This work of fiction surrounding the circumstances of a massive earthquake in Tokyo is based on tremendous amounts of research and verification. Striving for a sense of realism, many simulations were thought of to create this original story. However, the circumstances depicted may be different from the real thing.
Now, when you start an episode with a statement like that, as every episode of Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 does, I’m gonna hold you to it. I’ll expect a serious depiction of the kinds of destruction and disorder that would occur during a massive earthquake in a famously dense urban area, and what would happen in the aftermath. But that’s not really what the series is about.
This is Colony Drop, so it’s time for a controversial and crudely defended claim: Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 is collectivist propaganda, designed to glorify the ideal of the Japanese Spirit — willing and eager self-sacrifice for the success of the whole without regard for personal tragedies. The titular earthquake is merely a backdrop for the tale they really want to tell — an embarrassing, overtly heartstring-tugging sob story about a bratty teenage girl learning how privileged she is and how she should try to be a bit less of a whiny jerk to everyone she meets.
Obviously, I’m going to be discussing the plot, and the ending, of the series. If that’s going to bother you, don’t click “Continue Reading.”
Now, Mirai, hon, don’t get me wrong, I know what you’re going through. I’ve had days where I’ve gotten mad at everything and done my damnedest to not have any fun whatsoever, too, but you need to stop being such a dick to your little brother, Yuuki. It’s not his fault he’s endlessly chipper and wants the rest of the family to feel good, too – he’s a little kid! Besides, writing all those angsty blog posts is only tempting fate — this is the kind of show where publishing one errant phrase, such as “The world can tear itself apart for all I care,” becomes the symbolic cause of some sort of massive disaster and personal tragedy. Good going, girl. Now you’re going to have to walk home all the way across the city with the first of the many selfless individuals you meet, Mari the single mother.
Considering the scale of the disaster they’re marching through, our heroes make out pretty darn good. For much of the series, they’re surrounded by suffering and pain, but narrowly avoid it themselves. They always manage to find food, water, and shelter despite how often they move from location to location (itself far from the greatest idea in the situation), and have a lot more to fear from the arbitrary Emmerichian action scenes that threaten to crush or drown them every episode or so. Compared to the coverage of similar-scale real world disasters, like Hurricane Katrina, the series seems idealized at best, and possibly even flat-out dishonest for drawing its focus on a group who avoids the brunt of it while warning the viewer of the research behind its production.
Maybe it’s just me, but it’s hard to take the story seriously when the biggest crisis Mirai faces in the immediate aftermath is getting cut in line for the toilet and having someone spill hot soup on her leg without apologizing. As Pete eloquently put it, “It’s like a fucking show about a dorm power outage. ‘Oh boy, can’t use computers! Fuck, I don’t wanna go drink and launch boats into puddles, I wanna do my Differential Equations homework!'”
Other people sure have it rough, though, like that nice old man volunteering at one of the shelters to try and get people settled and cared for even while struggling with his wife’s dementia and the deaths of his grandchildren in the quake. While Mirai (and the audience, right?) is reduced to tears by his story, he finds the inner strength to put his own problems aside and to do whatever he can for the other survivors. Likewise, Mari continually refuses offers to let her hurry home to check on her own family and get out of her promise to escort others home first. Far more important than one’s own peace of mind are the completion of obligations and the protection of the whole. Even robot-enthusiast Kento’s interests are motivated primarily by his desire to save lives by becoming an engineer and designing rescue robots like the ones that saved his family.
But it’s Yuuki who drags these themes to the forefront. Not even his own death from a sudden, previously unmentioned illness can prevent him from keeping Mirai and Mari’s eyes on the prize. As Mari has a crisis of faith and collapses in a heap before the first unidentified corpses resembling her daughter and mother that she encounters, Yuuki’s spirit encourages Mirai to check the other nearby shelter and find Mari’s family alive and well. He leads Mirai along the final stretch home, protecting her from danger and allowing her to rediscover the joy his insufferable good nature brought to her, her family, and everyone who knew him, eventually leading her to accept both his death and his devotion to doin’ what has to be done no matter how much literal pain you’re in.
Pardon me while I gag.
You don’t have to over-analyze characters’ names to get the message from this show. It’s hand-crafted to be as goddamn heartbreaking as possible, building up the sacrifices of the characters to greater and greater levels, in painfully obvious fashion. I don’t hate melodrama on principle — if I did, how could I ever enjoy Japanese cartoons? — but I do hate poorly executed, mopey melodrama. Before long, rather than tune in each week to find out what happened next, I was tuning in to see how the writers would try to manipulate me this time. Yuuki’s death is portrayed in a series of jarring transitions (“fake-outs”), presumably to try leaving the question of whether he’s actually dead up in the air at least briefly. Of course, everyone’s familiar with The Sixth Sense and its twist by this point, so conversations crafted to make sense with or without a character’s presence are simply trite rather than clever.
There’s not really anything here to offer aside from the tediously executed storyline. I don’t think a single big name from BONES worked on this show, and yet it still manages the usual problem of having intensely uninteresting characters. Oh, and did I mention how ugly Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 is? It combines the worst in modern, detail-free character designs which reduce characters of all ages into indistinct blobs with my least-favourite new technique, the 3D computer graphics crowd shot. Perhaps it’s far quicker, easier, and/or cheaper to animate large numbers of distant characters moving about using 3D computer graphics rather than hand-drawn animation, but when mixed with hand-drawn backgrounds — or worse, hand-drawn characters — in the same shot, the deliberately stilted motion of the 3D models only serves to draw more attention to itself. On the other hand, the score can’t even manage that much. I couldn’t tell you a single thing about the music in this show except that it exists, and that the theme song by T.M. Revolution side-project abingdon boys school (no caps, like bell hooks) feels totally mismatched with the tone of the show.
I do have to give grudging admiration to the show for one thing, however. Even if I don’t like Tokyo Magnitude 8.0‘s execution, it is a depressing rarity in Japanese TV cartoons: an original series aimed at an audience other than hugpillow-owning otaku (or any other kind of children), showing signs of scriptwriting before production was already half-completed. Next time, maybe you guys could make something a little less boring and manipulative, is all I’m asking.