Ah(hhhhhhh!), the Anime Awards. It comes earlier every year. It was only some 360-ish days ago that Demon Slayer took the coveted title, and I went 0/6 on my predictions for who would win. But as another awards show comes, much like the changing of the seasons, does a whole new collection of hot takes begin to bloom. And oh how I have been taking care of them like my new pandemic succulents (poorly)!!
There’s a lot you can say about the last year. There’s a lot you can say about the last year in ANIME! But since I don’t have a Clubhouse invite yet, you’re gonna have to hear about it right here in written form. This is also the only opportunity I have on company time to talk about who should win and who actually should have gotten nominated in the first place, as well as make up my own totally fake awards because this is my article!!
When presented with the likelihood of something being infinitely close to zero, Simon from Gurren Lagann said that means it isn’t inherently zero, so as far as he’s concerned, that makes it the same as a 100 percent chance. That’s the sort of cartoon logic that is very healthy to bring into the real world, as well as guessing who is going to win an awards show, so let’s get to it!
1. Best Director: Shingo Yamashita
While he is not nominated, Shingo Yamashita has had an incredible year, not only directing two of my favorite openings, but also ones I could consider all-time highs. Simply put, I really like the guy and his art direction, and he always seems to deliver something unique and interesting when he is in the director’s chair. Through that unique style, he was able to work with a team of really talented animators to make that statement right from Episode 1. Pay attention to the people in your life who have opinions on the direction of the Naruto vs. Pain fight, but then turn around and talk about how cool the aforementioned openings are.
2. Best Japanese VA Performance: Mamoru Miyano’s Kansai Accent
This is a very indulgent choice (well, this whole article is), but out of all the voice actor performances this year, I’m still thinking about Mamoru Miyano’s Kansai accent. Playing the volleyball star Atsumu Miya from Inarizaki High in HAIKYU!! TO THE TOP, either Miyano or the people he worked with really made sure to train him to have the thickest Kyoto accent imaginable, and I was enthralled. It’s kinda hot? I think Miyano works best when he plays characters with a bit of an edge and goofiness to them (see his performance Kotaro Tatsumi in Zombie Land Saga), so having him star as the eccentric setter was a perfect fit. I do wonder if Atsumu Miya and Kotaro Tatsumi ever met if it would be an unstoppable force/immovable object situation.
3. The “You Were Right” Award: Akudama Drive
Image via Funimation
This is not a real award in this year’s Anime Awards, but I think it deserves mention for a series that was so under-nominated. So, Akudama Drive started last October and everyone was losing it. One person (I think it was our own Adam Wescott) described it as “a show where every episode feels like the season finale.” But I continued putting it off. Sure, the first episode has a guy who swings around Osaka like Spider-Man on his motorcycle, but there’s no way it could keep up. I also haven’t played any Danganronpa, so I wasn’t familiar with this sort of Kazutaka Kodaka romp, as his storytelling and style is written all over it. But after the show finished, I went back and gave it an honest shot … and you were all right! It’s really great and doesn’t let off the octane at any point! This was definitely one of the strongest series I watched this last year, with its pointed cyberpunk storytelling and a particularly fantastic season finale — which might be my favorite episode. So whatever categories Akudama Drive is nominated in, sure, I think it should win … wait, it was only nominated for Best Fight Scene!?
Anyway, I should have listened to you all sooner. Mr. Kodaka, I’m sorry for doubting you.
4. Best Animation: Beastars
Image via Netflix
As I wrote in our Best of the Decade list last year, Studio Orange’s utilization of 3D animation is a treasure to behold and a jewel of the industry. Eiji Inomoto and the staff at Orange are putting out shows that are frankly the gold standard for the form. Beastars is no exception, far exceeding any expectations I had for what an adaptation of Paru Itagaki’s animal drama would look like. However, in the case of Beastars, it’s not only the CG, but also the multitude of other animation styles the staff integrated throughout the show, and none of those unique styles ever repeats! I think it says a lot for a studio and a show that not only perfects its main style but also includes phenomenal companion pieces that are fantastic on their own. For such drive and direction, and excellence in their field, not only would it be a win for Beastars, but also a win for the everlasting creativity coming out of Studio Orange.
5. Anime of the Year: Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!
In any other time, I would have chosen Beastars as the Anime of the Year winner (see my praise above). But this hasn’t been any other year. It’s been quite a terrible one, to be honest. But in some sort of cosmic irony, Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! started 2020 as one of the most optimistic and deep-hearted series I’ve ever seen.
A lot of people pitch Eizouken as an anime about making anime. I agree, to an extent. Anime seems to be the surface for the themes the show is playing with, as it’s far more a series about the creative process and the imaginative fuel artists use when molding their ideas into something tangible. It’s also about the interpersonal relationships of those creatives and how people can create community and teams around their strengths and weaknesses. It’s also about how tiring and expensive it is to make one of these things! Truly, it takes a village.
Eizouken grabbed a lot of anime fans’ attention early last year, particularly those who enjoy these sorts of explorations of the artistic mind. My former editor and good friend Zac Bertschy was one of them and wrote the episode reviews for Eizouken every week. Each time I read one of his articles, that passion and enthusiasm lept off the page. And let me tell you, when Zac was passionate about something, he’d let you know. His thoughts and takeaways were genuine to an extent I hadn’t seen in a while. This series truly was something special to him.
Zac’s passing still hurts, and seeing Eizouken‘s nomination continues to remind me of what was not so long ago. But seeing it nominated in the first place gives me confidence that anime fans around the world also saw that passion Masaaki Yuasa and Science Saru were presenting. Seeing Eizouken take a big win would be a triumph for the art and artistry we all love so much, as well as an exemplary showcase of the drive that truly makes this stuff magical.
Jonathan Clements ended his book Anime: A History with a line I’ve been thinking about recently: “… the future of anime as an art form, and as a thing of enduring value, still rests as it did at the time of its inception, in the hands of artists and artisans with vision.” I truly believe Eizouken is a celebration of that ethos. And for that, I hope it wins Anime of the Year.
Anyway, as always, waitin’ for the big one when I’m 5/5 on these predictions.
Kyle Cardine is an Associate Editor for Crunchyroll. You can find his Twitter here!
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