Media depicting catastrophic natural disaster will always be one of the most unsettling things to me, simply because of how uncomfortably close they hit to home. In Japan alone, there had been numerous earthquake incidents before and since the airing of Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, with the most infamous one being the 2011 Tohoku incident, which costed approximately 15,891 human lives. While I’m not a Japanese resident, I do live in a similarly archipelagic state prone to the likes of earthquake, flood, volcanic eruption, and tsunami; the 2000s was particularly rough time for Indonesia, with at least four major disasters occurring in various parts of the country.
Hence, I approached Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 with some amount of apprehension, as well as a bit of suspicion that it’s going to be a tragedy porn. In the end though, I’m grateful for having watched it. More than an obvious statement on how vicious and unfair nature is, it’s a life-affirming show emphasizing the important things amidst all the chaos, destruction, and death.
The earthquake in this show is technically a fictional event, but as we knew, a lot of things being depicted here are the kind of stuff that had happened and would continue to happen in real life. In this regard, the anime took some pains to remind the viewers about its authenticity in every single episode, with an opening disclaimer citing extensive research and simulation involved in the production (even if it did not the address the even more devastating possibility of tsunami following the quake, as had occurred in Tohoku).
The actual plotline itself is filtered through the perspective of its three main characters—Mirai, the perpetually grumpy teen; Yuki, her lively kid brother; and Mari, a compassionate delivery woman willing to take care of these two kids she just met—trying to find their way home, making it a largely personal and intimate affair. It is, quite frankly, the most effective way to convey the impact of such circumstances; one may only feel slightly perturbed when reading a news article and learn about the casualty through statistical figures, but it’s when you actually see the faces and learn about their lives that it becomes genuinely heart-wrenching.
TM 8.0 mainly revolves around the aforementioned trio as they navigate their way through the creaky Tokyo infrastructures that have morphed into Rube Godberg-ian death traps, dealing with their individual anxieties while simultaneously looking after each other. With their interpersonal dynamics being put front and center, the show closely resembles a character-driven road trip drama, just one punctuated with bouts of aftershock suspense. These characters had to carry the plot for the most part, and fortunately, they’re up to the task.
Between the three leads, Mirai’s got the most focus, and she didn’t exactly make a good first impression with her negative attitude toward her family, her brother, and well, everything. Nonetheless, what made Mirai an initially hard character to sympathize with is also the same thing that made her the most believable anime adolescent I’ve seen in recent times: volatile temper, sudden bouts of animosity against the younger sibling, and tendency to be irritated and/or embarrassed by the most trivial of things. “I hate the world. I hate my family,” she moaned in that woe-is-me tone that should be achingly familiar to anyone who’s ever been fourteen. The first episode depicting this “family” is strikingly authentic and, together with the final episode as a kind of ‘before and after’ moments bookending the main event, serves as the emotional highlight to me.
TM 8.0 thankfully avoided the pitfall of overly sentimental exploitative drama by mixing things up throughout. Instead of incessantly pounding on the same tear-jerking/downbeat note, it has a healthy share of light-hearted moments, whether it’s Mirai’s vain refusal to use portable potty or Yuuki’s fascination toward emergency rescue robots. Even the ED song, which felt incongruous at first, is a sunny and cheerful tune that framed the protagonists at their happiest. And when things got inevitably heavy, it generally nailed the right tone. Those scenes can feel hamfisted at times, but let’s be real, the emotionally subtle approach doesn’t really work here considering the circumstances—it’s not like you can easily downplay the pile of bodies and people’s crumbling mental state.
Admittedly, there’s a single narrative development near the end when the show veered dangerously close into audience-manipulating mode. It did so by utilizing a plot device (those who have watched this would know what the heck I’m talking about) that I’m not sure is really necessary, or at least, could’ve been executed better. My other biggest gripe with the narrative is the rather often tension-generating moments when certain characters foolishly threw themselves into dangerous situations, although to be fair, it’s not like I could say with utmost confidence that I will be able to consistently act in the most intellectual and logical manner during the same circumstances.
On balance, I think it all worked out fine, particularly during the hard-hitting denouement and ending. It’s overall an uplifting package, brimming with vital human spirit. It’s there, through the official workers dispensing rations, rounding up injured victims, or operating emergency procedures. It’s there, through the people coping with their personal grief by tirelessly helping others they barely know. It’s there, through families, friends, and complete strangers comforting each other. As long as we still have the capacity for kindness, humans can and will eventually get back up again, as life goes on.
(this here is a worthy and poignant read, being a first-hand account of the Tohoku quake that also brought up Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 as well as a disaster manga called Kanojo wo Mamoru 51 no Houou. The most recent natural disaster in Japan is an 8.5-scale quake hitting Ogasawara Island on May this year, but thankfully, there were reportedly no casualty or serious injury).