Tokyo Magnitude 8.0: Richter Mortis

The post title is apropos of nothing; I couldnt pass up the pun opportunity.

The post title is apropos of nothing; I couldn't pass up the pun opportunity.

So I finished Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 the other day, and I was pretty pleased with it. I gather through my various intelligence-gathering operations that this is an earth-shaking  statement with a potential  magnitude in excess of the one given in the series’ title. And the Richter scale is logarithmic (a 9.0 is ten times worse than an 8.0)  so that’s like extra-scary.

When I saw Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 announced, I got the impression that it would be less Earthquake and more Japan Sinks; less of a thrill-a-minute disaster movie and more of an exploration into the effects of such a disaster upon the populace. Which, of course, is exactly what Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 is: Seismologists are expecting a major earthquake in Tokyo in the next few decades in excess of 8.0 on the Richter scale, and Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 serves part as the story of Mirai and part as a way to point out to the Japanese populace “this is what could happen if this earthquake hits”. Since both kind of interest me (and, being an Armchair Natural Sciences Geek, I feel another pointless lecture coming on), I’m splitting this post into two independent segments.

[As an aside, it’s worth pointing out that seismologists have been predicting that the New Madrid fault is going to bust a move “real soon” for the past few decades now, and some are even beginning to theorize that the fault is becoming more extinct than dormant)

PSEUDO-SCIENCE LECTURE

A larger part of Tokyo Magnitude 8.0t is geared around “what to expect” in terms of the landscape and potential effects that the expected earthquake could have. Tokyo (and Japan in general) has a great deal of earthquake-resistant architecture (seeing as it’s a necessity, it’s easy to see why this is) but the kind of bad thing about most earthquake-resistant designs is that they have to be integrated into the structure itself, and can’t really be retrofitted into the building. I’m neither an architect nor a seismologist so I’m pretty sure that there are some precautions you can take after construction, but you are stuck with what you’re stuck with.

This is significant because not all the buildings in Japan were necessarily built with modern earthquake-resistance technology, and neither were they necessarily built to withstand the forces an earthquake of magnitude 8.0 or more might give. Or, at least, so I presume. An 8.0 quake (at 1 gigaton/4.2 exajoules, this is like setting off 66,000+ Little Boys off inside the Earth’s crust) is, more or less, the hand of God reaching down and swatting the planet for bad behavior. In other words, this is the more SCIENCE-y way of stating the blatantly obvious: that shit’s coming down.

This is nowhere as terrifyingly cool as bridge/wind harmonics though.

This is nowhere as terrifyingly cool as bridge/wind harmonics though.

This is probably all mere layman’s knowledge to some/most of you (especially those around the Ring of Fire which I am becoming increasingly convinced is actually Bardos Island), but the one bit of practical seismologic knowledge I remember is that the worst of the damage is not caused by the initial quake, but by the aftershocks, which (expectedly) Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 got very right. The problem with aftershocks is that they are unpredictable and of widely varying magnitude–two very strong aftershocks can occur in close sequence with one another, or a series of small aftershocks will suddenly produce an aftershock that is nearly the magnitude of the original shock (or greater than, in which case it gets to be the main shock and the original gets downgraded). With buildings already seriously damaged from the main shock, it’s the aftershocks that generally cause the majority of property damage (and subsequent loss of life)–which, of course, causes the collapse of the Odaiba bridge and Tokyo Tower.

(if someone out there is a seismologist will you PLEASE come correct me so I can not feel like I’m spreading butchered science thanks)

TOKYO MAGNITUDE 8.0 AND NOMENCLATURE

It is quite frequently said that knowing one’s true name gives one power over them, and this is certainly true; one needs only to turn to Death Note to realize that, with your full, true name, someone can craft an elaborate death scenario for you. Even everybody’s favorite semiotician Umberto Eco, in the Postscript to the Name of the Rose, said that he gave very strong consideration as to the title of The Name of the Rose, considering that the title of the book often can “force” a certain reading or interpretation upon the reader; considering that the point of The Name of the Rose was to highlight how different readers perceive the same book in different ways, this is a Big Deal.

As such, it’s often the case in anime that the names of characters are selected with a certain kind of meaning or a representation to their personality. This occurs in English and other languages, of course (we have huge name dictionaries for just this sort of thing), but in Japanese names are somewhat malleable in meaning: often, multiple kanji constructions can produce the same name reading, not to mention the use of hiragana and katakana. I don’t pretend to be an expert on reading names in Japanese but I can certainly run their composite kanji through a kanji dictionary!

Mirai is pretty much the most obvious name ever; I think most people could have picked up on the intended meaning without knowing a lick of Japanese outside of commonly heard anime expressions. 未来 (Mirai)  is, of course, the word for “future” (a literal reading is “not yet | come”). If we take Mirai to be a representation of the current youth (the “future”) of Japan, then bits of her character make complete sense to me. I always felt like the first episode was the most gut-wrenchingly depressing thing I’ve ever seen, as Mirai’s life mirrors some of the more nasty things I’ve read and heard about Japanese home life: exhausted and absentee parents, the grinding school system with entrance exams, and the general feeling of disaffection that seems to be common in Japan (and elsewhere in the world–I’ve seen families in America that would fit the bill to a T). These are potential sources for some of the social ills that crop up in discussions of Japanese culture: hikikomori, the declining marriage and birth rate, and a tendency towards monotonous escapism, to name a few that pop in my mind (again, none of these strictly limited to Japan).

From Mirai’s perspective, then, Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 became a story about reuniting with the nuclear family that had no nucleus: before the quake she dismissed her family as unimportant and uncaring, a nuisance to be avoided; after the quake, though, she realizes that the central part of her life is her family and not her self, in no small part due to Mari’s presence and generosity and the fact that Mari actually has a cohesive, if atypical, family unit.

Yuuki, on the other hand, poses a bit of a challenge. When it suddenly occurred to me to look at the character names a bit closer (I think episode 10?), my first instinct was to assume that Yuuki’s name was written 勇気, or “courage” (lit. “courage | spirit/aura”). Alas, this was not to be, for his name is actually written 悠貴, which has no composite meaning that I’m aware of but is literally read “permanence/distant | value” or (more poetically) “permanent value” and/or “distant value”. Obviously this presages a certain plot element that some draw objection to, but I find the temporal implications interesting.

Mirai slowly gets to understand and appreciate her brother over the course of the series, doing a gradual 180 on her opinion of him. Almost as soon as she begins to value him more thoroughly, though,  she comes face-to-face with the ephemeral nature of that value. In fact, it’s only after he dies (and hangs around as a phantasmic spectral entity) that she comes to realize the full extent of the value she placed upon him. The fact that he spectrally hangs on (or that Mirai hallucinates him in denial of his death) proves (in a thematic sense, anyway) that Yuuki’s “value” is permanent. The “distant value”, though, is twofold: before Yuuki died, Mirai was ignorant of his value to her (and vice versa) and thus “distant” as in “unrecognized”; after his death, Mirai is painfully cognizant of his value, but the “distant” now stretches across a different gulf and is closer in meaning to “unreachable”.

Simply put: you don’t know what you’ve got until you’ve not got it anymore. And that’s probably the most important thing to take away from Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 socially: what we’ve got now is neither stable nor permanent, and is vulnerable to a high-magnitude seismic shift that could send everything toppling and turn order into chaos. When that happens, however it might, all that’s left is to gather up the pieces that remain and form order out of chaos.

[I should note that I’m using WWWJDIC’s version of edict, and interested parties in to what I’m not telling you about the kanji (every kanji tends to have multiple similar but different meanings) should probably consult there and perhaps elsewhere and then beat me over the head with how wrong I am.]

5 Responses to “Tokyo Magnitude 8.0: Richter Mortis”


  1. 1 Ryan A 13 October 2009 at 11:07 am

    Hmm, the names. Interesting enough :) Yuuki does present some issues, since it’s pretty open, but 悠 (yuu) in the case of quiet, calm, leisurely feels similar to at rest, and 貴 (ki) in the case respectful addressing (you~)… hmm. The adjective 貴い though, precious and noble.

    I think the feeling I get from it is just as Mirai left it in the close, 「悠貴さまが見てる」. Yuuki becomes Mirai’s eternal support, her rock so to speak.

    A rock, it is surely quite and calm (although some, perhaps a piece of an angrier mountain), but what about a given respect for a rock (aside from Mirai’s case)? We probably have to look no further than the mountain, 不尽山.

    YUUKI BECAME MOUNT FUJI! joshing, but I don’t think it’s so far fetched to see that Yuuki became an a rock for Mirai, and in a way, his name emits this vibe.

    • 2 OGT 13 October 2009 at 12:30 pm

      Suddenly I feel a Simon & Garfunkel song coming on…

      But yeah, I just kind of looked at the dictionary entries for the given kanji (not compounds or words, but the meaning of the kanji itself independent of actual words) and cobbled together something. I figure that getting something right through the wrong means is better than getting something wrong through the right means.

      Also, if Yuuki is now Mt. Fuji, will Basara show up and sing at him in a effort to get him to move?

  2. 3 Martin 13 October 2009 at 1:30 pm

    Good analysis. I appreciate what the series did more now, so cheers for that. ^_^

    The blandness of the animation was a minor disappointment for me, but the realism more than made up for it. I’ve never experienced an earthquake (there was one in the UK a couple of years ago, bizarrely, but it was at 1am so I was asleep at the time!) but the fear and unease was very real to me in this show. I can only imagine how much more effective it would be to domestic audiences.

    The premise of the show was superb – the journey portion of the show kinda made me forget about it, but the setup had some harsh truths in regards to 21st century family life.

  3. 4 issa-sa 15 October 2009 at 12:38 pm

    With a name like that in a show like this, it feels like Mirai had a ‘responsibility’ (hate the word ‘destiny’) to morph characterwise as the story progressed. Though she started out so deplorable a character – and that’s me using a ‘nice’ adjective for her then – she carried the character change towards the end pretty well and within the bounds of at least my expectations of a slice-of-life-in-disaster show (now if it was a Mirai in some random shounen or mecha anime…).

    The way the show dealt the big blow to her (harsh, but without it I really can’t see how they’d achieve a memorable/meaningful end to the show. Maybe I’m just secretly craving tragedy) and still managed to end with some hope for the ‘future’ were nice touches imho. Though I started out hoping the show would be more about Mari (cos she kicks ass), it was Mirai’s journey that gave me more than just teary eyes and a definite reason to thumbs up TM8


  1. 1 Give a Dog a BONES: Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 | 新COLONY DROP Trackback on 9 December 2014 at 8:47 pm

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