TOKYO MAGNITUDE 8.0 review
Tokyo lies in ruins in studio Bones' latest original animated production – [i]Tokyo Magnitude 8.0[/i] follows a brother and sister struggling to make their way home after the Japanese capital is rocked by a mammoth quake way up the Richter Scale. Bones have proven talent, money and experience, and they promise realism born of extensive research, so is TM8 a [i]Towering Inferno[/i] or more of an [i]Airplane![/i]? Review after the break.
A disaster is probably one of the purest representations of the old dramatic trope of 'place your characters in danger and see how they handle it'. From a writer's point of view there's almost limitless potential in seeing how their cast react when faced with civilisation falling down around them, all the old rules useless and the new ones uncertain. Most of them want something more, though, some reason [b]why[/b] we're watching, whether it's seeing greed and hubris shown up or people's masks peeled away.
[i]Tokyo Magnitude 8.0[/i] is no different in this respect; right from the start it's clear we're not supposed to be in this just for the voyeuristic thrill of seeing Japan's capital get shaken to pieces (despite what the credits might lead the viewer to expect). The entire first episode serves as an introduction to Mirai, a young schoolgirl as unremarkable as they come – she bickers with her younger brother Yuki, cringes with embarrassment at her parents, seethes when her mother's job keeps her from spending more time with her children. Bored and frustrated, Mirai is just old enough to convince herself the future offers little worth waiting for; right at the moment she idly wishes the world would just [i]go away[/i], the first tremor hits the city.
It's all something of a departure for studio Bones ([i]Full Metal Alchemist[/i], [i]Sword of the Stranger[/i]), whose output (original or otherwise) focuses almost entirely on genre work, largely fantasy or science fiction. [i]Tokyo Magnitude 8.0[/i] is one of their original productions and was apparently conceived out of the likelihood such an earthquake will actually hit Japan within the next three decades. While this isn't necessarily a bad place to start (even the classic [i]Cowboy Bebop[/i] came from 'Make us something with spaceships'), the opening still veers from charming to annoyingly didactic.
It's genuinely funny and not a little bittersweet seeing Mirai and her brother home alone, Yuki laughing as Mirai impersonates her mother and Mirai's unspoken fears as she struggles to get a grip on what 'You sound just like her!' might actually signify. It's less encouraging so much else is conveyed through increasingly obvious melodrama; for every subtly observed childlike gesture or expression there's generally another soap-opera cliché waiting to be ticked off the list, and for all the pacing and editing is top-notch the final line might as well be lit up in blinking neon. Yes, children frequently don't appreciate what they've got while they've got it; writers frequently abuse this particular truism, too, and having the heroine's world literally collapse around her to underscore the point can't help but smack of lazy plotting which risks turning off a good portion of any prospective audience early on.
Things get both better and worse by turns; someone at Bones obviously has a commendable grasp of how children act, and once great swathes of Tokyo lie in ruins the depiction of Mirai gradually cracking under the strain is credible and affecting. Too often, though, the tone lurches back towards obvious narrative devices or outright hectoring. Mari, the stranger who elects to help the children travel back across the city, is warm and likeable but still a painfully obvious contrivance. Sullen child lacks self-awareness and an appreciation for everything her parents sacrifice? Here's someone who will patiently put up with even the most self-centred emotional outbursts, risking her life as a result without complaint, then calmly set out how Mirai should be ashamed of herself. It's rarely anything less than well-written (for what it is), and frequently quite moving – only a hardened cynic could remain unaffected when Mari helps reunite Mirai and Yuki after the quake first strikes – but many viewers are sure to feel a nagging sense they're being talked down to.
Nonetheless, it is compelling, up to a point – and for that section of the audience along for the fireworks, once they get past the first episode [i]Tokyo Magnitude 8.0[/i] goes a long way towards keeping them consistently satisfied. While Bones tend to just fall short of their rivals in terms of funding or conspicuous technical excellence, character designs and backdrops tend towards a clean, subtle minimalism which deftly papers over any budget shortfalls, at least for the first few episodes. And the show manages some consistently impressive set-pieces which largely avoid being exploitative or excessive (none of Roland Emmerich's disaster-porn here). Arguably it even manages to compensate for some of its own weaknesses in the process – when the city is hit by aftershocks after most of one episode has just been spent listening to dialogue tending towards the inane, the destruction acts as a hugely effective wake-up call.
The suspect moralising still creeps back in, however. [i]Tokyo Magnitude 8.0[/i] features appearances from real-life newscaster Christel Takigawa and various branches of the city's emergency services. This makes sense, admittedly, given Bones are supposedly shooting for believability rather than pure spectacle, but given the show is conspicuously light on the darker side of human behaviour it does paint everything as something of a glossy public relations exercise at times. No panic in the streets, no rioting, no violence – subsequent episodes have a little more of an edge, but it still leads to a feeling of cautious reservation.
Impressions are fairly positive, though – among the tired genre retreads, ongoing franchise wars and leering harem comedies dotted throughout the current season [i]Tokyo Magnitude 8.0[/i] is a clear standout for all its faults. A strong premise (subtexts aside), three relatively well-drawn leads (clichés or not) and a decent hook make it worth watching, at least for the moment – if Bones can avoid too much of a drop in art quality, tread lightly with any histrionics and build up more of a sense of the cast, leads [b]and[/b] support, as living, breathing people rather than plot devices, it could be a show worth sticking with and one audiences remember.