2020: A Look Back and Ahead at Animation

Bye bye yesterday, indeed.

Happy New Year, everybody! I hope everyone has enjoyed Christmas, Hanukkah, or whatever holiday you celebrate. Amazingly, we’ve reached the end of another year, and with it, another distinct chapter in the history of the world and by extension, animation. A few years ago, back in the early days of AniB Productions, I mused about the state of Western animation at the time (it was 2017) and said “we’ll revisit it at the end of the decade.” Well…that time is now! And as a farewell to the 2010’s and a hello to the 2020’s, this is a special piece that’s going to take a big and little picture on what’s happened and perhaps, where we are going next decade with a few predictions. Let’s get to it!

THE BIG PICTURE

The 2010’s were by and large a transitional decade for the medium, whether in the context of the West or the anime scene. Stateside, the decade had started in a turbulent place with many beloved 2000’s series having come to an end recently, and a general void begging to be filled by trendsetters yet to be named. One may have been a late 2000’s holdover that ran all the way to 2015- Disney’s Phineas and Ferb, but it was arguably the Cartoon Network duo of Adventure Time and Regular Show that would be the progenitors for most other Western TV fare this decade. In turn, the rise of the so-called “CalArts” style- a cartoonish, deformed-esque style defined by characters with big heads and eyes became a huge trend, and was noticeable in many of the decade’s big hits, from Gravity Falls to Rick and Morty.

As for anime, this past 10 years may be looked back on as the time where being a fan finally became more mainstream. Mall stores are loaded with merch of the most popular and current shows; the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade has featured a balloon Goku the past few years, and even Netflix has adapted popular series into live action (whether or not this was advisable is another thing, but that’s a different discussion.) In addition, the quantity of anime has increased several-fold year after year- so much so that there’s almost a saturation (and a real question of industry working conditions.) Sometimes, you have to dig a little harder to find the good stuff, but the cream always rises to the top and like many decades that have passed before it, this one also produced some outstanding fare.

In both the East and West, the rise of streaming services has been a major story of the decade, changing the way most people consume these shows, and making the medium more accessible than ever. From Crunchyroll to Netflix, and various other means that exist, the internet has supplanted TV in all ways as the choice to view- although you can still watch the late-night Toonami blocks if you’re so inclined.


So with a quick look back, I’ve decided to pick from what I’ve seen at least, my top show picks from the past 10 years in both the West and the East. I would have extended the column to movies as well, but I’m thinking it’ll be a different post for another time. Very curious to see what people think of these picks!

MOST INFLUENTIAL CARTOON OF THE DECADE: Adventure Time

Was there ever any other option, really? No series defined animation quite like this one, which encapsulated the decade with a run that almost perfectly coincided with the years themselves, revived a flagging network, and became a sensation where even casually, you’d see people with merch. But from a pure animation perspective, this show set the tone, and then lived up to what it did, growing and evolving over its brilliant, often weird and quirky, but always imaginative run.

 

BEST CARTOON OF THE DECADE: Gravity Falls

There has been some really interesting choices as the decade’s unfolded, but despite a few years passing now since its completion, Gravity Falls really is a delightful gem of a show, blending skillful humor with great detail and an intriguing plot that also takes time to flesh out the characters in this quirky town. It’s sometimes easy to forget, but there was few shows worth old-school appointment viewing on debut this decade, and this was one of them. I also considered Samurai Jack’s revival here, but as the show was originally from the 2000’s, it was more a completion of a masterwork that demanded it.

 

MOST INFLUENTIAL ANIME OF THE DECADE: Attack on Titan

I really could say One Piece here for longevity, but I think it’s had a greater impact in the manga world, and it wasn’t a debut from these 10 years. There’s plenty of shows that were good, but what ones have had an impact globally and beyond? One answer is My Hero Academia, which certainly has that cache, but it was only for a little under half the decade. No, the best answer may be Attack on Titan, a show whose debut galvanized fans everywhere, even to the point that one year a kid dressed as Captain Levi showed up at my door at Halloween! And it truly was a decade show, with seasons spaced out at the beginning (2013) and end of the period (2018, 2019).

 

BEST ANIME OF THE DECADE: 

Just one pick, eh? There are many worth the crown of this distinction, but it had to be something where we can look back years from now and say “yeah, that was a masterpiece.” Not everything ages well! For every Cowboy Bebop, there’s a 70’s Devilman out there. So in the end, I’ve picked two, because why not:

Hunter x Hunter and Steins;Gate.

steins;gate.png

There’s specific points for these picks. For one, Hunter x Hunter is my favorite for a reason, and it is a remarkable achievement in long-format shonen anime between how well it’s done and its remarkably engaging cast and themes. It is the second adaptation of the source manga after 1999’s effort, and and for all intensive purposes improves greatly on it. The ability to flawlessly switch genre-styles within show is masterful, as is the subversion it performs on common tropes. Add in that it has one of the most uniquely remarkable arcs in any show (Chimera Ant) and there’s a great case for it here in this column. Running from 2011 to 2014 in its Japanese debut, and its English dub from 2016 to 2019, it really was a show of the 2010’s. (Read the review here!)

Steins;Gate on the other hand, was a different ride, one that wove time travel and the consequences of it right into its very fabric. Of all the series in the 2010’s, I think this one will be remembered uniquely for a few reasons (and the review is also here!)

2011 was a remarkable year for anime. Aside from these two, it also featured Fate/Zero, Nichijou and Madoka. However, these two are excellent adaptations from source material, which takes away nothing at all, but I want to nominate one more dark horse candidate that’s anime-original for the story:

Little Witch Academia.

Why this show, you may ask? Well, for one, yours truly watched it. Can’t pick something you don’t know. But more importantly, it has a little bit of everything you could ask for, from a spirited, memorable cast, to a enjoyable story, gorgeous animation and some incredibly uplifting themes. (You can read my review here if you haven’t, or peruse a character piece on Akko Kagari as well.) But I also asked myself, “how will this age?” and the answer is clear that it’s going to be like fine wine. It doesn’t date itself with dumb references in-show, the plot itself is timeless, and the show is accessible even to a younger audience, with an appeal that’s broad but hardly to the lowest common denominator. Finally, the story about how it got to be green-lit from Trigger and how it started as a fan-sourced project and special is interesting. Feel free to look it up.

Are these truly the top anime of the decade? Perhaps. As a writer, critic and then fan, I suspect everyone will have a different answer, and I’d like to think this one is no worse than anyone else’s reasoning or logic.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR ANIMATION?

Well, my guess is as good as anyone else’s. We started the decade on cable; we ended it streaming, and what turned out to be good and popular wasn’t even on anyone’s radar when it all started. So a few predictions shall suffice:

-The CalArts style will fade out by mid-decade for a different style.

This is history talking here. Each decade has been distinct stylistically and this might be the safest bet- that a new or recycled style comes back into prominence in the West. We’ll see though.

-SpongeBob finally ends.

Underrated aspect of the 2010’s has been “zombie shows”- titles that have lived generations and eras which continue onward. This falls more under “bold prediction” but the yellow sponge’s run will dry up at some point, and crazier things have happened. Heck, long-time running mate The Fairly OddParents ended this past decade, so it’s not impossible.

-A previously unheralded anime genre takes center stage.

In the 2010’s, that had to be the isekai explosion led off by Sword Art Online, but with the saturation of that area, the new decade is ripe for something fresh. We’ll all wait enthralled and one day realize it’s happened, but not until we start scrolling through releases.

-The foreign film drought continues at the Oscars.

I know this isn’t the animated movie column, but it’s criminal how little attention non-American fare gets in stateside circuits outside of industry professionals and passionate folks like perhaps yourself, dear reader. It would be nice if it changed, but I don’t suspect it will.

 

-More revivals of older shows will happen.

Recent years have borne nostalgia trips across culture, from Star Wars to DuckTales, and in turn, I expect more of the same as we get into the new decade. If there’s one thing Hollywood is good at, it’s recycling ideas, and I think it’s become applicable to animation as well.


Well, that’s it from me! A Happy New Year to all, and a big thank-you for all the support for the blog. Here’s to the end of one decade and the beginning of a great new adventure with you all!

(Leave a comment if you’d like!)

Author: anibproductions

I am the founder and writer of AniB Productions, currently a blog with a focus on animated shows from both the East and the West. Love Buffalo sports, good political discussion, and an interesting conversation wherever I go.

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