This is probably one of the most unsettling anime I’ve ever watched after Another. The show is as what its title describes: a sinking Japan. The show beats all sorts of realism where a megaquake caused the tectonic plate beneath the Japan islands to sink, creating a massive chain of aftershocks and tsunamis. Not going to lie but I was rather uneasy watching these events unfold themselves in front of me, not to mention I was watching it late at night.
So why did Japan sink in this fictional world? Well according to a now bed-ridden researcher Mr Onodera, parts of the Eurasian Plate which was dragged by the Pacific Plate below the seafloor accumulated as magma, creating a megalith. When this megalith becomes too big and unable to sustain its weight, it collapses, causing Japan to sink (S1E7 – “The Dawn”). As a result, the topography shifts and Mount Fuji, located in Tokyo prefecture, can be seen from elsewhere. It is nothing like the 2011 Fukushima tsunami which caused a nuclear meltdown but there were massive floods as a result. These unintended consequences of the earthquake force families to evacuate Tokyo for other safer places including the Mutō family.
The Mutō family comprises of Filipino mother, Mari, Japanese construction worker and father, Koichiro, their daughter and high school athlete Ayumu and lastly, a gaming avid younger brother Go. Joining them on their escape are neighbour Nanami and former runner Harou and along the way, they encounter various individuals who help them along the way. Remember how I mentioned this show beats realism? Well, in this anime almost everyone dies. The head of the family dies in an explosion while picking up yams for everyone and Mari sacrifices herself in an attempt to free up a rope tied to a speedboat. While we witness the possibility of Harou running fast enough to make it to dry land, he is washed away by the strong ocean currents. If Murphy’s Law is real, it has manifested itself in this anime.
But what makes Japan Sinks: 2020 so binge-worthy is its exact depiction of human behaviour in the midst of a disaster. Plunged in these conditions, it really is a matter of life and death. One wrong move – like Koichiro – can cost a life. Japan Sinks: 2020 shows no mercy for its characters as we see them sacrificing themselves one by one for Ayumu and Go. As I was at episode 9, I already gave up on the characters. Nothing seems to go their way and people are just dying (by the way, the deaths are rather gory and explicit). We say that humans are irrational and we are selfish. The survival of ourselves and our families are the most important when disaster strikes and it is partially true as we see a greedy Tachibana emptying the gold bars from the vault for his own. But this anime gives us hope especially as we are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Somewhere out there the frontline heroes are people like Daniel and the grandpa who sacrifice themselves for our safety.
And in this series, there are a number of characters, including main character Go himself, who speak badly about living in Japan. Go, for example, clearly prefers to speak English than Japanese and has openly complained about the Japanese society. The Japanese-only rescue boat team also has a very drastic different set of priorities by saving the lives of Japanese and ignoring the rest. But the so-called ”outsiders” are not bad. KITE could have gone on and explore Mount Fuji on his paraglider yet he stayed to help the family. The truth is no nationality is superior over others and all lives matter.
This anime was released very timely in the midst of a human crisis. If there is anything I have gained from it is that when faced with a difficulty, there really is nothing you can do but to move on and hope for the better. While I originally planned to stop watching it because of its gory depiction, I ended up finishing (and enjoying) and recommending this series to my friends.
One thing I still am puzzled over is the fate of KITE. We know that he blows up a balloon (literally) to create an internet balloon for Ayumu and GO but we see him struggling to stay alive in the higher altitudes. However, what we did not see is a body. As contrary to the deaths of the other characters, bodies were recovered. At the epilogue – which takes place 8 years after the main story – Ayumu, now a Paralympian is representing Japan in the Paralympics and in the spectators’ area, we see a white-haired man dressing exactly like KITE. I like to believe that that man is KITE himself because of the simple reason: there is no body. This is just my argument so feel free to comment if you have differing thoughts.