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.
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.
Though I'm a big fan of slice of life and romance, I'll watch just about anything that catches my interest. My opinions tend to be pretty level-headed, but I have been known to be controversial from time to time! Feel free to lay into me if you so desire, as I always appreciate feedback - positive or negative. I hope you enjoy reading!