It took us three days to finish ‘Japan Sinks’, the latest anime series to hit Netflix. Directed by Masaki Yuasa, this 10 episode show focuses on how a series of earthquakes wreak havoc in Japan and tracks the journey of a family struggling to survive.
The first episode starts with a mid-air scene, where a chubby man is reading a newspaper on the plane, the headlines talk of the Olympics. The scene then changes to a high-school sports ground, where the viewer is introduced to the protagonist Ayumu, a teen athlete who is aspiring to be part of the Olympic team. In the very first few minutes, devastating tremors ripple through the ground in Tokyo, leaving most of Ayumu’s team dead. The bustling city resembles a post-apocalyptic nightmare, with crumbling buildings, uprooted trees, burning skylines and dazed citizens.
Ayumu runs away from the bloodbath in her locker-room and manages to re-unite with her father, gamer-brother Go and their chirpy mother, who turns out to be the chubby man on the plane. “Oh, the boy is a woman!” I exclaimed while watching the scene. I am mentioning this misunderstanding on my part to highlight the weak animation. To somebody who is used to watching Studio Ghibli movies from Japan, the animation in this series was not very impressive.
What makes ‘Japan Sinks’ interesting is the fact that the makers do not hold back in showing very graphic scenes, that help heighten the impact of the tragedy unfolding around the central characters. It’s rightfully rated 18+, with ample blood & gore. Almost every episode has some gut-wrenching deaths and unexpected twists. Dramatic events take place in quick succession. You have problems, problem-solving and more new problems. The characters do not have the time to grieve for those who are dead.
While I haven’t read the novel this series is based on, the story explores a lot of themes – teen love, family ties, alienation, sexual abuse, racial prejudices, eerily idyllic cults and attachment issues. But none of the themes are explored beyond the surface, because there is no time. Fair enough. But from episode 5, the series suddenly slows down and our pack of survivors, which includes Ayumu’s family and two other young men find themselves welcomed in ‘Shan City’, which is inhabited by a cult-like community. The characters finally get to spend some relaxed hours, but even then, as a viewer, you don’t really establish a connection with any of them.
Towards the end of the show, some of the stuff just stops making sense, especially Aymu and her brother’s incredibly good luck – they find everything they need to survive miraculously. So the climax wasn’t as great as it could have been, neither was it moving enough. For example, a few days back, I saw the animated film ‘Your Name’ and was moved to tears in the end. But ‘Japan Sinks’ doesn’t have any powerful cathartic moments, despite being a tale of human resilience in the face of disaster.
This original Netflix series however does make for good weekend watching with a feel-good ending. Ordinary people are the heroes of this series. Had the animation been a little better, it could have been ground-breaking.