Oh, clickbait titles, how I’ve missed you. 2020, in spite of its many delays and production disasters, has produced some amazing titles, and it has made declaring an ‘anime of the year’ difficult. Two long-awaited series have returned to triumphant applause, Attack on Titan with its fourth and final season, and Re:Zero’s second after a gap of four years. These two have dominated the discussion as to what will take that ultimate crown, but they aren’t alone in vying for it.
In the weekly karma rankings on r/anime (not a great gauge of popularity, but a helpful one nonetheless), there was an unusual nominee that was breaking records before either Re:Zero or Attack on Titan. The second season of Kaguya-Sama: Love is War kicked off with a tremendous amount of fanfare. This was surprising, as while the first season had been popular and a second was quickly announced and produced, it was not your typical action adventure anime that would usually garner that level of attention.
Kaguya-Sama, or the Geniuses’ War of Hearts and Minds, is not the isekai or shonen battle series that normally dominates the discussion at the end of the year. Nor is it a sweeping and emotional drama that would win over the pretentious anime snobs (just me, now that I think of it). It’s a rom-com with the mind games of Death Note, with a lot of lovable characters, but there’s no demon king to slay, just the anxiety that accompanies confessing your feelings to your first crush.
So we have three viable competitors, but we don’t. Like the title suggests, it’s really not fair to evaluate Attack on Titan Season 4 as anime of the year, simply because its first episode aired in December. If anyone were to award it anime of the year, it would just be because the first three seasons were good and the speculator thinks that the last season will continue to be as good. However, past quality is no assurance of continued quality, and I’d prefer to put Attack on Titan in the running for anime of the year in 2021.
This also puts other unfinished series that I’d personally consider, like Jujutsu Kaisen, out of consideration. While the first 13 episodes that aired in 2020 are great, they really aren’t a complete body of work that can be fairly judged. The only exception I am making is in considering Re:Zero Season 2, because technically only the first cour has been aired. The reasons for this exception are that the first part stands on its own as a story, and the second cour will air exclusively in 2021. Plus, Re:Zero season 2 is really good and we really don’t need to keep splitting seasons up when we could easily label a second cour as a whole new season.
With all of the red tape out of the way, here are some of the contenders that might have a chance if not for it being a very good year for anime. Obviously Jujutsu Kaisen, and while I could tell you as someone who’s read the manga that the second half of the season will be delicious, there’s always the chance that the adaptation of the next arc could go awry. However, the first half takes the phenomenal source material and elevates it; you can clearly tell it is the same director and studio as the God of High School, with its wild camera motion and visually clear and powerful fight choreography. Imagine if GOH had just, y’know, included a good story and fleshed out characters.
One series that I only recently caught up on, Appare-Ranman!, definitely deserves an award or two going its way. It’s the story of a trans-America wide race in the late 1800s, and everyone loves Steel Ball Run, so I don’t see why that shouldn’t be a great thing. It features Senku from Dr. Stone’s great-grandfather as its protagonist, Appare, a similarly socially detached mechanical genius, his partners, a samurai and a Native American boy. If you’re not sold on this series’ use of the Old West tropes in a fresh anime take, one of the racers is an outlaw who uses a boombox gramophone.
You might be initially put off by Appare-Ranman!’s use of cultural stereotypes in the portrayal of its characters, but those worries are quickly brushed aside by the writing. All of these characters from different backgrounds are more than caricatures of those cultures, even Al, whose vague ‘European’ accent is dialed up to 11. It’s easy to see that while the writers were aware of the stereotypes used in those western classics, they didn’t want to hide behind the homage aspect for why they would be one-dimensional. For such a large ensemble cast, every character is well-written. Except for TJ, but he has a boombox gramophone, so it deserves anime of the year alone for that.
As for the other sequels, Haikyuu To The Top and Oreigairu both returned and did exceptionally well, though they didn’t garner enough of the hype needed to win a popularity contest like AOTY. For those three viewers who like skin fangs, Uzaki-Chan was…fine, I guess, I still don’t understand the appeal of a skin fang. The Misfit of Demon King Academy was hilarious and created great meme material, but then like Cautious Hero before it, it took its funny concept and decided to actually have a serio