July 31, 2021

10 Awesome Anime of Fall 2020

After a relatively light summer, Fall has descended upon us at last, bringing down with it the weight of a full seasonal anime lineup. There are plenty of good ones to choose from right now, but that only makes it harder to pick out the true cream of the crop at a glance. I’ve been able to sort through the lot of them, and narrow down the ten anime I think are most worth your time! These are the ones to watch for Fall 2020. Because I wanted to reserve this seasonal spotlight for something that’s actually important:

Low wages, long hours, and exploitative contracts are sadly the norm in Tokyo’s animation industry, where salaries average 800 bucks a month, and 90% of new animators quit inside 3 years. For years, now the animator dormitory project has helped up-and-comers find their footing in this brutal business. But for all the good the dormitory does, they’re ultimately just slapping a band aid on a huge systemic problem that requires a systemic solution, which is why they’re now using KICKSTARTER to spearhead the “2020 New Anime Making System Project.” The project’s first goal is to animating music video, set to an original song, from some of the biggest musical and vocal talents and the English anime sphere, including Mason Lieberman, Kevin Penkin, Donna Burke, Amanda Lee, and the very best like no one ever was himself, Jason Paige. More importantly, the animators making this video will be paid two-to-four times the industry standard rate.

 In the long term, they’re aiming to establish their own studio that will attract talented artists with its healthy wages and working conditions. Already they’ve pulled a heck of a team together: with Shintarou Douge, director of the bangin’ Osomatsu-San and Sangatsu no Lion OPs at the helm, Shingo Tamagawa, Masaki Tanaka, and Kenichi Kutsuna providing key animation, and digital anime pioneer Shingo Yamashita compositing, this is sure to be an absolute stunner of a music video that any anime fan would be proud to own a piece of; or be credited in. And hey, what a coincidence, those are some of the rewards you can get for backing it on kickstarter! Because, of, course, they can’t achieve any of these noble goals on their own. They need help from as many anime fans as are willing to offer it.

JUJUTSU KAISEN – Streaming on Crunchy roll

JUJUTSU KAISEN anime

Since we’re already on the subject of banging anime OPs in general and the digital animation talents of Shingo Yamashita specifically, I suppose it only makes sense to start with the most obvious recommendation of the season: Jujutsu Kaisen. It’s rare that you can go wrong with a new shown Jump action anime, but it’s nearly as uncommon to see one get it this right, right off the bat. Yuji Itadori is a laid back high schooler who spends his afternoons chilling with the Occult Research club, and his evenings visiting his sickly grandfather in hospital, which leaves him little time to cultivate his natural-born athletic talent. Though, given the casual ease with which he shatters world records, there’s likely nothing natural about it. When his club mates, thinking they’re just fooling around, end up breaking the seal on a very real cursed object and calling a monster to the school, Yuji ends up proving his supernatural potential by eating that curse and using its power to save them. Immediately afterwards, he is condemned to die by the society of Jujutsu Sorcerers. Because it turns out he ate one of the 20 fingers of the king of curses, Sukuna, and there is a teeny tiny possibility that the ancient evil could possess him at any moment and use his body to do some war crimes.

However Satoru Gojo, the “strongest” Jujutsu sorcerer, self-proclaimed, but no one has the balls to argue him, convinces the higher ups to stay his execution until the whole of Sukuma is collected, so that his millennia-old curse can finally be destroyed once and for all. And in the meantime, Yuji gets to go to Jujutsu school. Jujutsu is a kind of sorcery that uses the power of curses to fight other curses; an important calling that protects innocents from certain death, but also all but condemns its practitioners to lives of anguish and struggle. It’s both a fun, risk/reward power system, and a very singular job description that’s best suited to driven, self-determined, marginally crazy individuals. In other words, it’s the perfect excuse to pull together a cast of eclectic shown battle heroes with big personalities, including an action panda. Jujutsu Kaisen is an absolute joy. It immediately carves out its own niche in terms of tone and style; an odd intersection between the dark supernatural action of bleach and the anarchic attitude of Haiku. And it compliments that tone with the impeccable action direction of Sung Hoo Park. This anime is every bit as sakuga-packed and fun to watch as his last work, The God of High School, and its slower pacing actually gives those amazing fights room to breathe. Which is a luxury not every anime character this season gets to enjoy. He said ominously.

TALENTLESS NANA – Streaming on Funimation

TALENTLESS NANA

Talentless Nana tells the tale of another school for super powered adolescents, where they train their abilities, called Talents, to one day take on the mysterious and monstrous “enemies of humanity” that have hidden themselves among the human population. Of course, such schools would be prime targets for these hidden force, which lends the series a delightfully tense air of paranoia; any student could be a killer in disguise. This anime is lucky to be coming up at the height of Among Us fever. As a mind-reader, new student Nana Hiiragi is uniquely positioned to help with this problem, and she quickly gravitates toward Nanao Nakajima, a pure-hearted natural leader who doesn’t appear to have any talent beyond that, and that’s kind of holding back in the class’s social hierarchy. If you’ve see an anime, you can probably guess there’s more to him than that; and maybe even guess what that more is, but there’s also more to this plot than the standard “mahouka/index” gimmick. Of course it is a big spoiler, given the nature of the show, to explain what exactly that “more” is. I’m going to assume you’re down to hear that THE SCHOOL IS A BIG SCAM! The real enemies of humanity, as designated by our governments, are the talented children themselves, who are too independently powerful for the state to control. So Nana, who is not a telepath, just a regular old sociopath, has been sent in undercover to covertly murder them all. And the show’s all about her doing that, sassing out the strengths and weaknesses of each student and finding creative ways to kill them while trying to hide her killing spree from the more astute and suspicious kids. And while it’s not the best animated or directed show of the season, that premise alone is enough to have me utterly hooked.

DRAGON QUEST: DAI NO DAIBOUKEN – Streaming on Crunchy roll

DRAGON QUEST: DAI NO DAIBOUKEN anime

 Not every anime needs a novel concept. There’s something to be said for good execution on a truly classic formula, and I don’t think any franchise in any medium embodies that truth better than Dragon Quest. You got heroes going on journeys to defeat dark lords and bring peace back to the world, encountering colorful characters and creatures alike along the way, some of which join them in their quest. All that gets boring fast in your average Isekai series, but dress them up in the iconic art style of Akira Toriyama, and suddenly these clichés take on an irresistible, timeless charm. Dragon Quest: Dai No Daibouken captures that charm beautifully in anime form. Its story is as simple as they come: for a long time the world was terrorized by a powerful demon king and his army of monsters, until a hero rose up and defeated him. Freed from his evil influence, the monsters settled down on a small island, where they eventually discovered a distinctly dragon-quest-protagonist-looking baby washed up on the beach. They raised that boy, Dai, as one of their own, and he spent many happy days running carefree through the forests and plains of the island, learning magic from his uncle Brass, until other humans began landing on those same shores. Violent thugs, masquerading as heroes and scheming politicians, grasping at power   throw Dai’s peaceful island home into chaos, and they are mere portents of the deeper darkness lurking beyond the horizon which is a demon king, also a whole mess of monsters. But Dai’s got a sword, and magic, and not-poke balls, and the OP’s telling me he’s going to befriend a guy with magic skills and a lady with a magic gun, and they’re going to use those things to fight those other things. And with Toei’s combination of hand drawn animation and surprisingly solid 3D visuals, those fights are going to look pretty cool. This is a classically cozy anime, similar in tone and general appeal to mahoujin guru guru. It’s not going to blow your mind, but it’s a guaranteed good time, and sometimes, that’s all you want from a show.

If you do want a bit more from your fantasy, this season offers plenty of alternatives. Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear and By the Grace of the Gods provide a weaker blend of simple escapism in a moe isekai package. I’m standing on a million lives and King’s Raid competently tackle a darker brand of swords and sorcery. And if you enjoy stories of road trips through fantastical lands, Majo no Tabitabi or “The Journey of Elaina” is a laid-back, lighthearted delight. With beautiful animation and art, its many otaku’s favorite show of the season, though speaking personally, its characters have failed to grab me thus far. It kind of feels like Earth Sea without the character arc.

MAOUJOU DE OYASUMI – Streaming on Funimation

MAOUJOU DE OYASUMI anime

The Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle, is instantly and irresistibly charming. All was well in the fantasy kingdom of Goodreste, until one day the demon king kidnapped their princess, leaving a brave, spikey-headed hero with no choice but the venture fraud and rescue her. In the meanwhile, the Princess doesn’t have much to do besides sleep and that’s what the whole anime is about. It’s easier said than done in a demonic dungeon. Her cell’s furnishing isn’t unpleasant, but it’s cheap, low thread counts, thin padding etc. how’s a delicate debutant supposed to nap in these conditions? The demon king has provided her with some adorable fluffy teddy demon guards, though, and it turns out those guards are easily bribed with brushies, so she routinely escapes her cell on a quest to make the best bedding she can, from what’s available in the castle. And also take whatever she can’t make. By force, if need be. Even if that means breaking a priceless magical artifact to turn it into an air mattress, or straight up decapitating a guy so she can sleep upon his silky smooth corpse. Basically, this is the Peach sections of classic Paper Mario, if Princess Peach was a narcoleptic axe murderer. And with Yoshiko Nakamura and Mitsue Yamazaki – the writer and director behind Monthly Girl’s Nozaki-kun bringing that fantastic concept to life, The Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle never stops being hilarious. If you’ve been missing Konosuba, this is the show to keep an eye on this season.

MAGATSU WAHRHEIT – Streaming on Funimation

If you’re more into the politically-charged, technology-infused fantasy of the second franchise that comes to mind when I say “JRPG…” This season still has you pretty well-covered, actually. “Our last crusade or the rise of a new world” tells a Romeo and Juliet tale set against a war between a futuristic empire and an oppressed republic of witches which is a cool idea, though its world building’s a bit wishy-washy for my taste. In a world once devastated by a magical apocalypse, the magitech-fueled Wahrheit Empire maintains order with an Iron Grip. Leocardio Weller is a new recruit to the nation’s army, whose top-notch sword skills have distinguished him despite his inexperience, and whose future looks as bright as one’s future can look in a military dictatorship. Little does he suspect, when he stops to help a young trucker, Inumael Groener, load up his deliveries for the day, that it will do more to change that future than just make him late for orientation. Leo accidentally throws in a bit of cargo that wasn’t on the manifest which wouldn’t be that big a deal. If that cargo weren’t high-grade magical artillery that some smugglers were hiding in the warehouse. Knowing that the imperial diet will make an example of him if he’s left behind, the smugglers bust Inumael out of jail when they come to liberate the weapon. Which leaves him with a choice: join up and do more crimes, or die. What he doesn’t know is that by taking the obvious path, he’s setting himself on a collision course with Leo, and their inevitable impact will reverberate around the world. I love stories of unwitting individuals caught up in political machinery and chains of causality far too immense and chaotic to comprehend or control, cascading out from seemingly insignificant coincidences toward destinies greater and darker than they ever imagined. I love characters like Inumael who instantly reminiscent of Black Lagoon’s Rock, and like Leo, because it’s fun watching naive optimists run up against the realities of war. Most importantly, I love worlds like this; I absolutely dig the anachronistic magitech aesthetic, it’s always cool to watch sword guys fight, gun guys, and I am super down for how the show drops us right into its story with minimal exposition. This anime low key feels like something Yasumi Matsuno might write, and Naoto Hosoda’s cinematic directing style really fits that well.

MORIARTY THE PATRIOT – Streaming on Funimation

MORIARTY THE PATRIOT

I love me some Sherlock Holmes, so the prospect of a series digging into the mind of his most infamous nemesis instantly had my attention. And when I learned it was being directed by Run with the Wind’s Kazuya Nomura, my hype only grew. Luckily, I was not disappointed. So, how do you turn the world’s most dastardly and also only criminal consultant into a hero? It starts with a compelling, believable motivation, and as an upper class mathematician who finds himself increasingly disgusted with the rampant inequity of the British Empire, and the way London’s nobility exploits and abuses its citizenry, this take on William James Moriarty has that down. He’s not just a genetic criminal out for profit and pleasure, but rather a calculated saboteur aiming to undermine the upper crust and burn this unjust world to the ground, that a new one might be built in its place. This more complex motivation also serves to inject an element of mystery into a series that might otherwise have strayed too far from the essence of Sherlock Holmes. Moriarty’s own deductive capabilities are nothing to sneeze at, and he uses sound logic to uncover the crimes of his fellow nobles. But rather than turn the culprits over to Scotland Yard, where they’d no doubt buy their way free, Moriarty follows up his investigations by helping their working class victims attain an air-tight revenge. And the end results are deeply satisfying to watch, for, uh, no reason besides the nice animation and art. This is a dark and dramatic series with a suitably grandiose and menacing atmosphere about it. If you’re into looming, lamp lit gargoyles and thick fog hanging heavy on sometimes bloodstained cobblestone, you will love this anime.

TONIKAKU KAWAII – Streaming on Cruncyrol

TONIKAKU KAWAII anime

Tonikaku Kawaii or Tonikawa for short may be more your speed. This is a rip-roaring romantic comedy about the dangers of naming your kid something stupid. Nasa Yuzaki has been asked every day of his goddamn life if he wants to be an astronaut, and thus finds himself compelled to reach for the stars in every other possible way. He wants to make sure that when you think of Nasa, you think of those space assholes second. And thus far he’s done pretty well for himself, with a first place score in the national mock exams and a ticket to any high school he could dream of. Then he sees her. Breath catches in his throat as hers hangs in the air, snowflakes sparkle in her auburn hair. He shoots for the moon with courage and pluck for love. Nasa has hit like a ten ton truck. She saved him from it, and she’s totally fine somehow. Not him though, that’s a lot of blood he lost. But he can’t rest now, because if he does, she’ll be gone forever. The power of love (an adrenaline) helps him hold his shattered bones together just long enough to give her his name and ask her out and she says yes! If he’ll agree to marry her. I will let you guess for yourselves, based on Nasa’s past demonstrations of impulse control, what his answer is. From there, Nasa’s whirlwind romance with this lovely either alien, or maybe literal moon goddess, it’s not entirely clear. After she disappears for 5 more years, bit of a communication gap there. But he waits for her a little too diligently, honestly, dropping out of high school in the hopes of catching her at a convenience store. And when she does eventually come knocking on his door, they’re both ready and eager to start a new life together. Though it’s going to take them both some time to figure out what that life will be. Tonikawa is both hilarious and adorable in its unwavering sincerity.

ADACHI TO SHIMAMURA – Streaming on Funimation

ADACHI TO SHIMAMURA anime

Adachi and Shimamura, a series about two teenage slackers who skipping class to sit alone together in their own little world on the little-used second floor of their school’s gym. They hanging out next to a Ping-Pong table, using each other’s laps as pillows but they’re not gay. Actually, they don’t even know for sure if they are best friends yet. They’re both just feeling things out, in a completely platonic, heterosexual way, where they think about each other all the time, and share indirect donut kisses, and commit acts of public indecency together. Also there’s a time traveling alien, or possibly just a kid in a space suit following them around everywhere. These are two immensely likeable, entertaining characters. Adachi’s a bit of a loner, whereas Shimamura’s a little more outgoing and friendly. They both like being together; but neither can quite sues out how “together” the other wants to be. It’s a lot of fun watching them fumble around their feelings. If I was a bored alien, I’d hang around to see how it turns out.

As “Shoujo Ai” series go, this isn’t quite as complex or nuanced a character piece as “Bloom into You”, but it’s certainly more subtle and substantial than the dumb Yuri fun of this season’s “Assault Lily Bouquet.” Adachi and Shimamura captures the pangs of adolescence and the waning days of youth beautifully. That tension of liking someone, but hesitating to say you like them, because what if they don’t like you like that back. You think you have a shot, but you could easily blow this whole thing by shooting it. Depending on where you’re at in life, this is either going to dredge up some powerful nostalgia, or just make you miss your present friends. It’s another immensely cozy show. Lo-fi Lesbians to Chill/Sleep to, basically. Just the thing to take your mind off the possibly impending end of the world.

THE DAY I BECAME GOD – Streaming on Funimation

THE DAY I BECAME GOD

A young girl dressed like a Nun and claiming to be Odin just informed Youta Narukami that there are 30 days left ‘til the end of the world. And while she proves within seconds that she’s not above fucking with him, her uncanny ability to predict the weather and call horse races seems to suggest that there’s more to her claims than pure chunnibyou delusion. The Day I Became a God is the newest PA Works original anime from Angel Beats and Charlotte writer Jun Maeda; and while, based on that pedigree, it could go downhill at any moment, especially with Charlotte’s Yoshiyuki Asai directing. It’s off to as strong a start as either of those series. Maeda is a funny man when he wants to be, with an impressive talent for creating unique and instantly memorable characters, and that talent’s put to good use here. Youta’s an immensely likeable, outgoing, straight-shooting kind of guy, while Odin strikes a fun balance between omnipotent condescension and childish indignation against anyone who dares question her incredibly sketchy story. It’s a blast watching them banter, and the supporting characters who drift in and out of the story, like Youta’s friend Ashura, and his childhood crush Izanami, mix well with their character dynamic. The first episode had me rolling with laughter from beginning to end. Now, this being a Jun Maeda joint, there’s no guarantee it’ll carry on that way. He really likes pivoting from comedy to tragedy, and given the inherently bleak subject matter and the fact that it’s tagged as a drama. That’s a good or a bad thing will depend on whether this show sticks the tricky landing or face plants at the finish line. Maeda’s done both once, and while I’m dreading a repeat of CharlotteI. Regardless of the outcome, Maeda’s shows are always worth keeping an eye on for their noble concepts and bold story directions. This will either be one of the season’s best, or an absolutely train wreck, but either way, it’s going to be a lot of fun to talk about.

AKUDAMA DRIVE – Streaming on Funimation

Final recommendation, Akudama Drive is simply built different, and it hits different too. Set in the neon-soaked streets of a far-future Kansai region that has been nuked, conquered and colonized after a war with Kanto, this series offers a mix of Ghost in the Shell cyberpunk and Kekkai Sensen craziness. In the first bit of the first episode a guy rides a spider man motorcycle up a building, and it just keeps on escalating from there. Like Magatsu Warheit, his show completely drops you into the deep end of its world, offering no explanation initially as to why folks might be praying to the shinkansen, or how there are people who can beat up armed robots and hack banks in seconds just for fancies. The titular Akudama, super criminals whose potential sentences are measured in centuries, are clearly not normal, physically or mentally speaking. But that’s about the only thing that’s clear about them. An ordinary girl who after an absurdly bungled attempt to return a dropped coin and then save a lost cat inadvertently thrusts her into world of mad doctors and literal cutthroats, with a bomb wrapped around her throat, just add insult to injury. Our nameless heroine takes on the Akudama epithet “Swindler” in hopes. It’ll convince all the murderers around her to turn their attention elsewhere. So now all she’s got to do to save her skin is help Kansai’s most dangerous criminals pull off the craziest heist in history. If the concept of an incredibly unlucky ordinary person struggling to survive amid a pack of decidedly extraordinary and eccentric potential killers sounds odd. That’s probably because it’s a recurring theme in Danganronpa and those games creator, Kazutaka Kodaka, also cooked up the original story concept for this series. He’s not writing it himself, but with Gakkougurashi creator Norimitsu Kaihou taking those reins, his characteristically zany characters and concepts are in very good hands. And as you’ve already seen while I’ve been talking it up, Studio Pierrot and director Tomohisa Taguchi have been having an absolute blast bringing this world and those characters to life. This is one of those shows that squeezes every drop of fun it can out of every action scene and comedy beat; and along with that fun, it’s cool from every frame.

There the ten best new anime of the Fall season. Though there are a few older ones that bear mentioning as well. Haikyuu is back for its finale, and that is one of the best anime ever. The dragon daughter in the new danmachi season’s adorable. Mahouka also exists again. Best of all, after over a decade away, both Higurashi and the Adventures of Kagome Higurashi are back on TV. And those of you, too young to remember them may be wondering how the new series are. Yashahime: Princess Half Demon feels like a proper spiritual successor to the anime that kind of defined my whole adolescence. If you’ve never seen inuyasha, I think it’s a pretty good jumping on point for the franchise. The new characters are really fun and have their own distinct dynamic with each other that feels separate of what the original series did. But you’ll probably enjoy it more if you go back and catch up on the original first, it’s a classic. As for Higurashi, you definitely can watch this new series, Higurashi no Naku Koro ni gou, before you watch the original. It does retell the plot of the first anime they made. It’s not a remake, it’s a sequel. Ryukishi07, the man who singlehandedly made the original visual novel, is a mad genius in the truest sense of both words, and this franchise plays a little fast and loose with causality, so this one will probably be a little confusing for newcomers. But being confused is part of the fun in this franchise!