It took me a few days to watch through Tokyo Magnitude 8.0. After watching the first three episodes, I knew I was going to be in for a ride. So, I decided to space it out, to allow me time to think between episodes, and between all the emotional moments and baggage. Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 is without a doubt one of the best shows I’ve seen in the past year, and I’ve been watching a lot of good shows. Here’s why:
Mirai: Teenage Years and Family
At a certain age, family becomes insufferable. Not because you hate them, not because you even dislike them, but because… everything they do – no matter who they are – never seems right, it never seems to settle correctly in the stomach. There’s no reason why, just this off-feeling. This feeling of wanting to distance yourself from those you’ve always been right beside.
Mirai is 13. It was around that age when I felt the things she does in the first episode of Tokyo Magnitude 8.0. It’s all a part of growing up – realising that we are not our parents, and are therefore left having to create an individual identity for ourselves. It can be a rough patch, not just for the individual, but for the entire family. It’s a kind of purgatory. Stuck between two places – the person who we were as a ‘child’ and the person we’re becoming as a teenager. On the horizon is also the person we want to be. The concoction inherently creates inner conflict. We ask:
Who am I?
In the moment, and at that age, it’s a scary question. There’s no way to answer it, because the knowledge is never available to us – something which only comes through experience and through frequent failure. Mirai is bouncing between all these places, caught in a web of uncertainty and unpredictability. She doesn’t know how to deal with any of it, and that’s fine; that’s life.
Mirai believes her parents don’t understand her and her situation: “How could they? They’re adults, working all the time? How could they ever understand me? They’ve not lived through any of it…!”
They have. They have, already.
It might not seem like it. It never does. Being 13, it’s almost impossible to compartmentalise life. Hard to step out of oneself and view the world and its people from a realistic, non-idealised perspective. Everything is centered on yourself. Not through learned arrogance, but from the belief that you’re the center of the world, that everything revolves around your person; people are always watching, people are always judging, people’s responses are the metric by which one measures the world. Every single person has been through this at some point in their early life. The realisation that very little makes us unique as an individual. When younger, it’s hard to settle for this – it takes time.
Children are rarely responsible for anything, even themselves. In most situations, neither should they be. Mirai, on the other hand, has to come to terms with the idea of responsibility. The kind that comes from having to take care of her younger brother, Yuuki. At first – before the earthquake – her disdain with this is quite visible. Peaking when their mother asks Mirai to take Yuuki to a robotics convention.
I’m not too well-versed on Japanese society. But here, in the UK, entrusting a 13-year-old with a younger child is a… questionable idea. Legally, a child is not allowed to be left at home, unsupervised, if under the age of 14. Now, this is obviously not enforced in reality, simply because it can’t be (nor do I think it should be, in most situations). Still, there’s a jump between this, and… two children travelling on public transport across the city, and walking around completely alone. Two things which would be condoned by very few people. Maybe this is a reflection of Japanese society. Maybe it’s a reflection on the difficulties of providing for a family and the necessity of two working parents, without the monetary flexibility to employ a sitter. Whichever, Mirai being the older sibling is forced to take some responsibility over her brother, Yuuki.
This is not to say Mirai should have no responsibilities. Responsibilities are important for all children. It’s how we learn to take care of things, how we learn what we should be taking care of. It teaches us values, and the idea that nothing is ever effortless. Mirai knows this, despite her resistance to it in the first two episodes. Mirai and Yuuki aren’t bad kids, far from it. It’s quite clear they come from a good family, with good values. But, how do we keep a grasp on all that, on life, when our world is literally crumbling around us?
Love and Loss
Love hurts. Loss hurts even more… Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 is never without its fair share of both. I can’t imagine disaster greeting me on every corner, the pain of people screaming through the air, and the sense of emptiness becoming all-powerful, consuming anyone who might stray into its path. Mirai is relentlessly strong – far stronger than she realises, than she gives herself credit for. Mirai feels so much love. It bursts out of the screen, filling the show with huge charisma and a cocktail of emotions that spring back and forwards between well-being and sadness.
Does being an adult make the situation any easier? To a degree, I it does. With age comes experience, and with experience, the ability to rationalise and consider a scenario becomes better developed. Yet, this does not mean no pain is felt, no anxiety experienced, nor any tears shed. Only adults are better at hiding various different emotions than children. In Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, no one person embodies this better than Mari. Her pain often comes as a surprise when we spend episodes behind the eyes of Mirai, and the child-like ignorance that surrounds her for much of the first half of the show. When it does, it’s brutal.
Mari hurts, of course she does.
It’s just that, for the sake of Mirai and Yuuki, she needs to appear strong. Mari needs to put on a face of stoicism, one of hope in the darkest moments. She doesn’t know if her mother and daughter are alive, she doesn’t know anything about the state of her home in Sangenjaya, only that fires have ravaged the area. Yet throughout all this, she manages to keep a large place in her heart and mind for Mirai and Yuuki. It shows the strength of her as a person, and as a mother. Knowing what Mari puts herself through for Mirai and Yuuki fills Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 with heaps of warm-heartedness that few other shows ever manage to pin down.
Mari realises that with disaster and death everywhere, the chances of all her family coming through unscathed are far from comfortable. Something which we’re shown in the last episode, in which many children are missing from their desks, flowers in their stead. Mari knows this is also true for Mirai and Yuuki. She has to consider this – that she might be walking them home to their parents’ bodies. Even this, without considering her own family, is a heavy burden to carry. Nevertheless she does, and she continues to do so throughout all eleven episodes. It’s this which has me so engaged and emotional over Tokyo Magnitude 8.0. It’s the unfiltered humanity in all the characters, and the love I feel for all of them. Very rarely have I felt so surprised by my own reaction; completely taken back by the beating of my heart, and the tightness in my chest. This, done by one character more so than any other: Mirai.
In the latter episodes I was sucked into Mirai; her thoughts, her feelings, interested in who she is as a character, and who she will have to become – and accept – as she walks her way through the ravaged, burning streets of Tokyo. I feel many sympathies towards her. After all, she’s troubling to keep up with the pace of change going on inside herself. The guilt for having loathed to take Yuuki to the Robot Convention. The love she feels for her brother and parents having to exist simultaneously with her anxieties projected outwards, towards them. Then this, the quake. The love for her brother exploding; turning into a deep sense of responsibility, a bond made to always be together through all of it. Together until home. Mirai does her best to pull through it all, and that means everything, especially when she’s written as such a realistic character, a child reacting appropriately to the circumstances.
Generally, I don’t cry at anime. I have during a few, but only for the most memorable. Those that make he biggest impact on who I am as a person, and those that forced me to understand parts of myself that were previously covered. And though I had a general idea of what Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 was about, I never thought it would make the tears fall in the ways it did.
When I realised… I cried…
I knew it all along. I knew something was going to happen in some way or another… I never wanted to admit it, though. The whole tone of the show shifts when Yuuki dies, or at least when you realise he’s dead… It’s a crushing blow. Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 does well introducing the idea from the moment Yuuki first collapses. Through what Mirai – and naturally us – think are dreams, or at the worst visions/anxieties of Mirai’s worst nightmares. At the end of every one of these moments I thought Yuuki was dead, before I was pulled back into a world where Yuuki exists in vaguely odd moments; that I initially believed, feeling relieved. By the time Mirai understands, it’s nothing of a surprise, all the signs have been there for a long time.
It’s one of the most heartbreaking moments in anime. I commend Tokyo Magnitude 8.0’s creators for being able to convey emotion so thoroughly and so warmly.
Living in the same place, with the same people, and all the same memories… and yet Yuuki is gone, never in all the places he was, never again in the bunk-bed above… The pain Mirai feels must tear her a part – her parents too, but like Mari earlier, it’s somewhat required for Mirai’s sake to conceal some of those raw emotions. For her family to create a sense of normalcy in a situation which is anything but. After all, at 13, watching parents break down and not being able to cope, it’s easy to wonder and to slip into the same behavior; if they can’t deal with it, how will Mirai ever think she’s able to?
In a world where anime is always left hanging ‘on the edge’ or open for another season that in all likelihood will never happen, Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 finalises in a way that feels truly complete – a definite ending, rather than one that is ambiguous and vague. It’s a whole narrative, with a beginning, a middle, and end. Because of this it need only be eleven episodes long. And because of this it can rely on an intense focus of character, and the human spirit. There’s no filler, just a line that begins and home and ends at home – it’s all that happens between which causes both tears and joy. It’s exactly what I’m looking for, and I wish there were more anime like it.
What do you think makes Tokyo Magnitude as impactful as it is?
Thanks for reading, as always!