Japan Sinks: 2020
Episodes 9-10

by Lynzee Loveridge,

How would you rate episode 9 of
Japan Sinks: 2020 (ONA) ?

How would you rate episode 10 of
Japan Sinks: 2020 (ONA) ?

In its final moments, Japan Sinks: 2020 casts its sights on wide-eyed optimistic aspirations that will raise the spirits of viewers still grasping for hope. It was just a bit too much for my cynical stone heart.

After Mari's death, Ayumu, Go, and Haruo continue in the speedboat until they happen upon a military amphibious vehicle. Inside is KITE and Mr. Onodera, and they're heading towards "The Archives", an apparently secret lab where Onodera's research is housed that spells out a timeline for upcoming disasters and the shifts in Japan's geography. The lab exists in a cave that is barely above sea level at this point.

Actually, let me back up from the cave portion a bit because the crew takes a short break to finally work out their feelings on national pride. It was established very early on that Go is not interested in his home country – I'd go so far as to say he actively dislikes it and instead idolizes Estonia. Ayumu has never really understood her brother's rejection of Japan as someone who has dreamed of representing her country in the Olympics. KITE opens the floor to discussion via a rap battle because this is a Masaaki Yuasa project and there's always room for hip-hop. Ultimately, Go's feelings (and Ayumu's) are born out of their status as biracial Japanese citizens. Go has internalized the rejection he's faced and is fed up with country's xenophobia. Ayumu hates that she feels like she has to choose and wants to come to her own conclusions without being pressured. Haruo notes that there's no such thing as a country without problems and the Japanese social characteristics Go complains about (sans the xenophobia) are actually better for society as a whole, like thinking of others before yourself.

The rap battle is really a distillation of the show's long-running themes when it doesn't indulge in some of the wackier bits...like the rest of this episode.

KITE leaves Go, Ayumu, and Haruo on higher ground as he proceeds into the cave with Onodera hitched onto his back (he needs him to get past security; also, Onodera apparently had an encrypted file hidden in a fake filling in his mouth). Another earthquake threatens to sink the lab as KITE tries to copy the files over, prompting him to instead make a mad dash to retrieve the hard drive. At this point the lab is rapidly filling with water and he still has to swim out with Onodera on his back. The two share an air tank but a hole in it prevents Onodera from getting any oxygen. We're treated to another desperate CPR scene where KITE, losing his composure for the first time, yells about how he isn't allowed to fail. A determined thump on Onodera's chest causes him to finally spit up water and regain consciousness.

However, amidst all the craziness, the hard drive is swept into a small enclave, with encompassing waves smacking against it every few seconds. Haruo is finally confident enough in himself to keep fighting towards survival and offers to retrieve the drive despite the very real danger that he'll be swept out to sea if he fails. Now, I complained last time about the wildly inconsistent animation and character designs. You could say something similar about these final two episodes but instead of a scale ranging from "looks really weird" to "okay", the animation in the finale alternates between "okay" to "oh my god." Haruo's running scene is in the "oh my god" category as he takes up his track stance and let's it all go. Small details like the splashes of shallow water at his feet and his muscles moving in fluid motion really capture what is supposed to be a bright moment for him.

Well, at least until he's also swept out to sea just as he passes the "baton" to Ayumu. Man, Haruo...you had some of the best emotional growth moments in this show. Too bad that the theme here seems to be "personal revelation" followed by "wasted by the earth."

There's barely any time to grieve as KITE, Go, and Ayumu construct a makeshift raft from floating debris. Guided by Onodera's research that KITE has uploaded to his phone, the group paddles out to the area where land is supposed to rise first...but they have no idea exactly when that will be. Conveniently, KITE comes across his balloon floating there, patches it, and fills it with oxygen from one of the tanks. At first it seems like he's cashing out and leaving the Mutoh's behind but it eventually becomes clear that he's operating...wait, a wifi balloon? Which lets them use his cellphone he left on the raft which sets off a GPS signal? That a nearby helicopter picks up?

In the meantime, KITE is literally freezing to death in the sky in yet another animation highlight.

So, the Mutohs are finally rescued. They're transported to Estonia where Ayumu receives medical treatment and, unsurprisingly, has to lose her leg. The rest of the episode takes place over eight years and presents an almost utopian idea of the world coming together. Examples include:

  • Introduction of dual citizenship for Japanese people
  • A futuristic Japan set on man-made islands
  • The idea that Russia and China would respect Japan's boundaries while it's submerged (this is likely a very specific political reference regarding the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands)
  • Passing of national gay rights
  • The Olympics take place unabated

I honestly can't blame the staff for presenting such a hopeful message in the wake of disaster. There is obviously a dream here being shown on screen where happiness is attainable and there's a home for everyone. Japan Sinks: 2020 wants to imagine the dissolution of the boundaries that separate us to give humanity a chance to rise above it to something more inclusive than blind nationalism. Through the memory snapshots, we see everyone's hopes. A place for the neurodivergent to be respected, families sharing small moments together, KITE transitioning without question, and Go and Ayumu fulfilling their own athletic dreams despite their hardships. Ayumu enters track and field competitions with her prosthetic, Go takes up e-sports AND swimming, and even Onodera finds new accessibility thanks to technology.

It's a lovely dream, and perhaps what's so frustrating about it is that many of the ideas presented aren't made up of distant sci-fi wishing. Many of them are conceivable now. In a way, the finale is a call to action to rectify the disparities between the "future" and the "now," if only you have enough hope to realize it.

Japan Sinks: 2020 is currently streaming on Netflix.

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