Arcane's Final Thoughts - Winter 2020

Illustration for article titled Arcanes Final Thoughts - Winter 2020

Final Thoughts - Winter 2020

So, in a sharp contrast to what was, for me, a largely miserable 2019 slate of seasonal anime, 2020 started off with a ridiculous shower of very good anime. I picked up a truly ludicrous number of shows this season, and even though I dropped several of them after the first episode, it still left me with tons of great content and two new entries in the Hall of Fame… despite lots of delays and production issues resulting from a global pandemic that kept all of us inside to watch more anime.

Advertisement

I’m sure that very few readers will have seen my personal blog, so my rules are as follows:

  • I only count shows that were licensed in the U.S., but I count all of them. I watch at least the first episode of every show.
  • There are six lists total in a year: one for each season (for shows that premiered and ended that season), one for any longer work that ended that year, and one for all the shows that wound up on Netflix.
  • I don’t score shows I drop after the first episode, partially because I found myself wishing I could revise them after hearing more about where things went after I dropped, and partially because MyAnimeList doesn’t count a score in the aggregated total if you’ve seen less than half of a show.
  • Any show scoring a 9 or 10 goes in my “Hall of Fame”, a list of shows I would consider to be essential viewing for a modern anime fan and should at least be tried by everyone.
Advertisement

These lists are complete rundowns of my experience with each season, and a brief summation of my thoughts about each particular show.

With that said!

29 shows were licensed for simulcasting this season. (As my rules classify split-cour shows as “long”, they go on a separate list of their own at the end of the year, so Haikyuu!! and Plunderer won’t be appearing here...and Dorohedoro is in Netflix jail.)

Advertisement

Of those, this reviewer:

Skipped 3:

BanG Dream! Season 3, Show By Rock!! Mashumairesh!!, and A Certain Scientific Railgun T, all because I have not seen or dropped their previous seasons.

Advertisement

Dropped 16 (in order of worst to best):

Worst of the Season: Nekopara (and Seton Academy: Join the Pack!)
(Dropped After 1 Episode)

Advertisement

I had minor meltdowns in the AniTAY Discord server after watching these two premieres and peeling back layers upon layers of accidental racism, from Seton Academy starring a human who hates animal people in a world of mostly animal people who all fulfill stereotypes, to Nekopara making its catgirls be a strange, sentient pet race to its humans. Seton Academy is still the better of the two, if only because it isn’t boring as sin, some of the jokes land, and it ultimately didn’t creep me out as much.

Sorcerous Stabber Orphen
(Dropped After 1 Episode)

Illustration for article titled Arcanes Final Thoughts - Winter 2020
Advertisement

As a re-adaptation of a minor hit from decades ago by a studio known for cranking out projects with little polish, Orphen had the cards stacked against it from the beginning. The first episode, sadly, wound up being completely uninteresting to anyone who wasn’t already a fan of the franchise in some capacity. Ultimately, it views as a strange cash grab for a property that could have probably just stayed down.

Hatena☆Illusion
(Dropped After 1 Episode)

Illustration for article titled Arcanes Final Thoughts - Winter 2020
Advertisement

Aside from making an accidentally-transphobic joke during the setup for its schlocky setup, Hatena also struck me as an astoundingly amateur production. The dialogue sounds like it was recorded in an empty closet, the animation is mostly obtrusive and distracting shortcuts, and all of the character designs are bordering on ugly. All it really had going for it was the premise of two close-up magicians studying together, and that’s pretty quickly discarded for a dated comedy plot.

ARP Backstage Pass
(Dropped After 1 Episode)

Yet another in a long line of lazy, messily-constructed male idol shows, ARP frustrated me with its actually-decent CGI in service of boring songs in one reused location. The first episode is rendered structureless by attempting a docu-drama format that only serves to totally neuter the storyline, and none of the characters are executed well in isolation, let alone together.

Advertisement

Pet
(Dropped After 2 Episodes)

An acclaimed director and acclaimed series composer team up to create an incomprehensible mess that seems to think it’s a work of genius. The tone is all over the place, and very little of what happened in the two-part premiere wound up making sense by the end of it, despite the attitude Pet takes of having set up compelling mysteries. It’s honestly insane that the director of Baccano! and Durarara!! and the composer of Boogiepop Phantom and most of Natsume’s Book of Friends got to be on the same project and adapted this manga from the early 00's instead of making what should have been a kick-ass original work.

Advertisement

Oda Cinnamon Nobunaga
(Dropped After 1 Episode)

It takes a lot to make me annoyed with a show about dogs, but Cinnamon starts out okay and then runs out of steam by halfway through the first episode. The premise is great, but it’s also pretty much all there is, so unless you see the phrase “Nobunaga gets reincarnated as a Shiba Inu” and laugh hysterically for four and a half hours, this one is an easy skip.

Advertisement

number24
(Dropped After 2 Episodes)


I was totally down to like this show - a college sports story full of shredded shirtless dudes? Sign me up - but by the end of episode two, I was so annoyed by the queerbaiting and low production value that I couldn’t take anymore, which is lucky because if I’d committed to finishing it, this list would be two weeks late.

Advertisement

Infinite Dendrogram
(Dropped After 1 Episode)

There were two shows about VRMMOs this season, and I made it through neither of them, but Dendrogram wasted no time turning me off by presenting me with the most stressful, unrealistic game idea since Spy Kids 3. Infinite Dendrogram, the MMO, sounds fun on paper but would be an FFXIV 1.0-level disaster in real life, and the fact that this show was much more clearly banking on the gamer audience meant that I didn’t have to put up with that for more than one episode. It helped that the protagonist quickly established himself as an idiot who wanted to play this game to be a crappy shonen hero, in a game that clearly doesn’t respond to his idealism.

Advertisement

Speaking of which…

BOFURI: I Don’t Want to Get Hurt, So I’ll Max Out My Defense (5/10)
(Dropped After 8 Episodes)

Advertisement

I watched almost all of BOFURI before admitting to myself that the show was running out of steam, almost all of the characters were becoming Flanderized cardboard cutouts. As the show continued, the only joke it had to lean on was that its heroine was getting even more preposterously strong with each installment. It acts like it’s in on the joke, but despite showing us the Game Masters, none of them actually seem interested in balancing their impossible game out, and eventually it collapses into a suspension-shattering mess where every player who spends five minutes inside WorldEnd Online ascends to godhood like they’re in an idle game ad.

The Case Files of Jeweller Richard
(Dropped After 1 Episode)

This one probably would have hooked me in for a few episodes in a weaker season. Ultimately, however, it’s a premise I’ve seen in a thousand shows I’ve dropped after a few episodes, and they all seemed intellectual and cool like this does but then turned out to be boring and even circular. Based on how few people actually watched this one, it seems that most of us have caught on.

Advertisement

Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magical Side Story (6/10)
(Dropped After 6 Episodes)

Even if it doesn’t become outright bad, it’s still hard to watch a show you love become a shell of its former self. Despite assembling almost the whole team, this mobile game adaptation was doomed from the start to lack the teeth and danger that made the original so electrifying that it spawned legions of imitators. I made it halfway through before giving up.

Advertisement

Best Show I Couldn’t Watch: Interspecies Reviewers
(Dropped After 1 Episode)

Yes, seriously. I hate every aspect of what happened with a certain pair of YouTubers causing problems with an unrelated website because they were mad at Funimation, but after catching the first episode of this, I honestly found it funny and original enough that I probably would have kept watching despite not being attracted to women. The production values are probably the best Passione has ever had, the frank discussion of socially taboo subjects like sex work was refreshing, and the character dynamics at play were highly entertaining. That being said, based on just that first episode, Funimation probably made the right call in dropping it from their service, as I understand the content only got more sexual as time went on - but I’m still waiting for HIDIVE to give it a license rescue.

Advertisement

Put 2 On-Hold:

In/Spectre

By halfway through this season, many fans were starting to feel fatigue with In/Spectre’s incredibly slow pace after a strong first episode as nearly the entire season was spent on a single arc. I made it just over halfway through before deciding that if this could be the only adaptation we see of this story, I wasn’t particularly interested. If it gets a second season, I’ll pick it back up.

Advertisement

ID: Invaded

It’s in a very similar situation to Pet, but ID at least managed to provide me with context in its first two episodes. Based on the rise in its aggregate score, it seems to have recovered from a premiere that was also full of odd story beats and seeming plot holes, but given how many other shows I actually watched this season, it’s going on-hold until I have a lighter load and the ability to turn back the clock.

Advertisement

And Finished 8:

Darwin’s Game (6/10)

The first show that I finished this season that had a messy ending, Darwin’s Game wasn’t exactly out to reinvent the wheel - mostly to roll it more steadily than Juuni Taisen. At its best, it gave me fond flashbacks to BTOOOM!!!, and I did manage to get invested in its plot, at least until I realized there was no way this season would end with the plot being resolved, and in the end, a rough final episode and a lot of very strange character decisions brought it down to the lowest score I would give a show I still found enjoyable.

Advertisement

Uchitama?! Have You Seen My Tama? (7/10)

Sometimes, all it takes is for a show to deliver on its small promises. By far the least offensive show about talking animals this season, Uchitama’s secret seemed to simply be keeping things light and cute, and not doing anything to carry unfortunate implications by starring a cast of actual animals who we see as cute (and well-designed) boys and girls, engaging in low-stakes local hijinks.

Advertisement

If My Favorite Pop Idol Made it to the Budokan, I Would Die (8/10)

A show that could have been very creepy just by switching the point-of-view character wound up as the closest thing to an actual love story I saw this season. Even if not a lot had really happened by the end, it managed to balance comedic moments with its charming cast, with the broader implications and faults of idol culture. Ultimately though, it’s still held back by its noticeably low production values - were Mahouka and Slime just gonna come too late for Studio 8bit?

Advertisement

Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun (8/10)

The second show on this list that wound up massively held back by its ending, Hanako-kun presents eleven very artistically sound episodes bursting with color and imagination in Studio Lerche’s typical ability to bring manga panels to life even without much animation. Unfortunately, it was kept out of my hall of fame by a complete letdown of a finale that had nothing at all to do with the ongoing plot, and instead spent its runtime calling back to the first episode and then teasing an as-yet unannounced sequel. Hopefully we’re not waiting long for the followup.

Advertisement

Somali and the Forest Spirit (8/10)

The last show to spoil my feelings about it with its ending, Somali is incredibly charming in a way that the most recent show I can compare it to, If It’s For My Daughter, I’d Even Defeat a Demon Lord, could never hope to be. The emotional arc it sets up resonates through the entire show, and it does a very good job of preparing you for the tears to start falling at the end...and then, the thing you’ve spent the entire show readying yourself for just doesn’t happen, and it ends on a strange note that I still am not totally over a week later. It’s still beautiful, and Somali is still one of the better child characters in contemporary anime, but the odd refusal to stick its landing is not something I particularly agree with.

Advertisement

Asteroid in Love (8/10)

The most oddly-underrated show of the season, Asteroid is a very welcome return to form for Doga Kobo and a promising debut for a rookie director. People that missed Laid-Back Camp this season very desperately need to check this one out, because this cute story about two girls chasing a childhood dream together in their astronomy club is exactly what they’re looking for right now, and with better production values than C-Station could ever give it.

Advertisement

Hall of Fame: Smile Down the Runway (9/10)

A dark horse this season, Smile Down the Runway was a show not many people seemed to be discussing, but those who did came away consistently impressed each week. Smile Down the Runway tells a story not really seen before in anime through the lens of familiar tropes and a heaping dose of hard reality - and yet allows us to draw inspiration from our protagonist duo being able to pick themselves back up time and time again after being kicked while they’re down. The fashion industry is cutthroat if you don’t go in with every advantage, but there’s something magical about watching two determinators resisting its attempts to force them to give up and let go of their dreams. (The gorgeous costume design helps, too.)

Advertisement

Best Show of Winter 2020: Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! (10/10)

Eizouken immediately captured the seasonal discourse this year and never let go of it. As we now know, it was Masaaki Yuasa’s last directorial effort as president of his animation studio Science Saru, and he certainly ended that era of his life with a massive bang. A simple art style that looked unimpressive in still shots was used to create damn near movie-quality animation across an entire TV series, and Yuasa used this advantage to deliver a show that goes even further than Shirobako to celebrate the very medium of animation and the infinite possibilities it carries. An incredibly memorable cast, phenomenally cool soundtrack, and spectacular style of visual presentation left me speechless for most of the runtime. This show watered my crops and fed my children, and gave me a lot of hope that anime is gonna be alright in the new decade.

Advertisement

And that’s the list! I’m thrilled that the first season I’m covering under the AniTAY banner turned out to be such a memorable one, even if Spring might turn out to be a rocky time for us. Still, last season has left me very confident in telling people: Stay home, watch anime. There’s a lot of stuff you’ve never even dreamed of, and we’re only getting more. I’m Arcane, and I’ll see you soon.


You’re reading AniTAY, the anime-focused portion of Kotaku’s community-run blog, Talk Amongst Yourselves. AniTAY is a non-professional blog whose writers love everything anime related. To join in on the fun, check out our website, visit our official subreddit, follow us on Twitter, or give us a like on our Facebook page.

Advertisement

You can also find Arcane’s writing on his blog, or syndicated on his Twitter.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter