I finished Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 a couple of days ago (watching episodes 10 and 11 together) and it’s left me in a mood. I really wanted to like this show and for small stretches of the series I did but my issues with it kept piling up and the twist at the end was too much.
I normally keep my posts spoiler-free for my readers but I felt I had to diagram my exact thoughts on this show which require huge spoilers. So, for those readers that don’t want to be spoiled, I’d suggest stopping here and waiting for my series review.
Let’s start with something positive. With the premise of the series – a huge earthquake hits Tokyo, several different angles could have been used for the series. They opted to show it through the eyes of a small number of normal people who is a good choice since it allows the viewer to form emotional attachments that make the series more compelling. Another show that did this as well was the recent adaptation of War of the Worlds with Tom Cruise and if one thinks about it and strips the Martians out, they’re left with a show that’s very similar to Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 in terms of structure.
Comparing it to War of the Worlds, however, starts in on my problems with the show. A key difference between War of the Worlds (WotW) and Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 (TM:8) is the length of the show. WotW ran for 117 minutes (~2 hours) and TM:8 ran for 220 minutes (~3.7 hours) if you count actual show time. The result was that WotW did not pad the experience and TM:8 had too. And I’m not talking about how long it took to get to the actual earthquake because establishing characters so we care about them is essential if the animators aren’t going for the epic disaster/destruction angle. I’m talking about having the main characters go to Mari’s office in episode 6, the “gee-whiz aren’t robots great” episode 7, the “let’s drag out the fate of Mari’s family for as long as possible in episode 9, and the “let’s mess the viewer’s mind and stop telling a coherent story so we can see how long we can drag Yuuki’s death out because we need a twist” in episodes 8-10 as prime offenders. So if this had been done as a movie, I think it would have worked much better.
Speaking of episodes 6 and 7, that reminds me of another issue I had with the show. Too much of the series was built off of coincidence and bad/implausible decision making. For coincidences we have how the bridge decides to fall just as the main characters are in position to have there life’s in peril but luckily the characters got on the boat they did because the other one got sunk by the tidal wave. Or how Tokyo Tower decides to fall just as two of the main characters happen to be standing where their lives would be put in danger. Or when at the end of episode 8, the no-longer-with-us Yuuki says that he can hold his bag and, luckily for the animators, Mirai says that she can hold the bag for him.
Or how when the main characters finally get to Mari’s house and can’t find the grandma and child they head to the makeshift morgue and there just happens to an unidentified 50-year-old woman and 4-year-old girl found in the area where Mari lives. It turns out that these 2 aren’t Mari’s family because Mari’s family is okay but think about the coincidences that lead to this turn of events. First these two unidentified people must have been found together because they were placed together in the morgue and they just happen to match the age, gender, and haircut of Mari’s missing family members and happen to live in the same neighborhood. What are the chances? And how do the morgue workers know these unidentified people are in fact 50 and 4 (presumably the same ages as Mari’s family) when they obviously have no identification on them.
Then there’s the bad/implausible decision making by the characters. Let’s start with Yuuki getting beaned in the head by Tokyo Tower. A sizable chunk of masonry has just gotten Old Testament on Yuuki’s skull, leaving a sizable bump and no one thinks to have it checked out ?!?!! Seriously. I’m supposed to believe citizens of a country where earthquakes are common are not aware of the dangers of blunt head trauma. I can’t help but think that a prompt CAT scan could have saved Yuuki’s life.
Or there’s the frankly very implausible turn of events where Mari turns down the chance for someone to look after Mirai and Yuuki and a motorcycle so she could quickly check to see if her own family is okay. I can understand Mari’s desire to look after Mirai and Yuuki but I’m supposed to believe a mother passes up the chance to see if her own child and mother are alive. Especially when someone you obviously trust is willing to look after the two for the hour or two it will take to check. And am I to believe that Kento’s parent(s) allow Kento to run all over creation chasing robots when aftershocks are still happening and buildings are still falling down? Do the Darwin Awards cover animated characters?
By the end of episode 9, I had the inkling I was going to write a post like this but at that point I was going to focus on how the show was pulling it’s punches. I was angry over how they teased us with the fate of Mari’s family then ultimately couldn’t kill the characters off. I decided at this point that Yuuki’s and Mirai’s parents where alive because the show didn’t have the guts to actually kill anyone off. Turned out I was right about the parents but not about the show not killing anyone important. (I figured something was up with episode 8 but since I didn’t check the online chatter, I didn’t quite put it together.)
I still think it could be argued that Bones pulled it’s punches but it’s not as clear cut and how they treated Yuuki’s death is a bigger issue so I’ll leave that alone for now.
The fact that they killed Yuuki and the way they handled it was obviously their way to put a twist into the show because they felt (as did I, even early on) that merely showing the earthquake and following the characters home made the show completely predictable and without dramatic tension, the viewer has little reason to tune in week after to week. How they handled it was, in my opinion, about as good as if they used the “it was all a dream” twist.
And my disposition isn’t helped when it looks like Bones actively tried to hide Yuuki’s status until they could reach the maximum emotional effect and give themselves the twist. I say actively because even with how episode 8 was done, there would be one really telling difference between Yuuki the ghost and Yuuki the person – a shadow. And in episode 11, after Mirai realizes the truth about Yuuki, the animators do a scene where the viewer (and Mirai) sees that he no longer casts a shadow. Great but what about earlier? A check of the time between Yuuki’s death and this scene shows that Yuuki cast a shadow. See below.
And, of course, this is on top of the standard coincidences and lucky turn of events that keep Mirai in the dark for so long. I’ll give Bones the combo of shock over Yuuki’s death making her forget it happened and the appearance of ghost Yuuki to allow Mirai the belief that her now deceased brother was not deceased. However, this belief should have been found out rather quickly and not dragged out for another 2 episodes. For starters, what happened to the death certificate that Mari was given? If you were Mari, wouldn’t you give it to Mirai? Also, if you were Mari, and Mirai started to act like her brother was still alive and next to her – wouldn’t you do something? Even if you instantly thought that it could be his spirit, wouldn’t you get her admitted into the hospital to make sure nothing was wrong with Mirai as well? I’d be real sure that I wouldn’t have to meet Mirai and Yuuki’s parents and tell them that both of their kids were killed while I was watching them. Also we have to believe that Mari never once mentioned Yuuki passing while talking to Mirai or that Yuuki was able to make it look like he still needed to eat, use the restroom, etc. or that Mari never did something that tipped Mirai off that she could no longer see Yuuki.
Then there’s the question of if Yuuki should have been killed off in the first place. In most situations I feel the only time an anime character should be killed is if there’s a good reason for that death. Of course, there’s exceptions and in real life people die all the time without a “reason”. Since Mirai had already learned the lesson about being thankful for the blessings that she has before Yuuki got sick, I’d be inclined to say no. However, I do think someone major had to die to help get the point across about how bad the earthquake was but Bones could have done a better job of communicating the “lesson” we’re supposed to have gotten. Yuuki’s name means hope and Mirai’s name means future, so as the show stands, hope is a lying little brother who manipulates the future into moving forward.
There are better ways they could have handled the ending. For instance, one could keep the shock/ghost Yuuki angle but clearly show the audience that this is in fact what’s going on. From there, I’d have Mirai find the truth out from either Yuuki being up-front about things or from Mari. Mirai would breakdown, maybe run away from Mirai because she decides that she can’t face her mom after allowing her brother to die but Yuuki could talk enough sense into her to get to continue moving forward. Then reunite Mirai and Mari and have Mirai push the increasingly worried Mari to actually go home to find out what happened to her family. From there, we could still have Yuuki use his “knowledge-from-beyond the grave” to find Mari’s family and Mari getting stuck to look after her Mom. And now that Mirai knows the truth, there’s no need for the extensively long reveal, instead Mirai and ghost Yuuki could go home and from there we could get the final good-bye to Yuuki and the montage of his life that had so many (including myself) shedding manly, not-so-manly, and normal tears over.
And I’m sure other people could come up with even better endings. If there’s one weakness that Bones has shown for as long as I’ve known them is they have real problems with the endings of shows – think first Full Metal Alchemist series, Eureka 7, X’amd: Lost Memories, and The Daughter of Twenty Faces (with Soul Eater the only Bones series I liked how it was ended).
After saying all that, though, I still can’t call Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 a failure because I still cried over the montage of Yuuki’s life and I’m reminded that I need to be more thankful for the happiness in my life. So I guess Bones did something right.