It’s fitting how this show is called “Japan Sinks”, as my expectations for Japan’s animation industry seemed to sink lower and lower with each passing minute that I viewed this train-wreck.
Japan Sinks is undeniably a poor work, but what truly prompted me to fully mull over this cesspool of incompetence and juvenility was how fascinatingly abysmal it truly was. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill Netflix-commissioned anime schlock, this is a show created under the eyes of the renowned Masaaki Yuasa. Science SARU (Masaaki’s own studio), was at the helm here, and while they’ve been fairly hit-or-miss over the past year or so, they also created Devilman: Crybaby back in 2018, a show that shook the earth (pun intended) with its experimental flare and masterful use of controlled chaos. Many — including myself — had high hopes for a similar situation in which culture would be completely shocked, hopefully creating a work as impactful and year-defining as that was. Everything has been lining up to its release, I mean, 2020 is the year of endless possibilities for controlled chaos — just look out your window. A show as dark in tone as Devilman coupled with a more realistic edge released in a year of actual disasters was clearly a recipe for true success. It would be foolish to wonder “what could go wrong?” in a year that continually proves to be the antithesis of that philosophy, but the answer to that sadly lined up with the established pattern of our beloved 2020.
In Japan Sinks, we follow a family throughout a period of seemingly-endless suffering, all triggered by a few gargantuan earthquakes. There’s not much to say about this family, because they’re more so based off of the archetypal roles of a modern family, rather than being real people with genuine motivations and personality traits. This issue is also extended to the numerous friends they meet along the way. Because of this, none of the characters in this character-based show feel real. In a story in which Japan literally sinks, it’s unsurprising that there’s going to be loads of death and destruction, but the way the characters handle all of these incidents proves to be frustratingly alien. Nobody seems to care all that much when a man is blown to bits by a bomb or when a child is brutally crushed by a falling building: they instead tend to grieve for a few minutes, then move on with their comedic-hijinks directly after to lighten the mood. The pace isn’t so rapid and dizzying to send a suffocatingly-bleak message along the lines of: “this is your new reality, people perish like that!, and after that it’s time to move on.” No, far from it. It feels more like the creators were too apprehensive around the idea of fully committing to a despairing atmosphere, so they instead opted for the most extreme version of tonal-whiplash possible. After the first few episodes, we’re clearly shown that these non-characters will be killed off out of nowhere for the sake of creating a dramatic cliffhanger at the end of each episode, so why should the viewer care? They have no unique identities to assume outside of their most basic character descriptors, (Mom. Daughter. E-boy.) and their passings aren’t convincingly grieved over by the rest of the cast, so why should we care?
The characters are already bad enough, but even worse are the situations that they’re thrust into. Japan Sinks has to be one of the only one-cour (actually, even less!) shows I’ve seen in which multiple episodes felt like complete filler. It’s hard to understand what the show was going for in the middle portion in which the cast find themselves entangled in a cult, but these episodes completely eradicated any suspension-of-disbelief I attempted to latch onto at first. The show transforms from what seems to be an intimate family drama to a total cluster of tonally-conflicting concepts, truly making you wonder what the show wanted to say. The fact that the most famous YouTuber in all of Japan decides to ride around with this random family after a chance encounter is inadvertently hilarious in and of itself, but are we truly supposed to take that seriously? How much in this show is supposed to be taken seriously at all? The realistic edge I presumed it would have seemed to be absent following the first few episodes, as fantastical elements such as spiritual mediums who can speak to the dead as well as a travel YouTuber a la Logan Paul having a kind heart began to ruin any sense of thematic consistency it started with.
Visually, it’s a nightmare. It hurts to say that seeing as Yuasa is one of the most visually-inventive directors in the medium, but it’s the sad truth here. The character designs are fairly basic, yet they rarely seemed to stay on-model, and this was increasingly apparent within the middle segment of the show. It’s clear that a large part of it was outsourced to places it shouldn’t have been, but keyframes are constantly missing nonetheless, which leads to scenes that should be able to deliver some kind of impact falling flat and often airing on the side of hilarity. There’s moments where Yuasa clearly did have his influence with his strange use of color and anatomical fluidity, but they’re few and far between. The messy transitions from these visual peaks back down to the horrific rest of the show harshly broke immersion, and had me promptly recall, “oh, I’m watching Pyeon-Gang again,” every single time. The bitter feeling of squandered potential truly stung in those moments.
There’s an awful, awful choice made regarding the voice-acting throughout the entirety of this catastrophe that made this one of the most unintentionally hilarious shows I’ve seen in a long time. In a moment of pure genius during production, someone realized in order to truly immerse the viewer in the cultural-diversity of the cast, (seeing as it follows the aftermath of the 2020 Olympics), characters should shout out miscellaneous phrases in English…usually at the worst possible times. At least this aspect made this train-wreck somewhat entertaining. The son who’s not a fan of Japan and its culture compensates for his disdain by often randomly blurting out Engrish jumbles of words in the middle of horrific moments, like “What the! That is cwazy! No!” anytime anything that could be considered “shocking” occurred. The absolute peak of the show was when he unironically said “live, love, laugh!” like a 50 year old white woman in the midst of what should’ve been a scene of pure emotional catharsis. After that, I was simply waiting for him to screech “bazinga!” after stumbling upon a mutilated corpse. There’s also a stereotypical caricature of an American man who claims to be British despite there being no indication of such being the case, (Well, I mean, I wouldn’t be opposed to distancing myself from America in 2020 either, so I don’t necessarily don’t blame him), and he also speaks in this way, but at least it fits his identity? Ok, well that’s actually no excuse, because he cried out “hasta la vista baby!” during what the show wanted to be a dramatic climax, and I think I lost a solid number of brain cells upon hearing that. Really, what am I supposed to feel throughout all of this? All of these choices are constantly at odds with a story that should’ve fully embraced its tragic circumstances.
These are all separate pieces of a puzzle that simply don’t fit together. The vision of the creators is present, but what message does this show actually want to deliver to its audience? During its conclusion, it takes a pseudo-nationalist stance, campaigning for the idea of loving your country no matter what and endlessly supporting them in times of need. Ok. Interesting message (if not somewhat tone-deaf to reality), but where was it for the first eight episodes? Not to mention this message feels shoehorned-in in the most banal, trite way imaginable. The characters are too one-note to get attached to, the timing of both the comedic and disastrous moments are both so poor that they blend in together eventually, and the “inspirational story” backing it all up that should have mitigated a number of these glaring flaws is too flawed in and of itself to take seriously. The fascination that captivated me around this show wasn’t from a source of awe like when pondering Devilman, but instead came from seeing something that had so many things going for it disregard all of that and fail in such a calamitous way. If I, a highly-sensitive crybaby found myself laughing at what should’ve been devilishly disturbing, then you know they messed up on this one. Honestly, the real 2020 disaster was this show’s existence itself.
I know all the young little nihilists populating the internet are good about recognizing and rejecting media which is too anachronistic in its values, but I think we should just trade in those red pills for some black pills, and instead of merely scoffing at religion, patriotism, and chivalry, we should ask why stop there? And proceed to disregard all traditional values altogether, because from where a sociopath like me is sitting, such values do nothing but dilute the theming of creative works and utterly squander a story’s ability to build interesting characters or deliver unique messages of any kind.
This show definitely feels like it was directed by an amateur, and I know that’s a real low blow considering it actually was directed by an amateur, but I’m left with no other words to use given the consistently tropic and tone deaf manner in which Pyeonggang Heo decided to cope with their obvious lack of cinematic tact and artful framing. While the phrase “amateurish” can mean a lot of different things and have a lot of different connotations to a lot of different people, personally speaking, I try my best to use it more as a modest complement to the aspiring as opposed to a condescending insult to the incompetent. From Akira Amemiya to Rie Matsumoto, there’s so many young directors I can name who have more passion and creativity than even they know what to do with, and while anyone could watch something like Kyousou Giga or SSSS.Gridman and jadedly dismiss either one as an unorganized mess, I can’t help but see them as the creative output of geniuses who are simply unpracticed, untapped wells of potential. Unfortunately, I cannot see any of this in Japan Sinks 2020. Heo’s direction feels as book-learned as that of an undergraduate film student, and while you wouldn’t dare call the shot composition bad, it’s nothing you haven’t seen before, and just in case you had any hopeful reservations regarding Yuasa’s possible involvement, it’s all suffocatingly self-serious in a way you know he would never let fly in a work he had any intimate involvement with.
A story about barely surviving a cataclysmic natural disaster isn’t the kind of story you’d want or expect to be particularly comedic or upbeat, don’t get me wrong, but there is still something to be said about letting your audience have a chance to breath with anything other than aimless, themeless, tensionless wandering which populates this show’s entire run time which isn’t drowned in drama or spent in an obviously destructive cult which the characters should’ve left immediately. This isn’t a high-minded masterpiece like Texhnolyze which actively seeks to smother its viewers in a dreadful tone, it’s simply an obtuse drama like Anohana which ascribes to the Micheal Bay philosophy which figures if one explosion gets the theatre roaring, then surely two and a half hours of straight explosions can’t possibly get boring, right? Our melodramatic cast of teenagers, while more than justified in their stress, are the same pouting anime characters you’d see in any PG rated drama, and while their struggles are certainly relatable, the manner in which they are relatable is so vast, they come across as being completely manufactured. Desperately worrying for your family and fellow man, worrying for your country, worrying for the direction of your life and your goals following this catastrophe, or the post traumatic stress anyone would feel: every problem which any cast member struggles with over the course of the show is so sympathetic as to be utterly impersonal. You’d have to be as much of a fundamental outlier as me to not find such basic humanistic concerns upsetting, and should you actually be as numb to humanity as me? Well, then nothing which this story and its characters present to you with teary eyes and ruffled clothes will mean anything to you, and the entire experience will come across as inoffensive but boring normie cry porn at best, and disingenuous mass-market emotional manipulation at worst.
My abrasive wordage aside, this show obviously had nothing but good intentions, just little creative means to make me care. If generic melodrama can put you in tears so long as those on screen have the same waterworks streaming down their faces, then you may find this to be surprisingly engaging, but alas, I could not. The problem with seating your narrative’s emotional ties to its audience in genre staples like family and love is when you garner the attention of a misfit who’s estranged from even these basic moral and spiritual values, they’re left with nothing to latch onto—but, hey, that’s a me problem. If I wanted to more fairly criticize Japan Sinks 2020 in a fashion which wasn’t so intensely personal, I could look any direction and be faced with a frankly atrocious animation production. Despite how much I prayed for this reality to never come true, this show was honestly comparable to Hands off the Motion Pictures Club, a show filled to the brim with flat gradients, shadeless coloration, misshapen modeling, progressively barren background art, and all-around clunky animation, all of which was obviously the result of the crunched scheduling they likely put upon themselves by over-producing an unequivocally beautiful first episode, only Japan Sinks 2020 doesn’t even have that gorgeous debut as an excuse AND GETS EVEN WORSE. Despite having a few decent episodes such as the first, it still never even touched the visual fidelity of Science SARU’s previous Netflix commission, Devilman: Crybaby, which is really saying something considering that show was blemished with a fair amount of inconsistency and cost-cutting itself. And speaking of which, Kensuke Ushio composed the score for this show too, and while his sound will always be beautiful, it’s becoming very repetitive, and I’d challenge anyone to try and differentiate any ambient track herein from those of Koe no Katachi or Liz and the Blue Bird, standouts notwithstanding.
While I expected inconsistency to be the name of the game, I didn’t expect even these 2D enthusiasts to resort to some truly garish CGI in absence of the time to continuously hand-draw vehicles, nor did I expect this show to honestly be worth calling ugly as early as the beginning of episode three. Now, I appreciate the fact this show continues Masaaki Yuasa and Eunyoung Choi’s commitment to unorthodox movement stylization even if I think the messy linework is a bit much, but I think the design team on this project took it one step too far with the character designs, and more specifically, the facial designs. Variation in facial animation has always been a thing in the industry, and whether someone like Hiroyuki Okiura is using the unshakable attention to detail and unmatched production values of Production IG to do it with photorealistic blinking and lip definition, or whether Yuasa himself is doing it with his awesomely ridiculous Taiyo Matsumoto inspired character art without a care in the world throughout his entire career from Mind Game to Kemonozume to Ping Pong and Kick Heart, variation in facial structures is nothing new. However, no matter how famous the creative lead, it’s also never been unanimously praised. That’s right, if you thought Isao Takahata’s dimples in Only Yesterday were jarring, then nothing in this world will prepare you for the neck rolls in Japan Sinks 2020. Needless to say, it’s hard to take seriously the sorrows of these characters when you can’t even look at them without their neck lines throwing you off the matters at hand, and even in scenes where they aren’t, the aforementioned animation quality does no favors. I mean, clunky key animation, missing in-between frames, and off-model artwork made even an attempted rape scene lose its tension.
Thrashing the production values is righteous enough when they’re this paltry, but I fully recognize my thematic complaints are as personal as my cinematic complaints are unfair. Japan Sinks 2020 will leave you with the same banal feelings any other disaster movie ever has, but the fact it can leave you with any feelings at all speaks to its passable writing at the very least, and while the essence of the story will tread no new water, conclude in an astronomically corny and outlandish fashion I didn’t even afford myself time to discuss, and even alienate you should you be as desensitized to society and humanity as I am, it will still pander to the average viewer’s average emotions and make them feel something as opposed to nothing. While Yuasa’s position as Chief Director gets more and more set in stone in the face of his recently announced departure from the studio—his own studio—director Heo is no incompetent, and while you’ll certainly be missing the cinematography of the master, his understudy here won’t disappoint anyone with adjusted, fair expectations. And while the hideousness of the neck rolls, which are by far the stupidest of my critique, will remain as inarguable as the hideousness of the rest of the show depriving me of my ability to even give this show a positive score, they will also remain completely in the eye of the beholder and may not even bother the majority of those reading this seeing as they only make themselves apparent in about 20% of the shots. It’s a story about a family nearly scattered by disaster who struggle against fate to survive hand in hand, a typical headline of heroism you’d see on the news as a silver lining following such a calamity, so if the fact they are, indeed, a family is enough to invest you in their narrative despite the fact they’re cardboard cutouts who're off-model more often than they’re on, then just know you have my jealousy. "Normieness is next to godliness," as a wise man once said, and I’m going straight to hell.
Thank you for reading.
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Jul 9, 2020
10 of 10 episodes seen
Overall Rating: 10
HeNeBaCritico99 (All reviews)
116 people found this review helpful
Japan Sinks 2020 - An anime about "earthquakes" that start to happen in an uncontrolled way, and can sink Japan, in this dangerous scenario, we accompany a family that so much finds a way to survive in the face of all this chaos.
The first thing worth mentioning about "Japan Sinks 2020" is how earthquakes are not the main focus of the anime. The notable presence is in the huge variety of subjects discussed all the time about JAPAN. If you came expecting an anime "about natural disasters" you were probably disappointed, but this is not the anime's fault, it's about the expectation created about the read more