Tokyo Magnitude 8.0
by Alex Hill

I've been waiting for a show like this for as long as I can remember. Here is a story about a more believable modern-day Japan than we've come to expect from animation. There's less of a need to suspend disbelief. The territory feels a little more real, not so manufactured, and so the dangers it brings along are closer to our weak-spots. It is a story of human perseverance in the shadow of unthinkable loss.

I read there is "a 70% chance of a magnitude 7 earthquake hitting Japan in the next 30 years". The writers did their research, and have created a plausible fictionalization of what real-world natural disasters look like. Not just the physical destruction, but the heavy emotional wounds they inflict. Just when you think you have your footing, the ground beneath your feet leaves you. This is disturbingly relevant.

We follow a brother and sister caught in the cacophony. "Mirai" is a frustrated young girl going through that joyous time where for reasons we can't understand, everything(including the things we love) make us bitter. When we say things that hurt others, and don't realize it until it's left us. Her parents don't have time for her. She is tasked with keeping an eye on her excitable little brother "Yuuki". His sole purpose in life it seems is to make her big sister happy, and is determined even in the face of her problematic puberty.

She can't stand to be around him, but the thought of him not being there is unimaginable for her. Like a lot of us, she just doesn't always know how to show it. She feels pressured to pick up the slack her parent's work-schedules deny them, but also has trouble accepting help from others.

Has there ever been a fairer and more honest look at teenage angst? Satomi Hanamura encapsulates this turbulent time in our youth,in a performance of understated brilliance. Likewise, there is no small amount of credit that belongs to Yumiko Kobayashi who plays her brother, and Yuko Kaida as the "stranger with a heart of gold". There isn't a weak link in the chain.

The siblings attend a robotics convention. Mirai, because her parents can't make it and because she thinks Yuuki wants to. Yuuki, because he believes a summer trip to a familiar place will be good for his overly tense family. Both sides are trying, even if it doesn't always feel like it. This brought back a lot of memories of growing up with my older sister.

Japan is notorious for its ridiculous fantasies of overwrought youths solving their problems with stylized sword-fights. Mirai doesn't have that luxury, and that list shrinks as the devastation continues. She says things that politeness would otherwise dictate should only be thought, but has to get it out of her system. She doesn't need a kick in the bum, but she does need to learn to open up, to care for others and receive their love for her. This show is unique in that it does not condone her turbulent age, but at least understands it, in ways most fiction cannot.

Two forces are there to help her evolve into a gentler person. Yuuki, whose cheerful selflessness makes a terrible situation seem brighter, and "Mari", a motorcycle-riding mother who is separated from her family during the earthquake. Mirai and Yuuki are miles away from their home. Seeing they are in the same boat, Mari offers to help them get back home.

Why does she, a complete stranger, go through with this? Out of the goodness of her heart? Not a bad answer, although this is a time where the safety of her child is uncertain. The kids don't know if their parents are alright. Until they can be certain, Mari needs to fulfill a parental role to keep herself stable. And Mirai and Yuuki could certainly use some adult supervision in the crumbling aftermath. They need a Mom. Mari can provide that until things are back to normal.

She is more receptive to Yuuki, perhaps because her daughter is about the same age. And she'll win over Mirai, just a little bit at a time. These two may be exactly what a conflicted young girl needs.

All around them, the only world they've ever known is in pieces. Shattered buildings, broken glass. The streets are scarred and cracked. The phones don't work. Japan feels more crowded than ever as the injured, the sick and the worrying pile up. The death-toll rises. The three travelling companions do their best to keep going, to hold onto each other in the chaos of doubt. For as long as they need to be, they are a family.

It should come as no surprise that the visual presentation is incredible. Has there been a truly ugly anime series in the last ten years? Even the crap is polished to a mirror-sheen. The character designs are simpler(and certainly prettier) than something like Paranoia Agent, which was happy to show warts and all. This may be for the better. This keeps from distracting the viewer from the ruined appearance of Tokyo.

"Tokyo Magnitude 8.0" takes place in a realistic Japan, so those of you looking for epic moonscapes and alien rainforest locales are barking up the wrong tree. So many japanese cartoons are in the same vein as Pandora, it's understandable if that's what you come to expect every time. While some shows create abstract imagery to impose a sense of mystery, Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 instead deals directly with its characters and setting, and builds from there. It is not a post-apocalyptic setting, but for many unfortunate souls it may as well be the end of the world.

There are times where the severity of the situation takes its toll on the characters. Things even start to get a little weird. Is what we're seeing the truth, or is it their way of coping with the tragedy all around them? Rest assured it never becomes too bizarre or complex. I have watched and re-watched this series, and I believe the math adds up. Once you're done watching, those previous episodes never look the same, and I realize there is a purpose to that.

I was glad to see the emergency personnel and rescue forces portrayed positively. I've seen so much fiction depicting governments and soldiers as corrupt buffoons, it was nice to see them portrayed as they are: People like you and me, doing the best they can to keep things stable, to keep the suddenly homeless sheltered, the starving fed, and the distraught calmer. They face dwindling resources, they can't help everyone, but they do what they can and don't take out the pressure on the people they're sworn to help.

People helping each other. That is this show's gift. There are moments of selfish actions made out of fear, but they are too few to be the focus. It is about nothing less than human beings offering themselves to make a terribly difficult time easier. To make a dark day brighter, even at your own expense, is more touching to me than any moment of sickly melodrama. When it does get blue(and boy does it ever), it's earned the right.

It's not about monster fights, or high-school, or giant robots or ninjas, or giant robot ninja fights in high school. This is a story about charity in a time where everyone is hurting. Paying back the kindness and love given to us is possibly the most important part of the human experience. No other program of 2009 knows this so well, or appreciates just how lucky we are to be alive. It re-affirms the preciousness of human existence.

There is a scene in the last episode where a character takes the longest walk there is. This is the kind of moment in fiction I live for. It is one of the many reasons I watch anime. More is there than in all 1000 episodes of Naruto, Bleach and Pokemon combined. Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 I'm told has not enjoyed great success, while those franchises I mentioned are still going strong. We can't blame that on a force of nature. We have willingly discarded a show that is about something terrifyingly real, and have settled for processed gray pointlessness. This failure belongs to all of us.

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