Final Impressions: Masaaki Yuasa’s Japan Sinks 2020

Japan Sinks 2020 Review

Season aired: Summer 2020

Number of episodes: 10

Genres: Adventure, Drama

Thoughts: Japan Sinks: 2020 is the latest work by Masaaki Yuasa, the famous director responsible for the critically acclaimed anime, Devilman Crybaby. An adaptation of an award-winning novel of the same name, Japan Sinks focuses on the idea of Japan sinking due to a series of earthquakes caused by the Earth’s changing landscapes. Seeing how the year 2020 has treated everyone around the world, there could be no better timing for the release of an apocalyptic series, even if the scheduling worked out by coincidence.

Japan Sinks: 2020 follows a family of survivors. Ayumu Mutoh, a rising track athlete, has just finished track practice when her country literally begins to sink into the oceans. With her younger brother Goh, her hardy father Koichiro, and her brave mother Mari, Ayumu treks across her shattered country as they all race for safety and a chance to survive.

The synopsis sounds incredibly riveting, and the first two episodes display incredible power in eliciting emotions and reactions. Themes around the idea of Japanese identity, especially as the Japanese people lose their country, strengthen the emotional aspects of surviving a doomed country. The fact that Japan is genuinely a country of islands formed by the very earthquakes that now threaten to destroy it also makes the entire package convincing. Unfortunately, while Japan Sinks has all the chips to make a riveting story, it falls flat on the execution.

Emotional first episode

After an excellent first two episodes, one of which made me cry real tears, the atmosphere and the story quickly lose steam and, by extension, my interest. The deaths that happen throughout the series start out well-crafted but then become senseless and frequent with so little buildup that I find myself detached. Sometimes, the death scenes even come off as comedic. There are also times when characters will mourn for a few seconds and then turn around acting excited and happy as if nothing tragic had occurred. It results in extreme emotional whiplash, and its consistency made me feel indifferent the more I watched.

There’s also the issue of one important character by the name of KITE, who I cannot help but see as the epitome of deus ex machina. He literally flies in on some strange contraption, decides to stay with the group, and then continues to act as the Superman of every hard situation. He knows how to treat wounds, shoot arrows, swim, fly air balloons, drive boats of any kind, and seems to know how to react no matter what situation is thrown at him. He also receives absolutely zero explanation for his capabilities or any growth to his character. Considering how vital his role is to the plot, he remains a constant reminder of a poorly written character, and by that extension, a poorly written plot as well. I found him to be the weakest link of the entire series.

The last episode was the strongest episode after the first two, especially with its ending sequence and its callback to the biggest question of the series — does literally losing your country affect your sense of identity? This poignant theme could’ve been executed in incredibly inquisitive ways throughout the entirety of the series, but Japan Sinks misses the mark with characters such as KITE and shaky plot arcs that ultimately seem to hold no purpose in the long run. Instead, the majority of the episodes only touch briefly on this question before subjecting the audience to a variety of strange survival moments. This disparity between the middle of the series and the beginning and ending feels like the earthquakes occurring in the anime itself. It is torn between its own identity — is it an emotionally driven journey about identity or an edgy, hardcore adventure about survival? The series tries to do both but ends up as neither due to its lack of skill in molding the two together.

Mr. Superhero KITE with anime silver hair

I wish I could say that the production values made up for the flaws in character and storytelling, but they don’t. While I cannot deny that the soundtrack Kensuke Ushio had composed for the series is amazing, the animation and voice acting often fall flat. Masaaki Yuasa is famous for his stylized animation, as well as especially ugly faces in certain scenarios, but there was one particular arc where the warped faces and animation just didn’t seem to serve any purpose at all and only made the animation appear weak. None of the voice actors really stood out either, and at times, I found their emotional outbursts to be overacted or completely stale. As a result, even the technical aspects left me discouraged and didn’t live up to what I expected from the series.

Thinking about the strengths of the first two episodes and the last half of the final episode only reasserts that the series had the huge potential to leave an impact, and it’s disappointing that it was unable to accomplish that successfully. In conclusion, while Japan Sinks might just be entertaining enough to kill some time, it is not a series that is ultimately worth investing your emotions into. 

Rating

Plot:  5 (Multiplier 3.5)

Characters: 6 (Multiplier 3.5)

Voice acting: 6

Art/Animation: 6.5

Soundtrack: 8 

FINAL SCORE: 59

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