OP Sequence

OP: 「A Life」by (Taeko Oonuki & Ryuichi Sakamoto)

「The Beginning of the End」

So the dance begins anew. What to do about covering of a Netflix series? Great Pretender is already sitting out there (albeit on a bit of a release hiatus) and now we have Nihon Chinbotsu 2020. This time around Netflix has dumped the entire series (10 episodes) in the manner of their Western productions, and they’ve done it right in the middle of the usual anime premiere week to boot. I still don’t really know how to cover shows like this in a way that makes sense, to be honest, but if I default to my preferences as a viewer I’m certainly not keen to stretch it out over most of the season (and if I don’t binge it, I may have to abandon twitter for a while).

It’s inescapable to me that the two anime (with Major on hiatus, the only two) that really interest me are both Netflix productions. We can blame the state of anime this summer on COVID-19, but that only exacerbated what was already a grim trend in terms of quality. So two things seem to be happening here, really – anime as a whole is getting worse, and Netflix anime are getting better. I hope we’re not headed towards a time when the only anime of real consequence are Netflix series (I don’t like the idea of depending on them to that extent), but if the production committee system’s creative gutting of the medium goes on unchecked it’s a possibility that can’t be dismissed.

I’ve only seen the first episode, but Nihon Chinbotsu 2020 is everything Deca-Dence was not – challenging, intriguing, emotionally powerful. I’ve been guilty from the beginning of comparing this show to Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, and the superficial similarities are extensive. But in a medium that has dozens of interchangeable isekai and cute girl shows every year, two earthquake stories in a decade is hardly a stretch. Especially when you consider how deeply ingrained earthquakes are in the lives of the Japanese, who experience 20% of the world’s earthquakes in their modest island chain.

For the record, Tokyo Sinks 2020 is based on a novel by Komatsu Sakyo which was published way back in 1973. It’s already received three live-action adaptations which are generally regarded as undistinguished, but the novel is considered a classic. The production is in the hands of Science SARU, but while Yuasa Masaaki is listed as director, the studio continues to be less and less an extension of him personally. Pyeon-Hango Ho is the “Series Director” and Eunyoung Choi (who recently replaced Yuasa as SARU’s CEO) is a producer. It should be noted that SARU is a rarity in anime in not only employing many women in high-ranking positions, but foreign-born staffers as well.

It’s either a very good or very bad time for a disaster show, depending on your perspective. Japan has been lucky so far on the pandemic front but the entire world is living through a time of great unrest and upheaval. In truth the memories of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami are still fresh in minds here, and this theme will never be out of fashion given the realities of Japanese life. So many moments rang true for me here, not least of which when everyone’s phone in the locker room started to go crazy with earthquake warnings. That’s always an extremely unsettling moment because of course, you get the warning before you feel the shake if it’s a big one centered a ways off (as the one in this premiere obviously was).

I loved that there was no labored dialogical exposition here. We got to know the Mutou family members by watching how they dealt with this crisis. Something seems off with Mom Mari (Sasaki Yuko), who the flight attendant seems quite concerned about. Son Gou (Muranaka Toumo), casually slips under the table and keeps gaming as the intensity 5 foreshock hits, and talks to his online colleagues in English. Dad Kouichirou (Terasoma Masaki), is a construction boss and a picture of confidence and strength. And daughter Ayumu (Ueda Reina) is wracked with guilt after she leaves his dead and injured track teammates behind to rush off and try to find her family.

All this takes place sometime after the end of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics (which seem like something from a fantasy now) and Sakyo’s premise is thoroughly updated with modern communication and transport. Which is important, as that’s thoroughly disrupted after the quake. As soon as one of girls in Ayumu’s club mentioned that the first quake had been a 7 in Okinawa (!) you knew this was no mass-produced earthquake scenario – normally you’d never feel a quake from so far away in Tokyo. When the main quake hits it’s totally unlike anything you’d expect – more like the whole city is hit with a bomb (and that imagery is never far from the Japanese psyche, as this episode bears out).

This is a terrific premiere, plain and simple. It’s riveting and smart and ruthless. The production itself is not awash in SARU’s sometimes overwhelmingly distinctive style – you’d never mistake Yuasa’s hand at the tiller for anyone else’s, but he uses a relatively light touch with his singular directorial flourishes. The cast – not a stock list of big anime names – is excellent, and so is the sound design. It’s cinematic anime just like Great Pretender is (albeit in a very different way) and that’s certainly an encouraging sign as it reflects on Netflix’ growing interest in anime.

Even by disaster movie standards, this is obviously a dark ride. Death is not glossed over, nor is the way some survivors turn on each other in the chaos (which is deeply offensive to the Japanese sensibility). And it literally rains blood and bodies at the end of the episode – I’m not sure just what exactly is causing that but it ain’t good, whatever it is. You don’t get the idea this is going to be a standard, uplifting survive and rebuild story – this seems to have been a disaster of truly unprecedented proportions, and society is about to break down completely. Nihon Chinbotsu 2020 is likely to be a very painful viewing experience, but I’m intensely curious to see how this story plays out.


  1. A word of advice, Don’t judge this series by this episode.
    I’m at episode 7 and the more it advance the more it gets ridiculous.
    Also the drawing quality has decreased so much that I could draw better and I suck at drawing.

    1. I’m just finished episode 3 and I see what you mean.

      I’m actually viewing it as a Western animation which takes place in Japan with
      Japanese dubs because that’s how it feels. Japanese Anime (I know not all,
      but allow me to generalize a bit) is difficult to copy because it’s much deeper
      than animation voiced by Japanese (voice) actors / actresses. If you’ve
      watched a bit of Anime, you’ll understand what I mean.

      So as a “Japanese” Anime, I’d give it a 4/5 out of ten, but as an animation,
      I’d probably go 6/7 instead. It’s watchable and entertaining, but will soon
      be forgotten when the fall 2020 Anime season rolls up! I thin this would be
      far lower if the summer season wasn’t such a bust given the virus circumstances.

    2. Oh gosh, I’m at episode 4 and it’s over the top ridiculous well before now.

      It’s the worst sort of disaster porn: based on very real possibilities crammed together in a messy, impossible bundle of how much dumb crap can be crammed in.
      The end of ep 1 with falling bodies and raining blood was bad. I mean, how did bodies get into trees at the top of a hill? Whatever happened with the tsunami? It obviously happened and our Mom was yards away? but …she swam from it? Eh? Even running from it is unlikely given how close it was made to appear.

      TM 8.0 did this better. Once this sort of thing gets too unbelievable, it loses any impact and ability to prompt the audience to ponder their own preparedness.

      I get that this is based on a classic but the dramatization is insane.

      Instead it’s the Poseidon, pure tragedy-entertainment.

  2. snobbery, in anime or otherwise, is rather unappealing.

    the anime industry, like any other mass-media industry, is fully market driven. the proliferation of isekai shows, for example, simply indicates the huge consumer demand for them.

    one individual on the Internet is in no position to really be making unqualified sweeping commentary on the ‘state of anime’, a blog is a venue of expression of one’s opinions, of course, but they are just that – opinions. the type of shows you personally enjoy or deem of good quality may indeed be decreasing in frequency – but passing proclamations that ‘anime is getting worse’ as if a statement of fact, frankly smacks of arrogance.

  3. This show… was terrible. The characters keep making decisions that make no sense. It relies on shock factor and introduces new characters just to kill them 5 minutes later. Most of the deaths are hilarious. It has MANY moments of unintentional comedy. The directing is terrible. One moment someone dies from an explosion, 1 minute later we’re having “comedy time” with upbeat music. The animation is terrible. The story is terrible. The characters are terrible. Also, Yuusa didn’t really do much here. Even though he’s credited as director, the show lacks any of his flair. Absolutely terrible show. They also changed the source material for absolutely no reason.

  4. I don’t know if you’re trying to be the Simon Cowell of anime commentary or what, but I think the pretentiousness of your posts are the worst part of reading this blog.

    Anime as a whole is not getting worse, you may be getting burned out or being forced to watch things you don’t enjoy as a writer here. And if I had to gesture to a Netflix anime to show the other side of the road, it definitely wouldn’t be this one. It was a solid OK, but not much more than that. The animation quality was disgusting, the characters were only cannon fodder level interesting, and the ending was so over-the-top “minna-san ganbatte!” that I had to roll my eyes. Deca Dance was not even half as bad as your complaining suggests.

    Is this different and unique? Yes and no. It’s based off a novel so it isn’t like it is an anime original, and so I’m not sure it can be used as saying Netflix anime is more unique. But I guess it is a different type of project than most studios would pick to adapt, so I guess in some ways Netflix is more willing to try and fail. But we already know that from their other projects.

    Right now, most Netflix anime are so rough around the edges that you hesitate to recommend them to a friend even if you enjoyed them. Which is about where I’d place this one…. rougher than sandpaper in the eye, but enjoyable for disaster flick enthusiasts. Not a ton of those in the cross section of the anime community, though, so it’ll be interesting to see how this performs.

    1. Ironic that the comment with the personal insult makes the Simon Cowell accusation, but that’s another discussion.

      As to this show specifically, I’m now halfway through it and it’s certainly something different than it appeared to be after one episode. Very weird, to the point where I don’t know what the hell it’s trying to say. But then, this post was written based on the first episode only.

      To your larger point, we can always say “Anime getting better or worse” is subjective. And while literally true, it’s also a cop-out – especially when you’re talking about a website where opinion is the whole fucking point. I can say “The 400 Blows” is a better film than “Cats” and you can say that’s subjective. Again, literally true but – that’s why film criticism exists.

      I could say “If you’re a fan of isekai and cute girls being cute shows, anime is getting better”, but even that isn’t really the case. Even within those genres there’s less variety than there used to be. What isn’t even literally subjective is that there’s less diversity in anime releases than at any time in the past 15 years – it’s a verifiable fact. Fewer genres represented less often. When we talk about fewer risks being taken because of the increasingly rigid production committee system, that starts to bet into the realm of opinion. I think 2020 – even before COVID-19 – is shaping up as the weakest anime year in the modern era, and it’s not close. But then I’ve been compiling year-end anime lists for over a decade – this is my opinion, but it’s not a tossed-off guess. It’s based on empirical data recorded over a long period of closely following the medium. If you disagree that’s fine, you’re entitled – I don’t think the evidence is particularly ambiguous but to each their own.

  5. Deca Dence is not using near real world diaster porn to pull the emotion strings so its an apples to organes type of comparison. The first episode also appears to be showing oddities behind the impossible premise as well so I don’t know if the “near real” world setup can last given the name of the tin implies it is not going to be the most realistic disaster movie and is probably more like the 2012 movie than Tokyo magnitude 8.0 which at least tries to be mostly near realistic.

    Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 is a much better show than this one overall.

      1. I don’t think weird is the right term for it watching the later episodes puts it a trainwreck so bad it is just kinda bad. The show is kinda a mess in many departments. Ignoring the impossible premise (lets assume we stop thinking about anyhing) the animation quality takes a nosedive in addition to problems with sequences that just seem to not matter moments later for some reason and things just kinda happen in a random string of events.

  6. I just finished it, it started amazing, the second episode was good two but after it the history line became a shame, the anime design decreased a lot. At least, the last episode (only de last minutes) finished good but I dont really recommend this anime, just watch the first episode and thats all.

    Maria Fernanda
  7. Just finished binging the first 4 eps and I had to come see what was said here!

    It’s …. terrible. I suppose it has plenty of appeal to disaster porn fans; lots of realistic deaths, lots of genuinely tragic deaths, but as it drags on, more dumb, non-sensical deaths. The tropes!! Don’t get me started on miracle/surprise-lethal! tropes.

    So I’m suspecting the Mom is pregnant. She covered her belly when preparing to crash land. That’s a huge fiction give-away. Plus, there’s a fiction trope that “baby makes right” some tragedy earlier (not gonna spoil).

    I’m disappointed because I live in earthquake country and my area has seen a few local disasters in recent years. Nothing in this really connects to my real disaster experience other than the initial surprise. The most realistic thing here seemed to be the people trickling into groups and camps.

    I wish for something like this which is somewhat realistic but pulled back (better overview) OR something like this which focuses on the real drama and chaos for survivors up close. This appears to have been billed as either or both, but it’s none of these things.

    It’s trainwreckier then the train wreck in the show.

  8. I watched it after you reading your review. For anyone who is still watching it and has passed episode 2, holy crap did the direction turn. It’s SO BAD lol. Episode 1 got me hooked Enzo, just like you described in the review. I don’t even know what happened with the directing, it’s like every character in this show lost their common sense. I think it’s realistic to portray disagreements between parties; what you choose to do, where you plan to stay in the middle of a disaster. But, some of the decisions that our main characters made just drove me nuts lols. The pacing is all over the place. I hope they end the series well.

  9. Holy Shit this is bad. It’s just another gun in the army of really trashy pretentious YA Netflix shitty shows. Reminds me of Rain and The Society, and that can’t be good. Anyway, I didn’t finish it, but won’t do it, the 7 episodes I watched were enough. Pointless “high level” style, realism only when is convinient for the plot, over the top characters and drama that becomes involuntary comedy.
    I mean, the best point is how the show becomes so aimless, that the plot and… twists? Don’t matter anymore

    JC_Staff (NOT that one)

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