Art, in its highest form, elicits empathy and there’s no art form quite as universal as animation. Despite the many delays brought about by the turmoil of 2020, this year delivered some astounding animated films and TV shows. Some of these will no doubt become artistic touchstones as we move into the next decade.
Weathering With You
Weathering With You is the latest supernatural romance film from Makoto Shinkai (Your Name, The Garden of Words). The film follows the relationship between a teenage runaway and a girl with the ability to summon sunshine. The excitement of the film comes from learning about these rich characters rather than chasing after a Mcguffin or defusing a doomsday device. It’s a breath of fresh air from the Hollywood blockbuster while still leaving its audience in awe.
Kipo And The Age of Wonderbeasts
Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts is a wonderful adventure series. The color palette, character deigns, music, and action choreography are fresh and set a high bar for cartoons to come. It’s the kind of series I wish I’d had growing up and it will no doubt make a positive impact on a new generation of kids.
Rise of the TMNT
Rise of the TMNT is a distinctive incarnation of the animated Ninja Turtles. The anime-infused action and splendid art direction is unlike anything seen in Western television animation. The series pulls from the likes of Dead Leaves and Mind Game to deliver a spectacular show for all ages.
Japan Sinks 2020
In addition to Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!, Masaaki Yuasa delivered another bizarre anime series; this time about a family’s struggle for survival during the aftermath of an earthquake. But this is far from a realistic drama. Post-earthquake Japan is filled with moments worthy of a surrealist film. After finishing the series, I was unsure whether I’d just seen a harrowing drama or a twisted dark comedy. Seeing as this is one of Yuasa’s final works before retirement, it’s fitting that this unique visionary leaves his audiences disturbed and perplexed.
Castlevania Season 3
Castlevania has been a surprise Netflix hit proving that video game adaptations can work and that the vampire genre isn’t dead. As I mentioned in my review of Season 3, it feel more like setup than payoff. And with the confirmation of a Season 4 streaming next year, viewers may finally get a richer narrative arc to sink their teeth into.
The Midnight Gospel
The Midnight Gospel is a visually striking comeback by Adventure Time creator Pendleton Ward. The animated podcast format broke new ground in experimental adult animation. It’s refreshing to have animated characters discuss spirituality and philosophy in a fun accessible way. I hope to see another season or spiritual successor in the future.
Decorado is a disturbing short film by Bird Boy creator Alberto Vázquez. The art style evokes that of a picture book while the subject matter is worthy of a Tijuana Bible. Darkly comedic and cuttingly satirical, Decorado is a standout of short-form animation. I can’t wait for Vázquez’s next feature film, Unicorn Wars.
The Legend of Hei
The Legend of Hei is an urban fantasy story with a Chinese cultural twist. The animation in the film blends painterly 2D animation with the depth of 3D composited environments. This gives the fights a certain level of fluidity and dynamic movement. The Legend of Hei could prove to be a pivotal film in Chinese animation history.
Dorohedoro is about a lizard-headed amnesiac named Caiman who works with his friend Nikaido to recover his memories in a post-apocalyptic city ruled by Sorcerers. This beautifully bizarre series provides a much needed shot in the arm to an anime industry overly reliant of familiar visuals and tropes.
Wolfwalkers is the latest film by Cartoon Saloon (The Breadwinner) and returns to their roots with a heartfelt story based on Irish folklore — a story of friendship between two girls from two different worlds and brought to life with painterly hand drawn animation.
Internecion Cube, created by Liam Vickers, is the edgy teenage horror comedy we’ve all been waiting for. In a world where corporate cartoons have become more risk adverse, it’s great to see the indie scene willing to push the envelope. I have high hopes for Internecion Cube and look forward to seeing how Vickers’ animation career develops.
Tales of Alethrion – Daughter’s Revenge
Tales of Alethrion is an independent fantasy animated series created by Mikkel Mainz. It explores the interconnected adventures of warriors, rogues, and treasure hunters. With growing interest in high concept animated series for older audiences, we might see TOA coming to a streaming service in the future.
Helluva Boss is an independent adult cartoon created by Vivienne Medrano and set within the same underworld as Hazbin Hotel. The show follows the escapades of IMPs (Immediate Murder Professionals) as they bring vengeance upon the living via a portal to the human world. Medrano’s character designs and overall vision provide a fresh take on what adult animated comedies can be. Say goodbye to “ugly on purpose” and hello to “fetish fuel.”
Virtual Band K/DA has become a staple of geek culture exploding into the realms of fan art and cosplay. This year, they released an EP, All Out, and new music videos to boot. I’ve said it before, but I believe that the best new music is coming from the video game industry.
Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal
When it comes to innovating mature animation, Primal is in a league of its own. The program’s non-verbal storytelling, combined with its pulpy art direction, creates pure cinema for TV. Any director working in any medium could learn something from Genndy Tartakovky‘s masterpiece. The positive fan reaction and critical acclaim means that the series will continue for another ten episodes. Meanwhile, audiences can also catch up on Tartakovsky’s Samurai Jack on HBO Max.