Based on a 1970s novel, we follow a family living through a natural disaster.
It’s 2020, the Tokyo Olympics are over (tells you when this was written), and a massive earthquake strikes. Four members of the Mutou family survive: Mother Mari (Yuko Sasaki/Grace Lynn Kung), Father Koichiro (Masaki Terasoma/Keith Silverstein), and children Gou and Ayumu (Tomo Muranaka/Ryan Bartley, Reina Ueda/Faye Mata). After reuniting, they set off walking across Japan in search of a place to get off. It turns out that the earthquakes are a sign of something more dire: The Japanese archipelago is sinking.
Masaaki Yuasa, the mind behind the grim and violent Devilman Crybaby and the extremely trippy Mind Game is being hailed as the lead behind this show, but aside from the subject matter it doesn’t have most of his bitter touches or his creativity. I can’t tell if that’s a sign that he left most of the series to the other director, Pyeon-Gang Ho, or if he just completely whiffed on this one. It’s not that Japan Sinks 2020 is bad, I actually still enjoyed it, but it’s pretty run-of-the-mill in terms of disaster films or television. Nature kicks the crap out of people, people then kick the crap out of each other, rinse and repeat.
There are a few things that the show definitely gets “right.” First, plot armor pretty much doesn’t exist in this show, for good or ill. Anyone can die, much like Game of Thrones, and that includes the people you like. In fact, having a conscience often proves a liability. This becomes apparent early on when Ayumu helps an older couple by offering them some water, but they immediately take advantage of her generosity. Stuff like that happens throughout, and even though the story does ultimately show that we are stronger together, the fact that times of chaos result in people killing each other for resources (that they don’t even need) is shown painfully well by the show. Second, the show does a good job of demonstrating the extent to which people will act irrationally when confronted with things out of their control. Considering that America is currently dealing with a preventable pandemic that is largely due to the inability for people to take reasonable steps, this seems… on the nose. Third, the relationships between the family members and those of their temporary family are strong and believable. There is a love that speaks to a great willingness to sacrifice for others, and that’s always going to be a powerful message when done right.
Unfortunately, some of this is somewhat undermined by the show. Even though anyone can die, for some reason natural disasters appear to pick off the greedy or the selfish at opportune moments. It’s like the Earthquakes are paying attention for “d*ck moves.” The message of sacrifice appears mostly to be based on the old being willing to sacrifice for the young, which seems to often have the older people dumping all of their failings on the next generation. It’s like someone saying “sorry about the global warming, but I’ll be dead before it’s a big deal.” Ultimately, that’s the biggest weakness of the series, it keeps trying to force narrative occurrences in order to try and make the story into an allegory, rather than just letting the journey of the characters supply the meaning.
Overall, the series is not the strongest, but if you want a disaster anime, the scale of this one does still make it worth watching.