As someone who prefers real life issues to be handled seriously instead of with hyperbole traditional disaster movies really aren’t for me. Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 therefore seems quite promising as it states from the outset that its agenda is far more about portraying the reality of the situation with much of the disaster-based content being based on simulations of what would happen if an earthquake of this scale was to hit Tokyo.
Unfortunately for me at least it wasn’t entirely successful, but its attempt to portray the damage of the earthquake and people’s reaction to it realistically is both commendable and refreshing. The emergency services try their hardest in a difficult situation instead of being blundering and incompetent, and whilst many disaster films show the public as rioters or taking on a whole new way of life instead people here are just trying to get by as well as they can. Regarding that last point it’s kind of remarkable because though there are some striking images, like fields of dead bodies being laid out in a gym, there are also many moments where you’d be forgiven for forgetting an earthquake had occurred in the first place; a few people sitting by a river in a park, children playing football, the bright, blue, sunny sky. The world continues ever on with no regard to the damage caused and people have to go on too.
Clearly I’m really rather fond of the show’s portrayal of the incident. My problems are instead more with the drama that is placed within this world. We follow two children as they attempt to travel home to their parents, helped in their journey by a young mother who is likewise trying to get home to her kids as these three traverse the damaged landscape of Tokyo. Along the way they meet others who have been impacted by the earthquake, and though these encounters sometimes feel a bit too affected they’re mostly amusing (with the exception of one shockingly bad encounter where they meet a young man who has an interest in robots: this episode both seems to ignore quite a bit of the realism of the series, as well as resulting in an absurdly inappropriate climax where he and one of the children put their lives in danger to save a robot of all things).
The first major problem for me is the characters and general tone of the series (two issues which are connected to one another). All three characters are never developed to a satisfying extent, and attempts in the second half of the series to build up to a plot twist seemed to hold back any chance at interesting character growth. The more irritating issue was the young boy Yuuki. He is eternally optimistic, hopeful and often naïve. There is actually a reason for this presented late in to the show’s run, but that doesn’t stop him from being grating and feeling a bit out of place against the often grim backdrop.
Which brings me to the other big problem for me, I found the show largely emotionally un-affecting: really surprisingly so considering its attempts at being more serious and realistic than many shows of this nature. If you’re going to have a show that attempts to deal with an issue realistically having this as a backdrop for over-the-top and cliché melodrama is generally a pretty terrible idea, but that’s precisely what the writers tried to do in the show’s last few episodes pulling in one episode a cheap, unnecessary and unbelievable emotional punch, and in the next episode stretching out an overused plot device in to a whole cringe-inducing episode that might have been moving if it didn’t feel so calculated. Ultimately the show finishes well and does a pretty good job at trying to patch up the damage caused by the previous two episodes, but I was still left largely unimpressed and often annoyed by the concluding parts of the journey our three character’s took.
As far as animation is concerned, it’s fine. The characters often look a bit too simplistic against the detailed ruins behind them sometimes to the point of distraction, and some occasional moments of cel-shaded cgi are ugly and out-of-place, but the aforementioned backdrops do look great. The music is very unimpressive with a terribly inappropriate OP, and a few pieces of incidental music that are both boring and overused.
Overall I’d say that Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 still manages to be a solid show thanks to its attempts at realism, but the frustrating melodrama at the heart of the show is at best a distraction from exploring this damaged city and those who are trying to survive in it.