First off, I would like to disclose that "Japan Sinks: 2020" is the first anime series that I had completed. Previously, I had only seen the occasional feature film anime, like "Grave of the Fireflies" (1988) or "Your Name" (2016); or live action films based on anime, like "Attack on Titan" (2015) or "Your Lie in April" (2016). Of the several anime series being streamed on Netflix, this was the one that caught my attention to watch because of its catchy title and its short length of only 10 30-minute episodes.
It was September 2020, just after the Tokyo Olympics were held. Just after 4 p.m. one afternoon, a very strong earthquake hit Japan causing a widespread swathe of devastation and death.
The four members of the Mutoh family all met each other under a purple-lit tree beside a hilltop shrine. Father Koichiro was first to arrive from his construction site. Mother Mari survived a crash landing of her plane into the river. Elder daughter Ayumu ran all the way from her track practice. Youngest son and avid gamer Go was brought from their home by their friend Nanami. Their aloof young track star neighbor Haruo was also with them.
News came that more earthquakes were coming and that almost the whole Japanese archipelago was sinking into the Pacific Ocean. When the water from the tsunami begin to flood the area below their hill, they all decide to go search for a safer location. Along their way, they encounter several other people (a sensational YouTuber Kite, an old chain-smoking morphine addict Gramps, a cheerful Englishman Daniel, a paralyzed submarine pilot Onodera, etc.) who would join them along this quest towards a safe haven. However, their perilous uncertain journey will be fraught with a series of danger and deaths.
Following the ordeal of the Mutoh family during this series was like following the ordeal of the Stark family in "Game of Thrones." Everyone, be he a main character or a side character, was fair game here, no one is spared from a harrowing death. Several times, the manner of death came very suddenly, startling at times. Some of the deaths you can see coming from how the scene was playing, and these were the more emotional ones. The animation did not shirk from showing the gory or disgusting as it dealt with death.
There were a couple of episodes mid-series when the Mutohs found themselves in the idyllic community of Shan City who welcomed them with open arms, giving them much needed shelter and food. However, the people in there seemed to belong to a mysterious cult led by a female medium who could contact the dead. The purpose of this weird interlude was puzzling as to its metaphorical significance to the story as a whole. The unnecessary presence of a gratuitous sex scene in Episode 5 just made things more bizarre.
Overall, this anime series was easy and engaging to follow all the way through in a viewing binge. There was an inclusive effort by making the characters diverse (case in point, the mother Mari was a Filipina from Cebu.)
Directed by animator Masaaki Yuasa, this anime series was based on a science-fiction disaster novel written back in 1973 by Sakyo Komatsu. Several film and TV adaptations over the years attest to its timeless message. That this latest updated version is being streamed on Netflix during an international pandemic further gave its story of family and selflessness even more dramatic heft.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."