Well… that was a year.
There will be an infinite number of things said about 2020, and the year does have a near certainty of going down as a transformative one for probably every entertainment industry in existence. Film has been pushed to a breaking point, for a moment in time the US’s main media export was hip-hop music, and gaming had one of its biggest influxes of new players since a great many people decided to give it a try, as they had nothing better to do while stuck indoors. Anime meanwhile… 2020 was something of an “all of the above” year for the medium.
A lot of studios had to push back projects, the year saw both more people than ever try it out while at the same time seeing people become disengaged with it due to real-world stress, and plenty of original series found success while past favorites made glorious returns; it was a packed year. And yet, I’d myself would say it felt average, even though there was enough good stuff to fill out this list to ten total entries, along with five honorable mentions. Maybe I just had a lot more time on my hands, maybe there was more good stuff than I remembered… or maybe I’m just easy to please. I don’t know. Anyway…
Before you say anything, this was already my pick for top anime of 2019, and I’m only listing it here again because, well… it can be watched outside of Japan legally now (and I gave it nine points on the end-of-the-year AniTAY poll). I would link my past top anime of 2019 article if it weren’t on a dead site (maybe one day, I’ll upload it to Medium… one day), but I’ll just keep this brief with how the dub is astonishingly good, this is still an underrated show, and season 2 already sounds pretty good out of the gate. I still hold the opinion that this was the final great anime to come out of the 2010s.
Another strong showing from studio Nexus, and while it’s not as ambitious as their previous show, this was still a surprisingly enjoyable battle royal series (between this and Granbelm, I’m not opposed to this subgenre becoming Nexus’s bread and butter). While there wasn’t a standout component to this show, there wasn’t a weak part either, with animation, performances, direction, writing, and even the soundtrack all being solid, culminating in a better than average “death game” anime. And you know, I would actually look forward to a season 2 announcement, as unlikely as that is. A slightly underrated 2020 show.
Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? Season 3
One of these years, Danmachi probably will break out of my HMs… but 2020 wasn’t that year. Season 3 undeniably has the best direction in the series to date (it brought in a new director, so this isn’t too surprising), it has its fair share of great moments, and a superb soundtrack with a couple of great insert songs. But it still has the same weaknesses that’ve been present throughout Danmachi, with villains that start to blend in with one another, and story progression that keeps taking one step back for every two it takes forward. Maybe season 4 however will finally be the one that breaks the show’s mold… here’s hoping.
Isekai Quartet 2
This made it here because it’s still really funny, and it means that I don’t have to have to give my final HM slot to Rent-a-Girlfriend or The Day I Became a God. IQ2 was just as funny as last season, it got me interested enough to finally give Re:zero a try, and it also took the well-deserved piss out of Shield Hero whenever it could. Another underrated show from last year.
The main reason this is here is because it hasn’t finished yet, and when it does later this year it will all but certainly get a top five spot, if not even higher… With that in mind, while this isn’t a deconstruction of shonen as some have said, this could very well be a harbinger of “post-shonen” adaptations, given how there have been some interesting series released in its wake that feel intentionally un-shonen in their look and feel compared to what we’ve become used to (we are so not prepared for Chainsaw Man). Also, this early material is only a taste of what’s to come, given how later in the series is when JJK proceeds to take a sledgehammer to a hundred different shonen tropes in just one story-arc (we’re also not prepared for the Shibuya Incident either). Without a doubt some of the best fun I’ve had all year, all the while having true heart and soul; yeah, this is definitely going to come back in my 2021 top five.
And with those out of the way, here’s TGRIP’s Top 10 Anime of 2020:
10. Kaguya-Sama: Love is War Season 2
This was one of the more… interesting viewing experiences I had all year. I’ll admit that I wasn’t much of a fan of the first season of Kaguya-sama; the humor just didn’t “do it” for me. I was a bit perplexed that it was as much of a hit as it was, but I figured “eh, comedy’s subjective, it happens,” and didn’t pay much mind to it. Then season 2 came out; I gave the sub another shot, and it still didn’t click for me. Then Funimation made a dub for it that everyone hated… and for god knows what reason, this did it for me. Now, the dub did help me figure out why the sub just wasn’t working for me, due to a combination of the show’s casting (most of the women characters just sound too… “try-hard cutesy” to me), and the voice direction, which plays everything so damn straight so much of the time. I’ve been told this is on purpose, but it still leaves me wondering if the show is in on its own joke, and it still doesn’t work for me because half of the main cast just sounds like they aren’t having fun with the material, at least not in a way shows like Konosuba or Wave, Listen to Me! do.
The dub, on the other hand, sounds like every single person involved is having a blast. The direction is a bit looser (not in quality, just in tone), the casting is more down to earth (which makes the comedy and drama hit exactly where they should), and the style of humor is shifted to have just a few more referential jokes, and allows the show poke fun at itself. And even with all that said, don’t let this make you think the dub completely loses the original plot, because wouldn’t you know it, episode 11, the one episode with the least amount of humor in both versions (and the narrator has pretty much no dialogue in this episode too, oddly enough), was the one time the sub fully worked for me, and it’s the one episode where the dubbing is a near perfect match to the original script. Episode 11 was the one time the serious voice direction fully fit the show, and it justified to me why season 1, while not bad, just didn’t work for me. So… yeah. Fuck the haters, the dub for this is great. And Funi, if you’re reading this, I will seriously, happily, put down money for a dub of season 1.
9. Digimon Adventure: Last Evolution Kizuna
Now this is how you do a love-letter. Being a lifelong Digimon fan, the past few years have at times felt like a monkey paw curled when Toei announced that they were celebrating the franchise’s 20th anniversary. Tri, while a respectable effort, ran out of steam halfway through, and the currently airing TV series, despite having some interesting twists and turns, just doesn’t have the magic of the original show. So maybe Last Evolution Kizuna is a beneficiary of lowered expectations… but dammit, it’s the first Digimon entry in years to scratch my itch in the right way. If you’re going to do a sendoff to a continuity that’s been around for decades that you’re going to reboot right afterwards, this is how you do it. Fanservice that borders on obsession at times (man oh man does this movie reward you for watching the old Mamorou Hosoda movies or Tri), great animation throughout, and even though you can see the twist coming from a mile away, the movie still delivers by somehow making the antagonist sympathetic right after they’ve been defeated.
Again, this was part of my childhood, and I have the maturity to admit rose-colored glasses could very well be influencing a better reception than this movie deserves. But I choose to look back on it as a perfect ending point for this series, and better yet one that’s aware of its own importance. The movie carries this bittersweet theme of its focal characters being terminally ill patients, where it and you know it’s all coming to an end. And yet, it goes out in the best way possible, where in one glorious, climactic scene, it states “facing your limits, your own end, opens up possibilities you never knew existed.” In doing so, Kizuna might have actually done the impossible: surpassing the works of Hosoda himself, becoming the all-time best Digimon movie.
Yup, this uh… this made number eight on my list. If you remember from a few months ago, pre-kinja-reader-blog-pocalypse, I was the one person on the AniTAY review for this who didn’t give it overwhelming praise, due to how I felt it lost some steam after its fifth episode. If I could add one thing to my review of it then, it’d be that the main reason for this is because not unlike The Last of Us Part II, Deca-Dence changes protagonists at this point, and the new focal character just isn’t as fun to follow as the previous one (who is kind of sidelined in the process, now that I think about it).
However, I also still stick to my feeling that this show really deserved another six episodes, if not another whole cour altogether, and if the biggest complaint I have about a show is “it should’ve been longer,” that should tell you that I still think this is a damn fine show, and worthy of AniTAY’s overall winner for anime of the year. It’s not better than its predecessor Death Parade, but it’s still impeccably animated, the performances are all great, and it’s another great showing from Studio NUT. I really hope this show gives someone enough faith in its director to finally give him the go-ahead for an original project that’s 24 episodes long, because that would absolutely be My Shit.
7. Re:Zero − Starting Life in Another World Season 2, Part 1
Oh god, who’s keeping all of these great shows out of the top 5? What kind of uncultured swine would do such a thing? Well… to put things simply, Re:zero is a show I like reading about and talking about, more than I genuinely like watching. I think it’s because I have the same issue as a lot of other people where there’s so much packed into this series that it does feel a bit too long at times, which is why for season 2 I caved and just watched a catch-up video of what happened in season 1 in order to jump into it when it started. And you know what, that tactic worked, because this first part of season 2 has some of my all-time favorite anime moments of the entire year (and as you’d expect, almost all of them are during Subaru’s encounters with the witches). This might actually be the first anime that truly succeeds Evangelion in its themes of depression, pain, and self-hatred, but most importantly of all (and unlike Eva, at least up to 3.0+1.0), it actually looks like it will go down the path of accepting, improving, and forgiving one’s self. This show is so damn smart while having so much empathy, I’m still kind of astonished that it exists, while managing to get a creative team to adapt the source material to its fullest potential.
Shit, are we sure I can’t bump this up another spot or two…?
6. My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising
Yeah, I… I put this higher than Re:zero 2 or Deca-Dence. Now, I don’t think I’ll come to regret this like I did back in 2017 when I put My Hero Academia season 2 above Scum’s Wish, because while that’s a case where one show aged much better in retrospect compared to another, this movie will always hold a special place in my heart for one key reason: Heroes Rising was the last movie, anime or otherwise, that I saw in a theater before the lockdowns went into full swing. I’ve never gone for so long in my life without going to a cinama, and you know, this wasn’t a bad choice to go out on, because Heroes Rising is the best kind of shonen movie. Whereas the previous MHA movie Two Heroes was well animated, that’s all it really had going for it; not a bad movie, but nothing memorable outside of a fun Godzilla cameo.
Heroes Rising on the other hand is so good that I almost want to consider it canon, and given its unique place in the series, I think Studio Bones might feel the same way. This is almost like the Fury Road of shonen movies, where the premise is simple, the production is close to ungodly in its quality, and every character gets something to do that puts them through the ringer in the process. Unlike Fury Road, this isn’t exactly what you’d call deep, with villains who are one hit wonders and story developments that don’t add much to the rest of the series. But if you want a distillation of MHA, with Studio Bones doing what’s possibly the best animation they’ll ever do on any project, Heroes Rising might genuinely be without equal. While this in all likelihood isn’t better than my previous two entries here, this still edges them both out with that moment in the theater when the climactic battle reaches its peak, which was hands down one of the best experiences I had in all of 2020.
5. Wave, Listen to Me!
My personal overall choice for most underrated show of the year, and if it had just fixed a couple of issues in its writing (and yes, it was the gay “jokes”), this probably would’ve cracked the top three. Now this is a sub where everyone involved sounds like they’re having a blast with the material, especially the VA behind Minare Koda, who hands down had the best performance of anyone this year. But don’t let this one standout performance make you think this is all Wave has going for it, because every other performance here is pretty darn good-to-great as well, and as a whole this really is a show doesn’t have any real contemporaries. I can’t think of anything off the top of my head to compare this too, even including previous stuff from the studio that made this (and on that note, holy shit can Sunrise kill it even when they’re working on non-Gundam stuff). I know it’d be too much to hope for more stuff like this, in “believable-messy” characters, or premises about overlooked real-life professions, or what it’s like to live as a young millennial/zoomer in the modern day. But I would absolutely love to see more anime like this.
4. Aggretsuko Season 3
Finally, finally, finally, a season of Aggretsuko graduated out of my honorable mentions. Granted, I might be doing this as a make-up for not putting one of the 2010s most underrated anime series on a list of mine previously, but I really do think season 3 is Aggretsuko at its best. It continues to build on everything from previous seasons, with every character in its ever-expanding cast getting a good moment that makes great use of them (while continuing to introduce new ones who are always fun to watch), and it’s still funny in ways that can hit a little too close to home at times. But what might’ve really pushed season 3 so far up this time is how it became… rather timely in 2020.
A sense of low-level melancholy the show has always excelled at was relevant like never before this year, and Aggretsuko’s blend of existential-malaise with humor that can bust your gut when you’re not expecting it to, and this unique quality was a godsend in 2020. Being a third season show, I can’t think of much else to say about it that I haven’t already in previous years, so I’ll just leave it at there are times shows age into greatness, and other times the real world makes a show click in a way it hasn’t quite before. I guess the one silver-lining for 2020 is that it did both for Aggretsuko.
3. Great Pretender
While Deca-Dence was the show that for me personally lost a bit of its luster halfway through, this one sadly lost a bit of charm the more I thought about it when I finished watching it. So, I hope that its placement at number 3 illustrates that despite my issues with its last story arc, Great Pretender is still a great series. I have come down a little from my original position that this was a spiritual successor to Black Lagoon, but I’d say GP works as well as it does thanks to it sharing many of Lagoon’s qualities, from its story structure, to various character archetypes, to even similar subject matter at times, even though Lagoon wipes the floor with GP in terms of “going there” with what it covers. While GP doesn’t go as hard though, it benefits from being more approachable and having much more style, from its visual aesthetic to its soundtrack. And they both have the distinct honor of being shows where the dub is so great that the sub might as well be nonexistent.
So, why is this show “only” number three? Well, originally it was because the first two cases were both one episode too long each, and the show could’ve benefitted from some editing to make it shorter and sharper. But it was the last case, the second season, that unfortunately had enough misfires to bring it down, but instead of being too long, it was because the show’s writing kept pulling punches when it looked like it really wanted to hit hard. When you’re going to cover human trafficking, you can’t half-ass it, and a last-minute appearance from previous antagonists didn’t help either (especially when it looked like it was building up to having previous “good-marks”, such as the bodyguard and elderly art collecting woman, come back for a last hurrah). None of these missteps “killed” GP, but I couldn’t ignore them.
HOWEVER, Great Pretender still has my outright favorite anime moment from the year, when Cynthia pulls a last-second atomic bomb of revenge, where she eggs the man who destroyed her relationship into digging a deeper and deeper grave for himself, and it was a peak that cemented GP as one of the best shows of the year. That one scene had pitch-perfect direction, acting, animation, scoring, and editing, and if you want my choice for the best four-episode run for any show in 2020, it has to be “Snow of London.” If the rest of Great Pretender was as great as those four episodes, it would’ve made first place here, and it’s why I’m begging Studio Wit to make a sequel series.
2. Fruits Basket Season 2
This is a combination of an apology for the previous season not making my list in 2019, and also how strongly I feel like Fruba season 2 is a big, big step up from season 1. I tried to get into season 1 in 2019, but 2020 is when I finally found a place where the show started to click for me . Going from there, I stayed up to date with season 2 as it aired throughout 2020 starting out with the dub, and when it got delayed I continued on with the sub (and before you ask, I’d say Fruba is a series where the dub and sub are about equal in in quality. They’re both excellent, and you should go with whichever floats your boat). Season 2’s biggest strength is that it simply doesn’t have to go through all the character introductions and world-building as season 1, so it really can get down to the business of character growth, relationships, and overall storytelling, and what results is something that’s legitimately worth the 20+ year long wait of a proper adaptation of a truly great series.
The one thing that’s stuck out most to me about Fruba, as a newcomer, is how its plot-device of the zodiac curse works so damn well as a metaphor for personal trauma, how it lingers and makes it hard for people to have normal lives and relationships even years after it’s gone, because it’s never truly gone. And it works beautifully today in how a lot of fantasy media uses “monster-people” as an analogy for trying to form relationships in spite of racial, sexual, or other societal barriers. Fruits Basket is not just a unique anime, but a unique piece of media that somehow achieved a newfound relevance due to the modern-day media around it, and I’m frankly still amazed that something that was already great in the 2000s, might arguably be even greater nearly two decades later. Here’s hoping season 3 can stick the landing… and speaking of third seasons that went out on a high note…
- My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU Climax
Throughout the hellscape that was 2020, Beastars was the yardstick I had throughout the year for anime: “is there gonna be anything in this year that was better than this show?” Was I going to end the year with it getting a full 10 points from me in the end-of-year poll? While it stood tall throughout 2020, there was one show that was going to have a good shot of surpassing it, and good god did it deliver. SNAFU Climax is, without a doubt, the best season of SNAFU, and a perfect culmination of one of, if not the, best anime high school shows of the 2010s. While I am a bit… not even sad, just a little down that it just made it into the top 10 by the skin of its teeth, I understand why, because five years is a long time to wait for a follow-up season. In 2015, I didn’t have a driver’s license, I hadn’t even declared my major, most of us were dead-certain Hillary Clinton was going to be our next president; so much has changed in just half a decade.
For me personally, SNAFU Climax was a welcome relief, and it came at a time when I needed a reminder of a world that wasn’t fully fucked up (and it was also why I didn’t mind all too much when it got delayed in early 2020; I had waited five years for it, I could wait one more season). Climax was going to get a high place on this list no matter what, but what cinched it first place was that it did something I thought was nigh-impossible: it found a way to be better than season 2. I’ve never denied that SNAFU is not something for everyone, and it’s a series that much like its characters has gone through a steady process of improvement, most notably a direction and studio change from season 1 to 2 that made it drop dead gorgeous and a legitimately great drama series. But Climax had one small tweak that made the series just a little bit more accessible. The third season kept the director, studio, voice cast, and composer, but had a different scriptwriter this time, and god knows how but following SNAFU this season almost felt easy in comparison to its previous seasons. Sure, it meant that it wasn’t as rewardingly rewatchable as it used to be, but this was still the best high school drama anime of the year.
I know that there are quite a few people who were dissatisfied with the ending, but the more I thought about it afterwards, the more it gelled with me, and ultimately I don’t think it should end any other way. Every character gets what they’ve been working towards, with Yukino finally standing on her own two feet, Hachiman learning to not overthink everything and be honest with himself and others, and Yui learning the hardest lesson of all: heartbreak. You can be best-girl, and someone will still not be into you, and that’s okay. They will still be your friends, friends good enough for you to be fully honest with them, and they’ll still accept you despite an awkward situation. Things can still be worked out, and it’ll be worth it. I also have to mention Haruno, the closest thing this series had to an antagonist, even getting a small moment that made her entire character and motivations crystal clear; when a show can make me feel sympathetic and even sorry for someone like her… god damn, I wish I could write characters this well.
Sure, there were some characters I wished got a little more screen time, but a show that gives me that distinct, empty feeling of “I wish this wasn’t ending” did something quite right, and Climax even went the extra mile by doing a soft-retcon of a scene from season 1 (while being hilarious doing so). I expected there was going to be a bias on my part, I knew it was gonna be really high on here, but Climax just found new ways to impress me, ways I thought were honestly impossible, and writing about it right now is making me legit misty eyed. Thinking back on it… yeah, there’s no question: My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU Climax is my anime of the year for 2020.
As always, thank you very much for reading my end of year lists, and I look forward to what 2021 will bring. Stay healthy and safe, and get vaccinated when you can.
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