I know I periodically say this about different series – I think the last was Ika Musume – but it’s still rare enough these days to be remarkable: Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 was the first anime in a while that had me deeply emotionally invested, always eager to start the next episode and getting surprised when an episode was over, because it seemed to rush past so soon.
The premise is simple – as scientists have predicted there’s a 70% chance of an earthquake of 7.0 magnitude or higher hitting
within 30 years, this anime follows what happens to two ordinary kids during
this sort of natural disaster.
The first episode deftly shows us the two siblings, 11- or 12-year-old Mirai and 8- or 9-year-old Yuuki. Mirai is on the cusp of adulthood, getting disillusioned with the world, especially as annoying little things seem to keep happening to her. Sweet-natured Yuuki treasures the memory of the whole family going to Odaiba, so asks to go and see a robot exhibition there, but his parents are too busy, so falls to Mirai to take him. Numerous small misfortunes befall her, and she gets annoyed at adults being rude or treating her like a child, so she wishes disaster on the world. In an echo of After the Quake (which I wondered if the theme of frogs was also alluding to), that’s when the tremors begin. Buildings collapse and bridges burst into flames. People are trapped and killed. Mirai doesn’t know where Yuuki is – but with the help of a concerned adult called Mari, they set off on the arduous journey back to their homes in Setagaya.
Magnitude 8.0 really
succeeded was in making me care. I cared about Mirai – her brattiness at the
start was obviously going to lead to her reforming, but it actually did make me
think of her as more of a rounded character. I cared about Yuuki, with his
happy-go-lucky fascination for robots and his stoic way of putting on a brave
face. I cared about Mari, who reminded me of Balsa from Seirei no Moribito,
and wanted her family to be okay when she found them. The art was mostly simple,
especially when it came to colouring, but it was effective and fluid and the
designs were overall very appealing. The voice acting was excellent, especially
when it came to Kobayashi Yumiko, who voiced Yuuki so well I had to check he
wasn’t voiced by an actual young boy, and who sounded nothing like she did as
Tetsunosuke, Azuma Kazuma or Black☆Star – or, obviously, Excel. Everyone
else plays their role superbly, from Mari in every episode to the grieving old
man helping out in the shelter at the school whose method of dealing with loss
was one of the most touching parts of the show. Tokyo
Not everything was perfect, though. I had a real problem with the twist at the end: I’d figured out what was going to happen by episode 3 because – of all things – the last episode’s title made it so obvious to me. But the way it was presented – so that it was obvious certain things were only in one character’s head, but you weren’t sure it was meant to be obvious – made me keep wondering if the audience was supposed to know or if the makers were thinking they were subtle but just doing it badly, all of which just made me remember the artificial nature of what I was watching a put a big emotional block in the way. The moralising got a bit heavy-handed, the writers pushing the message of ‘you should appreciate your loved ones, because you never know when something might happen to them’ so much that it started to seem their message was actually that everyone needs to go through a horrifying disaster to make them into decent human beings. Also, very unusually and uniquely for a noitaminA show, I actually felt it would benefit from fewer episodes than its 11. There were some episodes – where Yuuki runs off towards Tokyo Tower, where there has to be a dramatic rescue of a boy trying to rescue a rescue robot – that felt like treading water to put off the inevitable ending a little longer.
In fact, what I’d really like to see would be Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 recut as a feature film, removing some of the extraneous parts, presenting the last episodes a little more carefully so that it’s either twist or tragic inevitability, not somewhere between the two, and moving at a brisk pace. Then I think the piece could get the international recognition it deserves (stressing it was made before the tsunami), and sit alongside what is in many ways a spiritual predecessor, Grave of the Fireflies.