You don’t need me to tell you that 2020 has been one of the craziest years in recent memory due to the COVID pandemic. Whilst it has taken many lives and inconvenienced millions of others, one area hit hard was the arts, with production of many films and TV shows either brought to a standstill or run on reduced capacity under social distancing rules.
Anime wasn’t except either with some shows delayed or aborted – one title in particular, the fishing comedy Houkago Teibou Nisshi began its run in the spring season but was halted after three episodes because of COVID and finished its run during the summer season instead! Luckily, it was worth the wait. But, once a groove was found, production continued unabated and the new shows kept coming as usual.
Naturally, personal taste being what it is, not everything was to this writer’s taste, not helped by the continued proliferation of the Isekai subgenre, and other retreads of well-worn premises and concepts. Despite this, 2020 did see something different introduced to anime fans – shows based on Korean Webtoons! If Japanese manga and video games were becoming too repetitive, maybe their Korean neighbours had some fresh ideas that could be mined.
God Of High School arrived with a big buzz in the summer though it failed to live up the hype with its rushed and inconsistent storytelling, (and the distracting red noses of its characters) but did open doors to a new source of stories to adapt, as well as boosting interest in Korean webtoons and manhwa (manga). Whether this yields something more substantial in the future remains to be seen.
For this writer, this year’s selection of new titles has been a hard one to get to grips with in that some were enjoyable enough but didn’t exactly set my world alight, thus I again have a top ten which I feel conflicted about presenting as epitomising the best of what I watched in 2020. I deliberated long and hard over this selection purely because I had to weigh up whether I enjoyed one show more than another outside of my top picks which were no brainers for me.
Oh, and if you wondering why Attack On Titan’s final season isn’t included in this list, that is because it didn’t start airing until the middle of December, which didn’t give me any time to judge it properly despite loving the previous seasons thus far. Rest assured though, it is bound be on the 2021 list somewhere!
So, without further ado, here are my personal Top Ten shows which aired on Japanese TV in 2020 and as usual agree or disagree as is your wont.
10. Kanojo Okarishimasu (Rent-A-Girlfriend)
A concept that can safely described as “only in Japan”, Kazuya Kinoshita is dumped by his girlfriend and turns to an app to rent a girlfriend. He chooses top scoring beauty Chizuru Mizuhara, but circumstance forces them to keep the illusion alive. An interesting idea to make this typical teen rom-com feel fresh though it does jump the shark in later episodes by introducing more girls for hire when the conflict between Chizuru, Kazuya and his ex-girlfriend was sufficient plot fodder.
I know, it should be higher but frankly it needs a binge rewatch to fully appreciate it, as I initially thought this would be a bona fide top spot contender. In a post-apocalyptic world where aliens called Gadolls have wiped out humanity, a young girl, Natsume, dreams of being a Gear warrior to fight the Gadolls and gets her chance when her boss Kaburagi trains her. The first episode was great but the twist in the second episode was to wacky and jarring for me hence needing a second watch to see if I get it.
8. Adachi to Shimamura (Adachi And Shimamura)
The obligatory “MIB is an old softy” entry, this yuri tale of two high school girls who meet when bunking off class and become friends, is a sweet slow burn “will they won’t they” affair. The shy Sakura Adachi slowly falls for the popular and outgoing Hougetsu Shimamura and can’t seem to drop enough hints about this to see if her feelings are reciprocated. Gorgeously animated, this avoids being twee though I have no idea what the girl in the spacesuit is about…
7.Murenase! Seton Gakuen (Seton Academy: Join the Pack!)
A twisted take on the harem comedy, as anthropomorphic animals have overtaken humanity in the population stake, humans Jin Mazama and Hitomi Hino are the only ones at Seton Academy for animals. Unfortunately for Jin, he attracts wolf girl Ranka and she claims him for her pack, which expands to koala, sloth, cat, and panda. It’s a wild and zany as it sounds yet highly educational regarding animals’ behaviour and similar vital information.
6. Uzaki-chan wa Asobitai! (Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out!)
The most controversial title of the year, what is actually a silly slice-of-life comedy about a lackadaisical college student Shinichi Sakurai, who prefers his own company, pestered by his diminutive kohei Hana Uzaki who decides Shinichi needs to have more fun. The contentious issue is Hana looking like a little girl but with boobs the size of beach balls, leading to accusations of covert sexualising and fetishising of minors (even though Hana is 18). Despite this, there is a cute and funny show here.
5. Majo no Tabitabi (Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina)
A sort of Kino’s Journey but with a cute witch and no talking motorbikes, Elania grew up fascinated with the travel journals of a witch named Niké and decides to follow in her footsteps. Having found a witch willing to train her in Fran, the Stardust Witch, Elania becomes the Ashen Witch and journeys from town to town. It follows a villain of the week type format but also tackles some interesting themes, with one episode so dark it required a warning at the start.
Women are still struggling with equality in the 21st century and this show reminds us how long this has been an issue. In 16th century Florence, Arte Spalletti is the daughter of a noble family with an interest in art but such things aren’t acceptable for women or nobility so leaves her family and sets out to become a painter, under the tutelage of grizzled painter Leo. Arte endures much sexism and discrimination but her determination sees her through and she wins the naysayers over. You go girl!
3. Ikebukuro West Gate Park
Pride of one’s town or city is important for a lot of people, which is why some will do anything to keep its reputation clean. Former delinquents Makoto Majima and Takashi Ando form the G-Boys to clear up any mess the police can’t handle, be it rival gangs, corrupt politicians, or drug dealers. An episodic show crying out for an over-arching plot, there are some prevalent issues covered, such as racism, murder, corporate bullying, and sexual grooming.
2. Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! (Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!)
I wonder how many anime fans have thought about making their own anime. Midori Asakusa is such a girl but isn’t sure how to go about it, but she soon receives help from teen model Tsubame Mizusaki and money-obsessed Sayaka Kanamori to form Eizouken film club and make their anime using school funds. A mix of zany comedy and wistful flights of fancy and insights into the detailed production of an anime on a meagre budget, this is both a hoot and an eye opener.
Nami yo Kiitekure
(Wave, Listen To Me!)
We’ve all done it – vented our spleens or shot our mouths off unaware that we are being heard by someone who shouldn’t be listening, but for Minare Koda it is a lot worse. She is unaware that the chap at the bar listening to her drunken rants is local radio producer Kanetsugu Mato and that he is taping her, until the next day when Minare hears herself on the radio whilst in her day job at a restaurant. She goes to confront Mato about this and lands a job instead, her own late night radio show!
The first half of the opening episode of this show is both beguiling and likely to put people off but it is absolutely vital to stay the course, as this series is an absolute joy. Minare is a great character, a strong woman who knows her mind yet is as vulnerable as those she lives in the wake of her acid tongue. A wonderful support cast of equally human characters gives her plenty of people to riff off and the comedy is sublime. In short we NEED more anime series like this.
At least 2020 was able to produce some gems to brighten up what was a global annus horriblis, it was the also-rans that were harder to grade. Just missing out on a spot but under consideration were the aforementioned Houkago Teibou Nisshi, fantasy Somali to Mori no Kamisama, sporty drama Iwa Kakeru!: Sport Climbing Girls, manga comedy Kakushigoto and cute but silly rom-com Tonikaku Kawaii.
Join me again at the end of 2021 to see what new treats were served up in the home of anime, and which one made the grade in MIB’s Top Ten.
Thanks for reading and until next time, this is the Man in Black saying Sayonara!