For Archival purposes, I thought it might be a good idea to compile my entire top ten lists from 2020 into a single post. Just to make it easier for people to go back and look at them after the fact. So, without any more fluff, here are my favourite 10 anime I watched from 2020 in 2020.
#10: Somali and the Forest Spirit
Originally aired: 9th January to 26th March | 12 Episodes | Based on the manga by Yaki Gureishi | Fantasy
Somali and the Forest Spirit was a bright highlight to the early parts of 2020, one that ended up turning into sad social commentary through no fault of its own. Set in a world where monsters rule the world and humans are a hated, fearful and violent species, Somali is the sole exception. She is a little ball of wholesome love and goodness, someone who loves and accepts everyone no matter their race, colour or creed.
In a year were people have been at one another’s throats over matters of race, this wholesome anime about treating one another better was very aptly timed.
The premise of the series is about the titular characters; a Golem, tasked with being the guardian of a forest, discovered a little slave girl hiding in his glade. The human girl, despite her circumstances, is a little bundle of obnoxious positive energy and it’s difficult not to love her. Something the Golem unconsciously realises, as he decided to set out on a quest with the girl to find her some more humans to live with.
The series starts off as an adorable little slice of life travel anime, where the pair move from one fantastical location to the next, encountering all kinds of monsters, who all seem very friendly. The interactions between the Golem and Somali are adorable, his endless patience and trial and error method of guardianship combined with her endless enthusiasm and ability to get herself into trouble are very cute.
The real twist in the tail comes from us learning pretty early on that the Golem is breaking down, only having around a year left of his 1000 year, predetermined lifespan. The cruel irony being that he has spent nearly a thousand years emotionlessly guarding his forest, only to meet and learn to love and feel emotion in the final days of his life.
Through the course of the series, the Golem learns how to be a parent to Somali through trial and error and from watching other parents and children in the places they visit. By the end of the series, he comes to realise he does care for the child, like any other parent would and finding a reason to live unlike he had before. While also coming to the realisation that humanity are not the same bright and cheerful people as Somali is.
Rather, they’re fearful, they’re violent and they would just as soon stone a injured monster to death rather than even think of trying to help it. It’s a cute story that turns very bittersweet by the end, with the Golem realising that he needs to find someone to raise this child before he expires, but is quickly running out of options.
I really did enjoy this series. It had a slow and leisurely pace for the most part but also had a very pointed message underneath. Humanity kind of sucks and we need more warm and welcoming people like Somali out there to bridge that gap. It really does show that xenophobia is a trait that’s learned, and isn’t explicit.
Man, why is it our kid’s show are so much more progressive and forward-thinking than anything aimed towards adults. If anything, this anime just cemented my feeling of just how lost we all are.
#9: Tower of God
Aired from 1st April to 24th June | 13 Episodes | Based on the Manhwa by S.I.U. | Action, Dark Fantasy
The talk going around amongst the anime YouTubers I’ve been following earlier this year was, in part, focusing on the three big Manhwa adaptations that were getting picked up by Crunchyroll this year. A trio of shows that, in hindsight, I was far less enthusiastic about than I was before the year started. Maybe I’m being a bit harsh, While I really did dislike The God of High School and just got bored of Noblesse; Tower of God was the show of the three that kept my attention and, despite its flaws, ended up leaving a real impression on me.
Tower of God is an unusual show. It introduces us to Bam and Rachel, two beings from some kind of underground world of darkness. Rachel dreams of climbing the titular tower and seeing the stars (or so she claims), while Bam is utterly devoted to her; the girl who essentially saved him from the darkness. The first episode shows Rachel abandoning Bam to start a journey to climb the tower. All without any context and leaving the audience full of questions.
Bam, utterly lost without her, forces his own way into the tower in order to pursue her. Thus begins his journey to reunite with Rachel and hopefully accompany on her quest to see the stars. That’s the premise of the show as of the end of the first episode, by the time the season was over we end up having a much, much different perspective on Rachel, her relationship with Bam and Bam’s own future going forward.
In the early days, I made a lot of jokes about this show lifting character designs, plot elements and themes from Hunter x Hunter. But there is more to this show that that. The entirety of the first season follows Bam and the other hopefuls he meets along the way as they work to actually gain the right to climb the tower, never mind the climb itself.
For me, the strongest aspect of the show is the supporting cast. The likes of Khun and Rak are highly entertaining, and seeing them work through these series of games and challenges along with Bam as the prospective tower climber’s number is whittled down does give off a powerful feeling of HxH’s Hunter Exam Arc. But I still enjoyed it nonetheless.
With that in mind though, Tower of God is still a flawed show. And I find myself wondering just how much of that is the fault of the adaptation. Based on what I’ve seen of the three Manwha adaptations on Crunchyroll this season, there is a problem of pacing and exposition that makes it difficult for the source material to translate tidily into a 12/13 episode anime season.
While the series both begins and ends strongly to me, the middle part is a muddled mess of rushed exposition, half baked character development and partially explained dramatic set pieces. On numerous occasions, I’d see Khun or Endorsi catching out examiners with perfectly laid traps, but the dramatic moment would fall flat for me because the show itself had failed to properly establish and reinforce the stakes of the situation.
Several times there were pretty dramatic events that I didn’t realise just how important they were until after the fact. Which is a major failing in storytelling in my opinion. Had I known what characters had to lose at the time I would have felt far more invested in what was happening as it happened.
From what I understand, the Manwha format that exists on Webtoons doesn’t have traditional established manga format like in Japan, where an editor oversees the Mangaka to keep them on track and on pace. So, as a result, the pacing and storytelling doesn’t lend itself to the more traditional story format that we see in Manga that is translated into a more easily digestible anime series.
Webtoons just go on and on, meaning there is no natural stopping point when it comes to adapting them like this. Time and time again while I was writing episodic reviews of this series, I was complaining that it needed more than 13 episodes to really establish the massive amounts of exposition it was throwing at the audience. It was going too fast that it was missing things out. As commenters who’d read the source material kept reminding me.
All of this paints Tower of God in a pretty damning light really, which is weird considering this is supposed to be a list of celebration right. While I was enjoying the series as I was watching it, it was the final couple of episodes that really gave a boost in my estimation. Which I’m going to talk about now, so there’s a warning if you want to watch this yourself.
At the conclusion of the 12th episode, Rachel (who has seemingly been reunited with Bam as her partner to help her achieve her dream) seemingly kills Bam by pushing him off the platform of the final challenge to climb the tower. From there, the 13th episode retells and then recontextualizes the entire series from Rachel’s perspective. Showing that she had been tasked with killing Bam the entire time.
We learn the truth behind Rachel’s character. She is far from the sweet, kind girl that Bam perceives her as. Rather, she is petty, jealous and spiteful. Rather than wanting to see the stars, she wanted to become a star; someone important and loved by everyone. She spends the entire series being resentful of Bam for having everything “handed to him” while feels she is afforded no help. All while failing to see Bam’s virtues are actually what help him succeed while she mopes and feels sorry for herself.
I get much more into it on my review for the final episode of Tower of God, that you can read here.
By the time it was over, Tower of God was a show that was unique enough that is snatched my attention, but the way it ended really grabbed me by the collar and demand I stick around for a second season. While the great Webtoon experiment might not have been a success for Crunchyroll in 2020, I believe Tower of God was the lone, flickering light in the darkness. And a series I am certainly still thinking about months later.
Originally aired 8th July to 23rd September | 12 Episodes | Anime original from NUT | Action, Science Fiction
It’s kind of embarrassing to admit that I only realized the title of this show was a play on the word decadence a couple of weeks ago. I guess my brain dun work no good no more.
Deca-Dence came out in the summer season and was probably the highlight of summer anime for me personally. The anime original series is a post-apocalyptic action show that feels like it takes queues from a lot of other source materials, including Gurren Lagann, Attack on Titan and even Mosnters Inc. All of that comes in during the first handful of episodes though and as it goes on I feel like it does manage to stand on its own by the end.
You can read my review of the series written shortly after it ended by following this link. At it’s core, the story is about Natsume, a girl who is born in a world where the last bastion of humanity is surviving on the mobile fortress/rocket punch tank; Deca-Dence. It’s a society where moving above your station is unheard of and Natsume is far from content with the life society has picked for her, dreaming instead of becoming a fighter like her late father.
A fighter battling against the Gadoll; a race of monsters who are apparently the cause behind humanity’s near extinction. Although, at the end of the very first episode we get the twist and see that there is far more to this world than it first appeared. In fact, Deca-Dence is a fabricated world, the real world setting of an augmented reality world where chibi-ass little robots control flesh and blood avatars and compete to be the best monsters slayers around.
Thinking about it now, I get Westworld vibes from this show too. There are so many different properties that feel like they inspired this show. And while I could get on a high horse about how derivative it is, instead I want to sing its praises for its clean action sequences, it’s very likeable cast and it’s compelling narrative about rebelling against a controlling government.
On the other side of the virtual headset is Kaburagi, and android and former number one Deca-Dence player. One who got caught illegally breaking his character’s limiter and then blackmailed into acting as a corporate assassin, “removing” threats to the stability of the game as they may pop up.
It’s through his meeting of the endlessly enthusiastic and passionate Natsume that he starts to dream of a better lot in life for everyone and starts to fight back against the system.
By the time this show was over, I don’t really think it got that much attention, I honestly do think it was a show that went underappreciated. The action sequences, where the characters dart around in the anti-gravity fields projected by the monsters they’re fighting were exciting and dynamic in the same way the action sequences in Attack on Titan are, not only that though, the world is very well realised. With the monsters acting as humanities main food and fuel source in addition to their primary threat.
Shooting harpoons that kill the monsters by bleeding them dry and collecting the blood to use later on is all really cool. Combined with the juxtaposing world of the androids, which seemed to exist in a totally different animation style was making me look forward to seeing the two worlds finally meet by the end.
While there are some subtle Cyberpunk undertones to the story in the beginning, it becomes a feel-good story of redemption and second chances by the end, in a way that reminds me of a Trigger series. I got a real kick out of Deca-Dence, and it was refreshing to watch a good, one and done story that both started and ended in a satisfying way. While I know not many people get Funimation, if you do have access to the service I’d recommend searching this one out.
#7: Fire Force (Season 2)
Originally aired 4th July to 14th December | 24 Episodes | Based on the manga by Atsushi Okubo | Fantasy, Adventure, Science-Fiction
I think this is the first time I’ve spoken about Fire force outside of Twitter since the second season started. It’s been an anime I’ve just quietly been watching in 3-5 episode chunks since it started in July. And for a while, I just let it wash over me. It wasn’t a series I was feeling especially strongly about, which is a really strange signal for me as to how increased consuming of anime this year has changed how I react to the shows I watch.
In the process of compiling this list though, I looked back through each episode synopsis for season 2 and realised that while nothing in Fire Force totally knocked my socks off in the same way moments from, let’s say, Demon Slayer did last year, it was consistently giving us impressive action sequences, great fights and a ton of weird and wonderful characters to enjoy throughout.
Fire Force is a very consistent shonen that constantly ticks over at a 7/10, while occasionally bumping up a point or two during the conclusions to its arcs. I feel like, the reason that the second season of Fire Force didn’t make as strong an impression on me as the first one did is because it has settled into a groove. What I mean by that is that the first season was all about the mystery. The mystery behind the infernals, the mystery behind the white-clad, the mystery behind what happened to Shinra’s family.
By the time the first season was over, all of those mysterious had been blown wide open. And so this second season became more of one about these two opposing sides of the Fire Force and the White-Clad coming to blows over and over as they recruit or further their goals towards destroying/saving the world. It felt much more serialized than the previous season, coupled with just how many different story arcs this second season cycled through, it felt more like a Saturday morning cartoon in that regard.
With short, sharp story arcs coming at you one after another rather than one prolonged story being told over the course of weeks and weeks. Which isn’t a criticism at all, it’s just a different style of storytelling. And looking back over it, Fire Force did still have those hype action moments you want from your shonen battle anime. Maybe it’s because they were happening so often that they weren’t given the time to accumulate that dramatic weight that really makes a final battle pull you to the edge of your seat.
Which, again seems like I’m criticising the series, when I’m really not.
Fire Force has a great cast of characters, all of which get a lot of focus throughout. We don’t really spend that much time focusing on Shinra at the expense of the supporting characters. Each and everyone is their own unique brand of badass while also being out of their minds. Between this show and Golden Kamuy, I’ve spend a good chunk of the second half of this year thinking about mental stability of anime characters and how much of it is intentional or not.
Because the Fire Soldiers all have some emotional baggage that contributes to some different form of mental instability between them all, Arthur being a prime example of this. And it makes me wonder if this is supposed to have some deeper meaning, or if it’s just anime playing crazy characters up for goofs.
Maybe I’ll try to think about this heady subject a little more deeply in the new year, but for now I’ll end by saying that Fire Force still has a great visual aesthetic, the religious overtones combined with the warped animation that happens character’s interaction with the show’s interpretation of Hell is a great basis for what ends up being a fantastic series of great fights.
I like Fire Force. It is a consistent show, one that has a great supporting cast and exciting action sequences. Which the very least my monkey brain wants. Not only that, it does feel like every arc is progressing the story to some kind of conclusion, there are no spinning wheels or filler style arcs going on here.
#6: Jujutsu Kaisen
Originally aired 3rd Oct to Present | 24 Episodes | Based on the manga written by Gege Akutami | Fantasy, Supernatural, Shonen
I was really toying about with where this episode should place on my list. As of the time of writing this, we’re only 11 episodes into a 24 episode season, and some weird part of my completionist brain wants to prevent me from talking about an anime I’m not even half way through the first season of.
It was the realisation that I am enjoying every moment with this series and honestly, there is not real reason for me not to place it somewhere on this list, so sod it.. Which has been been the overriding asentiment behind the creation of this entire list if I’m honest. Like I’ve said in years gone by, this list isn’t supposed to be an assessment of these shows by any critical metric, it’s simply a list of shows I’ve gotten the most enjoyment out of, and I’m certainly enjoying the hell out of Jujutsu Kaisen.
This is something some of you may have read me say before, but I love good characters. Good as in kind, empathetic and wholesome protagonists who embody all of the classical heroic traits you’d find in a cheesy superhero comic of the 1950s. It just work on me. It’s part of the reason I enjoyed Demon Slayer so much last year and why Itadori is also such an attractive lead to me.
Right from the first episode, we get to see all of Itadori’s selflessness, kindness and fearlessness in the face of seeing something pretty horrific. He is a classically heroic character, made all the better by the fact that he’s a total doofus. That wasn’t the only thing that left an impact on me from that first episode though. Because my God this show has some phenomenal looking fight scenes when it wants to.
By far, these have been the best looking action sequences I’ve seen in an anime all year (Pretending I forgot about My Hero Academia for the purposes of this post). Not only that, while the show is a battle shonen, it’s not afraid to be dark and gruesome with the curse spirits and what they do to their victims. Again, it reminds me a lot of Demon Slayer, in that the world is a very dark, brutal place which all works to make the shining light of the protagonist shine even brighter than ever.
The one thing I’m still not convinced of yet in the show is the supporting cast. While I adore Gojo and Kento as the mentor figures, I’m still yet to be moved by Fushiguro or Kugisaki. If anything, I’m far more interested in Yoshino, who has all the hallmarks of a single arc tragic villain. Which I’m beginning to think might be the eventual fate of his character at this point.
Right now, Jujutsu Kaisen is placing on my list based on its momentum. It started strong and when it’s been good, it’s been damn good. So as it stands, it sits perilously in the 6th spot. While is could certainly screw the pooch and fall down in my estimation, I don’t see that happening. If anything, by the time it’s over, I could very easily see it being something I regret not placing higher.
The dark tone, the bright hero, the amazing fight scenes and animation are all a match made in heavy for my anime tastes. And is just one more example of all the best shows of the year coming out in the final few months of the year. Which has made compiling this list a very annoying process for me and my weird completionist brain.
#5: Moriarty the Patriot
Originally aired 11th October to Present | 24 Episodes | Based on the Manga by Ryosuke Takeuchi | Crime, Mystery, Thriller
Like was the case with Deca-Dence, this was an anime I came very close to missing out on. Only actually deciding to pick it up at the last minute turned out to be one more lucky decision for me. Although this one should be a little less surprising considering I am a huge Sherlock Holmes fan, so I should have fully expected to love this series right from the start. I guess I just didn’t put two and two together upon seeing the title. Some detective I’d be.
As of the time of writing this, I’m up to the 10th episode. And while the series might not even be halfway done at this point, having seen what I’ve already seen, I already feel pretty confident about my placement because I really like this anime.
As the title would suggest, Moriarty the Patriot is a new interpretation of the Sherlock Holmes story, this time from the perspective of his greatest rival and series antagonist: Professor James Moriarty. Although this version of the character is a little different from the original, twisted old man we know of from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories.
This Moriarty is a pretty anime boy, as are all the characters in the series, one with a more altruistic streak when it comes to helping the poorer and downtrodden people of Great Britain against the evil ruling classes of the nation. The first handful of episodes work to introduce us to this character of Moriarty and how he came to be the criminal consultant that we know him as.
Part of the reason I enjoy this series so much is the dark, gothic tone a lot of the stories can take. Moriarty has gathered this cult of personality around himself to help him pursue his goal; which just so happens to be the gruesome murder of any and all members of the aristocracy who abuse their position and the people they deem lesser than them.
Despite his dark and sinister actions, there is something very earnest about his desire to help those around him, all in order to make England a better place. It makes him seem more like an anti-hero than a true villain. Although if he simply were some kind of cerebral version of the Punisher, the story would only be so compelling to me.
While Moriarty does wax lyrical about how his dream is to balance the scales and eliminate the class system entirely, there is no doubt he gains some perverse pleasure from his actions, given his ongoing insistence of being present when his victims are about to meet their end, coupled with his need to make that sinister smile that lets them know exactly who is responsible.
It’s this that really turns him from a pure anti-hero and makes him into more of a highly charismatic villain that you can’t tear your eyes from. It was just when I was starting to wonder how long it would be until I’d start to turn against Moriarty and his self-indulgent ways when the series makes a pretty aggressive turn and shifts focus. At the 6th episode, we’re introduced to the anime version of Sherlock Holmes, who seemingly goes on to hijack the series from his rival and become the new lead character.
Not that I’m complaining, because I really like this interpretation of Sherlock, and he’s honestly a more compelling lead than Moriarty is given the nature of his personality and his position as the person solving the mysteries rather than laying these intricate webs of malice and murder. When Moriarty is on screen, you can’t tear your eyes away, because he’s able to simultaneously play a situation, while managing to avoid Sherlock from suspecting him. If anything, the two seem to have devolved a little intellect crush on one another.
As the series has gone on and the rivalry between Moriarty and Sherlock has been established, I get the distinct impression that this relationship is going to become the driving force for the series. Almost to the detriment of Moriarty’s own plans. I talked about the importance of the rival in anime a few weeks back, which you can read here. But based on where I’m at in the series right now, I get the impression that Sherlock is the first person to excite Moriarty on an intellectual level.
And now he can’t help but challenge this man, in a compulsion I would equate to the Riddler from Batman. There’s an almost homoerotic excitement between the two when they meet for the second time. And while Sherlock is non the wiser as to the identity of this “mastermind” right now, I feel that Moriarty will end up being the architect of his own demise eventually in his need to pursue this “relationship”.
I love the setting, the dark tone, this series interpretation of the characters and the mystery driven narratives that each episode is generally based around. In short, this is a pretty great anime interpretation of the Sherlock Holmes story, and as massive fan of the source material, I have a lot of time for this series, even in this early stages. So expect to hear from me talking about this series a bit more in the future.
#4: Kaguya-Sama: Love is War (Season 2)
Originally aired 11th April to 27th June | 12 Episodes | Based on the manga by Aka Akasaka | Romantic Comedy
Kaguya-Sama: Love is War continues to be one of my favourite anime (and manga) being released right now. It was the series that really got me reading manga and one of the biggest footholds in my climb to talking about as much anime on my blog as I am right now.
Back when the second season ended in the summer, I wrote a piece about how the direction of the show shifted. How it’s moved away from the original premise that made the first season such a highly entertaining and engaging experience for me: someone just finding their way into watching anime outside of the obvious Shonen classics.
The second season of the anime transitioned away from that and more into the style of storytelling the manga would settle on for its duration. Rather than focus solely on Shinomiya and Shirogane and their antagonistic romance, the show expanded out to focus more on its supporting characters.
Which I don’t have a problem with, I’ve come to love Ino, Ishigami and Hayasaka. But it’s a less pure, distilled experience when compared to the first season. To just drop the pretence and turn this into a drug metaphor; nothing ever hits you as hard as your first go. After that, it’s diminishing returns. Which makes it seem like I’m bashing the second season of this anime, when I’m really not. I’m just giving you that delicious context.
I recently wrote a piece on here about my complaints with all of the interchangeable elements of Harem Romance manga. One issue of which being that a lot of the time, it feels like the story is taking place in some little bubble, where nobody exists outside of the main character and his potential future girlfriends. Kaguya-Sama is the opposite of that, the supporting cast is large, and filled with characters who all have at least some level of depth and character to them.
While our main student council are no doubt our most developed characters, the story has no qualms about taking the time to move about the school and focus on completely different characters for a period without getting cold feet that our main heroes aren’t on the page for a few chapters. It’s the little touches that make the world seem so much more realised, as strange of a world as it is.
As the series has grown, it’s moved away from being a purely farcical battle of confessions between Shinomiya and Shirogane and become a more, all-encompassing story about how relationships in general are a battlefield, something to be fought for, worked at and won. Or sometimes lost.
Which is why I enjoyed this second series, which mostly focused on the newly introduced character of Miko Ino and the returning gloom captain Ishigami. Telling their personal stories and hurdles they need to overcome to build their friendships and relationships with their peers. There still were some moments of the two main dopes trying to get one another to confess, but at this point, they really both know how the other feels and are more so struggling with their own insecurities than anything else. The doomed schemes are a comedic background element rather than the main focus now.
The series has a strong core of well developed characters and knows with a self assuredness where it wants to go, which I appreciate a whole bunch. So many romance series seem to meander and just stretch stories out beyond their natural progression, but almost everything here feels necessary. And when it doesn’t; it’s in favour of some great comedic beats. At he end of the day, while all of these kids attend a prestigious school, and are most likely the future leaders of the country, they’re still just doofy teenagers with the same relatable insecurities we all had.
Like all of my favourite comedies, Kaguya-Sama mixes the absurd with the heartfelt, taking a great emotional peak and then just letting it sit there before breaking the mood with a joke. Something that can infuriate me in other stories, but always works perfectly here. Plus, it’s freaking adorable. I genuinely love this series and its characters, and I can’t wait to see wait to see what happens in the next series… Although I already know, because I’ve become “that guy” whose already read the manga.
#3: My Hero Academia (Season 4)
Originally aired 12th Oct 2019 to 4th April 2020 | 25 Episodes | Based on the manga by Kōhei Horikoshi | Superhero, Action, Shonen
While the 4th season of My Hero Academia technically did begin in 2019, I didn’t feel super strongly about it until its second half, which coincidently, just so happened to get going in the early parts of 2020. I wrote a pretty lengthy piece about my feelings of the Shie Hassaikai Arc.
A story that took up 14 episodes of the 25 episode season, while it was one that ended explosively and on an impressively high note in regards to both its animation and it’s character drama, the vast majority of the storyline just wasn’t doing it for me. At least in comparison to the franchise’s historically high standards in my estimation.
The final ten episodes, which told a shorter collection of stories were the episodes that resonated with me much more. Which isn’t me disregarding the earlier parts of the season mind you, It was still a class above a lot of the other anime I watched this year. Again, you’ve just got to compare it to the earlier seasons of this very franchise that were able to make the most simple school task seem like the most important event in the world.
Somehow, in Deku finding himself in a real hero situation, one he is supposed to be in, we somehow lose some of that desperate, out of his depth approach to the situations he’d found himself in before that added so much more drama. Although when we reach the conclusion of that arc and get to see Deku cut loose for the first time ever, it’s a pretty incredible sequence. One very worth the wait that lead up to it.
From this point, where Deku absolutely wrecks Overhaul, I became very invested in the story, mostly because it started focusing more on individual character development as a priority, rather than the gauntlet of fights which made up a big chunk of the series before this point. I’ll admit, the Fat Gum/Kirishima fight was great, as they’re both characters I enjoy a lot. And I would be remiss not to mention Togata, who is the best new character featured in this series.
His last stand against Overhaul and overwhelming power as a hero, even without his powers is an inspiring sight to behold. One that even made me think he was the one more deserving of One for All. His bright, optimistic attitude really is inspiring, despite the heavy sorrow he suffers at the conclusion of the arc.
Which is maybe why I felt so much more invested in the episodes that followed. It was a “I told you that story so I could tell you this one” kind of situation, one in which Togata and Deku are both so invested in helping Eri start to recover from the horrible abuse she had suffered at the hands of Overhaul, that the entire School Festival/Gentle Criminal arc had me on the edge of my seat far more the prior arc managed at any point.
My Hero Academia does impactful, emotional stakes better than any other recent anime I can think of. And throughout this arc, I was invested in both Eri and Gentle’s salvation, despite the fact that their desires are totally opposed to one another. I’ll admit that seeing Eri smile at the end broke me, making me into just as blubbering a mess as Deku seems to be at the drop of a hat.
And to top it all off, we got the beginning of a redemption arc for Endeavour, something I never knew I wanted until it started happening. While I’ll freely admit that this character has a much greater hill to climb than many others who may start down this path, I love a good redemption story and seeing a character who was this despicable before really try to start changing themselves is just the thing to push my buttons.
My Hero Academia is a great shonen, one that is so consistently good than I have to sometimes remind myself that it is as impressive as it is. When I started writing this entry, I felt like I was struggling to things to say about it, mostly because it ended so long ago, even without the 2020 time dilation. But when I started writing about the things I liked from this season, I suddenly remember what as good-ass show this is.
And I am more excited than ever now to see the fifth season when it starts next year.
#2: Golden Kamuy (Season 3)
Originally aired 5th October to 14th December | 12 Episodes | Based on the manga by Satoru Noda | Historical, Japanese-style Western
In preparation for season three of Golden Kamuy, I went back and binged through the entirety of the first two seasons shortly before starting this third one. So I’ll put my hands up and admit that there might be some amount of bleed over from those older seasons into this year’s one when it comes to my feeling about it on the whole.
But I can’t imagine anyone disagreeing with me when I say that Golden Kamuy is a totally unique anime that deals with a setting, a story and real-world historical context that really makes it stand apart from almost any other anime that came out this year.
To me, Golden Kamuy walks this beautiful line between being utterly ridiculous and incredibly serious. And it does it perfectly. It seamlessly manages to weave out of highly dramatic scenes where any number of the main cast could very easily die at a moments notice and ease into some of the most insane slapstick comedy I’ve ever seen. And it has me busting a gut cackling at it every single time.
While the series has two main characters in the form of Sugimoto and Asipira, it’s very much an ensemble piece at this point, telling the stories of a number of different factions in this quest to find a huge hoard of gold and use it for their own means. How easily characters form and break alliances with one another, as well as how complicated and complex almost every single one of them are in terms of their individual backstory, it’s so easy to love characters you’d normally hate and seeing utterly villainous characters as wholesome, unconventional family units when they’re off doing their own thing.
This third season was something of a departure from the previous two, in that it moved away from the warring factions all fighting over the skins of the prisoners that bore the location of the gold and focused more on Kiroranke and Aspira’s deceased father and their pasts as Russian revolutionaries. This group travel further north, out of Hokaido and into Russain territory, while a recovered Sugimoto, accompanied by some of Lieutenant Tsurumi’s men to track and recover Asipria, as she is the only key to deciphering the tattoos to discern the location of the gold.
The result is we end up getting a slightly reduced cast for this season, focusing much less on the 7th Division and Kijikata’s group in favour of the collection of character seen in the image at the top of this post. As a result, we learn more about each of them, while seeing the wacky/harrowing situations the groups get into while all trying to either manipulate or recover Asipira.
The more I look into this series, the more I’m fascinated by how much it was inspired by real world events and filled with characters based on real people. Albeit far more extreme interpretations of whatever they might have been in reality. This aspect of eastern history is a total blank in my mind and at least getting an introduction to events like the Russo-Japanese War the indigenous cultures of those eastern countries is kinda fascinating.
Although I feel like I do need to take a lot of it with a huge pinch of salt.
Because everyone in this series is out of their God dammed minds, and it’s something about the show I adore. I’m not sure I can think of another anime where it feels like each member of the cast are so well fleshed out, with genuine backstories and motivations and desires that really makes them feel like they all have some amount of complexity to them. Coupled with the fact that they’re the most over the top, utterly insane collection of characters I think I’ve ever seen in a show.
Those that don’t have actual physical brain damage are either cold-blooded psychopaths, master manipulators or utterly under the sway of their cult-leader-like commanding officer that it fenders into being homoerotic. Not to mention the huge amounts of male body fan service and general homoeroticism going on throughout.
And I adore all of it. Like I said at the top, Golden Kamuy feels like a totally unique anime in practically every regard. I am so attached to these characters and their story that I can’t give the creator’s enough credit in how well realised and how well rounded they have made everything in this show. Despite the fact that it’s totally unhinged at times.
This is a show I highly encourage everyone to go out and pursue with utmost haste. It’s an amazing anime and deserves unending praise for everything it does. Seriously, Golden Kamuy is amazing and everyone should be watching it.
#1: Ahiru No Sora
Originally aired 2nd October 2019 to 20th September 2020 | 50 Episodes | Based on the manga by Takeshi Hinata | Sports
I’ve found myself speaking about Ahiru No Sora a few times over the course of the year, it’s been difficult not to when the series ended up running for as many episodes as it did, much to my own shock when I realised it myself. What started out as just one more show on my roster of seasonal anime from late 2019, this series ended up being a mainstay in my weekly watchlist for most of the year.
Except when I forgot about it and ended up watching a bunch of episodes of it back to back. Which, honestly might be the best way to go about watching this series.
I feel like I’ve been watching and writing about anime on here long enough to stop calling myself a newcomer at this point. Although there are still a bunch of pockets of the medium that still elude me, to make me realise their charm and appeal. Before Ahiru No Sora, sports anime was one of those genres. Sure, I’d watched Megalobox a few years back, but that was as much Cyberpunk as it was anything else.
This anime was the first proper sports anime I’d invested time into, and it was about Basketball of all things, a real-life sport I have pretty much zero interest in. And yet, the combination of its ragtag collection of delinquents, just looking for some kind of redemption, the underdog main character who keeps defying everyone’s expectation or the show’s depiction of the sport, making every move seem badass and impressive. They all got their hooks into me and kept me watching.
And before I knew it, we were 20 episodes in and I was utterly invested in these characters and their journey of wanting, no, needing to play basketball. All of the members of the main cast have some history with the game, something that makes playing it of nearly divine importance to them. Something I’d imagine practically all other sports anime do as well, but it was all fresh and new for me, seeing these characters go from being a disorganised collection of bad-tempered layabouts into a proper team.
Throughout the course of the series, the team plays just three proper games, with a couple more short practices matches early on. During each one, discovering something about themselves, their limitations and the ability to perform as a team. Of the main starting five players for the team that come together by the series half way point, they’re all very talented individuals, but all have their own shortcomings as players.
Sora’s diminutive height being the prime example, and despite how hard he was worked to overcome that disadvantage, there is only so much he can achieve on his own as a result of that. Which is how the team slowly learn that they need to rely on one another. Something that comes harder to some than others. Kite, for example, is the most talented individual player on the team, but struggles the most with trusting his teammates, because he’s so used to playing as an individual.
Little by little, the team start to learn and function better as a team. Which is something I don’t think would have been portrayed anywhere near as well has this been a shorter series. Because this is a 50 episodes series, it’s able to take a slow burn to developing the characters and showing them grow and accept one another over the course of the runs. Coming to a point at the end where they really to begin to trust one another.
Here’s the part where I spoil the entire series for you.
Because by the time the series is over, despite the huge individual talent of the players in our team, they fail to win a single game of basketball throughout the series entire run. It’s something I’ve seen frustrate people commenting on Crunchyroll videos nonstop over the course of the season, threatening to drop the series if they don’t start winning soon. Personally, I love this choice.
There are so many anime out there about the highly talented protagonist going out there and winning again and again against all odds, but there’s something real, something raw about the events of this anime. In that despite the individual players on the team being amazing at some aspect of the game, they aren’t going to do it on their own. And despite giving it their all and slowly coming together to shocking their opposition, the game is ultimately a marathon, not a sprit.
And so each and every time, they end up coming up short. Learning to accept these defeats becomes a massive part of their story arc. Because of course this team wouldn’t show up and be able to embarrass more experienced teams despite only being together for a few months at most. Because this anime treats everything as real, even the opponents.
During the long, multi-episode games that take place, we get a look into the history and motivation of the players on the opposing teams. And they have just as much passion, sweat and tears invested into the game as anyone on our team do. It doesn’t vilify the other guys, it treats everyone as a real person, all of which have a deep love for the sport.
This pick really tops my list for sentimental reasons more than anything else. I certainly think its a well made anime, with a lot of the animation during the game looking amazing. The series knows very well, through its build-up, it’s music choices and it’s shot how to make anyone watching it feel excited for basketball, even me, someone who basically cares nothing for the sport.
I loved watching this show over the course of the year. In 2021, maybe I’ll make the effort to get into some more sports anime, and enjoy them more than I could ever enjoy Ahiru No Sora. But for a good duration of 2020, it was a constant companion of mine and something I loved watching because it felt so much more real to me than so many other anime I’ve watched before.