Occasionally disaster movies aren’t movies at all. Sometimes we get TV series instead that aren’t horribly drawn out two parters. Then we have, to my knowledge, the only anime that depicts a disaster. Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 is an 11 episode anime series that has both emotional depth and an educational value to it as it tries to convey what would happen and how Japan would respond if the worst did happen. It does so with aplomb.
Released : 2009
Runtime : 11 episodes at 22 minutes each
Teenage Mirai has to look after her younger Brother Yuuki on a trip to a robot exhibition several towns away when an 8.0 earthquake strikes. What follows over the series is their journey to try to get home over the next 5 days with their adult friend Mari, trying to get home to her daughter in the same direction. Can they get home?
The Disasters Faced
Obviously an 8.0 earthquake, many, aftershocks, fires, building collapses, sanitary issues, Mirai’s spoilt hormones on an 8.0 of their own and the ability to get separated at the drop of a hat and wind up alone and confused during most episodes.
The two main factors that studio Bones, the team behind the anime, went for are what makes the series shine. Firstly the whole thing centres on the three main characters and how they become dependant on each other through their struggles. During that time characters grow and develop – not in a “wow wasn’t that the best thing that happened to me!” kind of way, but in a way of dealing with their own shortcomings and problems. The second factor is that the anime strives for a realistic version of events. Where to get food and water? What’s a paper toilet all about? What’s the latest technology for helping find causalities buried alive? Why would some areas survive better than others? It’s done through either the trio themselves, or the various people they meet along their journey home encountering different problems. Some of this stuff isn’t covered in what many would quite narrow mindedly call “proper shows” or “real movies” – and this anime manages to cram it all in subtly whilst driving a dramatic story forward too. I felt I was learning about how a culture deals with disaster by being in it and that was a genuine treat. Similarly the characters themselves are well drawn out – each with flaws and their own character development arcs. You will care, you will cheer, you will quite possibly cry multiple times but you will be living that journey alongside them all the way and feel invested in the world and characters that are created. Mirai initially is a spoilt brat in my opinion but grows to accept responsibility and show that beneath her initially frosty exterior, there’s a girl inside who just wants to connect with people but hasn’t been given the chance. Initially I was worried I’d want to slap her and tell her to calm down but she becomes wonderfully rounded.
The animation is beautifully done. The scenes of destruction aren’t on-screen often but because there’s usually a certain showpiece during an episode, each one changes it up somewhat. It’s not rivalling the big animation movie studios, but it’s consistent and detailed with no cgi integration in the big effects sections at least.
Why It’s Worth Watching
Aside from it being a compelling drama and disaster tale, the trio really do make a great bond that you’d aspire to have if you were in a pinch. It never feels forced – and just as Yuuki and Mirai can flip from besties to argumentative and back again because of their nature – Mari spends her time from being the rock for the kids to needing one to have an emotional moment thinking about her own. It’s so human yet there’s not one on-screen. I usually find with Japanese anime (and films in general) that it’s in the little insignificant details that you find bits of magic and the same can be found here. If you do get the DVD series, there’s a cut down 50 minute express version in Japanese rather than dubbed in English so you can also experience it in different ways. The full version is much better.
The one criticism I do have is that Yuuki and Mirai insist on wandering off all the time. They are like lemmings sometimes and you’ll be wrecked if you do this game and then also include Mari having to leave the kids to find supplies or help.
Mari’s ability to look after two strangers she’s met when she has her own pressing agenda to get back to her daughter whose status is unknown shows the courage and determination I wish I would show if I were caught in a disaster like this.
There is a specific moment in the final episode when two characters meet and instead of having what I would have thought would be a bit of a hug it out session, one character decides to check their phone and look at text messages and emails. It does make sense in the scenes context but all I could think was “how bloody rude!!!”
At the end of each episode a news reporter gives a one sentence headliner to tease at what happens next episode. I didn’t realise that she is voiced by an actual real life TV news reporter called Christel Takigawa. The presenter looks like her too.
A power house of emotional depth, disaster, animation, voice acting and education. Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 is one of a kind and holds a special place in my disaster collection as one of the very best.