I know what you’re thinking? I can feel the sidelong glance from the other side of the internet. What gives us the authority to hold our own anime awards? As if GONZO.MOE is some omnipotent arbiter of good taste.
Relax. I just wanted to write about the anime I watched this year and gave the article a superlative headline. Nothing is stopping you from doing it, too. There are no laws when drinking Claws.
Let me make something very clear. These are strictly my opinions. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the GONZO.MOE staff as a whole. I wrote these categories and chose the winners without consulting them. The only exceptions to this are the “Best Live-Action Manga Adaptation” and “Dokkoida?! Best Anime of All-Time” categories provided by Luna Hollenbeck.
I implore you not to take the winners too seriously. They are only based on the anime that I watched this year, not everything that was released. I encourage you to share your picks for the winners in the comments.
Alright! Thumbs up! Let’s do this!
Anime I Didn’t Expect to Like — Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear
Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear is not a show I would normally watch. I chose it during my morning commute as part of a 5G test on my new iPhone (nice humblebrag, ass). Watching new anime on the subway is always a gamble. The last thing I need is to get caught looking at giant anime tits. Then again, I live in New York — someone is probably jerking off on the other side of the train car.
On the surface, this is just another isekai show — except that it kind of isn’t. The main character, Yuna, is just playing a video game in her apartment — she’s not even trapped in it. In fact, she stops playing mid-episode at one point.
The reason Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear is so fun is right in the title — bears. Everything Yuna does is bear-themed. It’s dumb as hell, but I laugh every time. I’m sure it will get old eventually, but for now, I’m eagerly awaiting the next season.
Anime the Internet Was Wrong About — Akudama Drive
This award category is a cop-out. I only saw one person on Twitter say that Akudama Drive was going to be bad, and boy, were they wrong.
The setup for this show is so ridiculous that I couldn’t help but fall in love. A young woman is arrested for the crime of not being able to pay for food. Not content rotting away in prison for the rest of her life, she does what any person would do in her situation — she breaks out and joins an elite gang of criminals and robs a train.
If there’s one thing that Akudama Drive is guilty of, it’s being too awesome. It’s hyper-stylized with a breakneck pace. There’s tons of action and neon everywhere. If that’s not your thing, you probably weren’t watching it anyway.
Biggest Disappointment — Yashahime: Princess Half-Demon
Yashahime: Princess Half-Demon has been a real bummer. After a promising start, it hasn’t done anything exceptional in over a month. It’s almost like the writers gave up.
Inuyasha took some time to get going, but they established an end-goal in the second episode. Yashahime is following a similar demon-of-the-week formula but without a purpose. Ostensibly, they’re going to fight something called the Dream Butterfly, but it rarely comes up in conversation.
There’s also some dickhole named Kirinmaru that keeps trying to steal these magic pearls from our heroes’ eyes, but he’s not doing a good job at it. He’s also so forgettable that I had to look his name up on Wikipedia.
Best Twist — Deca-Dence
Admittedly, I haven’t finished Deca-Dence, but that’s okay, because this award is for the first two episodes.
Don’t worry; I won’t spoil the surprise. All I will say is that when I started watching the second episode, I clicked out of it because I thought I accidentally selected the wrong show.
I haven’t experienced that feeling since I rented Kite Liberator from Netflix.
Most Squandered Potential — ID: Invaded
I know what you’re thinking — isn’t this category the same as “Biggest Disappointment?” Kind of, but my disappointment with ID: Invaded is more nuanced than my disappointment in Yashahime.
Yashahime is the sequel to a behemoth of a series. It has a pedigree to live up to. Yashahime couldn’t afford to fuck around, and it did. ID: Invaded is a show with a cool premise that I watched on a Tuesday.
The world of ID: Invaded has a serial killer epidemic, almost like they’re being created in a factory (wink). It’s such a problem that a device was invented that allows people to astral project into the killer’s subconscious minds so detectives could hunt for clues to stop them. The catch is that you need to be a serial killer to use the device.
ID: Invaded thrives in its episodic content. Once it transitions to a longer-form narrative, it drops the ball. The big reveal feels rushed and without logic. Maybe things would have been different with more episodes.
Best Anime Called Baki — Baki
2020 was the year that Grappler Baki finally got the respect it deserved. I’ve been screaming about how awesome this series is for over 12 years and no one believed me. Sure, some people saw the light when it was rebooted in 2018, but the Great Raitai Tournament Saga is when I started to notice a shift in popularity.
People like to say that violence never solves anything. Those people are cowards. Do you have a fractured relationship with your father as a result of him murdering everyone you love? Have you tried punching him until he respects you? Infected with an incurable Japanese death poison? No problem — you can punch it out of your system.
The characters in Baki are not concerned with making sense, only punching. After lying dormant for over 17 years, Grappler Baki became one of Netflix’s best performing anime titles. With how well it’s doing, maybe we’ll get a better adaptation of the first manga.
Biggest WTF Moment — Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – The Movie: Mugen Train
This category is more about the success of the film than its content. Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train — a sequel to a run-of-the-mill shonen action show — became the highest-grossing film of all-time in Japan and the fifth highest-grossing film of 2020. During a freaking pandemic!
Mugen Train broke so many records, so quickly that I had to see what the fuss was about. I powered through the 26-episode anime in a quest to understand. The series left me underwhelmed, but my determination did not yield. The movie doesn’t come out in the US until next year, so I was left with no choice but to learn Japanese and fly to Japan to see the film. Yeah, they’ll believe that.
I don’t know what to tell you. And I won’t tell you, because you can’t watch it yet. If you like the show, you’ll like the movie. This is fortunate because you have to watch it if you want to complete the story. That’s probably why it’s doing so well. It’s the next canon arc of the series.
It’s anyone’s guess why Ufotable decided to make a movie instead of another season, but it paid off. It should be interesting to see what their next move is.
Best Live-Action Manga Adaptation — Alice in Borderland
Alice in Borderland is a major hit across the globe. It’s about a dude named Arisu who gets teleported into an empty world that resembles Tokyo. In order to get home, he needs to compete in a series of life or death games.
Most of the cast resembles characters from Alice in Wonderland. It also features a transwoman, which is rare for a TV show. It’s faithful to the original manga and was just renewed for a second season, which will likely cover the rest of the manga.
Biggest Controversy — Interspecies Reviewer
If you logged onto Twitter the day Funimation pulled Interspecies Reviewers from their catalog, you would have thought something much more serious what going on. Did John Ledford bankrupt another anime company? Did Vic Mignogna sue someone else? Is anime illegal now?
I’m not saying that I agree with their decision, but things could have been worse. Funimation could have censored their release, but they didn’t. They just said “We changed our mind. This one isn’t for us.” They aren’t trying to cancel horny anime in the US. Interspecies Reviewers ran into similar problems in Japan.
By the end of the year, Right Stuff Anime announced that they had picked up the series for release through their Critical Mass label. That should be the end of it, right? Not a chance. People will use this moment as evidence for conspiracy theories for years to come.
Dumbest Controversy — Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out
If the Interspecies Reviewers controversy wasn’t dumb enough for you, just wait until you hear what happened with Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out. With updates from Vic Mignogna’s lawsuit drying up, drama channels on YouTube were desperate for the next big story.
Somehow they landed on Uzaki-chan, an only okay ecchi comedy. The roots of this controversy can be traced to 2019, when women in Japan raised concerns with Red Cross Japan using the titular, Hana Uzaki, to attract blood donors. They claimed that using an over-sexualized character like Uzaki wasn’t appropriate in this context.
When it was announced that Uzaki was getting her own show, drama channels assumed that the same people would be furious. Except that they weren’t. No one cared. What resulted was a dozen people making videos about how mad people were going to be and how Funimation might censor their simulcast (they didn’t).
The series also sparked a debate about whether 5’0″ tall adult women with large breasts exist (they do) and whether Uzaki-chan was a child (she’s not).
The peak of this mountain of misinformation was when Monica Rial was cast as Uzaki in the dub. Once again, people claimed that Funimation was going to censor their release (once again, they did not).
Best Boy — Inosuke Hashibira from Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – The Movie: Mugen Train
Mugen Train translates to Infinite Train in English. It’s the perfect title for a 2-hour film. As someone with an aggressively short attention span, I felt every minute of those two hours. Fortunately, my boy Inosuke Hashibara was there to make it easier. His many and varied hot-blooded diatribes, combined with his incredulity regarding train technology, was undoubtedly the highlight of the film for me.
Best Girl — Moroha from Yashahime: Princess Half-Demon
Yashahime may not be living up to expectations, but that could be because there isn’t enough Moraha. It wasn’t long before people noticed the correlation between the quality of an episode and the amount of screen time given to Moroha.
While Towa and Setsuna are busy trying to find the Dream Butterfly or whatever, Moroha is focused on what really matters — food and money. Whoever decided that the sequel to Inuyasha should be about Sesshomaru’s dumb kids should be launched from a catapult.
Worst Boy — Muhammad Alai Jr. from Baki
Keisuke Itagaki must really hate Muhammed Ali Jr because his counterpart in the Baki-verse is the worst guy. Alai Jr. juggles his short time in the series between getting kicked in the balls and being a fuck boy. I swear there were five episodes of him trying to fuck Baki’s girlfriend and her being too nice to blow him off. For the son of a legendary fighter, you think he’d be more perceptive.
Worst Girl — Hana Uzaki from Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out
You don’t have to believe me, but this choice had nothing to do with the controversy. I like Hana Uzaki’s character design. If she were a real person, she’d be my forever WCW. The problem is that she’s a bad person.
I don’t care how kawaii you are. If you can’t respect personal boundaries, we’re going to have a problem. I had difficulty getting into Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out because she is the only one that wants to hang out.
All Shinichi Sakurai wants is to be left alone. He gets used to Uzaki forcing herself into his plans over time, but he shouldn’t have to. Maybe she learns some chill by the end of the season, but I didn’t stick around to find out.
Dokkoida?! Best Anime of All-Time — Dokkoida?!
Obviously, the winner is Dokkoida?! If you disagree, it means you haven’t seen it. It’s about a bunch of superheroes and super-villains who live in the same apartment complex. What’s not to love?
Most Fun — Appare Ranman
Appare Ranman is one of the most over-the-top things I’ve watched in a long time. It’s anime as fuck and doesn’t apologize for it. The character designs are so outlandish it makes Yu-Gi-Oh! look like Mr. Tonegawa: Middle Management Blues. What’s that red stuff on Appare’s mouth? Who cares? It doesn’t matter, and it’s never addressed.
Have you ever wondered what would happen if you tried to drive from California to New York in a steam-powered boat that was converted into a car? No? Too bad, because that what we’re doing.
This would have been a contender for “Anime of the Year” if it wasn’t for the abrupt tonal shift partway through. They made it work, but I wish they would have stayed on track with the racing storyline.
Best Anime from Another Year — Reign the Conquerer
Reign the Conquerer is about Alexander the Great’s rise to power during the Hellenistic Age. Most of the story revolves around the Battle of Issus while Alexander dodges various assassination attempts. If this anime came out today, it would be an isekai and Alexander would be a tsundere with enormous breasts.
But because it came out in the 90s, he’s a hideously lanky dude with his junk hanging out.
Reign has had a bad rap in the US ever since it replaced Inuyasha on Adult Swim in February 2003. This is partially because “How dare they!” and partially because of Peter Chung’s freakish character designs.
As I got older, I couldn’t help but wonder if Reign was actually a good show. Maybe I was just too narrow-minded back then. This year, I finally watched it after holding onto a DVD rip (relax, this show is long out of print) for over a decade.
While the artwork still took some getting used to, I found the unsettling designs reinforced the tone of the series. Alexander is a bad dude, but I couldn’t help but cheer him on as he rode his man-eating horse into battle. It was also fun watching the writers play with the narrative structure, with entire acts taking place inside of Alexander’s mind.
It’s really too bad this didn’t get another season.
Anime of the Year — Great Pretender
Part of why I enjoyed Great Pretender so much is that it caught me by surprise. Due to it’s staggered release in the US, I didn’t know it existed until it was on Netflix. It was like The Anime Fairy came to my door and said, “You remember 91 Days? Well, Hiro Kaburagi directed a new show, and you can watch it right now.”
On the surface, it’s a standard heist series. Each arc features a team of con artists stealing millions of dollars from rich dirtbags. It’s kind of like an anime version of Leverage, but without the computer hacking and alcoholism. It’s a story that’s been done a thousand times, so even though the narrative hits its beat with grace, if that’s all it did, we wouldn’t’ be talking about it right now. Where it really shines is its presentation.
Great Pretender keeps things fresh with an explosively vibrant color palette and a diverse approach to storytelling. When I first turned on the dub, I was confused. The characters were still speaking Japanese. Did I make a mistake? When they leave Japan for America, they start speaking English. Whoa.
This trend continues throughout the series as our heroes travel around the world, conning anyone stupid enough to fall for their tricks. It’s rare to get an anime with such a melting pot of character backgrounds and settings. The only shows I can think of that come close are Cowboy Bebop and Black Lagoon.
Kaburagi credits Netflix’s deep pockets as the reason he was able to experiment and tell an international story. It reminds me of the 80s OVA boom, where it was common for a creative team to be given a bunch of money and told they could make whatever they want.
Do I want every anime to be like Great Pretender? Of course not. But after nearly 20 years of watching anime, it’s nice to get a show where they didn’t have to worry about the budget and just made something fun.
We did it!
Hot damn! 2020 was quite the year. Even with the world working against us, we still got an overload of great anime. It really is a testament to the creative talent that drives the industry.
Remember, just because I gave something an award that doesn’t mean that I’m right. If we agree on any of the categories, that’s awesome. If not, please let me know what your choices are in the comments.