Japan Sinks 2020 (日本沈没2020) is a seinen disaster science-fiction anime series that is the adaptation of the original novel authored by Sakyo Komatsu, which was published in 1973 (1976 in English). The 2020 adaptation was produced by Science Saru with direction from Masāki Yuasa and Pyeon-Gang Ho. There are ten total episodes and it’s streaming exclusively on Netflix.
Japan Sinks 2020 is set in modern-day Japan and follows a family who are trying to survive in the wake of a catastrophic earthquake that causes the archipelago of Japan to start sinking into the ocean. I read the novel earlier in the year and positively loved it for how incredibly realistic and plausible it is, as well as the depiction of the political and cultural context of 1970s-era Japan. After watching the first episode, I can tell that this shall probably become one of my favourite anime serials to hit the airwaves in recent years.
I have so many thoughts after watching the first episode, most of which are excitement at the storytelling prowess and how this modern-interpretation takes the elements that made the novel extraordinary and put them into an excellent contemporary variation. The core essence that made Japan Sinks such an outstanding work of fiction is how realistic it was and how scientifically conceivable the events were. With Japan’s semi-recent experiences with a terrible tsunami and the regularity of earthquakes that take place on the islands, that essence is upheld in the anime with great authenticity.
In the first episode, we are introduced roughly to the faces of the Mutō family—a mother who’s returning home to Japan on a plane, a father that works in construction, and two siblings who are a middle school student an a track-and-field athlete—and how ordinary their lives are. When the earthquake occurs, the emotional impact of how seemingly mundane parts of first-world living (e.g.: having a working cell phone to contact loved ones instantly or having dinner with family at a local restaurant) are catastrophically taken away hit hard and fast. Watching Ayumu Mutō awake after the quake to a locker room full of her teammates’ dead and severely injured bodies with blood splashed around the walls and ruins was breath-takingly intense. Seeing her younger brother Gō getting smacked around the furniture in their home and receiving what is seemingly a serious eye injury makes one grip the edges of the couch (or bed, in my case) with such a gut-wrenching concern. Each individual family member untangles themselves from the destructive chaos that surrounds them in order to find their way to one another. In the midst of all this devastation, it’s like the anime is also trying to instil a sense of hope in the watcher to ease our residual suffering.
There are a lot of little details in the background that contribute to the tight-knit almost claustrophobic ambiance of a city that is completely crumbled and now slowly being swallowed up by the oblivion known as the ocean. Mass hysteria from large groups of survivors screaming for their loved ones or the disturbing ways that bodies are flung in trees and over tall streetlights or crushed beneath humongous chunks of concrete and blocks of broken buildings is absolutely horrifying, which amplifies its reality.
In 2011 when the Tōhoku earthquake and subsequent tsunami happened, these scenes were real. These were actual hardcore travesties that many people living in and around Tōhoku experienced. So, witnessing it in anime form feels at-times profoundly poignant yet unbelievably surreal. You can tell that those real-life events were combined with the scientific elements of Japan Sinks (novel) to create this adaptation and it’s mind-blowing.
The animation style works to further complement and enhance the experience of the story. I love the untidy and almost retro-esque artistic aesthetic of the character designs as it’s a subtle world-building device. It combines the integrity of an old-school story with modern, streamlined visual choreography, especially with regard to the ways that the continued breakdown of Tokyo’s foundation and structure are portrayed as it’s slowly pulled beneath the watery surface. There is something so eerie about watching a beautifully animated scene of cracked and crushed bits of motorways being overrun by sparkling, blue-tinged seawater very slowly.
Overall, I am extremely excited to finish watching Japan Sinks 2020. There is going to be a lot to unpack once it’s over and I am both ecstatic to see what this story is trying to depict as well as anxious for the intense bouts of loss, anguish, and natural fragmentation to come. If you are someone who likes supremely suspenseful disaster narratives with a very realistic element of science to them, then you may want to try out Japan Sinks 2020. At the very least, I recommend that you read the novel as it is one of the finest works of Japanese literature to exist out there.
Japan Sinks 2020 can be streamed on Netflix.