While working on today’s review, I came to the realization that there are rather few mainstream anime and manga that deal with natural disasters on a realistic scale. I’m talking something realistic like Barefoot Gen or Grave of the Fireflies, not the grand scale post-apocalyptic stories (a la Fist of the North Star or Eden: It’s an Endless World!) that pervade both mediums. Today’s review is one of the few realistic disaster scenario anime in recent memory: Tokyo Magnitude 8.0.
Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, originally produced in 2009, was directed by Masaki Tachibana, who also directed .hack//Quantum, and worked as an episode director for Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Noir. Additionally, Kazuya Nomura served as an episode director and story boarder for the show; he is known for directing Sengoku Basara Two and Robotics;Notes.
Mirai Onozawa is an average seventh-grader living out her life in modern-day Setagaya, Japan. Distant from her parents, easily annoyed with her younger brother Yuuki, and largely absorbed with her cell phone, Mirai is dissatisfied with her boring life, and yearns for something of interest. On the first day of her summer break, Mirai is asked by her mother to accompany Yuuki to a robotics exhibition in Odaiba. Begrudgingly, Mirai agrees to do so. After the exhibition, the two decide to pick up a birthday gift for their mother at the mall. The two separate momentarily, as Yuuki leaves for the bathroom, leaving Mirai to wait outside the mall, glossing over her phone once again. Suddenly, Japan is struck by 8.0 magnitude earthquake, with Tokyo at its epicenter.
The earthquake easily levels buildings and other structures, and smashes up the mall, leaving Mirai in a panic to find her brother. After a search of the mall’s bathrooms turns out fruitless, Mirai runs into Mari Kusakabe, a female motorcycle courier whom the siblings had crossed paths with repeatedly over the course of the day. With Mari’s help, Mirai is able to find Yuuki at the mall’s lowest floor, and the three retreat to a safer part of the city. Although safe for now, Mirai, Yuuki, and Mari face a new hurdle: returning home. With much of central Japan’s transportation cut off, the trio has no choice but to return to their hometowns on foot.
Over the course of its short eleven episode-long run, Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 tells an engrossing story of survival, familial bonds, and finding hope in a time of destruction. Despite having a rather basic premise of three individuals trying to survive a natural disaster, the show still manages to be emotionally enticing, mainly due to having very well-written characters. Mirai plays the role of a rather typical girl on the throes of puberty; at times her pride and desire to be treated as an adult tend to override her common sense in such dire times, which is seen in the early episodes when she tries to brush off Mari’s help. In contrast, her brother Yuuki is innocent and cheerful; he sees the long journey home as more of an adventure to be conquered, rather than a struggle to survive, and he frequently tries to reassure his sister to cheer up as they travel. Lastly, Mari (who is easily one of the more down-to-earth depictions of an adult woman I’ve seen in an anime in recent years) acts as a mediator between the two and a guardian as she escorts them home, but she’s troubled over her concerns for her daughter and mother living in Sangenjaya. Overall, the characters in Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 play off of each other well, and they are written realistically with personalities befitting of their ages.
The animation work in Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 is also another strong point of the series. At the beginning of each episode, a disclaimer is shown, stating that the events of the show are fictional, but the effects of the earthquake depicted in the show were based on heavy research. The work put into researching earthquake damage shows throughout the series. Buildings shake violently, various architecture falls to the ground, and even in the moments of peace following the quake, the remains of destruction are visible almost everywhere, with the cement roads cracked and still-standing buildings utterly wrecked. The show does utilize CGI quite liberally to achieve these effects, but unlike many other anime, the CGI looks less like it came out of a driver’s ed simulation and more like a compliment to the traditional animation. My only gripe with the show’s animation would be the occasional off-model close-up on the characters themselves, but fortunately this isn’t a particularly distracting issue.
Pros: Wonderful storytelling that combines aspects of a bittersweet disaster survivor’s tale and a surprisingly sweet family drama with a dash of the coming-of-age genre. The animation graphically displays the effects of the earthquake and its aftermath in excellent detail, from collapsing architecture, to messy rooms littered with glass, to the rushing, panicked crowds of civilians. The three main characters have well-written, realistic personalities and play off of each other exceedingly well.
Cons: The simplistic character designs tend to easily look off model in close-up shots. The tragic twist towards the end of the series jars somewhat with the otherwise established upbeat tone.
Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 is licensed in the U.S. by Maiden Japan. With its fantastic writing, realistic characters, and detailed animation, Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 is a must-watch show that I would even recommend to non-anime fans. Just be prepared to shed a few tears at the end.