Well, at least 2020 had some pretty good anime.
Shows I dropped after at least 4 episodes:
Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front Babylonia (11)
When this started again in winter I realized I didn’t really give a shit and never got back to it.
Higurashi Gou (5)
I dropped the original series after 4 episodes, and didn’t take long to remember why. Every character was annoying in some way and I had to struggle to get this far.
Gal & Dino (5)
This should’ve just been a short. The regular segments were amusing, but all the gimmicks bits got boring fast.
I liked the characters, but only when they were interacting and not endlessly monologuing.
Just didn’t grab me.
10. Talentless Nana
I didn’t have high expectations for Talentless Nana. Which is weird, because the premise actually has a lot of potential. A class full of kids with superpowers, and one regular girl who has kill them all using nothing but her wits. It’s like a mix of Death Note, Kaiji and My Hero Academia. But I still wasn’t expecting much because it all comes down to execution, and it’s not easy to pull off, at least without lazy writing like “oh she just predicted 100 steps ahead and knew everyone would act in the most convenient way possible”.
So I guess I’d have to say I was pleasantly surprised, at least at first. The mindgames and killings were fine, occasionally clever, although sometimes the mandatory explanations dragged a bit. As long as you don’t take it too seriously those parts were pretty entertaining.
But where the show really faltered was in its attempt to make Nana more sympathetic and preparing for her eventual face turn. It’s not necessarily that I wanted Nana to remain the villain to the end (although I wouldn’t have complained if she had), but the way it was done was overly melodramatic. A lack of restraint works for a serial murder spectacle, not so much for a tragic backstory. The episode about Nana’s traumatic past was easily the worst part of the series, and marked a key shift in the narrative. By the time I was watching the final episode, I just didn’t care a lot about what was going on anymore. It’s just not what I was watching the show for. And of course, because it’s based on an ongoing manga, a lot remains unresolved. All together this makes Talentless Nana okay, but kind of disappointing.
9. Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle
I don’t watch a lot of comedy anime. I just don’t find most Japanese humor funny at all. And it’s not like I’m asking for a lot either. I don’t expect to be rolling on the floor laughing. As long as it’s amusing and not boring or irritating, that’s good enough for me. And wouldn’t you know it, Sleepy Princess was exactly that.
Given the paper-thin premise, I’m genuinely impressed it managed to squeeze this much content out of it. It started off a little weak, with a few episodes where I was starting to lose interest, but it really hit its stride around the midpoint. The princess herself was a funny character from the start, but it took some time for the supporting cast to grow into their roles. In fact, the second half was actually better than several of the other shows on this list. But alas, I can’t ignore those early episodes, so Sleepy Princess still ended up in 9th place. But 2020 was unusual in that I didn’t finish anything that was mediocre or outright bad, so given that fact there’s no shame in being second lowest.
8. Somali and the Forest Spirit
Most of the time, Somali was a cute little story about a girl and her golem foster father bonding while traveling through a rich and vibrant world. I enjoyed those parts of the show. A lot of creativity went into the setting and all its places and monster inhabitants. And while I’m usually not a fan of kids in anime, Somali herself was actually adorable.
But every time the focus shifted to the conflict between humans and monsters, my enjoyment dropped through the floor. It’s not just that there were dark moments. That would’ve been fine. It’s that they’re excessive, and not only sour the mood, but feel like they undermine the whole setting. All these seemingly nice characters would suddenly start salivating at the thought of murdering and eating Somali after finding out she’s human. We’re clearly not meant to think that all monsters are that way. but the ones that aren’t seem to be the exception. It doesn’t help either that all the humans we see in flashbacks are so flat and uninteresting.
In the end Somali was generally enjoyable, but a few key episodes really dragged it down.
7. Wave, Listen To Me!
I’m always intruigued by a novel premise. An anime about making a radio show? I don’t particularly care about radio, but sure, I’ll give it a try. I had no real expectations going in, but I was pulled in by first episode and ended up watching the whole thing.
Wave had a lot of things going for it. It was original, it had an adult cast, it was educational, and Minare was a great character with an exceptional vocal performance. Still, it didn’t always manage to bring those elements together into something special. Not all the jokes landed, and sometimes it was just overly silly. I would’ve liked it to focus more on the actual radio production and less on the side characters. But then again, Minare’s inspiration comes from her interactions with those people, so you can’t exactly leave that out.
All in all, it was an average show. Entertaining enough to finish, but not much more.
6. Blade of the Immortal
The first half of Blade of the Immortal aired last year, and everything I said then still applies. It’s a heavily rushed adaptation, with animation quality ranging from barely passable to horrendous, that does not do the source material justice. Is it possible to fit a 31-volume manga into a 24-episode anime? I’m sure it is, but this is not the way to do it. You can’t compress the story that much without a rigorous rewrite. Instead, the anime insisted on including practically every storyline, and as a result all of them were cut short, sometimes stripped of crucial context. Why even bother? Why go through the trouble of introducing a minor character if you’re going to cut his later scenes and have him die off-screen? What’s the point?
It might’ve been tolerable if it at least had good action, but it couldn’t even manage that. Heavy screen shake and lightning-fast cuts make it almost impossible to tell what’s going on, even for someone who’s read the manga.
So was Blade of the Immortal bad? Eh… not really. It’s watchable, and it had some good episodes. But like Berserk 2016 before it, it’s solely the quality of the source material elevating it above utter mediocrity. As an adaptation, it’s an insult to the original.
Appare-Ranman was just a fun show. It’s a silly racing anime with wacky characters, but it was entertaining and actually funny. It also had surprisingly well-directed and animated fights.
The only thing that was dragging it down was the main bad guy. A show like this needs villain with charisma, but instead we got a boring edgelord who’s just evil for the sake of being evil. There wasn’t anything fun or likeable about him. You’re just supposed to hate him because he’s an asshole. It’s kinda funny, because all the characters that you think are going to be bad guys turn out to be good people, or at least allies.
Thankfully it still pulled itself together in the end, wrapping up everything with a serviceable ending. This is definitely not a memorable anime, but perfectly enjoyable.
4. Akudama Drive
I kept going back and forth on Akudama Drive. At first it just seemed kinda okay, then it got better, then it got worse, then it got better again…
It’s very stylish and flashy, and has great action, which can all help make up for its weaker aspects. The titular Akudama are a group of escaped supercriminals brought together for a heist, but most of them aren’t exactly deep characters. I noticed early on that whenever there was a break in the action and everyone was just talking, I started losing interest fast. Some of them are just very stereotypical, while a couple were just actively annoying.
But as it went along, it actually surprised me at times. It helps that the later focus shifts more towards the better characters. They even got some decent character development. By the end I was more invested than I thought I would be, although probably not as much as it wants you to be. There were a few elements that didn’t quite work for me, notably everything that has to do with the society it takes place in. The story is mainly about the Akudama, their ‘cargo’, and their pursuers. For pretty much half of the show, the city is just a background element. So when the masses start to become a important part of the plot, it was like a character we were never introducsed to took the spotlight. Sure you can follow what’s happening, but I was lacking the kind of connection I had to the main cast, and left me with too many unnecessary questions about how this society works.
As a whole, I have mixed feelings about Akudama Drive, but it was still worth watching.
By the way, the distance between the Akudama Drive and the top 3 on this list is almost as big as the difference between 4th and 10th place. I watched a lot of things that weren’t that far apart in quality, but these three were head and shoulders above the rest.
Dorohedoro was a hell of a ride. The setting is ridiculous, but somehow it felt consistent and almost believable. The characters are equally absurd, but in a likable way, not gratingly wacky. I usually don’t care for ‘worldbuilding’ side stories, but the ones in Dorohedoro were entertaining and fleshed out the surreal place they live in. I also liked the mix of crazy and mundane in how people in the magic world live, like this is just normal to them. And all of this is built on top of a complex and intruiging mystery that makes you want to know what’s going on.
Unfortunately, that’s also the one downside to the anime. It only covers a fraction of the story, so most of the mystery remains unresolved. It also lacked a strong ending, since it doesn’t end in a particularly satisfying place. I do hope they make more, because it only gets better from here.
2. Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!
Eizouken is a lot like A Place Further Than The Universe two years ago. Both are about a group of girls working towards fulfilling a dream. And both of them could have easily just been bog standard “cute girls doing cute things” anime. It goes to show that good execution is all that matters. What sets them apart is simply the strength of the writing and characters.
As an anime about making anime, Eizouken also avoids another common pitfall: it’s not pandering. It doesn’t constantly reference other anime or require a phd in otaku culture. You could show this to anyone who’s done any sort of creative work, and they’d probably relate to it. The search for inspiration, the sacrifices you have to make to meet a deadline, the disillusionment you face when it doesn’t turn out the way you wanted. This is a work that was clearly made with a lot of love, and top of that it’s pretty consistently funny and the characters are all very likeable. It also avoids milking its tropes for cheap drama, like “rich girl with a hobby her parents don’t approve of”.
The only negative thing I can say about it is that the ending was a bit anticlimactic. The season is loosely structured into three arcs, each ending with the club presenting a new anime short. The first two of those had a great conclusion, but the last one kind of petered out. It had a point to make, but I would’ve rather had a big uplifting climax to end it on. That said, it’s still a wonderful show and well worth watching.
1. Golden Kamuy S3
Golden Kamuy is back, and better than ever. The first two seasons were good too, but they hit some rough patches where the adaptation was overly rushed. Thankfully, the third season has much better and more consistent pacing. It definitely helps that that the source material for this arc fit pretty neatly into 12 episodes, and gives the season a clear plot progression and climax.
Really, it’s just more of the same, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. Everything that makes Golden Kamuy great is back in spades. It’s exciting, funny, dramatic, and educational. S3 gives some characters like Tsukushima and Koito more development and time to shine, and they’re great. Really, all the characters in Golden Kamuy are good in their own way, and I like how it keeps shaking up the groups and putting different people together. It makes for a fun dynamic and lets us see different sides of them. Other than that, there’s not much to say about S3. If you liked the first two seasons, you will like this one as well.