Oh, dang, where’d the time go?
I haven’t written one of these wrap-up guides since Winter last year, because let’s be real, 2020 in anime was…a time. Half the year was basically empty thanks to a pandemic that shut down a lot of things that were more important than anime studios, and a lot of the shows that were delayed were pushed to this season, so there’s…a lot to cover, and Winter 2021 is going to be no different. Given that this is just one of the 2020 lists I still have to write, I don’t have much to say here beyond…well, let’s get this over with.
29 shows premiered, were simulcast, and concluded in this season. Of those, I…
Skipped 5 — Golden Kamuy Season 3, Tsukiuta Season 2, and Strike Witches: Road to Berlin, all because I either dropped their previous seasons (Kamuy) or have not watched them, Dogeza and Magatsu Wahrheit because they were late-comers for simulcasting and by the time I was even aware of them they had zero buzz or positive press.
Ikebukuro West Gate Park
There are very few things in this world that are less cool than an after school special pretending to be hip and edgy, and boy oh boy does IWGP wear its conservative, kid-friendly attitude on its sleeve. It’s a story about the world’s nicest gang who collaborate with the police to bust criminals and hate drugs. This is what D.A.R.E. would look like as an anime. At the end of the premiere, we’re finally shown the potentially-lethal, mind-melting, coma-inducing drug that the kids have been hunting down (again, to hand over to the cops) all episode, and…it’s just marijuana. Thank goodness Doga Kobo didn’t put their A-team on this one.
It’s certainly not the most offensive Crunchyroll Original of 2020, but it is the one with the least reason for existing. Noblesse is, like Tower of God and God of High School before it, a comic that’s been going for years and is now being compressed into a thirteen episode anime. There’s so much potential for a story about an aristocrat from the tenth century enrolling in a modern high school, and yet it’s so oppressively serious that it takes the wind out of its jokes and comes off having no idea what direction it wants to go in.
From the author of Lucky Star comes something I don’t think anybody was really asking for. If you wanted to make another slice of life story, why not make more of the one that made you famous? Maesetsu! is about a group of girls who do stand-up comedy, only none of them are funny and they all look like the Chinese bootlegs of the characters this author made over a decade ago.
By the Grace of the Gods
I don’t really have much to say about this one. For an isekai story, it’s extremely boring and poorly produced, and the most interesting about it is the multitudes of little non-sentient slimes littered all over the protagonist’s house.
Warlords of Sigrdrifa
A massive disappointment from the creator of Re:Zero, Warlords is a show about a famously gifted pilot girl who joins the Japanese Air Force and meets a bunch of other cute girls who do dogfights, only the very first dogfight we see looks dull and takes up far too much time. This one had the nerve to make me watch a double-length premiere in which very little happened, and from the people I know that didn’t drop it right away, I’m pretty sure I didn’t miss anything interesting.
Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World
What I coined “the most Light Novel Anime” is basically just another fantasy Romeo and Juliet story, stuffed to the brim with tropes it uses in only the most by-the-book ways. Characters have edgy titles for no reason, weapons have names, fantasy kingdoms are at war, yadda yadda yadda. Go rewatch Assassin’s Pride if you want entertaining trash. The very top of the this-doesn’t-get-a-second-episode-from-me pile is still a show that isn’t worth your time.
Assault Bouquet Lily (4/10)
Speaking of shows from big creators, look, it’s the second SHAFT show to massively disappoint me this year. Assault Bouquet Lily is a perfect example of a show that pretends to have a plot, because it drops all pretense by episode three and straight-up changes into a slice of life cute girls at battle school story. It will try to convince you that it’s a dramatic tale about fighting the monsters that threaten all humanity and the love that blossoms between senpai and kohai, and then it will deliver on none of this. At least it looked pretty.
The Irregular at Magic High School: Visitor Arc (4/10)
Irregular almost had me. I was genuinely excited after the premiere — a limited runtime of only one cour meant the plot would have to keep moving, it looked better than ever, the characters were clicking despite keeping their stupid incest bullshit…and then by episode four I had remembered. ‘Oh yeah, Irregular is boring trash!’ There’s something to be found in this story if you have the patience for endless, endless scenes of people sitting around and speculating about the plot, but almost all of the characters here deserve a better story that cares about them, and the way it stalls the plot is just egregious.
Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina (5/10)
Here’s the contentious one. AniTAY fought about this show for weeks before finally throwing in the towel and accepting that neither side was going to give up, and by the end of episode four, I was pretty firmly in the camp of “this show makes no sense and is going nowhere”. The premiere was great, exceptionally well-produced, had a lot of promise…and the show that followed it shifted wildly and erratically in tone, with a lead whose motivations and morality turned on a dime. If you told me the twist in the last episode was that “Elaina” was a different person in each story, I would believe you one hundred percent. Also, yet another show where a character with power sees slavery happening and does nothing to stop it. Booooooooo.
Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear (5/10)
I had hope for this one, that it would be the thing BOFURI couldn’t be. It looked like it might have actually been a story about something, have stakes, be funny but not at the expense of having an actual narrative…and then it wasn’t. Kuma Bear has no plot past the premiere, its main character is bland and one-dimensional, and I dropped it after four episodes because I was getting nothing from it. If you want feel-good shows with character and weight, watch Flying Witch, or Non Non Biyori, or Sweetness and Lightning.
Iwa Kakeru Sport Climbing Girls (5/10)
Iwa Kakeru looked somewhat promising at the beginning. We’ve not seen a sports show with this topic before, and while the camera was a bit leery and the production was sorely lacking, I had a feeling that this show would really sell me if I gave it a few episodes, but unfortunately there’s not much here that hasn’t been done much better elsewhere. The camera spent too much time checking the girls out, the characters were extremely formulaic, and the plot was by-the-numbers, so without even having decent production, there wasn’t much to keep me watching.
I’m Standing On a Million Lives and Dropout Idol Fruit Tart (6/10)
These were shows that I probably would have had time for in a less crowded season, but neither of them were particularly blowing me away. Million Lives was a somewhat interesting isekai-death game hybrid with middling production values, and Dropout Idol was a neat little story that went for a more pessimistic tone than the genre generally carries, but without much in the way of spectacle.
Worst Show of the Season: The Day I Became A God (2/10)
With Angel Beats!, Jun Maeda proved that he had a ton of potential for emotionally gripping, unusual stories, but probably needed more than one cour to tell them. With Charlotte, he divided the anime community by delivering an ending that seemed intended to replace the entire second half of the show that didn’t actually get made. And with The Day I Became A God, he flushed his reputation down the toilet by writing a final episode that managed to insult the disabled community, heroize a pedophile, and collapse the entire preceding (very good) story in upon itself in a nightmarish trainwreck. Maybe he’ll stay away in 2025.
Is The Order a Rabbit? Bloom
GochiUsa unexpectedly returned for basically another season of the same old, same old. It’s almost hard to find stuff to talk about with this show because it’s just here to give the audience a comfy, sometimes funny, pretty forgettable time, but if you liked the first two seasons I don’t see a reason not to watch this one.
Hypnosis Mic: Division Rap Battle — Rhyme Anima (5/10)
This show crushed me. I fell in love with its premiere basically instantly, and then almost nothing of importance happened for the entire thing, until the end when the show tried to pay off a nonexistent buildup. There was a lot of potential here but I’m not sure a second season will save this one.
Adachi and Shimamura (6/10)
I like it better than Bloom Into You, but it’s still hard to wrap my head around this very well-made show just spending its entire runtime spinning its wheels. The main relationship has made extremely little progress by the end, and it’s only after twelve episodes that we find out that Shimamura even might reciprocate Adachi’s feelings. If you’re starved for shoujo-ai fluff, this is here for you, but if you watch the first episode and don’t fall head-over-heels, this one’s a skip.
Gymnastics Samurai (6/10)
This one was primed to be a 7/10 “can I copy your homework” of Yuri On Ice!! (from the same studio, even) for almost its whole run. It’s likeable, but not extremely deep. And then, in the final two episodes, we get a lot of plot lines wrapping up extremely abruptly with very little fanfare, resulting in one of the main characters feeling entirely wasted, and not much in the way of satisfying payoff. I expected better from the Zombieland Saga guy.
TONIKAWA: Over The Moon For You (6/10)
I know I’m entirely alone, stranded on a desert island with this opinion, but TONIKAWA was not, in the end, all that special. It hides poor visuals with poppy color grading, its main duo have a good dynamic with each other but are individually pretty weak, and the show never pays off the plot it teases you with, leaving you with twelve episodes of just the gimmick of “they got married the second time they met each other”. It’s cute, but Horimiya was coming literally the next season.
Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? III (7/10)
This year, Danmachi simultaneously got a lot better while revealing its biggest weakness. Season three was one story told over its entire runtime, which made for good pacing of its best story yet, and a solid amount of effective story tension because the stakes were finally raised. However, at the end of its twelve episodes, not much had changed in the status quo, certainly not twelve episodes worth of plot. This season felt more like a really good franchise movie than a continuation of an ongoing story, and if Danmachi is going to hold my attention, it’s going to need to develop an A-plot.
Talentless Nana (8/10)
As far as Death Note rip-offs go, Talentless Nana is in the upper tier. The characters are very well-written and defined, the plot knows exactly how to leave you on a cliffhanger, and watching Nana worm her way out of situations that ought to be impossible is extremely entertaining, especially once the real plot of the show reveals itself. However, that didn’t stop it from wasting precious screentime on an unnecessary antagonist.
Akudama Drive (8/10)
I will fully admit that Akudama Drive’s plot is messy, but it somehow did extremely little to detract from the enjoyment that I got from this jaw-droppingly gorgeous rollercoaster from the writers of Danganronpa. I came away from the first episode of Akudama thinking it was something I’d never seen before, and the fact that it maintained an insanely-high animation quality for its entire runtime (from the same studio currently doing Boruto no favors) and gave me a twisty thrill-ride of a story is going to keep me thinking about this one.
Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club (8/10)
This one’s kind of funny to talk about now that we’ve got another brand-new iteration of the franchise coming up extremely shortly, but Nijigasaki was a very fun little detour that showcased the writing and animation talents of Sunrise’s B-team. Almost every episode had a fantastic-looking musical number, there were tear-jerky heartwarming moments in abundance, and the new cast was memorable and entirely distinct from the ones that came before. It’s not as deep as Sunshine, but if it ever gets a second season, I have faith it’ll get there.
Best Show of the Season: Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle (9/10)
Okay, I know “comfy” anime is its own entire genre with a dedicated fanbase at this point, but what if you could have a show that was comfy…and uproariously funny? Sleepy Princess takes one joke — the princess of a fantasy kingdom has been kidnapped by a demon king, but all she has on her mind is sleep — and pushes it in every single possible direction to hilarious and heartwarming effect. It’s also the second absurdly pretty show Doga Kobo made this year (after Sing Yesterday For Me) and its art style only adds to its utter charm. Not enough people have watched this show, so I’m begging you to give it a shot.
And that’s it! Keep an eye out for the rest of my 2020 year-end lists, coming to you extremely late! Please look forward to it!