Jul 9, 2020
SingleH (All reviews)
I know all the young little nihilists populating the internet are good about recognizing and rejecting fundamentally anachronistic media, but I think we should just trade in those red pills for some black pills, and instead of merely scoffing at religion, patriotism, and chivalry, we should proceed to disregard all traditional values altogether, because from where a suicidal sociopath like me is sitting, such values do nothing but dilute the theming of creative works with trite morals and utterly squander a story’s ability to build interesting characters divorced from insipid archetypes or deliver unique messages free from the influence of unwritten orthodoxy. Nuances aside, Japan Sinks 2020 is not only written for amateur viewers, but is directed by an amateur creator, Pyeonggang Heo, who decided to cope with his obvious lack of experience with some truly artless cinema. While the phrase “amateur” can hold many connotations depending on who you’re asking, I personally try my best to use it as modest critique toward aspiring artists with clear potential as opposed to a condescending insult toward the incompetent. From Akira Amemiya to Rie Matsumoto, there’s so many young directors I can name who have more passion and creativity than even they know what to do with, and while anyone could watch something like Kyousou Giga or SSSS.Gridman and jadedly dismiss either one as an unorganized mess, I can’t help but see them as the creative output of geniuses who are simply unpolished in their craft. Unfortunately, I see none of this in Japan Sinks 2020. Heo’s direction feels as book-learned as that of an undergraduate film student, and just in case you had any hopeful reservations regarding Yuasa’s possible involvement, the self-seriousness of the show is absolutely suffocating in a way he would never let fly in a work he had any intimate involvement with whatsoever.

A story about barely surviving a cataclysmic natural disaster isn’t the kind of story you’d want or expect to be particularly comedic or upbeat, don’t get me wrong, but there’s still something to be said about letting your audience have a chance to breath with anything other than aimless, themeless, tensionless meandering which populates the entirety of this show not drowned in drama or spent in an obviously destructive cult which the characters should’ve left immediately. This isn’t a high-minded masterpiece like Texhnolyze which actively seeks to smother its viewers in a dreadful tone, it’s simply an obtuse melodrama like Anohana which ascribes to the filmmaking philosophy of Michael Bay, figuring if one explosion gets the theatre roaring, then surely two and a half hours of nonstop explosions can’t possibly get boring! Our melodramatic cast of teenagers, whilst more than justified in their stress, are the same pouting anime characters you’d see in any PG rated drama, and while their struggles are certainly relatable, the manner in which they are relatable is so vast, they come across as being completely manufactured. Desperately worrying for the well being of your family, of your fellow man, of your country, of the direction of your life and aspirations following this catastrophe, or the post traumatic stress any human would undergo. Every problem which any cast member struggles with over the course of the show is so sympathetic as to be utterly impersonal. You’d have to be as much of a fundamental outlier as me to not find such basic humanistic concerns upsetting, and should you actually be as numb to humanity as I am? Then nothing which this story and its characters present to you with teary eyes and ruffled clothes will mean anything to you, and the entire experience will come across as banal normie cry porn at best, and disingenuous mass-market emotional manipulation at worst.

My abrasive wordage aside, this show obviously had nothing but good intentions, just little creative means to make me care. If generic melodrama can put you in tears so long as those on screen have the same waterworks streaming down their faces as you do, then you may find this to be surprisingly engaging, but alas, I could not. The problem with seating your narrative’s emotional ties to its audience in genre staples like family and love is when you garner the attention of a misfit who’s estranged from even these basic moral and spiritual values, they’re left with nothing to latch onto. But, hey, that’s a me problem. If I wanted to more fairly criticize Japan Sinks 2020 in a fashion which wasn’t so intensely personal, I could look any direction and be faced with a frankly atrocious animation production. Despite how much I prayed for this nightmare to never find its way into reality, this show ended up being comparable to Hands off the Motion Pictures Club, a show filled to the brim with flat gradients, shadeless coloration, misshapen modeling, progressively barren background art, and clunky animation all-around, all of which was obviously the result of the crunched scheduling they likely put upon themselves by over-producing an unequivocally beautiful first episode, only Japan Sinks 2020 doesn’t even have that gorgeous debut as an excuse and somehow gets even worse, not even touching the visual fidelity of Science SARU’s previous Netflix commission, Devilman: Crybaby, which itself was blemished with a fair amount of inconsistency and cost-cutting as well. And speaking of which, Kensuke Ushio returned to compose the score, and while his sound will always be beautiful, it is becoming very repetitive, and I’d challenge anyone to try and differentiate any ambient track herein from those of Koe no Katachi or Liz and the Blue Bird, standouts notwithstanding.

I expected inconsistency to be the name of the game, but what I didn’t expect was having to witness these enthusiasts of personalized artistic stylization resort to some truly garish CGI in absence of the time or manpower to consistently hand-draw vehicles, nor did I expect this show to be worth calling ugly as early as episode three. While I appreciate the fact this show continues Masaaki Yuasa and Eunyoung Choi’s commitment to experimental animation direction, even if I think the messy line-work is a bit much, I think the design team on this project ultimately took it one step too far with the character designs, and more specifically, the facial designs. Variation in facial animation has always been a thing in the industry, and whether someone like Hiroyuki Okiura is using the unshakable attention to detail and unmatched production values of Production IG to do it with photorealistic blinking and lip definition, or whether Yuasa himself is unapologetically taking advantage of the awesomely exaggerated Taiyo Matsumoto art style over the course of his entire career, variation in facial structures is nothing new. However, no matter how famous the creative lead, sometimes a misguided, poorly practiced, or downright bad production will leave such experimentation without unanimous praise. That’s right, if you thought Isao Takahata’s dimples in Only Yesterday were jarring, then nothing in this world will prepare you for the hideous yet hilarious neck rolls in Japan Sinks 2020. Needless to say, it is quite difficult to take the sorrows of these characters seriously when you can barely even look them in the eyes without their neck lines distracting you from the matters at hand, and even if you find this critique to be as dumb as it sounds, the atrocious animation will still do your immersion no favors. I mean, clunky key animation, missing in-betweens, and off-model artwork made even an attempted rape scene laughable.

Thrashing the production values is righteous enough when they’re this pitiful, but I fully recognize my thematic complaints are as personal as my cinematic complaints are unfair. Japan Sinks 2020 will leave you with the same uninspired emotions any other half-baked disaster movie ever has, but the fact it can leave you with any feelings at all speaks to its passable writing at the very least, and while the essence of the story will tread no new water, conclude in an astronomically corny and outlandish fashion I didn’t even afford myself time to discuss, and even alienate you should you be as desensitized to human nature as I am, it will still pander to the average viewer’s average emotions and make them feel something as opposed to nothing. While Yuasa’s position as Chief Director gets more and more set in stone in the face of his recently announced departure from Science SARU, director Heo isn’t inept, and while you’ll certainly be missing the cinematography of the master, his understudy here won’t disappoint anyone with adjusted expectations. And while the neck rolls, by far the stupidest of my critique, will remain as disgusting and discomforting to look at as the rest of the show already is, they will also remain completely in the eye of the beholder. This story of a family fighting against an unfair fate is your typical headline of tragedy not complicated by a villain or thematic challenge which is only newsworthy thanks to its ability to reassure the bleeding-heart normies they can continue to live on without feeling the guilt of the unfortunate, so if the fact the cast is, indeed, a picturesque and politically correct family of four is enough to invest you in their artless narrative despite the fact they’re cardboard cutouts who are scribbled onto the screen uglier than roadkill, then just know you have my jealousy. "Normieness is next to godliness," as a wise man once said, and I’m going straight to hell.

Thank you for reading.