[Hello all and welcome to Weeb Analysis: a monthly column dedicated to analyzing new anime and seeing which titles are truly the classics in the making and which ones are worthless shlock not worth your time. Sit back, get some sushi or ramen, and get ready to learn about anime.]
You smell that? That’s the smell of another obligatory celebration that 2020 has passed us by! While most film sites are now grappling with getting their yearly awards all geared up (Flixist is no exception FYI), the year has formally wrapped on most 2020 anime! Unlike with other industries, most anime stay around for three-month increments, and with December wrapping up the Fall season, now we have a fresh new batch of shows to ring in 2021!
But since I’m the kind of guy who loves to reflect on the past year, it goes without saying that this month’s Weeb Analysis, as well as all future January installments, will be centered on celebrating the year in anime and honoring the best, the worst, and whatever titles I want to acknowledge! This can be considered an awards show of sorts, but make no mistake there are no set categories. My tastes change like the wind, therefore these categories will almost certainly change every year. At the end of the day though, there are seven awards I want to give away across the entire spectrum of quality, ultimately leading us to what I consider the Best Anime of 2020.
First off, if you’ve missed all of the various Weeb Analysis posts from the past year, you can find links to them here to peruse through at your leisure. As for the rules, the only requirement for being discussed here is that the anime in question needs to have been released in the West at some point during 2020. Most shows are simulcasted worldwide, but because Netflix is Netflix, several shows that aired in 2019 were unwatchable until 2020. Instead of leaving them to languish in a nebulous void of ambiguity, I’m classifying them as 2020 titles. As long as it came out in 2020, whether it completed its run or si set to finish sometime in 2021, it’s fair game.
So without further adieu, here are the winners of the Weeb Analysis Awards!
Best Opening – Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!
Song – “Easy Breezy”
Artist – chelmico
If you’re someone who frequents anime sites or follows the industry, chances are you’ve heard hundreds of times about Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken. The show follows three high school girls as they make various different anime projects and the frankly overwhelming depiction of the work that goes on behind the scenes of any animation production studio, regardless of region. Coming to us from Science Saru. who also delivered Japan Sinks 2020, the series is being heralded as one of the best shows of 2020. And no, I’m not just referring to it in the bubble that is anime. Major outlets like the New York Times and the New Yorker have praised Eizouken as one of the best TV shows of the year, period.
And I just can’t get into it.
I’ve tried hard to watch Eizouken and appreciate it as the masterpiece many are calling it but each time I finish it I’m left with just a sense of appreciation. I can enjoy what I saw and admire the demented attention to detail that the animators poured out of their hearts to create this show, but it never clicked with me. That leaves me with just enjoying the show as a product of quality versus one that I have an emotional investment in. Impersonal versus personal.
Thankfully, I can’t deny that the opening to the show is awesome. I’m not an expert when it comes to describing music, but the vibe that I get off of the theme song “Easy Breezy” is just to groove along. It mellows me out and has just enough kinetic energy to perk me up, especially that guitar slide at the start. I’ve never once heard of the band chelmico, but after listening to “Easy Breezy” I’ve gone out and listened to plenty more of their songs, which is always an excellent sign for an OP.
As far as animation goes, we get a perfect glimpse at the personality and the character traits of each of our three heroines just from how they bob along to the music and little images that define who they are. Even without watching the series, you can immediately pick up the dynamics between the three women and the exuberant energy that they have for making anime, or at the very least the business of making anime. Wish I could have loved the show more, but “Easy Breezy” is good enough for me.
Best Ending – Jujutsu Kaisen
Song – “Lost in Paradise” feat. AKLO
Artist – ALI
The testament to a good ending theme song is that even if the episode is over and there’s no point in staying for the credits, you can’t pull yourself away. Skipping the ending would be a sin if the song and animation were that good, and Jujutsu Kaisen’s ending theme song is THAT GOOD.
While the series is a surprisingly dark and horror-tinged Shonen series, way more so than Demon Slayer, that grimness is contrasted with one of the jazziest and upbeat songs of the year. ALI also delivered the opening theme song to Beastars, which is arguably just as good as “Lost in Paradise,” but once I heard this song I couldn’t get it out of my head. Sometimes you don’t really need to describe the quality of a song and you can just listen to it to understand why it’s so good. I’m not even a huge jazz fan and I couldn’t get enough of this.
Through pastel images, we’re able to see the main cast, both major and minor, enjoying a day off from brutally killing demons. Some of them spend time with dogs, some go shopping, some eat, but it feels like a peek behind the curtain from the darkness. This ending theme, both from an auditory and visual perspective, feels like a Saturday. It’s a day or rest and relaxation, with everyone going about their own ways to relax, with the sun shining down on everyone. You can’t help but feel a deep sigh of relaxation and energy when the weekend hits, and “Lost in Paradise” is the feeling personified. I can’t get enough of this song, the anime itself is really solid, and maybe we’ll talk about the show even more come 2021.
Biggest Waste of My Time – Digimon Adventure:
Yes, the colon is a part of the title. No, I don’t know why it’s there either.
As a child of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, I loved Digimon. I would watch every episode on Saturday morning, I have all of the DVDs, Digimon World is one of my favorite PS1 games, I love the series. It’s nothing complex and definitely has many, many, many noticeable problems, like the animation budget of a rock, but I can’t help but love it. Sometimes it’s from nostalgia, sometimes it’s from genuinely good writing and action like in the third season Tamers.
But the franchise has been struggling for the past decade. The series doesn’t seem to know how to move forward anymore, instead just rehashing the first season ad infinitum. We’ve had a six-part film series following the original cast on a new adventure, we’ve had a sequel film meant to conclude the original series released last year, and now we just have a straight-up remake of the first season. The only difference here is that this remake feels so soulless, so devoid of passion or charm, and instead relies on mindless fight scenes to keep audiences entertained.
Yes, Digimon has always been an action series at its heart, but it’s one that has simple yet effective characterization. Over the course of the 30 episodes that released in 2020 out of 66 total episodes, the series feels completely directionless, with our characters walking around trying to find some vague purpose to be there. At first, it’s to find a Holy Digimon and beat the bad guy but once that’s finished, the characters… just continue to wander aimlessly until they stumble upon the next storyline. Even then, it took over 20 episodes to get to that point, and to call the journey uneven would be a HUGE understatement.
Again, the series isn’t exactly revolutionary and it was probably my mistake for thinking that this remake was going to try and do anything different, but the sad part is that this show feels inferior to the original in nearly every way. Even with better animation, a better soundtrack, and a more responsible localization, I’ll take the jankier, less polished, but more entertaining original any day of the week. Remakes can work, and they actually usually succeed in the anime industry, but this one simply does not at the moment.
Best Dumpster Fire – Rent-A-Girlfriend
I already did a Weeb Analysis of this a few months ago so I won’t go on about this for too long, but Rent-A-Girlfriend was a hilarious trainwreck from beginning to end. From an utterly inept main character to a plot that just threw its hands in the air at Episode 6 and gave up, the series is still somehow, SOMEHOW, enjoyable. It’s not good, not at all, and features some really squicky perceptions on women, dating, and adulthood, but that’s counterbalanced by genuinely deep conversations and moments that have no place being in a show like this.
Every time I would watch a new episode, I was flabbergasted at how the show could wildly switch from being a poor harem anime entirely focused on fan-service and satisfying the lowest common denominator, to scenes that felt like the creators were trying to accomplish something here. And they did at times! How a show like this could ever make me emote for its character is beyond me, but damn it, I’m actually looking forward to the second season! I wouldn’t call this a guilty pleasure, not by a mile, or even something that’s so bad it’s good, but rather a failure that needs examination. It needs to be witnessed for posterity’s sake and to remind myself that yes, 2020 really did give us a show as bafflingly as Rent-A-Girlfriend.
Best Anime That None of You Heathens Watched – Akudama Drive
I admit that I was going to love Akudama Drive from its concept alone. Taking place in a cyberpunk inspired alternative reality where supercriminals, known as Akudama, roam free and an aesthetic that’s bathed in neon lights, this was going to be my jam. Add in the fact that you have the writer behind the Danganronpa series of video games helming the story and you have a must-watch title in my eyes. But to then take all of those components and turn it into a balls-to-the-wall action series with scathing political and social commentary and you have an outstanding anime that flew under most people’s radars.
The show is in your face almost 100% of the time and constantly throws swerves and twists at you to the point where each episode has the potential to alter the status quo in a significant way. If it sounds like I’m being vague when describing Akudama Drive, it’s because I’m going to dive into this in more detail for next month’s Weeb Analysis because I cannot simply contain my thoughts in one brief section.
Between the hyper-violent fight scenes, meaningful character development, and a finale that needs to be seen to be believed, I cannot give you a stronger recommendation to see this without me going on for paragraphs upon paragraphs and potentially spoiling the entire series in the process. If I’m salivating to spread the gospel that is Akudama Drive, you should check it out.
Worst Anime(s) of the Year – Any Chruchyroll/Webtoon Production
Crunchyroll has been a well-known figure in anime streaming for over a decade. Originally a fansub site started by a few college graduates in 2006, the site is now the most prominent name in anime streaming here in the West. They’ve streamed several amazing titles over the past decade, but they never dipped their toes into producing original content until 2020. It’s the logical next step for a distributor to eventually become a producer. That’s how Funimation became the largest game in town. But the key difference is that nearly all of the shows that were labeled as “Crunchyroll Original” in 2020 were absolute disasters, delivering awful episode after awful episode on a weekly basis. To be more specific, the Crunchyroll Originals that were a co-production with Webtoon are a special breed of awful.
For those unaware, Webtoon is a digital publishing company you may most likely know for making those New York Comic Con lanyards every year. The company began in South Korea and their three co-productions with Crunchyroll, Tower of God, God of High School, and Noblesse are all based on South Korean manga or manhwa, as it’s referred to. All three anime titles are based on long-running manhwa and by some satanic intervention, all three of these shows were the absolute worst things I saw last year.
All three shows are awful for completely different reasons. Tower of God, which aired in the spring, is what you get when you try to cram in 100 chapters of a series into 12 twenty-minute episodes. The characters are lifeless, the world is ill-defined, I had no vested interest in the plot because of it, and the show continuously spun its wheels instead of making any meaningful advances or commentary. The fall’s Noblesse has the distinction of just being boring as tar, one of the few anime that was excellent at consistently putting me to sleep.
But special mention needs to be made of the summer’s biggest dud, the biggest trainwreck of that season, God of High School. It is what you get when you have every lazy Shonen action trope into one series, stuffed with too many characters to name, a lightning pace that never stops, leaving the audience to question why the martial arts tournament fighters can summon demons, to why that show just throws EVEN MORE demons and magic at you without proper explanation. Each episode only got worse and worse until it devolved into a barrage of sights and sounds with little context.
The fault lies in Crunchyroll for greenlighting this atrocious anime and it has soured me on any and all productions they may create in the future. Based on their output for the Winter 2021 season, it looks like any original Crunchyroll production may in fact be cursed.
Anime of the Year – Beastars
I feel like I’m on my backfoot with Beastars when I shouldn’t be. The series is critically acclaimed and giving it this top spot is a forgone conclusion. I fell in love with this series back in March and I cannot wait for the second season, which is currently airing in Japan. It’s a series that excels in many departments, whether it be social commentary, race allegories, child abuse, sexual exploration, nature versus nurture, and yes, even love. It also just so happens to star anthropomorphized characters and you can see why I’m on my backfoot with this.
I can assure you that once you get over the hurdle of watching a bunch of teenage animals explore their feelings in increasingly intimate ways, you will find one of the best anime titles I’ve seen in years. From its jamming opening to its remarkable use of 3D animation to the various scenarios our main good boy wolf Legosi finds himself in, Beastars is a unique and singular experience, one that is instantly compelling and bingeable.
The best way to describe Beastars is as an R-rated version of Zootopia. If you wish that that film explored its already heavy themes of discrimination and xenophobia in more detail and in even more realistically and relatable terms, Beastars is for you. I would even argue that the show goes beyond what the film did and approaches territories that you rarely see in animation. The relationship that develops between our main wolf boy Legoshi and the firm yet distant rabbit Haru is so well done that Rent-A-Girlfriend wishes it could have the discussions that Beastars does. Not only that, Haru herself is my character of the year in fiction due to her complex desire to be independent and self-sufficient in a world that tries to coddle her.
When the second season releases in the West officially, expect a Weeb Analysis on it since the show will most likely be another critical darling once it drops here. Until then please do me a favor. Turn on Netflix. Type in Beastars. Do not skip the opening sequence. Once you do that, you’ll have officially treated yourself to what I am declaring to be my favorite anime 2020 produced.