Natural disasters–I’m a big fan. As long as it doesn’t happen in real life, I can enjoy the horror and adrenaline rush of imagining what I see on screen or read in a book as reality. What would I do in that situation? Who would I trust? Could this actually happen, and am I mentally and physically prepared to survive in such a situation?
Strictly considering “realistic” possibilities, I have a hard time thinking about anime that cover the happenings of any type of natural disaster. I’m thinking more along the lines of live action films like Deep Impact, Dante’s Peak, The Day After Tomorrow, and Twister. Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 is one such anime, conjecturing the possible results of an 8.0 scale earthquake hitting Tokyo. Like the aforementioned films, the anime has its fair share of realistic and far fetched situations, not only in the science of the disaster, but also in the psychology of the people involved. I’m no science buff and can’t tell whether the events presented in the show are close to the truth for if an earthquake of such a level actually strikes a large city like Tokyo, but I felt the anime did a good job of magnifying the horror of the disaster by focusing primarily on the relations between those involved, raising questions on family, friendship, and community.
As with most disaster movies I’ve seen, Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 uses the earthquake to highlight the ties our characters have to one another and to strangers. Disaster often reveals our true selves, be it self preservation or sacrifice of self for the safety of others. When lives are threatened, we find ourselves audience to some of the ugliest and most beautiful of personalities–traits that often come from the most surprising of sources.
Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 opens up on the Onozawa family with protagonist Mirai (which translates as “future,” go figure) and her little brother Yuuki. Their parents are busy in the workforce and can’t indulge all the children’s whims, so Mirai and Yuuki are left to their own devices, much to Mirai’s dismay. While Mirai would rather do her own thing and chitchat on her cellphone with the friends she sees everyday at school, Yuuki wants what many young children want: attention and affection. It’s pretty clear from the start that Mirai harbors the typical teenage, tiresome attitude towards the lameness of, well…everything. She comes across as annoying in her persistence to view life through negative lenses. Yuuki strikes a completely opposite pose, as he’s pretty much the dream child and little brother. He’s sentimentally sweet and clearly adores his older sister–for what reason I can’t tell.
The set up for catastrophe begins when Mirai accompanies, much to her complaint, Yuuki to a robot exhibition a long distance from home. Yuuki looks at the displays with the wonder of the child that he is, while Mirai walks around yawning and texting away on her cell phone.
At the moment of their separation, the earthquake strikes and their illusions of comfort are violently thrown aside. Mirai becomes truly fearful for her brother’s life and braves the falling structures of the exhibition site to look for him, revealing a caring nature beneath her rude comments and insults. She runs into Kusakabi Mari, a single mother also stranded at the exhibition, and the two band together to look for Yuuki.
What surprised me the most about this show was its ability to hold my attention all throughout its 11 episodes, as the entire anime follows these three on their journey home, mostly by foot. I think part of what kept my interest was the very real danger that threatened their lives–an aspect that is largely missing from most other anime. Bleach and Naruto present epic battles that are supposedly to the death, and yet I always understand that the “good guys” will win and survive. He will always become stronger, always triumph, or lose and come back and triumph. Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 genuinely frightened me with all the pain and death that resulted from the earthquake and after tremors.
Death strikes closest at two moments in the anime, first with Yuuki’s death, and secondly with the supposed death of Mari’s daughter and mother. Yuuki’s death came as a huge surprise, as he already had a close encounter at the start of the show and pulled through. I assumed since he was the little brother and had already survived, that he would be the hope that pulls the other two home. This is partly true and false. After his death, Mirai goes into massive denial and imagines that the events were a dream. She sees Yuuki and talks with him, much to the dismay of Mari. To the viewer, it’s a toss up. You’re not sure whether or not Yuuki died, as much of Mari’s reactions can be attributed to fear for her own family and concern for Yuuki’s poor health.
However, reality becomes more and more apparent when Yuuki disappears at key moments, then suddenly materializes behind Mirai at others. A question could be whether or not this Yuuki is a ghost, or just part of Mirai’s imagination; I don’t really care for this question as the end result is the same: his continued interaction with Mirai helps her and Mari on numerous occasions, and feeds his sister the drive she needs to make it all the way home. /end spoiler*
Here is where I have the most controversy over realism. As I stated previously, moments of great distress usually uncover one’s true nature. Some of the side characters who the three main characters encounter come across as selfish to the extreme of causing further distress to the people around them. We see this in one of the many walking scenes, where our protagonists march along with huge crowds of people across the city. At one point, Mirai is separated from Mari and Yuuki and becomes frightened, which is completely understandable. Those around her keep walking forward, pushing her around and eventually knocking her down. Instead of apologizing and helping her up, the man blames her for standing around and continues on his way. While inconsiderate for any human being, I also find it more so since a grown adult shows no concern for a lost child. This kind of attitude doesn’t surprise me, and is what I expect of many people.
What I did not expect was the large number of people who exhibit extreme, unnaturally kind characters. Call me a pessimist, but I find it far likely for strangers to hold their own safety over the safeties of others instead of going out of their way to help those around them. Both Mari, and several of the people the three meet, come across as extraordinarily caring.
Instead of rushing home to see her daughter and elderly mother, Mari opts to look after the two kids and make sure they get home safely, going so far as to make a promise with them to never separate until they make their way home. There are plenty of opportunities for her to abandon them, and yet she consistently looks after them and places herself in danger to protect them from harm. She is the hero of Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, which is appropriate given the protective nature of most heroes; while seen as manly in men, the trait is often named motherly in women. Unlike most superheroes, however, she has no flaws, except for her humanity and lack of omnipotence.
Her power lies in her kindness, and the kindness is unwavering all throughout the episodes. At no time does she consider abandoning the children, and she goes out of her way to help strangers along their journey. I have yet to meet a human being who shares such selfless traits, and perhaps I never will.
Final Thoughts: 9/10 (Great)
I wholeheartedly recommend this show to those of you who are looking for something a little different and more realistic than all those magical girl, school, battle anime. Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 is not devoid of flaws, but it is unique in its focus on human connections and our desire to acquire/retain these relationships. This is among the few anime that have emotionally shook me, so it certainly deserves high marks at least for that.
Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 reminds us of our priorities and of the utter fragility of our physical and emotional selves. Hopefully it doesn’t take a tragedy like an earthquake to force us to examine ourselves and truly understand who we are.