A catastrophic event destroys a major city, which then gets rebuilt — and then the cycle repeats itself with monotonous regularity. In anime and other Eastern works, this often happens as a direct effect of Tokyo Is the Center of the Universe. In American / Western works, this trope almost never happens to the Big Applesauce (the nearest equivalent trope), and if it does, it rarely limits itself to that one location.
History proves this trope true to a depressing degree.Traditional Japanese construction techniques rely almost entirely on wood, bamboo, and paper; the country's history of typhoons and earthquakes tended to discourage people from building with materials they didn't want to have land on their heads. Combined with Edo/Tokyo's enormous density, this resulted in the entire city essentially burning down to the foundations every couple of generations. The last great firestorm — caused by incendiary bombing during World War II — helped usher in modern construction techniques (which made Tokyo much more resistant to this).
One more note for this trope: no matter how the destruction happens, it will rarely happen thanks to a nuclear bomb.
Examples of this trope include:
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Anime and Manga
Both versions of Bubblegum Crisis level Tokyo with an earthquake before the action even begins. The 2040 TV series then ruins it again with runaway technology. Interestingly in the 2040 series, the Earthquake that happened before the series was a man-made event meant as an attempt to prevent said runaway technology from running amok in the first place.
Tokyo is destroyed at least once before the series starts, multiple attacks by giant monsters that devastate the city and require frequent rebuilding, a pseudo-nuclear assault that utterly eradicates the city before the U.N. invasion of NERV's headquarters can begin, and finally the virtual destruction of Earth (and thus, anything that is left of Tokyo). Not to mention Rei's self-sacrifice that destroys the 16th Angel — and turns a large section of Tokyo-3 into a brand-new crater lake. And guess what happens in End Of Evangelion when SEELE remembers that they have N2 mines left over from the Angels. There's nothing left after they finish: its just a massive, perfectly circular hole in the ground. Everything that even remotely resembled a city is completely vaporised.
Interestingly, they don't rebuild in the same location. "Old Tokyo" is abandoned as a nuclear wasteland; Tokyo-2 is in Nagano Prefecture, and Tokyo-3 is built on the site of present-day Hakone.
In Rebuild of Evangelion, Tokyo-3 and NERV Headquarters below it are destroyed by the 10th Angel Zeruel during its fight with Shinji and the subsequent failed Third Impact.
Angel Sanctuary: Tokyo is destroyed in the third episode of the anime, and rather early on in the manga.
Demon City Shinjuku starts with a major precinct of Tokyo collapsing and being cut off from the rest of the city because of an earthquake caused by demons.
The Big O: While not Tokyo, Paradigm City regularly has large chunks of itself destroyed by fights amongst Humongous Mecha. And no one seems to care about the irreplaceable losses whenever another 5 square blocks get razed in what is apparently the last remaining city in the world. This culminates in episode 25, when most of the city is reduced to rubble and only restored by an apparent "End of the World" Special.
In the back-story of Ghost in the Shell, Tokyo was destroyed by a nuclear blast during World War III and a replacement city, New Tokyo, was built near the ruins of the old one. Oddly enough, the reason why Old Tokyo hasn't been rebuilt isn't due to lingering radiation (Japan has exclusive access to radiation-scrubbing Nano Machines), but because the explosion sunk most of the city below sea level and flooded it with sea water.
Subverted in Dai-Guard: Monsters known as Heterodynes (Not those Heterodynes) constantly attack parts of Tokyo; its most famous case being a large scale attack twelve years prior. However, the attack site had never been rebuilt. Many other sites in Tokyo still aren't finished being rebuilt even by the end of the series.
Paranoia Agent: As out of place as it may seem, the trope appears in the last episode, when Tokyo is engulfed by Shonen Bat's rapidly growing form. It's rebuilt by the end of the episode, of course. And its implied the whole thing will happen over again, if that's not enough.
Deadman Wonderland is built following a massive earthquake that levels Tokyo, and there's recently been another strong earthquake or possibly a giant robot got loose again.
Code Geass abuses Tokyo quite a bit. The first battle of the series takes place in Shinjuku, which starts out as a massacre of civilians until Zero and the terrorists get involved. The first season finale has a huge, decisive battle there, which massive collateral damage. There's another battle there late in the second season, which ends with the utter annihilation of Tokyo using a quasi-nuke that literally vaporizes most of the city.
This doesn't even get into the destruction and occupation of the city before the series proper even begins. During the majority of the series, Tokyo is actually split between the rich "Settlement/Concession", where the Britannians live, and the run-down ghettos that were never really rebuilt where the "Numbers" are forced to reside.
RahXephon plays with this. At first, it seems to be inverted with the whole world besides Tokyo having been destroyed. However, it's quickly revealed that this isn't true, and that Tokyo has instead been sealed off from the outside world, with nobody being able to enter or leave, which is close enough to it having been destroyed from the perspective of the people living outside of it. The events of the series are kicked off when people from outside manage to break through, and take a person (and a Humongous Mecha) from inside back out with them.
Shangri La's backstory consists of Tokyo having been mostly flooded and turned into a tropical jungle by global warming. A few landmarks are visible beneath all the plants and vines.
Fushigi Yuugi has the characters and gods in the Universe of the Four Gods leave the book and continue their fight in Tokyo. Hilarity Ensues.
While the Dragons of Heaven are supposed to be preventing this in X1999, they don't exactly do a good job of it.
Millennium Actress shows Tokyo in the aftermath of World War II. the title character was born during the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.
Darker than Black calls a scenario like this "the Tokyo Explosion," and groups attempting to cause or prevent it are behind most of the first season's plot. In the end it does happen, but then it... un-happens. It's complicated. A lot of the city got destroyed or rendered unlivable with the appearance of Hell's Gate, as well.
In spite of the cute characters and upbeat music during the credits, Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 presents a horrific example of this.
Violence Jack is set After the End of a massive earthquake that demolished Tokyo and most of Japan, which isolated it from the rest of the world.
Generally averted in the original Gamera series. Though, when Gamera first appears he ends up leveling Tokyo. Barugon wrecks Osaka (No, not that Osaka) and Kobe. Gaos attacks Nagoya. Gamera once again (via stock footage) flattens Tokyo in Gamera vs. Viras. Jiger smashes up Osaka (again) in Gamera vs. Jiger. Only the next-to-last film, Gamera vs. Zigra, features Tokyo getting flattened, but it's predominately offscreen. Of course, by that point there aren't many Japanese cities left besides Tokyo to destroy, so, yeah...
Godzilla. The series makes fine work of leveling Tokyo.
The original 1954 film Gojira has the titular monster destroying Tokyo and setting the entire city on fire.
Lampshaded when they move the capital to Osaka due to said leveling in the Millennium series.
At the end of Godzilla 2000, the little girl of the hero scientist asks why Godzilla always comes to humanity's aid. This is immediately followed by a scene of Godzilla spinning around in a circle, using his nuclear breath to wipe out anything left standing after his fight with Orga.
Jishin Retto (also known as Death Quake in the US) revolves around a massive earthquake which in turn triggers a city-wide firestorm.
William Gibson's novel Idoru starts soon after an earthquake destroyed part of Tokyo. During the plot, it is being rebuilt by nanomachines but doesn't quite follow its original map except for a few landmarks. Guess what? Idoru is partly based on manga subcultures.
James Clavell's Asian Saga has a couple of examples:
In Shōgun an earthquake causes a massive fire that destroys most of Osaka. Blackthorne's companions explain that this happens to their cities every few generations. When it does, they just rebuild.
A great fire destroys most of Yokohama as part of the climax of Gai-Jin, and this is also part of recorded history.
In Harry Turtledove's Darkness Series (essentially World War II with a Fantasy Counterpart Culture replacing each country), at the end the magical equivalent of a nuclear weapon destroys Gyovvar, the capital of Gyongyos (equivalent to Japan) and therefore the equivalent of Tokyo. It's mentioned that the Ekrekek (divine emperor) was killed in the blast and the effect is about what you'd expect with our Japan.
In David Langford and Brian Stableford's The Third Millennium, the whole of Japan gets wiped out by earthquakes and tidal waves in 2085. The publisher was worried that this might damage sales in the Japanese market, until the authors patiently explained this trope to them.
Part of the Back Story in John W. Campbell's "Frictional Losses" is that the invading extraterrestrials nuked Japan so hard that the entire country more or less ripped loose from its foundations and slid into the sea. Tokyo did not get rebuilt, but the Japanese are remembered as heroes (it was their invention of what we'd call kamikazes that pissed the aliens into bombing them so hard). Campbell wrote this in 1936.
The first of Andre Norton's Solar Queen stories has a brief mention that centuries before, "volcanic action, followed by tidal waves, had overwhelmed a whole nation in two days and a night—so that Japan had utterly ceased to be—washed from the maps of Terra."
Music And Sound Effects
There's even a song used in Initial D with this trope. The song No One Sleeps in Tokyo by Edo Boys. No one sleeps in Tokyo, because Tokyo is on fire!
Just a normal day in almost every single way Taking the train down to Tokyo, enjoying the ride I feel a rumble, a tumble, a shiver down my spine I see everybody pointing up into the sky
Spoofed in Calvin And Hobbes. Calvin builds a small city in his sandbox and calls it "downtown Tokyo". Then he stomps the whole thing flat.
Much of Earth Defense Force 2017 takes place in and around Tokyo during a massive and devistating alien invasion. You end up causing more collateral damage then the aliens, however.
In Terranigma, when the Big Bad pulls out his evil biological weapon, the only city that gets hit is — you guessed it — "Neotokio."
Shin Megami Tensei has Tokyo destroyed by nuclear weapons, and then flooded by God. The MMORPGIMAGINE takes place after these events.
Sin And Punishment decides that blowing up Tokyo is too biased, and instead literally drowns it in blood.
The opening of the PC 88 version of Veigues: Tactical Gladiator depicts a surprise attack on an unidentified Pacific coast city, which is reduced to smoldering ruins.
Parodied in Sluggy Freelance: When Santa Claus builds a Mecha Easter Bunny, it is programmed to destroy Tokyo. When asked why, he responds that it's a rule of Mechas that they must destroy Tokyo. He is then informed that Tokyo has just been leveled, making the point moot.
Parodied in MegaTokyo, where the Tokyo Police Cataclysm Division schedules such events to ensure that day-to-day life isn't overly disrupted.
Perhaps because it's presented as both comedic and in time dilation but the first episode of Futurama shows this happening to New York several times.
Megas XLR: New Jersey gets blown up in almost every episode, with the only exception being the episodes that are set in another location (like another planet).
In The Powerpuff Girls, Townsville gets a regular dose of kaiju-like monster attacks every other day. Many of these monsters cause massive damage to the city, which is completely rebuilt by the next episode. No where is this destruction more apparent than in "Uh Oh Dynamo", when the girls use a Humongous Mecha to defeat a monster, but it causes such severe collateral damage, the entire city is destroyed by the end of the fight. Of course, by the next episode, Townsville is in perfect condition.
During World War II, there was something akin to a real Tokyo Fireball. On 9-10 March 1945, 279 Allied bombers dropped 1,700 tons of incendiary bombs on the city. This destroyed c. 16 square miles of the city and killed about 100,000 people — more than the straight-off deaths of Hiroshima or total deaths of Nagasaki. Grave of the Fireflies is inspired by events caused by the similar firebombing of Kobe.
There's also Little Boy itself, the Atomic Bomb that was detonated above Hiroshima August 6, 1945 which turned the city into rubble under a large mushroom cloud.
All of Japan's major cities, with the exception of Kyoto and Nara, were bombed during the war. The result is a dearth of buildings older than fifty years in major cities.
An example of Truth in Television. Before Japan industrialized, the primary Japanese building material was wood. Commoners' houses, imperial palaces, lavish Buddhist temples, usually built entirely out of wood. Japanese neighborhoods experienced fires with frightening regularity. Sometimes, entire cities burned down, either by accident due to earthquake, or deliberate vandalism. The survivors always rebuilt, often producing a near carbon copy of the originals whenever practical.
Also, the native Shinto religion places enormous importance on purity. Shinto shrines are torn down and rebuilt to the exact same specifications on a regular basis. E.g., the Grand Shrine of Ise complex, purportedly home to one of the three Imperial Regalia of the Japanese Emperor, is torn down and rebuilt every 20 years.
Want to know why Tokyo gets a lot of earthquakes? Tokyo is the meeting place for three different tectonic plates. It's been described as "The city waiting to die". Also, Japan contains ten percent of the world's active volcanoes. Fun!
Mostly averted by the March 11th, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which only caused a minor number of deaths in Tokyo, but completely devastated a large part of the north-east of Japan. This is largely as people in Japan are well prepared for such events and warning systems are in place, as well as many buildings being earthquake-proofed.
Followed by a nuclear reactor meltdown which went somewhat past the Three Mile Island stage, but nowhere near Chernobyl, thankfully.