Review: Tokyo Magnitude 8.0

Firstly, an aside. Japan, as most people know, lies on one of the most active plate faultlines in the world. Even Okinawa, which is not directly on a faultline, is apparently hit by at least one tremor a day, most of which we do not feel (my friends quite frequently report being woken up, or a few decorations falling etc, on Facebook). Many large earthquakes have been recorded in various areas of Hontou throughout history, and currently, earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 and above have been predicted for Shizuoka Prefecture and Tokyo.

Yet another noitaminA series, Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 postulates what might happen if such an earthquake hits Tokyo Bay. The devastating effects range from damaged roads and disrupted transport systems to secondary fires that can wipe out neighbourhoods. BONES, the studio responsible for this production, apparently carried out extensive research to achieve as realistic a depiction of such effects as possible. However, they weren’t making a documentary, so as a point of focus, we follow disenchanted middle-schooler, Mirai, and her younger brother as they try to make their way home after the earthquake strands them in Odaiba, where they had gone to see a robot exhibition. They are joined and helped by a young mother named Mari, who is trying to get home to her own mother and daughter. This human focus helps deliver an excellent series, marred according to some by some strangely supernatural inserts, but still one of the most involving stories this year.

Some of the early discussion on this series focussed on the realistic, if irritating, Mirai. Easily annoyed and somewhat negative about life, she probably reminds a fair number of us of our own terrible teens, times when younger brothers were to be avoided if possible and when adults adults didn’t know enough. The development of her character is one of the highlights of the series, as she learns how to care for her brother, Yuuki, and Mari during their journey, and her seiyuu does a pretty good job depicting her growing maturity amongst all the panic and grief.

Yes, grief.

…for the most devastating development in Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 is Yuuki’s death in the second half of the series.

The second, and louder, debate arose towards the end of the series, because of the way the creators depicted Mirai’s reaction to Yuuki’s death. Although Yuuki was supposedly released quickly after just a minor scare, astute viewers noted all the clues that pointed out that his sister was deluding herself into believing that he was ok (I spoiled myself – in fact, the reaction to these few episodes was probably what caused me to watch the show). The point of contention isn’t that Mirai was hallucinating, but rather that the halluciations, which involved her interacting and conversing with Yuuki, were far too involved to be realistic. Hallucinations, after all, are generally brief and usually at the edges of one’s vision, not something that you interact with. (1, 2)

Such reactions, I feel, miss the point somewhat. For me, the section where Mirai starts realising that Yuuki is no longer with her was one of the most heartbreaking parts of the show. After the promise she had made to bring him home, the realisation that it was possible only in spirit brought forth her vulnerability as a person. The final episode, depicting the shared grief of the family and especially Mirai’s own, brought tears to my eyes. People have been known to hallucinate about loved ones who have died, mostly as a way in which they come to terms with the death. Does it actually matter that the depiction doesn’t seem realistic, when most of those complaining are Western viewers with healthy doses of skepticism, who are highly unlikely to have experienced such things themselves? In any case, the grief that Mirai and those around her felt definitely resounded with this viewer, and I was relieved that they were able to move on again whilst keeping Yuuki in their hearts.

With that development, some viewers also started voicing complaints about how the contrived some parts of the series were. The fires spreading through Mari’s suburb that prolong the uncertain fate of her daughter and mother and the episode with the robot…not to mention the fight at Tokyo Tower that has contributed to some uncertainty as to what Yuuki’s affliction actually was. I wonder if this was a reaction against the turn mentioned above: everything depicted in this series does happen during earthquakes, and it’s a cinematic/literary technique to have such incidents happen to characters that viewers empathise with, i.e. the main characters. Furthermore, as I’ve already mentioned above, this is a fictional depiction, so we’re suspending disbelief anyway…hence, is it really so hard to imagine that all these things might be experienced by one person?

In summary, this was one of the most powerful shows this season, and well worth the watch. It also raised a lot of serious discussion (which I missed), which is a sign that its creators did achieve a decent portion of the realism that they were aming for. Finally, it taught me at least one thing about earthquakes that I never knew, and if slightly greater awareness about Crush Syndrome is able to save more lives in future disasters, that would be something to be thankful about. 8/10

p.s. People were also debating as to what actually caused the deterioration in Yuuki’s condition, leading to his death. The preview to episode 9 suggests that it was something known as “Crush Syndrome“, often observed in people who have been trapped in confining spaces during earthquakes or war. (It may have been one of the factors that contributed to the death of caver John Jones in Utah last week.) The pathology of this problem is more than I’m willing to enumerate here, so I’ll leave you to read it for yourself, but common symtoms supposedly include

  • obvious muscle injury with pain, swelling, brusing
  • and nausea, vomiting, confusion and agitation

Yuuki is depicted as having headaches, loss of appetite and growing listlessness, all of which he tries to hide so as not to burden his sister and Mari. Although I can definitely extrapolate these symptoms from those listed above (e.g. if you’re feeling nauseas, you might not be vomiting, but you definitely won’t want to eat), they are also symptoms for a large range of conditions, including head injuries such as epidural hematomas, which Yuuki may well have received when he knocked his head during the Tokyo Tower collapse. I am inclined to think that the writers intended us to think of Crush Syndrome (because of the preview), but it really isn’t all that important, is it? Perhaps, if one goes for realism…but looking at the data, Crush Syndrome does seem more likely, because it is often fatal.

p.p.s. Whilst the Great Hanshin Earthquake (Kobe Earthquake) of 1995 is the most recent memory, the greatest damage and loss of life in a Japanese quake was the Great Kantou Earthquake of 1923. I pray that a similar combination of factors (the earthquake struck at lunchtime, when many people were cooking, resulting in may fires that caused most of the damage) doesn’t ever happen again – it’s unlikely to occur in modern Japan, but could certainly happen in undeveloped countries.

About karice
MAG fan, amateur translator and political scientist-in-training. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

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