One would think after an entire year of being encouraged to stay at home, we would all have tons of media to fill our Top Ten lists. Maybe that’s the case, but so much of 2020 runs together, it’s been a challenge to remember it all. I’m lucky to be part of an understanding community that has practiced patience and kindness every day of this hellish year. None of us expected half of what we got, but I’ve felt supported every step of the way.
Here are some of my favorite things of 2020:
Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!
Eizouken came out of the gate swinging for Anime of the Year, and aside from other great contenders, it easily won it in my book. This series touches upon the pathos of being a creator in ways I rarely see in anime, while also avoiding a lot of the tropes from other series about high school girls. It also provides a glimpse into producing anime, from the early days of multiplane cameras and cels to more modern techniques of digital animation, as well as highlighting the emotional and mental labor that goes in to creating each work. If you need further convincing, we even did a podcast on it!
I was eager to sit down with this after all the glowing reviews last year, and Parasite did not disappoint. This class-conscious movie had elements of comedies and thrillers while never losing its focus on the struggles of poverty. Even with their selfish machinations, I couldn’t help but root for the protagonists from start to finish. There is no better embodiment of the struggles of 2020, so please go watch Parasite if you haven’t already.
Seems like this list is going to be catching up with last year, huh? As with Parasite, Knives Out touches upon class struggles, in pitting an innocent housekeeper against an entire family of inheritors as her employer is found murdered. It revels in the whodnit genre that it actively spoofs, and the cast brings life to the narrative expertly. Daniel Craig is not to be missed here, playing the charismatic Benoit Blanc, who absolutely needs an entire series of movies after this one. If Rian Johnson has left a bad taste in your mouth after the whole Star Wars debacle, you owe it to yourself to watch Knives Out.
I’m going to cheat a bit here and group up a few titles to save space. I’ve always enjoyed this series to some degree, but 2020 brought Final Fantasy back in a big way for me. Final Fantasy VII Remake was an expertly crafted love letter to the original, with an excellent soundtrack, a fully-realized world, and an evolution of Square Enix’s ARPG formula that nods toward the original ATB gameplay. I also started playing Final Fantasy XIV in earnest this year—while bouncing off of MMO’s the past decade or so, XIV kept me playing with great world-building, a gameplay loop that respects your time, and a community that has been beyond helpful to this newbie. Can I still be That Guy and tell you the free trial includes two full games in it and why aren’t you playing already goshdarnit? Lastly, despite every attempt to not hype myself over the Final Fantasy XVI announcement trailer, I utterly failed. Finding out it has developers from XIV and Devil May Cry only give me hope for what will surely be the game that sells me on the Playstation 5.
I’m going to cheat twice here with another catch-all pick! 2020 was the year I finally jumped into modern virtual reality gaming, and while it seems a little late to declare this The Future, I can say that the potential excites me in ways I haven’t felt since jumping into 3D space with Super Mario 64 all those years ago. Casually exploring virtual spaces in VR Chat and Google Earth, while doing more capital-G gaming with Horizon Vanguard, Beat Saber, and Star Wars: Squadrons gave me a sense of space and wonder that felt more fresh than most “flat” games nowadays, with all their graphical bells and whistles. To be a shameless shill twice in one post: the new Oculus Quest 2 is a great jumping-on point, allowing both standalone and PC-connected VR at a price point of $299. I’d highly recommend this if the alternatives have made your wallet recoil in terror.
Anamanaguchi’s Summer Singles 2020
I covered [USA] in my write-up of last year, and was disappointed to miss this year’s tour because of, well, everything. Luckily, Anamanaguchi continued to put out singles all “summer,” the last one being released just this month. “Styla” carries the same upbeat-yet-melancholic energy from [USA], while “Jaime” sounds as heavy as its subject matter. Looking to get into this band but don’t know where to start? They hosted a virtual show for Porter Robinson’s Secret Sky concert you can watch still watch for free.
“Come for the Attack on Titan, stay for the Kaiba” is really the only way I can describe Deca-Dence. It was already on my radar, having staff shared with Mob Psycho 100, but hooked me with an early plot-twist that sets the entire narrative on its head. I was amazed at how it played out, allowing the audience to follow along with the twist rather than feeling like a “gotcha!” moment at the end. I hesitate to say more, but know that this is an Extremely Tobias™ series.
I was late on this train as well, but only by a few months! Among Us is the best social deduction game I’ve played, taking cues from Werewolf and Mafia, while making the upkeep easier to manage with mini-games and maps that encourage intrigue, and enough modifiable rules to keep the game fresh even after the initial sus-declaring novelty has wore off.
The Mandalorian (Season 2)
The first season of The Mandalorian didn’t really grab me the way it seemingly did everyone else. Maybe I was expecting more scum and villainy, less Lone Wolf and Cub. Nevertheless, the hype for the second season got me catching up to follow along week-to-week. With cameos and callbacks (arguably better done than the recent movies), this season helped bridge the gap between the original canon and Disney’s new works. There’s a reason everyone is saying Star Wars television is doing more to save the franchise than the movies—The Mandalorian gives me hope that the upcoming slate will be just as fantastic.
Virtual Events and Hangouts
Ah ha! Another broad grouping disguised as a single entry! With everything going on, the video call quickly became the norm for social time and just as quickly became a meme in and of itself. Nevertheless, this virtual space was adapted far and wide, with several conventions running scaled-down events, starting with Anime Lockdown in May. Cloud Matsuri in the UK was able to interview Science Saru and Eunyoung Choi, and our favorite anime licensor Discotek Media hosted a few virtual panels in lieu of their typical announcements at Otakon and the like. While these may lose something in the transition from live events, the fact that I could attend each of them from my computer was a wonderful experience. On a more personal level, I moved to a new city right before the pandemic hit. Stuck in my apartment and unable to make any new connections with more traditional means, I turned to the internet, same as everyone. In the time since, I’ve been able to fill my weeks with movie nights, board games, and other random hangouts. I even attended a virtual memorial service, an unexpected event I hope to never have to repeat. While I can’t wait for the day that I can be in public without a mask, when conventions return, I do have to appreciate the way we as a community have adapted. It gives me hope that not all nerds are terrible.
- The King’s Dilemma: A campaign board game where the players act as a king’s council, The King’s Dilemma emulated the experience masterfully. It was very close to making my Top 10, but the Machiavellian writing was a little too dark for an already dark year. I could easily see this format adapted to tell other stories.
- Dorohedoro: This adaptation of the cult manga would be right at home in 2000’s era Adult Swim. A great mix of creepy aesthetics and goofiness, Dorohedoro was one of the few anime I binged this year…
- Beastars: …with Beastars being another. Fans of the site may know we did a podcast on this one too! An excellent and mature story of adolescence, the anthropomorphic characters create a metaphor of racial discrimination. Or is it relationship dynamics? Who can say? In any case, Beastars is one of those series you just have to check out.
- The Witcher (TV): As someone who never really played the games or read the books, I came away surprised at home much I enjoyed the Netflix series. The narrative jumps back and forth between multiple timelines, giving the audience glimpses into each of the main characters as it builds toward the ending, a perfect springboard into the next season. For those who miss the glory days of A Game of Thrones, this is the next best thing.
- Animal Crossing: New Horizons: A slow experience by nature, this may not have made my Top 10, but it’s been providing hours of casual entertainment for months and will likely continue to do so.
- My cat Cosmo: He’s the best house goblin a man could ask for.
Did I miss something obvious on my list? Got a recommendation that you think I’d dig? Let me know in the comments below!