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.
It struck without warning one fateful day in Tokyo – a massive 8.0 earthquake rocked the city and caused massive devastation and death in its wake. Having taken her little brother to an exhibit that day, young Mirai and he find themselves alone and with no one to turn to – until a kind delivery woman named Mari promises to help them get back to their family. Now, the three travel the ruined cityscape and brave immense danger as they try their best to make their way home.
While I like a variety of different genres, if you give me comedy or slice of life, I'm bound to be happy – and if it's dark humour, all the better! I'll review whatever takes my fancy at the time, and whether you agree or disagree with my opinions, feel free to drop me a line.