I don’t normally go for full on drama anime. I especially don’t actively seek out survival or disaster series. However, hearing many good things about Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 piqued my interest, so I left the shounen on the shelf and the comedy in the cupboard and decided to give it a go. Little did I know that I would marathon the entire series in one evening and be so emotionally moved that my eyes physically hurt from the tears.
Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 follows the plight of two young children, Mirai and Yuuki, as they cope with the fallout of a massive earthquake that has devastated most of the city. Though the pair is initially alone, a kind woman named Mari soon takes it upon herself to help the siblings return home and find their parents while she tries to get back to her young daughter and elderly mother. The series starts out calmly enough by dedicating the first episode to introducing the two central protagonists, then with less than a minute to go before the ending credits roll the faeces hits the fan – and so begins the most heart-wrenching anime to grace my screen for a very long time.
A lot of the show is fairly slow-paced, which ultimately creates far more of an emotional impact than if the whole thing had been eleven hi-octane episodes of running from collapsing buildings or falling down newly formed crevices in the middle of the road. By having the protagonists make sluggish progress towards their goal, the gravity of their situation sinks in all the more and small moments become incredibly poignant. Mirai spotting one of her classmates mourning her dead mother is so powerful because you can see the realisation of the earthquake’s severity creep across her face. Certainly one of the most haunting moments of the series that will undoubtedly stay with me, is a single shot of two sets of children’s feet poking out from underneath the rubble of a shopping mall.
Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 examines both extremes of human nature, from selfishness and utter panic, to unfathomable kindness and generosity. Very rarely can one series invoke such despair at the state of mankind only for it to be quickly restored with the smallest of actions. Without a doubt the show’s central theme is that of individual strength – something that each of the protagonists demonstrates in their own ways. Mari in particular covers up her intense worry for the safety of her own family with a highly optimistic attitude to not only help herself cope with the circumstances, but also to prevent the children from giving into despair. It often leads one to question their own ability in a crisis and wonder: Would I be able to cope if I were in their shoes? Could I keep it together? Would I simply fall apart?
Generally I hate CG in anime; nine times out of ten it looks horrifically out of place standing out as much as a cosplaying narutard in a coffee shop. Impressively Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 slots into that rare little ten percent where the computer graphics genuinely work and, above all else, look good. The effective use of this medium means that the collapsing buildings make more of an impact and that crowd scenes aren’t simply still shots or filled with clunky movement simply because “it’s in the background and therefore doesn’t matter”.
Aside from the CG, Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 boasts impressive scenery from decimated buildings and fire-engulfed bridges to the quiet sanctuary of a lush park or a calm pool of water. A realistic colour palette and toned-down character designs place a shining spotlight on the dramatic narrative instead of distracting from it, while also adding to the wow factor of the particularly well-animated earthquake and aftershock sequences.
Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 knows exactly how to use its sound design to full effect. A loud, orchestral track with plenty of brass heightens the drama of the already awe-inspiring earthquake scene, only to follow it up with a few seconds of complete silence. This lack of noise also re-appears at other moments for maximum impact, such as when young Yuuki becomes separated from Mirai and Mari in a crowd. As the camera focuses in on the terrified child calling for his sister, the thunderous hoards of individuals jostling past and all background din fades away entirely until all you can hear is the frightened call of ‘Onee-chan’. Such absence of sound gives one a strong impression of Yuuki’s fear and loneliness and allows the viewer to put themselves in the petrified boy’s shoes for a moment.
Excellent voice acting tops off Tokyo Magnitude 8.0’s aural experience. The series’ seiyuu capture their characters perfectly, from Yuuki’s adorable innocence and Mari’s maternal optimism to Mirai’s irritable teenage cynicism.
Good characterisation is hard to come by in anime, but Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 has it in abundance. Every single cast member acts realistically, which immediately sucks the viewer into the story by making the protagonists much easier to relate to. With their strengths come moments of weakness: Yuuki maintains his optimism and keeps complaints to himself, yet ultimately he openly voices his concerns to Mirai; Mari acts as the mother figure and remains as cheerful as possible, but even she cannot help giving into her own fears and anguish. Even secondary characters with little screen time earn a certain amount of emotional investment and it’s difficult not to empathise with their plights as well as that of the protagonists.
The most impressive aspect of this anime’s cast is the development of Mirai. As she eerily states at the beginning of the first episode that “Everything should just be destroyed… or at least that’s what I used to think every day” it’s clear that she will go on an emotional journey during the series. Starting out as a typical angry teenager with terrible grades, Mirai fails to make herself particularly likeable, especially when she seems to have little time for her adorable younger brother and frequently snaps at him for little reason. However, as the narrative progresses so too does our young heroine as she begins to realise the importance of family and even starts to understand why her mother acts the way she does. While this could sound quite stereotypical, the way in which the series handles her evolution, by subtly softening her character with each passing event, makes the transition almost unnoticeable; people don’t just change in an instant, and neither does Mirai.
If I can advise you on anything it is to make sure that you have a box of tissues nearby when you start this series. I haven’t seen an anime that has made me cry so damn much since I sat down to watch Grave of the Fireflies for the first time and was weeping within five minutes. By mixing the powerful narrative with a realistic and understated depiction of its protagonist’s characterisation, clever sound design, and beautiful visuals, this anime wrenches the heart and makes for compelling viewing. Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 is one of the best series of 2009 and proof that the medium of animation offers up so much more than just simple children’s cartoons.
As someone educated in structural engineering, I happen to know a thing or two about what earthquakes will do to buildings. Thus, when the writers made a point to preface Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 with a statement lauding its realistic portrayal of an earthquake, I must admit I was looking forward to shredding all the series’ little mistakes. Unfortunately for me, I soon discovered there was not a lot of shredding to be had; instead, I had to settle for an an engaging, dramatic storyline and a splendid set of main characters.
Generally speaking, I tend to be a fairly dry face when it comes to anime that center around tragedy – Grave of the Fireflies only managed a tear, and Oseam choked me up at best. There is something about watching two young children struggle to find their way back home amidst utter carnage and devastation, however, that Tokyo Magnitude explores on an exemplary level. Even the events prior to the earthquake managed to pull gently on the emotional strings, and I am not exaggerating when I say I spent close to half the series with watery eyes. While the earthquake’s torrent of death drives much of the tragedy, the major emotional impact of the series surfaces not from particular events, but from the journey itself. Key points within the story, such as Mirai’s dichotomy between childhood and adulthood, are touched upon with a remarkable level of detail, and the story’s merits stem well beyond mere shock value.
Be that as it may, Tokyo Magnitude does struggle at times with being overly dramatic. For the first half of the show, the aftershocks that accompany the primary quake follow a rather formulaic pattern: the trio wanders near a structure that obviously is in poor repair, an aftershock hits right as this happens, and the structure ultimately collapses as they make a narrow escape. While the aftermath of each of these events is important to the story, at times they border on feeling contrived. Earthquakes follow a wide array of different patterns and behaviors, and the lack of variety or creativity with this notion was disappointing given its potential for improvement.
When all is said and done, however, these disturbances are little more than ripples on the surface of a pond. Both the story and its pacing display a phenomenal level of composition, and the series consistently strikes emotional chords without dipping into monotony or tedium. While poor or rushed endings are an anime trademark, Tokyo Magnitude flaunts one of the most mature and memorable endings I have seen in years if for nothing more than its keen sense of writing and direction. By the closing scene, Tokyo Magnitude feels a clean and complete work, and certainly leaves its mark as one of the most professional anime produced to date – if there exists any indication that anime rises beyond simple children’s work, this is it.
To my elation, the promises of earthquake accuracy rang true throughout the first half of the show. Everything from structural member collapse to bridge sway was shown in largely realistic fashion and, though certain exceptions were made for dramatic effect, the show feels visually real. While to 99.9% of Tokyo Magnitude’s viewer base this may seem trivial nitpicking, it proved to me that the animators cared about their work and did wonders for bolstering the credibility of this very prominent claim.
Unfortunately, this attention to detail does not compensate for a low budget production, and Tokyo Magnitude leaves quite a bit to be desired in areas outside scenic earthquake destruction. From character designs to the notable use of static shots with minimal movement, at times I felt as if I were watching a 2004 or 2005 production. While certainly not fatal to the series’ presentation, this one area of poor repair did appear out of place.
When you watch anime as long as I have, there are certain names that stick out when hearing a soundtrack for the first time. Be it the epic orchestral works of Kawai Kenji or the haunting dissonance of Yoko Kanno, the musical composer of a series holds great sway as to how the story will feel. In the case of Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, fans of the Haibane Renmei’s breathtaking composition will feel right at home as Ootani Kou returns with another melancholic masterpiece. While the animation may be lacking in certain respects, the music compensates for any misgivings threefold, as each track is accompanied by a perfect mixture of emotions. Be it the frenetic tension of a building collapse or the quiet sorrow of a mourning family, the music practically defines the drama and is nothing shy of brilliant.
Of all the characters in Tokyo Magnitude, Mirai easily steals center stage. In many ways she’s a typical teenager, frustrated with life due to a poor relationship with her parents, struggling grades, and a feeling of distance from her peers. Stuck in this mire between childhood and adulthood, she must pick up the responsibility for her younger brother, Yuuki, whose care her parents place on her due to being too busy with work to do so themselves. While her actions often seem selfish, over the first episode she’s quickly fleshed out to be more than just a bratty teenager: she’s a young girl who wants nothing more than a loving family, but is utterly helpless to realize this dream. As such, her jaded view of the world comes across as quite believable, and her selfishness and bitterness are somewhat justified in the context of her circumstances.
This unevenness in her character is ultimately what makes Tokyo Magnitude such a remarkably powerful series. The earthquake turns her world entirely upside-down, and reveals a young girl who, while strong, just cannot bear the responsibility thrust onto her. Yuuki compliments her amazingly well, highlighting her numerous child-like weaknesses that surface in the wake of tragedy and adversity. She consistently struggles with this throughout the duration of the show, insistent that she is not in fact a child but hesitant to admit herself an adult. Likewise, the children’s traveling companion, Mari, brings to light Mirai’s immaturity and inexperience in dealing with catastrophic situations, and forms a sort of dual-foil with Yuuki that results in some of the most heartwarming and touching character development I’ve ever seen. Sympathizing with Mirai comes almost as easy as breathing, and watching her story unfold is a truly unique experience.
From planning stages to construction to finished product, Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 shines through and through. From the ground up, the show was designed to be a mature, intelligent, and emotional drama, and makes no faux pas in delivering its story with powerful success. Both newfound anime viewers and seasoned veterans alike should put this title at the top of their lists – there exists little room for disappointment.
The basic plot is very simple. A brother and sister are caught by an earthquake in the middle of a trip to see a robot convention. After this disaster, they try to get home and are helped by a motherly figure. Although this may sound boring and starightfoward, underneath is a deep emotional story of the bonds between siblings and as well as strangers.
At first, I didn't really get into the story. I found the two main characters (a girl in 6th grade and her brother in 3rd grade) quite immature and annoying. However, as the story went on, I began to like them more and more and I started to understand the way they think and act. Finally, when the last episode hit, I couldn't stop myself from crying - I loved the story and the characters too much.
Overall, I'd recommend this anime if you'd like a good cry, but not if you're looking for a funny or happy show.
While looking like a disaster series from the outside. Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 is actually a great Slice of Life anime that does one of the best jobs at conveying real to life people and emotions.
Story - 7/10
The story is actually as simple as it gets in the anime world. Mirai and Yuuki are two young siblings who have a typical relationship you'd expect from an eight year old boy and twelve year old girl, while Yuki adores his older sister, she finds him to be quite annoying at times, as she see's herself as an adult and him as a little child.
The two have just started their summer vacation and since Mirai didn't want to waste her summer going to study school, she's now in charge of watching after her brother while her parents are at work, and item number one on his agenda is going to see a robot exhibit. Everything goes as planned on their trip, until they get stuck dealing with one of those pesky everyday nuances, today's just happens to be the largest earthquake to hit Tokyo in close to a hundred years.
Now after initially struggling to find her brother, who went off to use the bathroom, Mirai and Yuuki must find their way home, luckily a nice young lady named Mari has gravitated towards them, feeling a duty, as a mother herself, to take care of these two young children. For four days they'll travel home, mostly by foot, so that Mirai and Yuuki can see their parents, and Mari can see her toddler.
Of course a leisurely stroll through a decimated city would just not be exciting enough for viewers, so there are random characters thrown in, some useful and others completely useless, sudden illness and the drama of Yuuki continuously running off in the direction of falling skyscrapers.
For the most part the series is very enjoyable, with the destruction often taking a backseat to a great dialogue driven series. Sure the earthquake is the catalyst for everything, but the stories really follow Mirai's forced growth from a child to a young woman and Mari's need to prove to herself that she can be a great single mother.
Despite the overall greatness of the series, I do have some gripes with the end, which I won't spoil for you here, but will hint at in the "Overall" section. I think they took a cheap way of unveiling it that unfairly toys with the viewer, since they essentially spend three of the last four episodes saying something happened, then denying it, the saying it again, repeating the process till the truth comes out.
Upon finishing the series I decided to watch the "Digest Version" that was shortened for an anime convention in Japan. Obviously taking a two hundred and thirty minute series and cutting it to fifty is going to bring the quality way down, but in some portions it removed my biggest gripe of how they tried to trick the viewer, putting in only the exact scenes that let you know something was amiss.
Oh yeah, and we never do find out who Mirai was texting, since we know at first it wasn't her classmate…..so was it a boy? Ooooooo!
Animation - 9/10
There was something about the character design, and I mean this in the best of ways, that just made me think of old Japanese anime, like Cyborg 009, Speed Racer and even a little bit of Astro Boy. The faces and expressions harkened back to that time and it was a very nice change of pace from the meticulously detailed series we get now (which again isn't a bad thing, but it's just nice to see something different.)
Obviously the background animation was superb, depicting a scene that pretty much all of us can only imagine in the wildest sense, but making it feel realistic. They were able to continually bring back images from earlier in the film, but in their damaged state, to where we knew what we were seeing the instant it filled the screen.
Sound - 7/10
The opening and closing songs we're on pretty opposite ends of the spectrum, but still were very pleasing. The intro song reminded me of a Japanese version of Lostprophets (minus the horrific criminal acts) while the ending song is a teeny pop song, with good music, but somewhat lacking in the vocal department.
With few characters to focus on they did a very good job of making sure each one sounded realistic to their look (except for the ever constant appearance of Greg Ayres as some random character in every anime made over the last ten years!!!!)
The sound design in the series was equally as realistic as the visuals (or as realistic as I can assume them to be) One thing that really hit me is the times they filled the series with silence. Having experienced a giant disaster first hand, though man caused not natural, that was one thing that always stuck out to me. The days following the event lacked so much sound, be it from the actual absence of it or the reeling of your mind blocking out all but the most glaring of noises. It seemed as if you would hear nothing for long periods of time, broken up by a siren or a large truck blasting to the scene. They did an excellent job of getting that right, that while there might be so much going on, the lack of normal day to day life brings the volume of life down to a murmur.
Characters - 7/10
The main three characters in the series were very authentic versions of what you'd expect from those they represent. They lacked the traditional exaggerations anime characters get, even in series that are just supposed to be about every day life. Sure there is a bit of stereo-typicalness to them, Yuuki can be a little overly optimistic, Mirai comically brooding, Masami being over worked and Seji a dopey beta father, but I'm we've all interacted with people just like them, and can understand where they come from.
Seeing the series mostly took place over a four day span, it's really hard to see characters get built up or grow. We know the basics about the three main characters, Mirai, Yuuki and Mari, but thankfully that's all we really need to understand the characters and their actions. Similarly their character growth wasn't some amazing revelation, but rather just what you would expect from people thrown in this situation.
Where the series really shines for me was with the supporting cast of characters. Mirai and Yuuki's parents aren't the Nineteen Sixties TV female we're use to, they fight over stupid things and then seem to forget about it seconds later, they act like real people and not those living off a script.
Another married pair that stand out are Mr. and Mrs. Furucichi. They are two characters that show what a large segment of the population do when hit by tragedy. Some cope by doing everything they can to push it out of their mind, they feel that their time is best used helping those around them than by grieving. For others that hurt touches a part of them that causes their brain goes into survival mode. They push reality out of their mind and try to replace it with happy thoughts, they see what they want in order to keep from feeling the pain they know is inevitable. They also stands as a sign of things to come.
Most of the other characters don't play very import roles in the series. Even Kento, who'm Yuuki makes friends with while watching a team of robots rescue a man, is just a complex tool to cause Yuuki to get up and run away, thus falling ill. He would have been a good character if the series was meant for a second season, but being only an eleven episode run he felt more like filler.
Overall - 8/10
I really, really enjoyed the series for the first nine episodes. It was a very nice show that tried to be completely real, no B.S. Unfortunatly we lost much of that in the last two episodes when the story became a recreation of a well know phycological horror film of the late nineties. Similarly there's a few scenes ripped right out of other films and TV shows, most notably the cell phone scene.
The ending of a series is always one of the biggest selling points or failures, and it's sad to say for this series it was a failure. It spit in the face of everything the previous nine episodes were and went for a cheap shot at emotions, something up until then they tried to stay away from.
An anime that will make you cry if you get attached to the characters.. it's a school life type anime where brother and sister go through a bunch of problems when an earthquake hits Tokyo and soon after find someone to help them get back home. The anime leaves you on the edge of your seat, with random twists in the story it brings new faces every episode.. One to watch if you have some time to kill, a great family anime as well.