DISCLAIMER: This anime can be very depressing and hard to watch, it doesn’t hold back. I would not suggest it for those that are easily affected by such content. If you are struggling, please reach out, talk, and seek out a professional. Stay strong!
The novel Japan Sinks, written by Sakyo Komatsu in 1973 has seen its success in different forms already. The novel, due to its popularity throughout the 1970s in Japan, has been claimed as an important cultural and political view of Japan around that time. Not soon after its release, there was a film adaptation by the same name. In 2006 a remake came out as Sinking of Japan and even a black parody, titled The world sinks except Japan. Now Studio Science Saru has taken this story and given it their own twist, giving Japan Sinks: 2020 a different point of view in the chaos that is the ‘downfall of Japan’.
The anime focuses around Ayumu Mutou, a 14-year-old track and field athlete, her younger brother Go who is an aspiring e-sport contender, her Philippine mother Mari and her all Japanese father Kouichirou. Now keep those nationalities in mind, as it comes into play later. The anime doesn’t even give the audience time to get comfortable as minutes into the first episode, the disasters already start. From that point forward it leads you into a rollercoaster of events as you follow the Mutou family and travel companions they meet along the way, finding their way to safety. There is no point whereas a watcher you are truly given a sense of security. As natural disasters keep occurring around the small group, death lurks in every corner and takes you by surprise, giving the series a depressing and dark tone throughout and a heavy feeling of dread and despair.
The story itself takes you through many harsh topics. It shows how human nature can develop aggression swiftly as lives get cornered. Trapped people start taking on each other for food and safe harbour, others find ways to fend off others in order to keep their livelihood and supply their own. One of the most prominent topics though would be racism throughout the entire runtime. The older generations of the Japanese show harsh resentment towards any kind of foreigners, and later on a safe harbour is denied to the group because of the mother being Philippine. Their statement saying that only pure Japanese is worth saving. One of the characters in the anime even cusses on the fact that Go uses English, saying that if they’re Japanese, they should act like it.
Now as great as the story sounds on paper, and as great as it was made to be in the trailer, the reality is that it’s just not quite there. While the first two episodes were promising and will have you on the edge of your seat, the story starts getting a little sloppy and rushed as the episodes pass. There were moments that were just so hastened that there was no time to process what had happened and just left you right out confused. There was even a sex scene thrown in that added nothing to the plot, obscuring the whole thing even further. Next thing you know, everything is going down and the end is suddenly there. To an extent, the whole thing felt like there were minimal communication and direction going on. The concept was there, the source material was already laid out perfectly to work from, yet the end result was just messy.
When looking at the characters, it’s not as black and white. On the one hand, I felt like they made the characters as human as they could in situations full of stress like this. Irrational decisions, acting without a second thought and their own lives on the first spot. But the longer you watch, the more annoying this gets. Characters start looking brainless and you can’t help but disagree with every step they take.
The main character is Ayumu. 14 years old, an aspiring Olympian athlete, yet childish and rather oblivious from the very beginning. The worst part being that throughout the runtime, there’s barely any character development there for her. From beginning to end, she blindly makes irrational choices based purely on her emotions, causing some of the worst outcomes.
The rest of the group adapts to the situation rather quickly in comparison. Mari and Kouichirou are taking the lead, and the rest follows. They are soon joined by childhood friend Haruo Koga and family friend Nanami Miura. Nanami acted as the mediator in the group, keeping everyone calm and collected, taking care of them. Now for Haruo. There hasn’t been a better example of a blank personality. It isn’t till the very end that you actually see him do anything, and mostly you forget he’s even there.
Go is one of the more interesting characters. Roughly 10 years old and deep into gaming, he brings some fresh input to the team. And even though younger than his sister, his approach is way more mature than hers, making him more relatable.
It isn’t till a few episodes in that you meet one of the more developed characters in the series, the Youtuber KITE. Honestly, he’s the sole character that pulls the show together. He brings some laughs and some thoughtfulness to the group. Basically, he single-handed saved the whole thing, both in story, as the plot itself.
Unfortunately for any other characters, there is little to say. In the 10 episodes that the anime runs, there is next to no time taken to create some sympathy for any of them. They feel unimportant, and whether they die or not doesn’t really matter either.
The anime starts off with the opening A Life performed by Taeko Ohnuki and Ryuichi Sakamoto. This was such a thrilling song to listen to. It’s so calm, so soft and so bone-chilling, it’s the perfect opening. The piano is just a real treat to listen to and the sweet tones of Taeko’s voice just resonate within you. It’s almost a calm before the storm, the only moment the watcher is truly given breath and when knowing what will happen, somewhere it’s terrifying.
Music was a true piece of art in this anime. The soundtrack was entirely composed by Kensuke Ushio, who also did the soundtrack for DEVILMAN crybaby. Ushio did an amazing job captioning the entire feel of the series. Whether it’s high tension, deep sadness or a soothing calm moment, every single piece lures you in.
Each track is composed with combinations of electro and worldly sounds, either creating the most terrifying atmosphere that creeps all the way up to your spine and chills you to the bone, or gives you the most delightful sunny and happy summer day. There’s no feeling left untouched.
This contributes into the series actually getting to you. The combination of visuals, storytelling and these breath-taking tracks makes what actually sucks you into the story. It makes you feel the sadness of each death, it makes you feel the fear of every quake, and it makes you truly live next to the characters.
This is the point where the studio really fell through though, as it’s the most inconsistent part of the whole anime. The trailer gave the feeling that the whole thing was beautifully rendered, with breath-taking scenes. Unfortunately, they put together the prettiest parts, mostly from the first few episodes. As it goes on, however, you see the style change, some scenes sloppier than others. There were scenes where you saw people walk in the distance and it just looked like they went in slow motion and nearly teleported in place. As if they forgot to make transition frames in between the keyframes. This is a thing you see more often in big projects with a new episode published every week, where there’s not enough time to clean stuff up, but with an anime that only has 10 episodes, it doesn’t feel right.
Then there are the styles that are incoherent with one another. Where in the beginning there was a ton of detail in the art, shading and lighting looked superb and the animation was flawless, all those qualities got lost near the end. There were only simple shapes left, no shading and even line-art and such were different, changing with each scene and sequence.
It’s hard to believe it’s the same series. It gives the impression that either the production was rushed, or due to current measures for COVID-19 the team fell apart while working at home, and consistency was lost. Had they issued a later release, there might have been some tweaking possible to make it more uniform.
As mentioned before, the story is inspired by the novel Japan Sinks. And although the focus is different, the line of events is definitely the same.
To compare where they drifted from the source material, I watched the 2006 adaptation Sinking of Japan.
Both start off with a series of heavy earthquakes in Japan. Troubled by the scale of this, in the movie they send out a submarine led by Toshio Onodera to investigate further, leading to very bleak conclusions. The anime touches upon this as well, having Onodera as the scientist providing the news that Japan will sink, and later on having another big role in the story.
From this point on, however, the focus shifts. The film is focused entirely on the research team and the way the government deals with the situation, whereas the anime shifts to a family going through the disasters that unfold. This gives a divide with the movie being a political commentary-based disaster movie, and the anime more focused on the emotional aspect of loss during natural phenomena like these. I would highly recommend watching the movie as well if possible, to see where this anime came from. It gives more depth on situations where the anime rushed over, and lets you form a bigger picture on the story as a whole.
Overall, the anime is enjoyable. It’s a quick watch with lots happening keeping you from getting bored. However, there were a lot of things rushed in production leading to a mostly average final product, far from the hype that advertisement promised us.