In 2020, there was a single anime story that dominated all others: the box-office success of "Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba — The Movie: Mugen Train." That film, the sequel to an anime series about demon slayers in the early 1900s, became Japan's highest-grossing film of all time despite being released in the middle of a pandemic. Even anime journalists like myself were asked to appear on television to explain what "Demon Slayer" was about and why the entire population of Japan seemed to be into it.
By contrast, 2021 had no all-dominating anime headline, though there were plenty of interesting titles and industry moves nonetheless.
This year's biggest theatrical hit was "Evangelion 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time," the long-awaited and oft-delayed conclusion to the "Evangelion" film series. That series retold (and reworked) the story of the generation-defining robot series from the mid-1990s, and fans came out in droves to see director Hideaki Anno’s second run at concluding the franchise, earning the film over ¥10 billion. That's a massive sum for any anime film, let alone one that isn’t child-friendly, boasts a 155-minute runtime, and was released during a state of emergency, which meant that theaters in Tokyo had to close by 8 p.m. The success of the film cemented Anno, who also directed the 2016 hit "Shin Godzilla," as Japan's favorite geek chic auteur. Following the film came multiple Anno-centered documentaries, talk shows and even an exhibition about his career at The National Art Center, Tokyo. The Anno craze doesn't seem likely to wane soon: He's now helming reboots of the superhero franchises "Ultraman" and "Kamen Rider."