A Retrospective on Tokyo Magnitude 8.0

tokyo magnitude 8 OP mari mirai yuuki single file

[NO SPOILERS]

I thought I’ve written everything I already could about this show at the end of that year it aired. I still am amazed that it’s already been 2 years. I feel compelled to think about this show again given the recent events in Japan that make the disaster depicted in this show seem so paltry, so weak, even if the show did topple the Tokyo Tower.

I’ll indulge myself some weakness: I’m laughing right now at all the people who complained to me at how unrealistic the show was. And it was, only not for the reasons they mentioned. They had no problems with how the infrastructure of Tokyo crumbled in the earthquake, they were more concerned with how unnaturally nice, cooperative, and good-natured the Japanese people were in the face of calamity.

After a much stronger earthquake (albeit some distance from Tokyo) we now know that it’s the opposite: The Japanese building code is so freaking badass (and their discipline in adhering to it even more so) that most of their concrete infrastructure stayed intact. Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 actually got some of the science wrong – in underestimating the performance of Japanese buildings under extreme stress, and underestimating how the sea would cause a whole lot more damage than the show portrayed it. What the show did get right, is how the people behaved. It is consistent on a grand scale, how they all help each other, how they become each other’s heroes, how devoid of malice such a large population is.

I won’t speak at length about this, as I’ve done so already in debunking the appeal to realism using the behavior of the citizens of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as a standard of human nature. And if we try to rationalize how Japanese can afford to behave extraordinarily humane because they are rich, it is not that much different in much poorer parts of East Asia.

tokyo magnitude 8 03 crush wave of people on the stairs to the pier

People expected the Japanese in Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 to behave pretty much like those in High School of the Dead; to many the people in the zombie apocalypse displayed behavior that is truer to human nature. But how different reality is! Even if it all goes to hell from this point, perhaps due to the potential nuclear meltdowns or further aftershocks is how for the first few days after the disaster, people behaved beautifully.

My lovely wife shared with me this link last night on our way home from work. It sure got dusty inside the car all sudden: c/o catachan of the HWZ forums, here is an abridged version of his list of Japanese on twitter translated in English.

* ディズニーランドでの出来事
http://twitter.com/unosuke/status/46376846505426944
ディズニーランドでは、ショップのお菓子なども配給された。ちょっと派手目な女子高生たちが必要以上にたくさんもらってて「何だ?」って一瞬思ったけど、その後その子たちが、避難所の子供たちにお菓子を配っていたところ見て感動。子供連れは動けない状況だったから、本当にありがたい心配りだった
At Tokyo Disneyland:
Tokyo Disneyland was handing out its shops’ food and drinks for free to the stranded people nearby. I saw a bunch of snobby looking highschool girls walking away with large portions of it and initially though “What the …” But I later I found out they were taking them to the families with little children at emergency evacuation areas. Very perceptive of them, and a very kind thing to do indeed.

* 渋滞した交差点での出来事
http://twitter.com/micakom/status/46264887281848320
一回の青信号で1台しか前に進めないなんてザラだったけど、誰もが譲り合い穏やかに運転している姿に感動した。複雑な交差点で交通が5分以上完全マヒするシーンもあったけど、10時間の間お礼以外のクラクションの音を耳にしなかった。恐怖と同時に心温まる時間で、日本がますます好きになった。
At a congested downtown intersection …
Cars were moving at the rate of maybe one every green light, but everyone was letting each other go first with a warm look and a smile. At a complicated intersection, the traffic was at a complete standstill for 5 minutes, but I listened for 10 minutes and didn’t hear a single beep or honk except for an occasional one thanking someone for giving way. It was a terrifying day, but scenes like this warmed me and made me love my country even more.

* 段ボールに感動
http://twitter.com/aquarius_rabbit/s…13254376210432
ホームで待ちくたびれていたら、ホームレスの人達が寒いから敷けって段ボールをくれた。いつも私達は横目で流してるのに。あたたかいです。
Card board boxes, Thank you!
It was cold and I was getting very weary waiting forever for the train to come. Some homeless people saw me, gave me some of their own cardboard boxes and saying “you’ll be warmer if you sit on these!” I have always walked by homeless people pretending I didn’t see them, and yet here they were offering me warmth. Such warm people.

* 日本ってすごい
http://twitter.com/tksksks/statuses/46403815397801984
日本って凄い。官僚も民間も、皆で助けようとしてる。トラックの運転手も有志で物資運んでるらしいし、東北の交通整備をヤクザさんがやってるという話も聞いた。最近、日本に対して誇りを持てないことが続いていたけれど、そんなことない。日本は凄い国だ。素直に感動してる。日本国の皆さん頑張ろう!
Japan is a wonderful nation!
Both the government and the people, everyone is helping one another today. There are truck drivers helping evacuees move. I even heard that the “yakuza” (gangsters, organized crime groups) are helping to direct traffic in the Tohoku region! There have been many recent developments that have made me lose my sense of pride in my country, but not anymore. Japan is an amazing place! I’m just simply touched. Go Japan!

* 「みんな」
http://twitter.com/n_yum/statuses/46388003706380288
タクシー運ちゃんと電車駅員さんとおばさんと話したけど、みんな遅くまで帰れなかったりしてすごく疲れているのに、苛立つ事なく、言葉遣いもふるまいも丁寧で、逆に気遣われてしまった。「みんな大変だから」という"みんな"って意識があることに感動するし、私も受け継いで大事にしたい文化。
“All of us”
I spoke with an old taxi driver and some elderly staff at the train stations. All of them had been working non-stop and had not been able to go home for a long time. They were visibly very tired, but never once did they show any sign of impatience; they were gentle and very caring. They told me “… because all of us are in this together.” I was touched at what the notion of “all of us” meant to these elderly people. It is a value I will treasure and carry on to my generation.

And finally…

* 声をかけること
http://twitter.com/RUMI88LoL/statuses/46342599149240320
昨日、裏の家の高1になるお兄ちゃんに感動した。 家に1人で居たらしく、地震後すぐ自転車で飛び出し近所をひと回り。 【大丈夫ですか―――!?】と道路に逃げてきた人達にひたすら声掛けてた。あの時間には老人や母子しか居なかったから、声掛けてくれただけでもホッとしたよ。 ありがとう。
A strong voice
Yesterday, I was impressed and touched by the actions of my neighbor’s 13-year-old-boy. He was home alone when the earthquake hit. But instead of hiding, as soon as the earthquake quieted down, he jumped on his bicycle and road around the block repeatedly shouting at the top of his voice, “Is everyone alright? Is everyone okay?” At the time, there were only women and children and the elderly in the homes. I cannot describe how comforting it was just to hear a strong voice asking if I was okay. Thank you!

I promise you, there are other stories like this I couldn’t paste anymore. I promise you, I want to be that boy when I grow up. I would paste more examples from the thread but I already am in tears as I was last night when my wife told me all about this. I’m a nihilistic sort of person and yet I want to always think the best of people, and these short stories from this little social networking service have moved me profoundly.

Haughty girls doing right by others, Yakuza doing right by their community, the elderly coming up big, little kids pitching in like giants… sure I’m retarded for stories like these, where those from whom we expect so little of surprise us with their greatness. This is the kind of underdog story that I love, where the hero has long odds not because he is powerless, but because nobody counts on him to do the right things.

tokyo magnitude 8 08 mirai mari the emotional strength balance has shifted

Which brings us back to Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, where the future of Japan, ham-fistedly named Mirai, was so despised by the viewers at the beginning of the story. The story is mostly hers, how she could, even as she was, become a person who can do right by others.

I saw a lot of these stories play out over the past 4 days, and they all made me remember love for Tokyo Magnitude 8.0.

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33 Comments

  1. Posted March 15, 2011 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    Magnificent. And truly, we can all learn from the Japanese as they have proven in such times of crisis, just how bonded they really are as a people. It is not about them being nationalistic or whatever, it is just their culture, and the way they are, and it definitely is something that everyone else can learn from, not something that is genetically in-built into them.

    I have to add though, TM8.0 showed the earthquake far closer and thus the “magnitude” and resulting shock of the quake was more severe (not sure how much more) relatively in TM8.0. Then again, it was a hypothetical scenario, so we will never really know (and I hope not to see it) if one does happen that close in.

    • Posted March 16, 2011 at 3:04 am | Permalink

      Maybe I need to watch it again. But I don’t know. I feel very strongly that some truly awesome filmmaker would make a definitive work about this event and she would have so many gripping stories to draw from. I can’t even really think through how awesome that’s going to be when that happens.

  2. Posted March 15, 2011 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    We could argue that the concept of “community spirit” is a basic human nature, but the Japanese people amplifies this to sometimes unbelievable levels. What’s more amazing is their resilience, and how they move forward after a setback. Wound them with nuclear bombs and they stand back up being one of the largest economies. Shake their grounds and their buildings get built stronger. I won’t be surprised soon if after all has settled down in the recent earthquake their future nuclear plants would have way better protection systems than today.

    • Posted March 16, 2011 at 3:07 am | Permalink

      At the risk of giving them too much credit, I’ll agree with you.

      As for myself I just want to marvel at the little stories of greatness I’ve found here, that are amazingly consistent over so many people. It’s a miracle beyond what Kyubei can give any aspiring magical girl.

      It’s like so many people became super robot heroes in their own right. They’re definitely just as inspiring if not more so.

  3. HM
    Posted March 15, 2011 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    I won’t really call this “so paltry, so weak” compared to the real thing. I remember in one of the episodes that the death toll was 180,000 and it was the 3rd day. Right NOW the real death toll of the real thing is 3,373 with estimates of about 10s of thousands dead and missing. I don’t know about you guys, but I really get pissed off of how people who aren’t affected to exaggerate the body count. Like seriously it pisses me off. Remember 9/11? they said 10,000 have been people killed, reality 3000. 2004 Boxing Day Disaster, 500,000 estimated, reality 230,000.

    • Posted March 16, 2011 at 3:13 am | Permalink

      Well, those are things that are overheard in the dialogue, or at least for me, read via subtitles. It doesn’t assault the senses the way the news footage captured the natural power of the earthquake, the tsunami, the whirlpool in the ocean, the explosions in the nuclear power plants…

      Many of which provoked such awe from everyday people who thought these exceeded the most expensive Hollywood SFX in the many disaster films that got shown the past decade.

      I’m comparing the animation part, and not the news part — which in itself could change once we actually hear accurate numbers after the casualties are accounted for. This is something I don’t really look forward to, save for bringing release to the emotionally wrung relatives of those who are still missing.

  4. Posted March 15, 2011 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Aye. They did a really good job with this show and it really shows considering what happened in reality. Those tweets you put up are magnificent!

    • Posted March 16, 2011 at 3:15 am | Permalink

      I thank my wife for linking me to the translation of those tweets.

      Admittedly I have some issues with how a significant plot development in the show got handled, but it’s easy for me to overlook that now given recent events.

  5. Posted March 15, 2011 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this. It is nice to know that such things happened. The images have mostly been on a scale that it looked like human behavior was insignificant in the ace of this disaster, but those messages showed that even kids could have a positive effect on the lives of those trying to make it through.

    • Posted March 16, 2011 at 3:18 am | Permalink

      Those kids are awesome, and reassures me that anime’s focus on young protagonists isn’t as foolish or tiresome as it can sometimes seem.

  6. Posted March 15, 2011 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    Japanese acknowledge their earthquake-prone territory, but I didn’t think these responses were even possible. THERE IS GOOD IN THIS WORLD <3

  7. Posted March 15, 2011 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

    I think the relative social cohesion of a lot of Asian societies plays into the orderliness and sense of community on display by the people of Japan in the affected areas and beyond. It might also explain many other things, such as why Japan still has an Emperor and the longest running hereditary monarchy in the world (and, IIRC, the longest continuously ruling house). It might also account for, as another example, the relative lack of rebellions in Indian history, or the longevity of Chinese civilization in its various forms.

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought of the parallels on display between current events and this anime. My thoughts and prayers are with the Japanese people, and I’m doing what I can to help out.

    • Posted March 16, 2011 at 3:28 am | Permalink

      I can’t fully agree with your claims that seem to imply a particularly Asian behavior exemplified here… given how there was a strong (and very similar) sense of communal support here in the Philippines during 2009′s great flood due to Hurricane Andrew (that I experienced first hand as our own house went partly underwater). The Philippines has the least cohesive society; a regionalistic multi-ethnic society divided by over 70 languages and hundreds of dialects.

      If there was one thing that unites most Filipinos, it is the Western influence that is the Roman Catholic religion. I also think that the Australians have a fine sense of “mateship” as they call it, that extends to her neighbors and friends and not just to her own citizens. If anything, Australia is not only Western due to her British colonial heritage, but is also defined by her large scale multiculturalism (25% of the population is either born elsewhere or has a parent born outside Australia).

      Just two examples, but rather telling IMO.

  8. ~xxx
    Posted March 16, 2011 at 1:46 am | Permalink

    I haven’t watched the show…(I can’t find a good copy of that.)
    But certainly, this show should now serves as an eye opener that there are few things that we must prepare even if we don’t really see it coming.

    And for those who lived in Japan, May GOD bless and Protect them all from harm’s way.

  9. Posted March 16, 2011 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    Well at least we know that people do have a heart. Go Japan. Get back up from this tragedy!

  10. Marigold Ran
    Posted March 16, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    Asian culture. More specifically, Japanese culture.

    In greater detail: Asian culture puts a premium on emotional connectivity compared to the West. Showing effort and caring is enough, and anything extra is gravy. Japanese culture combine that with a belief in methods and orderliness. This is why outward malice is foreign to Asian cultures. Malice is like, “no, we have no emotional connections between the two of us,” and that goes against the emotional basis of Asians.

    As usual, you write good editorials.

    • Posted March 17, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

      Thank you.

      I still am uncertain about the absence of malice… as a concept that informs general behavior?

      Given the evidence (as it goes) here, I’ll give that to the Japanese, but…

      Malice going against the emotional basis of Asians? That seems quite wrong to me, as Asia is really huge. It seems to me that the Confucian basis of many East Asian mores are anti-malice because it would be unseemly to be malicious or be perceived as such. But we’re only talking about East Asian societies post-Confucius.

      Asia is far bigger than that.

      • soaringhawk
        Posted March 17, 2011 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

        The malice may not show on the outside, but it is kept on the inside. The reason for this is to not be disrespectful. When the person of the subject is no longer there, some Asians will talk trash. It is sort of like Sun Tzu’s strategy of making others see the opposite of what is really there.

        • azninazia
          Posted March 17, 2011 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

          We Asians are back talking bitches. Sounds like malice to me.

      • Marigold Ran
        Posted March 19, 2011 at 12:04 am | Permalink

        Fair enough. East Asia.

        Too many generalizations. Thinking of counterexamples right now. But yeah, the malice is generally kept inside. When it’s out in the open, it means the situation is about to get hot, like for example, peasant revolts in China. But in everyday life, especially at work, the culture is very different. Malice in some (many?) American companies and law firms is considered to be a tool to advance your career if you happen to be that sort of person. It’s the sort of thing that you do to push your employees to do more. Very different in most East Asian companies which operate more on consensus. Like, you don’t want to be malicious to your employees, openly at least, because it might lead to a revolt that might cost you your job. There are exceptions, but as a general rule….

        Also, parenting styles are different too. Parental malice in Asian culture is “it’s for your own good.” In America it’s “because this is my house.” Once again, there are exceptions but as a general rule…

        • Marigold Ran
          Posted March 19, 2011 at 12:17 am | Permalink

          On a “somewhat” unrelated note, I was thinking about the game, Civilization IV. In it, there’s a concept called “culture” that allows you to expand your country’s boundaries and influence the cities effected by it. Spreading culture is a good idea because if you spread it enough, the foriegn cities effected by it might revolt and join your civilization, thereby expanding your empire. Ho ho ho!!! “Japanese culture” is effectively what anime is.

          I’m not saying that we’re going to revolt anytime soon. Still, Civ IV mechanics is a pretty good imitation of reality. Cities that have more of “your culture” are more sympathetic to your causes.

        • Posted March 20, 2011 at 12:54 am | Permalink

          Can’t really comment on CIV IV mechanics, but yes there’s less overt malice over here and especially in Japan… though I’ve no doubt you can find this if you look hard enough.

          Growing up, I’ve heard both phrases you quote quite a bit.

  11. PJ Letersky
    Posted March 16, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    I remember watching Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 and remembering what a nightmare it would be for all involved…never imagining that it would come pretty close to actually happening. God Bless the people of Japan. They will get through this and come back stronger than before. Prayers and good thoughts can only help.

    • Posted March 17, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

      What is surprising is how reality exceeded what we’d consider to be fanciful (anime).

  12. Posted March 19, 2011 at 1:11 am | Permalink

    I truly admire the people of Japan on how they handle situations like this. They are a nation who doesn’t deserve pity but rather appreciation. They have proven that they are united and they cannot be easily turned down. I admire this nation and all its citizens.

    • Posted March 20, 2011 at 12:51 am | Permalink

      Yes. I doubt that they would appreciate, let alone solicit pity at all.

  13. Posted March 20, 2011 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    One thing I respect the most about the Japanese are their attitude. They are the most unselfish people I have ever seen. For them, others came first.

    I envy them knowing that my people are lacking

    • Posted March 20, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      There are many reasons to envy them, I suppose… but I think actively envying them is rather pointless. Be the change you want to see in your people, as Gandhi would say.

  14. Schmidty
    Posted April 8, 2011 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    I was in Miyagi prefecture when the massive quake struck, in a small town called Kawasaki-machi about 20 miles inland from Sendai (it is my firm belief that being in the mountains saved my town from any destruction – the most damage was the siding falling off some of the older buildings). I was a teacher of English, and was at school when the quake struck; as soon as the first was over, everyone ran outside to the playground (away from anything that could fall). I was in a bit of shock, but all of the teachers appeared calm, and the kids huddled together for warmth, because we didn’t even pause to grab coats, and it was snowing lightly. I had my iphone with me, and still had service, so I was able to search on the web to see that it was recorded as an 8.1 (initially). With tremors coming every few minutes, the adults all remained calm, and only the youngest of kids (and some of the older girls) were crying or visibly frightened. That isn’t to say that no one appeared concerned, but the teachers were all calm and concerned only for the safety of the students. Once we started having 10s of minutes between the smaller shocks, the some teachers ran back inside for the students coats and outdoor shoes (everyone ran out in slippers).

    Even when I got home, my landlady and her family, and my neighbors were very concerned and helped take care of me (one of only 2 foreigners in the entire town, and neither of us spoke much Japanese), despite the fact that communication was difficult: they couldn’t speak much English, and I couldn’t speak much Japanese. Luckily I understood a bit, so I had few problems. Within a day, my town was back to normal, except with no power or gas (for heaters). People prioritized helping others over hoarding for themselves.

    I say that this doesn’t shock me in the least, because I had been living in Japan for a year (the quake came at the end of my teaching contract, just 2 weeks before my plane was to take me home); even in times of tranquility the Japanese people are extremely nice, helpful to their neighbors, and take care of each other. They have a sense of community that we in the US have mostly lost. The Japanese don’t just view their neighbors with this sense of brotherly love, but everyone in their country, and indeed probably most of the world. They love helping the people around them, and are resilient enough to bounce back from almost any hardship.

    One of my good friends, who works for the same company that employed me, is staying in Sendai, helping with recovery efforts, and has helped form an organization to aid schoolchildren affect by the earthquake. He was interviewed by the Japan Times (http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20110407f2.html). I have no doubt that the Japanese will recover from this, but in the coastal areas, it will take many years, since many towns and small communities were completely wiped off of the map.

    • Posted April 9, 2011 at 3:34 am | Permalink

      Thank you for sharing all that, and validating what many of us now love to believe not only of the Japanese people, but about people in general. Thank you.

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