Reviewby Theron Martin,
Tokyo Magnitude 8.0
Tokyo resident Mirai Onosawa is a disaffected 7th-grader, one who has a blasé attitude about everything, even including her own name; that it means “future” strikes her as ironic, since he has no sense of where she wants to go or what she wants to do in life. Getting stuck escorting her grade school-aged brother to a robotics show at Odaiba on her first day of summer break seems like the last straw, so she idly comments in her phone that “the whole world can fall apart, for all I care.” Naturally, that's exactly what happens a moment later, as a magnitude 8.0 earthquake strikes Tokyo Bay, devastating everything around her and throwing her and her little brother Yuuki into the midst of disaster. Fortunately they encounter Mari Kusakabe, a delivery driver who helps Mirai find her brother and then, upon discovering that they all live in the same general direction, insists on going with them on a harrowing journey across town to find their way home – Mirai and Yuuki to their parents, Mari to her mother and four-year-old daughter.
Although major earthquakes are sometimes mentioned in the backstories of near-future anime series as transformative events (see Bubblegum Crisis 2040, amongst others), they are actually very rarely depicted in detail as part of the current-timeline events; in fact, the only other example that comes to mind is the early '90s OVA series Doomed Megalopolis, which prominently depicts the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. In some senses this is surprising, given that Japan is one of the world's most earthquake-prone regions, but anime has always preferred depictions of fantastical disasters, so perhaps the notion of a real-life disaster recreation strikes too close to home. However, that is precisely what this 11-episode co-production by BONES and Kinema Citrus was probably meant to do, as this smacks of being one big cautionary tale about complacency - and given what actually did happen in Japan a year and a half after it aired in the fall of 2009, it carries a vaguely prophetic tone, too.
Disclaimers at the beginning of each disc explain that the events depicted here, rather than being imaginative interpretations, are based as much as possible on actual research and careful extrapolation about the effects that a major earthquake might actually have on Tokyo. This comes through quite clearly in the meticulous renditions of the main event, its major aftershocks, and the mass destruction that it wreaks; buildings have been shown countless times before collapsing or being knocked over by calamities or battles, but rarely do such scenes carry quite the impact that they do here, and there is something quite visceral about watching a suspension bridge warp or the massive wave caused by a sudden bridge collapse, a wave which has a horrifying effect. Unquestionably the feature scene beyond the initial earthquake at the end of episode 1 is the fall of Tokyo Tower in episode 4, but even that sensational scene is set up by showing engineers examining anchor bolts that have been partly exposed by the earthquakes.
The human response to the earthquake is also represented in great detail. Based on the depictions of emergency personnel and how they operate, director Masaki Tachibana (whose only other significant directorial credit is the .hack//Quantum OVAs) and his crew clearly studied emergency response plans carefully, down even to details like the color-coding system used for victims in triage situations, how temporary morgues are organized, and how relief supplies are handed out, including things like paper toilets. The relative orderliness of the process is fairly impressive, but this should not come as a surprise given that no country is probably better-trained and better-prepared to deal with earthquake fallout than Japan. Only in one case is anyone shown panicking from anything other than a glaringly obvious threat, and considering that the person in question meets a bad fate, one has to wonder if a not-so-subtle message was intended there. Still, the utter lack of any reference to looting, and only background hints of strife, smacks of some whitewashing.
Like most successful disaster movies, the story focuses on a handful of characters (in this case a central trio) and uses their experiences to highlight various aspects of the disaster, thus humanizing the experience rather than just making it a spectacle. To this end Mirai, Yuuki, and Mari serve quite well despite some sensationalizing and repetitious behavior. Mari's presence as an adult guide/escort helps to keep Mirai and Yuuki from being overwhelmed by the experience without having to rely on sheer luck or improbable levels of pluck, which makes the way they struggle to handle the disaster feel more natural. They are built up well enough as characters to lead to some emotional moments in the final episodes, too. And fair warning for those who have not previously seen the series: if certain details start to seem incongruous beyond a certain point, pay careful attention to the incongruities. In retrospect these are subtle signs of one late major plot twist, but most viewers will probably not recognize them for what they are until after the fact. And while that plot twist may be a bit on the cheap side, it nonetheless packs a wallop.
The one substantial writing flaw in the series is its pacing. It takes nearly a full episode to finally get to the earthquake and afterwards proceeds at a pace leisurely enough to kill any sense of urgency that the series might muster in situations other than immediate crises. Granted, this is done partly to give the series more room to explore various aspects of the earthquake, and some of that aspect is fascinating, but the pacing is still enough to bog down the storytelling in its early and middle stages.
The artistic quality of the series varies dramatically, to the point that certain scenes look much sharper and more refined than others. While this most commonly happens with key disaster scenes, not all such scenes are done that well. How finely-rendered the characters are also varies, although flat faces with limited expressive capability are the norm. The greatest attention to detail goes to scenes of wreckage and building damage, such as foundation cracks and shattered windows, with CG used liberally to enhance big moments; Tokyo Tower is done in CG for its fall, for instance. Thankfully an effort is made to avoid depicting the characters as overly pretty, and they are shown getting grimy as they trek through messy situations. Bloodshed and graphic content is usually kept to a minimum, with buried bodies implied rather than shown and the dead always covered up, although one incongruously random scene does depict a dog walking in the background with what looks like a severed human hand in its mouth.
Veteran anime composer Ko Otani's soundtrack is used sparingly, with only key scenes typically having musical backing and long stretches sometimes passing without any music. During dramatic moments the soundtrack kicks on thickly, sometimes flirting with being overblown but usually doing a decent job of enhancing the mood of the scene. Decent but unexciting openers and closers do not prevent it from being an overall unimpressive audio effort.
The series is licensed for American release by Maiden Japan, an ADV offshoot which uses the same dubbing studio (Seraphim Digital) and distributor (Section 23 Films) as Sentai Filmworks, so the cast is composed almost entirely of ADV/Sentai regulars. However, the ADR director is Janice Williams, who has been the Media and/or DVD Production Coordinator for the bulk of ADV, Sentai, and Maiden Japan's titles over the years and only rarely forays into the director's chair or dubbing booth. (The Clannad dubs are probably her most significant jobs out of a handful of such efforts.) Based on this dub, she should step into that role more often, for this is a strong production on all fronts. Innocuous background dialogue is done just about as well here as in any anime dub one is likely to find, line timing is on-the-money, and casting is excellent, with the only minor flaw being that certain distinctive voices pop up a little too often in bit parts. Performances are anchored by two outstanding efforts in the lead roles: Tiffany Grant so thoroughly becomes Yuuki vocally that only rarely can even a veteran dub fan's ear identify her in the role and Luci Christian delivers an award-worthy performance in a critical, very emotionally challenging role as Mirai. (Shelley Calene-Black, while good as Mari, is more of an ordinary level of good.) The script also stays tight and the subtitles are error-free.
Maiden Japan is offering both Blu-Ray and DVD version of the series; only the former was available for review. The audio and visual quality of the Blu-Ray transfer is very high, with emphasis seeming to have been put on bringing out the full impact of sound effects. Extras on the second disk include clean opener and closer and “Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 Digest Version,” which is essentially the whole series boiled down to roughly 37 minutes. Why this even exists is unfathomable, and it is not an especially smooth edit job, either.
Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 went into production roughly two years before the massive 2011 Tohoku earthquake, and watching it after the fact can be a little disconcerting given the very real destruction that happened in that magnitude 9 quake. One certainly has to wonder if certain elements that either weren't present at all (the nuclear plant disaster) or weren't emphasized (the tsunami threat) might have been balanced differently had this project been made in the wake of that event rather than before. Of course, sensitivity concerns might have prevented it from being made at all in that scenario (doubtless there were more than a few real-life versions of Mirai and Mari out there), so perhaps it is for the best that it came out when it did. Even in light of real events, the series still works both as a disaster flick and as a human interest story centered on Mirai learning some very harsh lessons about valuing the life and family that she has.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B-
+ Great attention to detail, some effective emotional content, terrific lead English dub performances.
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