Japan Sinks: 2020 – Hope in Times of Despair

Japan Sinks: 2020 – Hope in Times of Despair

A story of tragedy, grief, resilience, and hope – this 10-episode Netflix original anime series based on Sakyo Komatsu’s dystopian disaster novel packs in so much, it is sure to leave viewers with mixed emotions. Directed by Masaaki Yuasa, well-known for Devilman Crybaby, this anime displays the depth of human emotion and misery against the stark background of unimaginable destruction. Considering the time we find ourselves in, where this year has been nothing short of a nightmare so far, the debilitating feeling of helplessness and confusion seems all too real, making this watch the perfect lockdown-binge material. 

Just as the name suggests, barely ten minutes into the anime, you are thrown into a world of chaos, one that is so sudden even while expected that you don’t have time to process what is happening already. The Mutoh family is introduced while the first series of earthquakes hit, with each member away from one another, all with one goal in mind- to reunite with the rest of the family. And this while being aware of the hard-to-believe reality of the island nation might be slowly sinking into the ocean. 

The first thing one can notice, besides the bloody deaths and destruction, is how unperturbed the people who survive initially seem to be. Of course, there is palpable fear and uncertainty written on each character’s face- for oneself and his family- however, it all seems too hopeful as each character seems to be used to such disaster.

This also means that their quick-to-think-and-act attitude is probably what keeps them alive and going. This possibly mirrors reality for the people of Japan. These shots, coupled with the eerily calming music playing in the background only give one the feeling that they may be trying to show hope and strength even in such perilous times. 

While the anime is centered around themes of disaster and survival, it is character-driven: we see more of the Mutoh family- father Koichiro, mother Mari, and siblings Ayumu and Go- who are initially joined by a few others when they break off from a large group, merely trusting their hunches to go in the opposite direction from the rest. As they move from place to place using whatever it takes to remain alive, they meet more people who share their will to live. And naturally, more and more people meet their deaths, horrendously. In. Every. Single. Episode. 

All hope seems lost, yet the Mutoh family- or what is left of it- realises the need to keep moving. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the calamities, even as the characters are still reeling from a death, disaster follows hot on their trail and so, no character has the time to allow themselves to mourn. Only Ayumu seems to have a natural and expected reaction to the horrors, all while indulging in self-blame and remorse, plagued by survivors’ guilt. Other characters, especially Mari and Go, only seem to block out such feelings to focus primarily on safety and escape. Familial bonds and trust are put to test as some very difficult decisions regarding survival need to be made constantly. 

Through the fast-paced anime, all the destruction is weirdly juxtaposed with hopeful and nostalgic voiceovers by the other characters. Recalling happier times and talking about what they would have been doing had the situation been different affect you worse than all the misery on screen. One may find himself rooting for the survival of every character, however, given the genre, that is simply not possible.

The introduction of foreign characters seems to serve the purpose of showing inclusion, like Mari being Philipino and Estonian YouTuber KITE, who joins them midway during their escapade, and they prove instrumental to the group’s survival. However, the xenophobic mentality that still prevails in Japanese society is not veiled in the anime, and these characters would go on to experience the stomach-turning effects of the same later in the anime. 

It doesn’t matter if you don’t watch anime- regularly or at all. If you can stomach disaster you can make it past all the gore and devastation in the series (one that may leave you an emotional wreck too). The anime, while criticised by many for its animation, questionable character arcs, and ridiculous killing-off of characters, is still an absolute treat to watch for its portrayal of raw emotion and after-effects of destruction. Most importantly, for the hopeful message ringing loud and clear.

Ten episodes take you on a wondrous journey of rediscovering faith and hope for a better life. This is exactly what we need now – messages of hope. That a disaster anime based on a dystopian novel would give us this message was something not many would have expected. 


Udbhavi Balakrishna
Udbhavi Balakrishna

Udbhavi writes short stories, poetry, and her thoughts on society and culture.

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