Anime roundup 1/7/2021: Best of 2020

We made it!

Now, as is customary, we look back on the past year and try to pick out what was best about it. Or good at all, really, in the case of 2020. Luckily it did not completely manage to crush the anime world, and though a lot of productions were delayed, we still have things to celebrate.

For the convenience of my fellow Hugo voters, I’ll include the credits that the ballot may ask for. If you think I am picking the wrong shows to highlight, and want to balance out anything I might nominate with your own anime picks, here’s how to find those credits:

  • Look the show or movie up in the Anime News Network encyclopedia (generally more complete and reliable than IMDb’s anime listings).
  • For the head writer, look for “Series Composition”.
  • For the primary studio, look for “Anime Production”.

#3: Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!

Studio: Science SARU

Director/writer: Yuasa Masaaki (based on a manga by Ōwara Sumito)

Two girls who dream of becoming animators and their down-to-earth, money-focused friend start a club to begin making their own anime. The club recreates the struggles of the professional anime world in miniature: the late nights, the shoestring budgets, the constant tension between artistic inspiration and the need to get the thing out the door.

I have my quibbles with the results of it treating diversity as an add-on, but that is one misstep in an otherwise engaging, wonderfully constructed show. If you’re looking for one feel-good series to wash away the taste of 2020, this is it.

Watch it at: Crunchyroll (worldwide)

#2: Toilet-Bound Hanako-Kun

Studio: Lerche

Director: Andō Masaomi

Writer: Nakanishi Yasuhiro (based on a manga by AidaIro)

Every school in Japan has a version Hanako-san, the ghost who haunts the girls’ bathroom and offers favors— for a terrible price. One unlucky girl discovers that her school’s Hanako is a boy, he’s not much help, and the price is to become his assistant at keeping the other spiritual denizens of the school in line.

What stands out most about Hanako-kun is not the comedy (though that’s pretty good), but its unabashedly humane approach to its material. Though it spends a lot of time with horror, it doesn’t revel in the darkness of it. Very little that looks scary is permanent, and what does do damage is not the unearthly terrors but the human tragedy behind them.

Watch it at: Funimation (US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand); AnimeLab (Australia, New Zealand); Wakanim (Scandinavia, Francosphere, German-speaking Europe, Russia); Animax Asia (SE Asia); bilibili (China)

#1: Talentless Nana

Studio: Bridge

Director: Ishihira Shinji

Writer: Shimo Fumihiko (based on a manga by Looseboy and Furuya Iori)

Humanity is under attack! On a remote island, teenagers with special powers are gathered at a school that will train them to fight back. However, there are one or two details that not everyone knows…

In a time when the superhero genre is one of the world’s most popular and highest-grossing ones, Talentless Nana is a sucker punch aimed right at its face. By the end of episode 1, it has revealed a perspective in complete opposition to many genre tropes. By the end of the season, it has turned around and given its own manifesto a good pummelling.

For its willingness to question everything we thought we knew about the genre, Talentless Nana is head and shoulders above every other show that ended this year. The only thing wrong with it is we need to see more of the story.

Watch it at: Funimation (US, Canada, UK, Ireland); AnimeLab (Australia, New Zealand); Wakanim (unspecified parts of Europe); Aniverse (Germany); Muse Asia (SE Asia); bilibili (China)

A few bonus thoughts:

  • Sentimental favorite: ID: Invaded. It didn’t quite manage to pull things together at the end, but it was a lot of fun to watch every week.
  • Shows which already have spots reserved on my 2022 Hugo ballot: Attack on Titan and Higurashi: When They Cry – GOU.
  • Disappointment of the year: Appare-Ranman!, which was a perfectly good ahistorical steampunk wacky racing show until it suddenly decided to go all Heath Ledger Joker.
  • Anticlimax of the year: Jujutsu Kaisen, episode 7, Gojō removing his blindfold.
  • Finally, one screenshot to sum up 2020, courtesy of Akudama Drive, as an enforcer of the police state discovers how fragile it was:

May 2021 be the year that we are all shocked by how quickly things can recover.

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