Sympathy for the Devil-child: Mirai’s showing a bit of character (Tokyo Magnitude 8.0)

Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 (you know, the anime this blog is suddenly all about) seems to put a lot of value on realism. Research, realistic danger, microscopic detail on depiction of home life — it all serves to put us there so we can feel the experience of the Giant Quake. But without characters, the story just doesn’t work. Otherwise, it’d be called Documentary on Tokyo Earthquake in Animated Form.

Writer Natsuko Takahashi and co. went a bit on a limb when it came to creating their star, Mirai. And though I prematurely quit my blogospheric research due to laziness, anecdotal evidence tells me that people freaking hate her. She “pisses [people] off,” she’s a “depressive brat.” It goes on.

Tokyo Magnitude 8.0: Mirai despondent in class

What are people seeing differently from me? Personally, I love the little shit, and here’s why I think she shows enough character to catch a break from you guys. Forgive me for taking a position, since that’s not typical ghostlightning style, but I’m not ghostlightning.^_^

Is Mirai a whiner?

Tokyo Magnitude 8.0: EHHH?

Actually, in this case, I might vote “worse than a whiner.” But different. Mirai makes a lazy, skeptical EEEHH? noise when she encounters an order or event that displeases her. It’s as if Akari Mizunashi’s excited and wonderous EEEHH? triggered Newton’s Third Law (requesting Lelangir YouTube vid combining both). She can’t be assed to do anything — even whine or get pissed off — with too much enthusiasm. To me, that’s not annoying, it’s kinda hilarious, because it’s the epitome of adolescence. How can I possibly do all that? I’ve been awake since 11am now!

Does Mirai really care about no one and nothing?

Tokyo Magnitude 8.0: Cake should be round

Au contraire. While it’s possible she’d act the same given different circumstances, her early motivations don’t have anything to do with disliking her parents, her city, or her brother. She would really love to go on a family vacation, even if on the surface it’s just an excuse to be despondent in another location. She expects a little real family bonding. At that age, regardless of how adult she hopes to be, she still craves the care of her mother and father. Even a round cake, instead of some fancy-ass individual slices, would be ok. You can’t sing happy birthday and blow out the candles around those slices as a family (or whatever they do in Japan), and so the cake becomes a sad symbol of her family’s fracturing.

Is Mirai a total git to her brother?

Fu fu fu, you haven’t been watching. She teases, and she doesn’t always want to babysit. That’s natural. But when she chides him for being a “kid,” it means this: It must be nice to not be angry for no reason. It must be nice to look at the world without jaded eyes. It must be nice to love mama and papa without also hating them. She resents that — but not her brother himself. Notice how she has no problem giving him some of her ice cream (maybe not enthusiastically, but let’s not get too radical).

Tokyo Magnitude 8.0: Mirai gives Yuuki some ice cream

Notice that even before the earthquake has had a chance to register in her brain, her first thought is of Yuuki. And every subsequent thought is of him too, at least until she finds him. I’ll give you this: in a moment, Yuuki’s death would destroy what’s left of that childhood she’s been so intent to move past. And she realizes that she’s not so sure she wants that anymore. But I still don’t see much to that angle; it’s something an insightful person could come up with in retrospect, but a 12-year-old during an earthquake? Doubtful.

Tokyo Magnitude 8.0: Desperately seeking Yuuki

Is she really unrepentant?

This is the big one. For all of the circumstances that she deals with poorly, for all of her despondency, at least on some level she is a victim: She’s a victim of her own biology. I’ve joked before that instead of sending kids to middle school we should create cage matches for children of that age since it’s really the same thing and they’d learn about as much. When the little kid gets ice cream on her skirt, she nearly breaks down, so confused and frustrated about being confused and frustrated. She feels bad, but she doesn’t know why and she can’t help it. She lives daily in a hormonal nightmare, unable to effectively control her emotions. I still remember what that’s like, and I wasn’t even a girl.

Tokyo Magnitude 8.0: Mirai breaks down

Maybe more important than that moment, though, is her final cellphone diary entry before the quake: I wish the world would just break.

Of course it’s an obvious theatrical flourish to have that coincide in such a way, but it’s more significant than that. She’s a smart girl, and old enough to know on an intellectual level that she can’t cause an earthquake. But if it were you, do you think that could stop you from feeling maybe the first — almost certainly the worst — guilt you’ve ever encountered? I know around that age, being an angry confused kid, I wished for horrible things. And it’s heartbreaking to imagine how she must feel to have that horrible thing actually happen.

Mirai no Mirai

Episode three showed something that I think is really important: For Mirai to grow up, she paradoxically has to be a kid first. Even Yuuki knows it, while she’s at that age of denial, but the incredible danger of the earthquake and Mari’s motherly care are already breaking her down.

Tokyo Magnitude 8.0: Mirai peeks over the couch

With the way in which Bones handles emotion — both delicately and intensely, depending on what’s called for at the moment — and the way this writing crew has handled realism, I’m banking on a coming of age story that will excite and move us, set against a backdrop unlike any we’ve seen before.

For every episode that goes by, I’m afraid the Bones crew will do more for converting people than my blog posts could ever do. Is it working?

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44 Responses to Sympathy for the Devil-child: Mirai’s showing a bit of character (Tokyo Magnitude 8.0)

  1. ghostlightning says:

    Feels good to read this now that it’s published (I only skimmed the draft).

    Even a round cake, instead of some fancy-ass individual slices, would be ok. You can’t sing happy birthday and blow out the candles around those slices as a family (or whatever they do in Japan), and so the cake becomes a sad symbol of her family’s fracturing.

    Awesome. I noted the cake, but not the symbolism. I did write a fair bit on the Onosawa family [->] I didn’t remark on the fragmentation in particular. In episode 02 Mirai sees the round birthday cake for Mari’s kid. The irony here is Mari’s family is fractured – by death no less (her husband died IIRC), and yet it seems full and complete with love. I love this shit.

    • otou-san says:

      I think there’s more to it than just a dead husband. There are lots of people (myself included) theorizing that Mari’s family is not what it seems. Someone mentioned it in your last TM8.0 post: She seems like she’s “atoning” for something, and if that’s true it doubtless involves her family. Could be wrong though…

  2. sadakups says:

    Fantastic post. And I thought ghostlightning’s other TM8.0-related posts were enough to see who Mirai is all about in the show. There are times that I find her disagreeable, but for me, she’s not really that hateable.

    As I said, I expect a lot of people looking more at her faults every episode rather than how the show is trying to portray her, and what she’ll be when the show ends.

    • otou-san says:

      Thanks for the good word! There is a lot to chew on in this show, and I think GL will probably continue to write some great posts on it.

      It’s a bummer to me that people judge very quickly before letting themselves get absorbed by what the story is trying to tell them. A character with immature or negative aspects is almost always going to grow before the story’s over. Thankfully, there are plenty who dislike her who still agree that a detestable person can still be a well-put-together character.

  3. Panther says:

    I missed the round cake reference too. I suck. :\

    • otou-san says:

      well, either it was symbolism or I read too much into it, hopefully the former :D

      • ghostlightning says:

        No. Reading too much into it would read like:

        The Round Cake is an attempt to attain a wholeness and wholesomeness in anime not seen for a long time in popular shows unless you count children’s shows and Ghibli films. The fractured cakes represent slices of entertainment that is rich, fattening, and yet insubstantial.

        The goal is to return to love, to family, and entertainment with a solid moral core.

        LOL writing that was fun though.

  4. kadian1364 says:

    For a series barely through its opening episodes, and so clearly divisive between its viewers, sometimes I think, “Is there really so much to write about? Is this story and these characters worth analyzing so much?” But then I read more great stuff, and I think, “Yes, a thousand times over.”

    Mirai is such a divisive character, because some of us can say, “Yes, I was, and others I knew were, at least partly, if not exactly, like this bratty, unenthusiastic, emotionally high-strung and identity confused kid when we were that young.” Others can’t, by actual inability or just unwillingness to relate.

    I’ll say this about Tokyo Magnitude 8.0: it is not easy entertainment. It’s not at all what one expects from a disaster show, where you can shut down all but the most basic of mental and emotional responses and just enjoy the pretty graphics. You need to invest a lot of yourself into Mirai and the rest of the cast, you have to completely sell out to their earnestness and circumstances, but you’ll be richly rewarded for it.

    • otou-san says:

      Yeah, I spent eps 2 and 3 glued to the screen, probably chewing my nails off. Mai waifu and I do not speak for 24 minutes, and at the end I feel like I barely breathed. Hyperbole, maybe, but what I’m trying to say is you’re right — it demands a lot more from us than either disaster porn or the usual TV anime.

      I can only hope that it continues in that vein, because no matter how “difficult” it might be, the reward you mention has so far been much greater than the usual as well.

  5. Martin says:

    Absolutely. Couldn’t have said any of that better myself (which makes me wonder how the hell I’ll be able to write my forthcoming blog post on this show!).

    Although I felt disapproval of her behaviour on occasion I didn’t dislike Mirai at all. I guess it’s because I can understand why she’s the way she is so while I won’t deny the fact that she’s a brat, her brattiness is justified. As you rightly pointed out, when a series goes so all-out in being lifelike it’s actually a good thing that the characters are realistic too. The fact that Mirai reminds me so much of people I see in real life adds to the relevance and convincing nature of the series.

    Thanks for jumping to her defence!

    • otou-san says:

      I can’t say that I totally approve of her all the time either — but I think it’s fair to say that a well-written character and a likable character aren’t necessarily the same things. Especially when, as you say, being lifelike is the name of the game. That said, I find her likable enough, and seeing Mari interact with her actually helps that along further. I will be awaiting your post!

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  7. schneider says:

    Mirai reminds me a bit of myself in my elementary school days, but very slightly.

    I shall start on this very soon!

  8. TheBigN says:

    “Others can’t, by actual inability or just unwillingness to relate.”

    There could also be the “she reminded me too much of myself when I was that young, and I hated myself when I was that young” sort of plot device thing that can also occur.

    I can understand how Mirai feels, but it doesn’t stop me from chuckling whenever she does them because I’d feel the same way, or I can see how silly she can be without her realizing it.

    • otou-san says:

      Hindsight is 20/20, and you probably did look silly back then, but at that age you’re trapped inside your own mind and this inward-facing mess of feelings. And nothing pisses off a kid more than laughing at their angst :P

  9. Sorrow-kun says:

    The thing that Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 has done so well to this stage is “believability”. That’s what has made it so distinct as an anime so far, and it’s really starting to take advantage of that in the most recent episodes. Mirai is a fascinating case study because she’s so believable for someone her age. Anyway, this is a great character analysis. Spotting that cake symbolism was really impressive. It’s so obvious in hindsight. :)

    • otou-san says:

      Agreed 1000% that it’s a bar-raising show in that regard. I actually didn’t catch the cake bit until after I started writing this. But I was excited when I found it because it seemed to support me. When you start thinking less in terms of “this bratty girl is whining about cake” and more about her actual feelings/motivations, it becomes clearer.

  10. Gunstray says:

    Haha(I shouldnt be laughing) Mirai’s currently the only Character I can relate to^^

    Btw Ive been reading a lot of your T.M.8.0, And just after 2 episodes you’ve seen just listed tons of symbolism I barely recognised ^^;

    • ghostlightning says:

      Thank you Gundstray, but I can’t take credit for this post since it’s outou-san from Shameful Otaku Secret blog who’s our special guest writer for this post.

      He’s the one that caught the delicious cake symbolism that I think many of us viewers missed (even the ones who like the show).

      But do look forward for more of my posts on this powerful show. ^_^

  11. omisyth says:

    Maybe I should just spam every TM post with THE WORLD SHOULD JUST BREAK. LIKE CAKE. THAT’S BAKED.

    • otou-san says:

      whoa there omisyth’s getting all rhymey, even though I heard that dude’s a dirty limey. bustin out flow like it was akikan grape juice then steppin back to watch as I tentacle rape fools like urotsukidoji I told you I piled’er on like Kabuto Kouji I’ll stop now sorry

    • ghostlightning says:

      [sample start: I keep forgettin'/Regulate (Michael McDonald/Warren G)
      The rhymes this show inspires
      It's shakin'
      Like caek, it's bakin'
      The world, it's breakin'
      Mirai's real, stop hatin'

      ---

      Broken, but smooooth.

  12. X10A_Freedom says:

    Just watched ep04. The Mirai-Yuuki interaction takes on a whole new level. While I can’t really analyse these things, their behaviour was just totally believable.

  13. Orcinus says:

    Yes, at long last. This is the post and analysis of Mirai I’ve been waiting to see get written. This more or less kind of expresses what I meant to write in that previous.

  14. Gargron says:

    I wanted to make a post about it, but to the hell, I’ll just leave a comment here. Not that I’d have much to say anyway.

    My impressions of Mirai were unclear to me — I understood them as simple hatred. But after Ghostlightning’s first post on TM8.0, I got the feeling I was wrong. And now I get it. I don’t dislike Mirai herself, but the fact that I was almost exactly like her when I was younger. Her denial world-I-hate-you state is a reminder of my own foolishness, which I can’t even say I left completely yet. Mirai, as a girl you showed in this post is quite an adorable, almost cute character.

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  16. biankita says:

    i probably think that it’s because i dislike children, but i don’t think it’s it. usually, stories like these are meant to bring out the best out of people. mirai’s lack of maturity was understandable on the first couple of episode based on her age. however, even after she was saved by mari, she lacked gratitude but still refuses to see people can do things out of the goodness of their heart – but she still clings to her. she still hasn’t put up her older sibling face for yuuki. her own apathy for his brother and the world has come to bite her in ass. maybe i’m not looking at this through the eyes of a child, but wasn’t what she was doing getting back into the fuji building done out of self-satisfaction. all she kept thinking about was about how she let him go to the bathroom by himself and how she asked him to get him something. i guess it came out shallow to me. but i guess it’s natural to attach yourself to something/someone you’re familiar with in times of horrendous tragedy.

    as for the cake reference… i didn’t really read too much in it. but looking at it from someone who bakes a lot, the round cake is mirai’s desires. if i get a whole round cake, i can cut myself a piece however big i want and i can choose the part of what i want to cut. the cake slice is “this is all your getting. eat it and be satisfied.”

    • ghostlightning says:

      Well, regarding your first point I will find it problematic if Mirai exhibits a sudden change of behavior from how she currently is. If anything she’ll feel defeated and trapped at first, before acknowledgment and possible growth. This may not be reasonable to expect within the duration of the show, barring time-skips.

      I also like your insight on the cake, and it’s consistent with the self-centered behavior of Mirai. I don’t know if she had the lion’s share of Mari’s cake, but I do think she could have had much more than a slice.

      • biankita says:

        well, basically, the only reason why i said that was because she didn’t care about anything in the beginning. i guess it shows consistency. my growing problem with her is that all she’s just learning lessons about life but still no application. probably in the next couple of episodes, she should start seeing that she grew up a little.

        about the cake… it’s probably just the mere fact that she gets to choose which part of the cake she can have. whenever i see cake and i cut a slice for myself, i pick out the part with the most sprinkles/icing/confections.

  17. Sakura says:

    I don’t hate her, I want to slap the apathy out of her sometimes, but for the most part, she’s really pretty normal considering her situation.

    • ghostlightning says:

      Yeah, it’s just that viewers simply cannot imagine being in the same situation — for the most part.

      I wonder if this inability to empathize is a lack of competence in empathy on the part of the viewer, or the failure of the show to create that sense of being there that impresses this particular ‘reality’ upon the viewers?

      I think it’s an interesting question.

  18. Sakura says:

    @ gl, Oh absolutely.

    Hubby says I have too much empathy, but sometimes I feel that when I watch the news, it seems like there isn’t enough in the world.

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