Japan's psyche was deeply affected after the Fukushima catastrophe and the effects of this have been increasingly felt in a lot of post-trauma works of fiction since. However there's one work of fiction that aired only 18 months before the disaster and which was very prescient, and this is the brilliant anime series Tokyo Magnitude 8.0.
Imagine if an earthquake as powerful as magnitude 8.0 struck Tokyo today; who would we think about and what would we do at that moment? Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 is a tremendous human drama that portrays the connections and human bonds in extreme events as it follows protagonist Mirai, her eight year old brother and stranger Mari as they navigate the devastated Tokyo in an attempt to find Mirai's parents, from whom they were separated.
The journey through the ruins of Tokyo after the quake affects everyone. Particularly Mirai, who assesses her life in the broken city and comes to understand what it is that truly matters to her. They face various trials and tribulations on this journey, as they come across different strangers each offering help or hindrance.
Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 is part of the creative and experimental Noitamina slot of late night anime that aired on Fuji TV, which is quite surprising considering the grave and sensitive narrative. It does not break the mold in terms of what to expect from the disaster genre, nor is it visually striking or innovative, but in its own right Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 is highly engaging given the natural disaster concept and focus on realism.
Mirai is the central component of this series; her name means 'future' but she is a 13 year old girl amidst a crisis of her own; unsure of her identity or place she is a confused and bitter teenager that cares little for her family and has grown tired of her parents squabbling. She meanders through her life and wishes ill on the world. This is exacerbated after nothing is planned for the school holiday, an event that breaks her nerve as she has been let down before. Bored and frustrated she states that the world can fall apart for all she cares.
This is one part of the excellent first episode that slowly but surely establishes not only Mirai and her brother's personalities but acts as an omen of things to come, with the background information revealing the tell-tale signs of an earthquake. It is a tense episode that is mandatory for the disaster and its aftermath and it is perfectly portrayed. Mirai's name is intentional along with her complacent nature; she is representative of Japan; its lost youth and uncertain future.
Perhaps this anime is part of the Noitamina slot because it is such an unorthodox effort. To depict a terrible earthquake striking Japan's heart is not something for the prime-time and there are few anime that have tackled this topic. The realist slant is strange however given that Japan is one of the most earthquake prone locations on Earth and its destruction, in most narratives, is meta-fictional and not terribly blunt.
Of course a year and a half after this series aired the Fukushima disaster struck, hindsight making Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 quite ominous.
The presentation of the anime is handled realistically, with each disc containing a warning about what it will be depicting. The realistic portrayal and accuracy of the devastation that would result if a massive earthquake did actually hit Tokyo implies that there was a lot of care and attention to detail in regards to the research behind such a disaster. This also follows on into the depiction of the natural and planned responses from the human response to the disaster. The inclusion of makeshift morgues to the pre-planned emergency team's responses; Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 is an anime that has an incredible eye for detail and realism, bringing us one of the most accurate portrayals of a fictional Earthquake disaster yet.
At just 11 episodes it breezes along to its conclusion - a slight detriment to the pacing of the series as some time for reflection would have been appreciated in some episodes, but this is still an incredible series despite the shortness of it.
The Blu-ray quality of this series is both a blessing and a curse; when the scenes are detailed and full of flair the Blu-ray shines; from depicting the fall of a major city to the nice weather outside prior to the event, there is certainly a lot of detail at times. At other time however there is a dramatic drop in the quality and the sharpness causing a noticeable lack in detail, particularly when catastrophic events switch to CGI. The sound however is consistently excellent throughout and the soundtrack is strategically used in a minimalist fashion.
The dub of the series is excellently handled with some great talent involved; Tiffany Grant (Asuka in Neon Genesis) in particular is unbelievable as the brother Yuuki.
The extras (clean opening and ending themes) and a digest which summarizes the series in 37 minutes are utterly pointless.
Overall this is a must-watch series - taking no time at all to sit through, it offers a poignant and ominous look at tragedy and is anchored by the power of the human connections within.
Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 is out now on Blu-ray and DVD in Australia from Siren Visual.
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