Top 5 Anime I Watched in 2020 + Top 5 Anime Openings I Heard in 2020
Warning: The following post may/will contain spoilers of the shows on the first list. If you don't want to know what happens in the series I'll reference here, it's best if you join me once you've watched the first few episodes of each or the entire thing. But then again, if you want to take that warning with a grain of salt, feel free to stay put.
With that said:
I said it before, but I'll say it again: 2020 has been a year. With most of the world feeling the effects of a novel pandemic and a tense election cycle, it was easy to use media as a way to escape. In my case, I got pulled further into the Hallmark abyss, dipped my toes into some Lifetime thrillers (which I need to pace myself with), and used mornings during early social distancing to watch more anime than I've gotten to in the last couple years. I sought out some shows I hadn't gotten the chance to see before, shows I started back in the day but never finished, and old favorites just because I could. A good dose of nostalgia never hurts anyone, right? Neither do new favorites.
Since it's been about three years since I've done a post like this, I feel like I'm ready to make some changes. Unlike past years, I will be ranking the anime and openings by how much I liked them (from #5 to #1). I will be bumping the other great/good shows I watched this year before I unveil my favorite (the meh properties won't), but the opening list has always been a little more precise. The five this year were the ones I heard and cracked a smile, replayed, and tried to sing along with the romaji (if there was any) when it popped on screen. It'll be a short and sweet recap of my update posts throughout the year, just with some added J-rock/J-pop.
Like always, we're starting with the series list:
I can definitely see why this idol series was overlooked when it initially aired in 2016. There were already plenty of shows in the market at this point, which not only had better production values but stronger and more distinct characters. However, Dream Festival had a smart team behind it. I found myself coming to care for the units that formed, what they did as idols, and the struggles along the way. The topics the writers hit were handled with a keen eye and didn't feel juvenile. Despite not having the grand development we'd expect from other anime, DearDream and KUROFUNE were incredibly charismatic and likeable characters (even though they were rivals initially). The animation was good despite budget limitations, and there was plenty of fanservice for those who like eye candy (I know I like some). Finally, the score and insert songs were catchy, never failing to make me break out in intense arm chorography. If you're a fan of idol anime, or if you're new to this subgenre, Dream Festival is worth checking out. You won't regret it.
It did take a little bit for Zombie Land Saga to get going, but once it did, it touched my heart. This definitely had to do with watching the first two episodes in my college's Anime Club before seeing the entire show, yet Zombie Land Saga worked best when it used its comedic and dramatic story beats in tandem. Most of the characters get fleshed out (hehe) as the show continues. MAPPA's animation is incredibly vivid, bringing the zombies to life, whether in makeup or not. Yasaharu Takanashi continues to be one of my favorite anime composers with his work on the show, and the voice acting, whether in Japanese or English, is a great experience. I think many anime fans will find something to like in this show, which I believe is what makes it so appealing in the first place. Whether in it for the idols, the humor, or something different, Zombie Land Saga stands up to its competition. I'm happy I got to watch it this year, and I'm curious about what the next season has in store.
I can never go wrong with Haikyuu, it seems. Whether reading the manga or watching the anime adaptation, I always get giddy with adrenaline, ready to see what happens next. To The Top's first cour is another bright spot in this franchise. There's more great story progression, more great character development, more great animation (even if the animation style has shifted and is supposed to face hiccups in the second half), more great new score pieces, and more great voice acting. I can't wait to dig into the Karasuno and Inarizaki match after a couple more shows. I think watching it with Luke is going to be really special. Plus, I'm a little over the halfway mark in the Kamomedai game, and even knowing how it ends, it's going to be painful. Time for me to buckle my seatbelt for Jack and Haikyuu in 2021. I might shed some tears.
The final score for both cours is still TBD (as I want to do a review on both), but if it's a 10/10 again, don't be shocked.
I've seen and read a little more BL these past couple years, and this runs circles around other titles. There was so much care put into the anime adaptation; it makes me ready to dig into the manga, whenever that will be. Yuniko Ayana fleshes out the characters and the relationships they're in so well, you really come to know every facet of them. And we're only on the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Haruki and Akihiko's relationship. That movie's going to be a trip. I think Lerche captured Natsuki Kizu's art style perfectly, the score is peppy and emotional at all the right places, and the voice acting and insert music never disappoint. I'm really happy a yaoi anime like this exists, one future generations can point to and say, "Here's a romance that won't make you feel like one person's taking advantage of the other." Given was such a pleasure to watch. Not only am I happy I got to it in March, I'm excited by what will come next.
As promised, here are some of the other shows I talked about throughout the year that had an impression on me in some way:
Black Butler II's entertainment value
Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu
Kuroko no Basuke's second and third season
Namu Amida Butsu! Rendai Utena
Shakugan no Shana: Final (Season 3)
I didn't expect Run with the Wind to be as strong as it was, but it really delivered on all aspects. The story is engaging, with fantastic arcs and development that hits in different ways. The characters are charismatic and go on various journeys to achieve their own kind of greatness for the Hakone Ekiden. Production I.G continues to make their sports anime look polished and picturesque, and the score is filled with many memorable pieces that will take your breath away (courtesy of Yuki Hayashi). Plus, Sentai Filmworks produced one of their best English dubs to date with this show. Watching this show was an incredible experience (in part because I got to see the English dub early) and one I doubt will be re-created unless I watch it in Japanese in its entirety. Whether you're a sports anime fan or not, this series will find a soft spot in you. I guarantee it.
This past year has been great for Japanese record labels making their content available on streaming services, making it easier for an anime fan to access their favorite songs without trekking onto a sketchy site. I got lost in the depths of Spotify multiple times, at a loss for words. When I first realized how many of my favorite songs were on there, I spent about an hour on this one user's page, I completely forgot about a monologue I needed to practice for my Acting class (it happens sometimes). This has helped me not only track down stuff to add to my ever-growing Spotify playlist, but it's handy when I'm watching a show and want to listen to anime songs, in full, without having to pull up YouTube (that's even if they're on Spotify to begin with). Out of the five openings on my list today, four are available on the music streaming platform in the US.
Time to get disclaimers out of the way: All the openings are from shows I've watched this year, and I will be linking TV cut videos if uploaded by Crunchyroll through text of the song's title and GIFs from the opening or anime. That way, I don't have to replace links as much. Hopefully this list introduces you to some new bops, or you get to wave hello at some old favorites. I'll start with:
I briefly heard this when I was twelve and thought it sounded incredibly different then. I remembered an upbeat electro rock song with bright vocals. However, I think the actual song is better than what I thought it was. A cutesy instrumental, courtesy of Satoru Kosaki, has plenty of pep, from the keyboard and xylophone twinkles, the drums, and even the brief guitar solo. I also really like Saito's vocals here. Bits of Hitagi peak out as she sings about falling in love. Although the narrator's worried about where it'll go, they hope their partner can cherish them with all their soul. I loved whenever it came on in the anime, and it's been nice going back to it throughout the year. It's strangely comforting, even if Hitagi has plenty of bite with her words and the staplers she carries in her school uniform. While I did enjoy Miyuki Sawashiro and Kana Hanezawa's openings (and the latter not just for the memes), "Staple Stable" clicked for me in a way I didn't expect.
Considering Given focuses on four members of an up and coming rock band, it makes sense the opening is pure J-rock, through and through. With appealing visuals to support it, vocalist (and sole member) Atsushi sings from the perspective of lead Mafuyu, still grieving over his ex-boyfriend's death by suicide. Yuki is still a part of Mafuyu's life, for every day, every season, and every weather condition. Despite those memories being painful, Mafuyu does have Yuki to thank for helping him move on in life and find something new to enjoy. Could this also include new love? The instrumentation comes together beautifully whether you're listening to the TV cut or full song. Atsushi shows off a great range, going from biting anger to deep sadness within a few bars. It's the kind of piece that perfectly hits all of Given's emotional moments before the viewer gets to them. Although I didn't get the chance to listen to this a lot after watching this anime, "Kizuato" still stuck with me throughout the year. It's beautiful and gets you ready for what's to come. I'm hoping I enjoy Centimillimental's next track for the Given movie just as much.
GRANRODEO is a friend of the blog. Fronted by seiyuu Kisho Taniyama, this band has produced plenty of energetic songs used in anime I've loved throughout the years. Their stuff for Kuroko no Basuke, give or take a couple of their songs, is no exception. "Punky Funky Love" stands out because it's so much fun to listen to. It doesn't go as hard as their other songs for the franchise, and Taniyama and the instrumentation don't take things as seriously. Leaning in a more pop rock direction (with drops to some of their previous openings), the band's ready to bask in the glories of youth. They're rooting for Seirin to win the Winter Cup, but with no hard feelings for the losers. Winning is fun, but what's also fun? Spreading the love. Whenever I played this opening through when I watched the first half of Season 3, I broke out into hand chorography at the "na nanana nanananah"'s. Because GRANRODEO was having the time of their lives, so was I. Although I'm going to refrain from doing said hand chorography when this song plays on my playlist for others to hear.
This opening is the perfect statement of where the anime adaptation of Haikyuu is now. BURNOUT SYNDROMES has been behind two other amazing openings for this franchise, so it's only natural "Phoenix" is another winner. Kazuumi Kumagi's voice always has so much power to it. Here, it's no exception. The instrumentation supports him as he sings about Karasuno advancing through the Spring Tournament, risking everything they have in order to win. There will be hard times, but as long as the players give all they have, that will make them successful. "Phoenix" is one of those tracks that leaves me a little misty-eyed. It's an enjoyable piece that makes me proud for sticking to this point. Then again, I'd follow this series until the end of time...even if it's already finished its manga run.
I don't usually type out the f or s words on my blog, but in this case, I don't care: This opening fucking slaps. Although KOTOKO's "Light My Fire" is also amazing, this one goes harder for me. Maybe it's because I've enjoyed more of Kawada's music for this series? That's probably it. Considering Kawada wrote the first ending for Season 2, "triangle," from Kazumi's point of view, I can easily see this being from Shana's. After being captured by Yuji (who has merged with the Crimson God, Snake of the Festival, at this point) and escaping Bal Masqué's castle, she now has to fight against him. Although it hurts, she needs to push on, hoping one day, they can be together again. Tomoyuki Nakazawa and Takeshi Ozaki's arrangement pushes electro rock to its limit. The guitar and keyboards work seamlessly to support Mami Kawada's voice, which, like always, sounds awesome. Hearing this at 6:30 a.m. was always a nice little adrenaline rush. It made fantastic pump-up music. This was a nice send-off to my favorite Shana season. Even though Kawada's retired from performing, I'm still glad she found a place among anime fans: Delivering kickass openings with impeccable vocals and fantastic production.
And with that, both lists are finished! If you stuck to the end, thanks for reading. Here's to a 2021 where the world isn't as much of a mess, we can continue to binge all the media we want, and Sirius XM can dictate my music taste again. Cheers!