Occasionally disaster movies aren’t movies at all. Sometimes we get TV series which all too often are horribly drawn out two-parters designed to run over two evenings of suspense. Then we have, to my knowledge, the only anime TV show that depicts a natural disaster. Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 is an 11 episode anime series that has both emotional depth and 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.
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. For goodness sake can everyone stop running off on their own!
Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 tells the story of Mirai and her younger brother Yuuki who get caught up in an earthquake during a visit to a robot convention. They’ve travelled across Tokyo to get there and now are faced with the problem of trying to get back home to their parents. Are their parents even alive to come home to? Quickly they meet up with Mari, a delivery driver also caught out on her own. She too needs to get home and so she takes Mirai and Yuuki under her wing and the three make the journey home together.
Over the course of eleven episodes, the trio faces different aspects of a post-Earthquake Japan. From looking for food and toiletries to seeing how technology is improving to help find survivors trapped in the rubble. There’s always something educational ticking by as part of the story. We meet plenty of other characters also caught in the disaster, offering us a fascinating insight into Japanese culture and how hopefully, in a time of great need, people will generally bind together to support each other.
Why is it worth watching?
There are two main factors that studio Bones, the team behind the anime, committed to that make the series shine.
Firstly the whole thing centres on just 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. So often films and shows make out that the end of the world is delightful for someones character development and its so refreshing to see characters that change and grow stronger, whilst still acknowledging how much the situation stinks! Mari is motherly but stern and holds the trio’s strength, whilst Yuuki’s sunny demeanour keeps them mentality afloat. Mirai is certainly the main character but she is also the most troubled and flawed as she is in that teenage meltdown phase. It’s nice to see her take more and more charge of things as the story progresses. 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 second factor is that the anime strives for a realistic version of events and this is because the Japanese Fire Department was part of the consultation team. It makes Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 educational without it ever feeling like its meant to be and that’s the best type of edutainment.
It’s happy to answer things like where to get food and water and how to use a paper toilet. It shows the latest technology for helping find causalities buried alive and subtly explains why would some areas survive better than others. It’s done through either the trio themselves talking, catching news updates on radios or through 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 like the disaster itself – 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.
Included on the DVD release is a cut down 50-minute version which is Japanese voice acted only, with English subtitles. Whilst its lovely to see a different version, the 11 episode full-length emotional rollercoaster is utterly the way to go.
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.
Whilst I’ve explained the main trio and the excellent chemistry they bring, I must hold a special round of applause for Mari. She looks after these two children when she is trying to get back to her own daughter and the anguish she has during some of the more difficult times is palpable. She’s who I’d want to be in a disaster. It’s also worth talking about the various side characters that pop up for an episode. Some, like the old couple at the school, are utterly adorable and give cultural insight. Other times it is Tokyo itself that is the supporting character – it has so many sides to it and you can see frames that come straight out of the 1994 Kobe earthquake news reports.
At the end of each episode, a news reporter gives a one sentence headliner to tease at what happens next episode like the show is being reported live. 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.
‘What do I want to become? I have no single clue about my future…’ Mirai
Three Memorable moments
- The school morgue scenes for making me nearly cry
- That collapse…. for making me cry
- The entirety of episode 2 which had me on complete edge throughout
The obligatory weird moment
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!!!” Having survived everything they did, I’d be more grateful and dramatic.
The drinking game
The one criticism I do have is that Yuuki and Mirai insist on wandering off all the time. They are like lemmings. Stop. Doing. That. Kids! You’ll be wrecked if you do this game and then also include Mari having to leave the kids to find supplies or help.
A powerhouse 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.
Rating: 5/5 (A Personal Favourite)
If you liked Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 then you may like…
- Earthquake (for its melodramatic 70’s entertainment and special effects)
- San Andreas (its an earthquake plus a family trying to get back together again)
- Aftershock (An emotional movie on how losing family in an earthquake affects you)
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*review updated 27/01/19 to new review format.