching it several times after it dropped, considering how dense it is with references riding the full gambit of the expansive lore of the games and personality-filled visuals packed with little details and stylistic flourish in literally every second, than any anime this year. It was honestly extremely gratifying as someone who has enjoyed many of the anime iterations of Pokemon across the past decade to see Twitter collectively go as crazy over this one music video as I was. I yearn for the day Rie Matsumoto (who directed Gotcha! as well as Kekkai Sensen and Kyousougiga) directs another TV series, or even another music video, since both this and Baby I Love You Daze are awesome in their own rights. While just that is definitely a bit of a step down from 2018, where I had about a dozen anime I loved as much or more than Gotcha, and 2019, where I enjoyed 5 anime at the same level, again this felt like a year where there was still a decent quantity of shows I enjoyed.
Shoutouts to the “On-Hold” List
There are some shows I liked the first few episodes of that I still need to finish like Chihayafuru season 3, Oregairu season 3, the new Blade of the Immortal adaptation, Love Live Nijigasaki, ID Invaded, Appare-Ranman, and Great Pretender. Around when Oregairu 3 started airing, tons of anime YouTube videos came out of the woodworks praising its character writing, and those convinced me that I would probably at least relate to Hachiman. Thus, I buckled down and marathoned the first two seasons as season 3 was airing… until I fell off after episode 6 for no particular reason other than I didn’t feel motivated. I enjoyed the whole thing, with the character writing being surprisingly nuanced for almost every recurring character, paired with character acting which sometimes reminded me of a Kyoto Animation show with how well and how frequently it visually demonstrated the mental states of the characters. Another particularly noteworthy show that I fell off of Great Pretender is particularly memorable in my mind due to how it was on the MAL seasonal chart for summer 2019 and had like a 3.61 rating, but I was confused because I couldn’t even find it online back then, despite the little bits of information on its MAL page at the time looking really interesting. Then, the trailer dropped early this year, and a bunch of people on Twitter got excited, including me. Then, everyone watched the show and loved it, not including me, because I only watched the first two episodes. There were a lot of good anime airing in spring when the first 14 eps of Great Pretender dropped on Netflix, as well as anime I was still on the fence about at the time that I would later drop like Balance:Unlimited, Houkago Teibou Nisshi, and Kakushigoto. I know a lot of people liked Kakushigoto, and I definitely appreciate its unique designs and sense of humor (as is par for the course for the original mangaka of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei and Joshiraku), but the characterization wasn’t substantive enough to keep me invested, as is the case for most comedy anime, unless they’re so consistently funny that I never need a strong narrative or so uniquely bizarre in either its visuals or it’s humor, that I’m too fascinated with it to not finish it.
Comedies I Actually Liked?
Moving into anime I actually finished, Wan Sheng Jie was one comedy which exemplified the former type of aforementioned comedy. Every year it seems like there’s at least one 3-minute long short anime that can actually pull off being a pure comedy because it’s not taking that much of my time, and the jokes just have to be paced faster, which is more suitable to my sense of humor anyways. Both that and Ani ni Tsukeru Kusuri wa Nai which has been airing 4 seasons have been those shows for me. They both have charming straightforward characters which don’t really have a narrative arc (at least from what’s been adapted up to this point), but are just fun to watch and have strong personalities. I think another factor into why they’ve been among the only pure comedies I’ve enjoyed over the past few years is that the source material for both are not made in Japan (I think both of their web manga are Chinese or Korean). I think that their almost complete lack of anime tropes makes them just a breath of fresh air and much more unpredictable in their humor. Also, they’re just really wholesome, so go watch at least one episode of them; they’re only 3 minutes. A comedy that I finished more out of fascination is Gal & Dino, which I actually kept up with almost consistently weekly, because the visuals in that show are just so insane and varied in art style, more than any other anime that I saw this year. Stuff like the Dino Channel segments, the show being split into half live-action and half animated segments, the stop-motion animation, the stop motion ED, etc. All of it was legendary, courtesy of the staff at Kamikaze Douga who made the similarly visually insane Pop Team Epic. Of course, if we’re talking good comedy anime, Kaguya-sama Love Is War is easily one of the most beloved of the year. My opinions on the show have always been mixed, ever since I was watching season 1 weekly in 2019. It’s definitely hit or miss, as most comedies are, and I wouldn’t even call the show’s narrative elements to be consistently interesting. I can’t dive into everything that happens in both seasons, but essentially: Chika was funny at times but often felt like an annoying meme character, Kaguya’s voice acting and characterization is a bit too over-the-top and yandere-esque for me to find likable, Kurogane’s cool, the new characters in season 2 are all fun, and Ishigami’s arc was easily the best part of the whole series thus far. Watching everyone excitedly react to this show on Twitter was fun. The most consistently engaging aspect of this season were easily the visuals. There are some gags which have such interesting ways in which they’re presented that they still stick out vividly in my mind months after watching them. Considering A-1 Pictures productions’ tendency to incorporate lots of random freelance staff which are highly diverse in their styles, I think Kaguya-sama is one of the studio’s best shows to make use of the dissonance between those artists’ flourishes, due to it being a comedy which can use the dissonant, extreme tones created the distinct styles for increased comedic effect. Overall, it’s a good time that I’m glad I got to get endeared to alongside the rest of the community, even if it’s rarely striking a deep chord with me.
I’m No Anime Hipster.
Speaking of normie shows which I also like, My Hero Academia and Attack on Titan were shows I caught up with as they were airing as big moments abound for the two biggest continuing shounen anime. My Hero Academia season 4’s Endeavor fight in the last two episodes lit up the community and was the highlight for me of the entire season, since Endeavor is one of the characters I’ve been most interested in throughout the series. Regardless of the big moments, my journey with this series has been a bit strange, considering it’s one of the shows that got me into the deeper anime community after I caught up with the first 3 seasons back in summer 2018. In the year-long gap between then and the start of season 4 in fall 2019, I had heard a massive variance of analytical takes on the show, and in general my tastes had dramatically shifted after watching hundreds of anime in the meantime. While the first 4 episodes of season 4 gave me the impression I was expecting of “oh, this is okay,” I was overall pleasantly surprised when the show delved into the Overhaul arc and I was actually fairly engaged. The show’s typical strengths of developing its large cast through giving random characters dedicated time to have their own arcs did certainly help, but what I was really invested in was how many of the backstories of both heroes and villains reflected broader systemic trends being perpetuated by the “hero system”, as it’s called in the show. Essentially, much of the conflict in the series stems from how the hero ranking system doesn’t necessarily incentivise saving the most people, but instead defeating the most villains, being the most powerful fighter, and how much fame and attention you can drum up. The biggest strength of My Hero Academia is how the pitfalls of that system are explored, with each arc (at least in season 4) deepening the nuances of the ramifications that system has created in society, even rippling out to affect several individual characters. Now, it’s not always laser-focused on that aspect of its writing, and the school festival was certainly the weakest part of the season because of the festival itself being so divorced from that thematic element. Though, even then there were some interesting character moments for Endeavor and Almight, and Gentle Criminal is actually the best part of the arc for how his behavior and backstory displays yet another chink in the system that perpetuates discrimination against people with specific Quirks. He’s also an entertainingly flamboyant villain who’s literally a YouTuber, with a sympathetic backstory and character arc that really makes him out to be a sort of tragic hero. Welp, I’m gone on enough about low-key defending MHA season 4, now Attack on Titan is the much bigger beast. Probably the biggest anime in existence by now, I’m not going to go on analyzing this show. I like my massive, morally complex political mysteries/thrillers, and after the show’s insane critical acclaim after season 3 part 2 aired in 2019, I finally buckled down to watch it because I knew I’d probably like it. I am extremely late to the party, having binged the entire series less than a month ago, mainly because it felt like a momentous occasion in anime history that I needed to be around for. I take an extremely long time to finish most 2-cour shows, but Attack on Titan is such an easy binge due to its massive array of constantly moving parts, and it was an overall good time, despite me having my gripes with the wonky titan designs, a lot of goofy death scenes (during which I totally didn’t laugh out loud), the CG titans, a lot of moments that were generally too drawn out and over-the-top even if the meaning behind them was interesting, certain characters becoming so unlikable and uncharismatic that it was hard for me to even care about them, a bunch of little issues like that which kept me from truly loving the series as many people do. I will unwaveringly vouch for AOT being one of the biggest achievements in the medium in terms of weaving a complex narrative on every level, and I can talk about its thematic intrigue for hours, but it’s just got other aspects that hold it back for me. This new season is off to an interesting start; the dramatic perspective shift is just brilliant and ambitious and I can’t believe they’re expanding the narrative scope even further and actually pulling it off. The new OP sucks and is too blunt in its attempts to be ominous and haunting, though the lyrics do well at reflecting some of the series’ themes. Listen to Shinsei Kamattechan’s other songs instead; they’re all better than this. Their ED for season 2 is easily better at being haunting, since there was at least a front of a kinda cheery melody. The visual style changing is a step down from the detailed intensity of other seasons’ designs, but it’s not a dealbreaker. I look forward to being on the hype train with everyone else, as this show will undoubtedly go down in anime history as one of the defining shows of this time period.
Intermission (come back in a few hours… or days)
That’s a good place to cap off this first part, since there’s still a lot I have to go through which will be even more miscellaneous and unstructured than this part. This is mainly self-indulgent for the sake of saving these memories of this crazy first year of the decade in some concrete way. Maybe you got something out of this. Feel free to comment your own anime-related memories of this year. I’ll be posting the last part of this retrospection sometime in the near future, so be prepared for that if you’re interested.