Life Imitating Art: Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 (Otaku Desu)

written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)

Touching on more anime in our newest column, this time I wanted to write about a 2009 series that really left an impact on me. Since this isn’t a review but rather an overview, you can expect some spoilers.

Okay, getting into it… let’s start with the article’s title; life imitating art. When this anime went into production, the studio based it on the prediction that a 7.0 or higher earthquake would hit Japan sometime in the next 30 years. It’s chilling to think that between 2009 and the predicted timespan to 2039, Japan did indeed experience a mega-quake only two years later. 2011… the 9.0 magnitude Tōhoku Earthquake; extensive damage well into the tens of billions (US dollar) and causing the deaths of over 15,000 people.

the three main characters: (L-R) Yuuki, Mari, and Mirai

the three main characters: (L-R) Yuuki, Mari, and Mirai

It’s sad actually… when life imitates art to such devastating degrees

Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 centers around siblings Mirai and her younger brother Yuuki. While visiting a Robot Convention in Odaiba the 8.0 magnitude earthquake rocks Tokyo, rendering the convention center to rubble. Intent to make their way home, Mirai and Yuuki trek across the city, enduring a crumbling Tokyo with danger creeping around every corner.

The most enduring aspect of this Anime series is its attention to detail, as horrible as the circumstances these siblings are forced to experience, the realism of the series shines brightest as ironically one of the most beautiful aspects. After the initial quake hits, Mirai and Yuuki meet Mari Kusakabe; a single mother who early on works to protect the pair of siblings and acts as a surrogate mother figure through the ordeal.

Through most of the series and especially in the beginning, Mirai is characterized as a bratty middle school girl obsessed with her phone. Though she does have her softer moments in the early episodes of the series, it isn’t until the end that we get to see just how much the earthquake affected her outlook on life. Yuuki is the optimistic one, acting as an anchor for both Mirai and at times Mari through the whole ordeal. Shying away from overly common anime character tropes, this lends to the realism of the series more than if it tried to throw in tired and out of place archetypes that wouldn’t have fit for the series.

Mirai... the Cell Phone Alien

Mirai... the Cell Phone Alien

The voice actors were especially a perfect fit. Generally, I’m used to hearing atypical voices in my anime, especially with children characters who are usually played by women. I’m usually pretty good at listening for that in anime. When I first watched the series, at least with the character of third-grader Yuuki, I honestly thought he was voiced by a child actor. You can imagine my surprise when I learned that Yuuki was in fact portrayed by Yumiko Kobayashi (at the time she was 30 years old) a free-lance voice actress who has portrayed characters in Naruto, Soul Eater (as Black Star), and Tsubasa Chronicle. Watching this series again, if I didn’t know it was Kobayashi voicing Yuuki… I’d still think it was a little kid. The rest of the voice cast fit their respective characters perfectly; whether acting in some of the more intense scenes to dialog heavy exposition, the genuine delivery portrayed by the voice actors further drives home my original point about the series… the genuine nature of Tokyo Magnitude 8.0’s realism sticks out.

The big twist beginning at episode seven is what really won the series for me. Delving slightly away from the realism, it still manages to feel grounded despite it. Mirai and Yuuki promise that they’ll make it home to their parents… this promise is the driving force that keeps the duo going despite all they’ve gone through. Now I did mention this article would have some spoilers… and this is the biggest, so skip the next paragraph if the early parts of the article urged you to want to watch it yourself.

the ever optimistic Yuuki

the ever optimistic Yuuki

At the end of episode seven, an unfortunate event occurs when… Yuuki collapses, the next episode Mirai is shown looking over Yuuki’s body in what is assumed is a nightmare. What the series does though is one of the most heartbreaking aspects of the whole series. Distraught over what happens to Yuuki, Mirai blamed herself and finds relief in finding out that Yuuki was okay. What the series does though is fool both Mirai and the viewers in regard to Yuuki’s fate. It isn’t until episode ten when we learn that Yuuki had indeed died, now whether it was Yuuki’s spirit helping guide his sister home, or a manifestation of Yuuki in her head coupled with Mirai’s inability to cope with her grief isn’t totally fleshed out, but the events of episode eight leading up to the reveal at the end of episode ten pepper in clues that (upon a second watch) reveal Yuuki’s fate in a series of subtle events. Yuuki’s spirit shares one final exchange with Mirai as the series ends, telling Mirai that he loves her. That scene broke me, I remember breaking down into tears as the series ended… this still happened during my most recent watch of the series. There were so many moments that tugged at my heartstrings, but everything compounded during the final moments of the series.

It’s sad actually… when life imitates art to such devastating degrees. 2011’s Tōhoku Earthquake was devastating, and five years later the memory of it still tugs at my heartstrings. Thinking back, there must have been multiple stories like this one. There must have been countless Mirais and Yuukis, countless Maris… and objectively viewing it from that perspective, my heart still breaks. For an anime series to illicit such emotions in the viewer, this is something special that doesn’t happen often. This is one of the many reasons why I strongly urge you to check out this series, it’s streaming on Hulu right now so if you are a Hulu subscriber you already have access to the series.

Cherish the ones you hold dear, move forward with your life, and despite all the earthquakes and after shocks that stand in your way… push forward to make your way home.