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The Tokyo Fireball

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"The movie begins with Tokyo exploding — which, for anime, is the cliche equivalent of It Was a Dark and Stormy Night."
Noah "The Spoony One" Antwiler, The Spoony Experiment on AKIRA

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 population density, this resulted in the entire city essentially burning down to the foundations every couple of generations. The last great firestorms — the result of 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.

Can be an example of Negative Continuity, depending on how the destruction-reconstruction cycle is treated in-universe.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • The film AKIRA blows up Tokyo twice. The manga possibly does it a third time (though it hadn't even begun rebuilding from the second blast).
  • All-Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku: Nuku-Nuku and Eimi demolish most of Nerima Ward during their first spat.
  • Angel Sanctuary: Tokyo is destroyed in the third episode of the anime, and rather early on in the manga.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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, with 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 the final arc of The Daughter of Twenty Faces, a Mad Scientist attempts to vaporize most of Tokyo.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Nanomachines), but because the explosion sunk most of the city below sea level and flooded it with sea water. However, it appears that the national government is still in Fukuoka, where it was relocated after the destruction of Tokyo (and about as far away from it as it gets).
  • Millennium Actress shows Tokyo in the aftermath of World War II. the title character was born during the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion:
    • 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.
  • 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 it's implied the whole thing will happen over again, if that's not enough.
  • As does the first Project A-Ko. The second time isn't total destruction, instead leaving a crashed starship in the middle of the city.
  • 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.
  • In one of the segments of Short Peace, Combustible, the events leading up to the start of a great fire are shown to happen to an Edo era town, presumably Edo, Tokyo as it was named back then.
  • In spite of the cute characters and upbeat music during the credits, Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 presents a horrific example of this.
  • In the Grand Finale of Tokyo Mew Mew, Tokyo is in ruins; it comes back, but with a lot more overgrowth, which had built up over the series by the use of environmentally-friendly Applied Phlebotinum.
  • While the Dragons of Heaven are supposed to be preventing this in X1999, they don't exactly do a good job of it.
  • 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.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds: Not as violent as most, but Domino City, a (fictional) suburb of Tokyo, was split in two by a perpetual energy generator because it went in reverse.

    Comic Books 
  • The Marvel "What-The" parody series had "Ahearya!"note . Being a parody of AKIRA, the trope couldn't be left out.

    Comic Strips 
  • 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.
    Calvin: Godzilla.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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. Gyaos 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. Unlike most examples after, the consequences of said destruction on the people are explored with major detail.
    • 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.
    • Shin Godzilla shows Godzilla reacting to being hit by Massive Ordinace Penetrator Bombs by vomiting up a massive fireball that sets fire to much of Tokyo. After stopping to shoot purple laser beams out of its mouth and dorsal spines to shoot down aircraft (which also cut through many buildings in the city like a chainsaw through butter), it returns to burning down Tokyo. One of the most iconic shots of the entire film shows Godzilla walking towards the camera as he is cooling down, the background being completely engulfed in flames.
    • The American film Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) gives us a very nice Boston Fireball at the end, as Godzilla, bursting at the seams with radioactive energy after getting supercharged with a nuclear blast, unleashes a massive burst of radiation that has the side effect of vaporizing King Ghidorah and everything else in a mile-wide radius.
  • Jishin Retto (also known as Death Quake in the US) revolves around a massive earthquake which in turn triggers a city-wide firestorm.
  • Pacific Rim:
    • Tokyo is one of the cities destroyed by the Kaiju, with Mako being "the Tokyo Survivor". The sequel Pacific Rim: Uprising shows that it was soon rebuilt.
    • The sequel, Pacific Rim: Uprising, provides an explanation as to why the Kaiju (in the Pacific Rim 'verse, not as a broad explanation for the trope) go for Tokyo: Kaiju blood is highly reactive when exposed to rare Earth elements, and so Mt. Fuji, an active volcano loaded with such elements, is the Kaiju's destination. If even one falls into the rim, the resulting explosion would cause an eruption of poisonous gases, ending all life and leaving it ripe for the Precursors to harvest. Of course, why the Kaiju attacked other places instead of just Tokyo is another matter entirely.
  • Independence Day gives us the American version of this trope in the form of the New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. Fireballs. (The BBC's Radio Drama spinoff also has London getting blown up.) The sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence, reveals that a total of 108 cities were destroyed, (including Tokyo), and in keeping with this trope, the post-war reconstruction went very quickly... just in time for the aliens to come back. The only city that wasn't rebuilt was Las Vegas, which got crushed under a destroyed alien spaceship; the ruins were left as a memorial to those who died in the war.
  • Chicago gets thoroughly trashed in Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Five years later, in Age of Extinction, virtually all of the damage seems to have been repaired, and the city now houses a facility devoted to researching and reverse-engineering destroyed Transformers.

  • 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 Shogun 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.
  • Andre Norton's Sargasso of Space 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."
  • Lampshaded by Jon Stewart in Earth (The Book), where he tells his future alien readers that Tokyo will be prepared for their visit, having been destroyed by aliens multiple times.
  • A somewhat "larger" version is the SF "Japan Sinks" by Komatsu Sakyo. Which even prompted an inversion: "The World Sinks Except Japan" by Tsutsui Yasutaka. (Both books got filmed, too.)
  • In Worm, this trope applies to Brockton Bay, which is damaged in Leviathan's attack to the extent that the government considers abandoning it, but is then rebuilt, partly due to the possible uses of its new portal to another universe. Later, it is destroyed along with the rest of the world when Scion attacks, but the portal is used to get some people to (relative) safety. Interestingly, the trope does not apply to Tokyo itself, as the whole nation of Japan has been essentially destroyed by Endbringer attacks in backstory.

    Live-Action TV 

  • 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!
  • Blue Öyster Cult's "Godzilla".
    Ohhhhh, no! There goes Tokyo!
  • From Michael Nesmith's "Elephant Parts" (1981): Her Name Was Rodan, and she lived in the ocean off Japan.
  • "Slime Creatures from Outer Space" by "Weird Al" Yankovic actually does extend this to Big Applesauce:
    First they levelled Tokyo
    Then New York was next to go
    Boy, I really wish they'd cut it out
  • Doctor Steel's "Atomic Superstar".
    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

    Video Games 
  • 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.
  • EXTRAPOWER: Attack of Darkforce: When the Dark Force army goes from covert activities on Earth to official invasion, they begin by filling the sky with space ships and striking major Earth cities with the Dark Strike Cannons. Tokyo, where the player characters were headed, becomes completely destroyed and is reduced to ruins and craters. When Washington D.C. and urban areas in Europe are visited, they don't appear to be any worse for wear.
  • The backstory of Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn (which is also the end of the game's original 1.0 version) combines a Colony Drop with a Fantastic Nuke-spewing dragon primal: due to the machinations of the Garlean Empire, the lesser moon of Dalamud is pulled towards Eorzea, releasing Bahamut, who proceeds to raze the major city-states of Eorzea. ARR kicks off five years after, with Eorzean civilization back on its feet, for the most part.
  • Hakaiou: King of Crusher have you playing as a kaiju. The first few stages are inevitably set in Tokyo, with predictable results. The game ends with you turning New York into a wasteland.
  • Keio Flying Squadron ends with the city of Edo being completely leveled by a Colony Drop.
  • Shin Megami Tensei has Tokyo destroyed by nuclear weapons, and then flooded by YHVH. The MMORPG IMAGINE takes place after these events. In the Law route of Shin Megami Tensei II, YHVH then uses a Kill Sat to destroy all life remaining on Earth, including demons, so he can replace them with humans who will worship him.
  • 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.
  • In Terranigma, when the Big Bad pulls out his evil biological weapon, the only city that gets hit is — you guessed it — "Neotokio."
  • The Tsunopolis level of War of the Monsters, complete with a triggerable Giant Wall of Watery Doom.
    • The rest of the game's maps are able to be reset back to normal, which means they can get destroyed and rebuilt again and again within the same sitting.

    Web Comics 
  • 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.

    Western Animation 
  • 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.

    Real Life 
  • Throughout all of history, every city in the world was subject to this. Ancient Rome was plagued by numerous fires (including the one the Emperor Nero allegedly fiddled to), London burned down in 1666, and the Great Chicago Fire occurred in 1871. It wasn't until the widespread adoption and enforcement of fire safety codes coupled with advances in firefighting that cities stopped burning down regularly. Most accidental fires these days can be traced to buildings that are not up to code. Even besides that, it is exceptionally rare for a structural fire to stray beyond the structure it originated from.
  • During World War II, there was something akin to a real Tokyo Fireball. On 9-10 March 1945, 279 USAAF 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 caused by the atomic-bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. This was only part of the larger strategic-bombing campaign which killed several hundred-thousand. The campaign was particularly lethal given that Japan's military government had few resources and even less interest in preserving its citizens lives. In 1944-45 anti-invasion fortifications using the same kind of materials (iron, concrete, etc) needed to build shelters were given top priority whilst the only quality bomb shelter that existed in Tokyo was beneath the imperial palace for the Emperor's use. Grave of the Fireflies is inspired by the firebombing of Kobe.
    • But first was the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, which burned down much of the city. It was the inspiration for the earthquake in Bubblegum Crisis, and is directly depicted in Whisper of the Heart and The Wind Rises.
    • There were also the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which turned large sections of both cities into rubble under large mushroom clouds. And the US government had a third atomic bomb ready for use, which was at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico awaiting shipment to the Mariana Islands when the Japanese government surrendered. Had the surrender not happened for another week, that bomb was to have been dropped over Tokyo.
    • 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 the second half of the twentieth century, the primary Japanese building material was wood. The Japanese isles are remarkably short of iron and stone suitable for quarrying, and to this day virtually all of the country's steel is imported from elsewhere. Commoners' houses, imperial palaces, lavish Buddhist temples, were 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.
    • So much that the phrase "kaji to kenka wa Edo no hana" ("Fires and brawls are the flowers of Edo") is a big cliché of Jidaigeki movies and TV.
    • 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. It turns out that at least on the older reactors, they made the very stupid mistake storing the emergency generators below ground...which means they were below sea level in a region prone to tsunamis. As a result, when the reactors were flooded there ironically was nothing to keep water flowing into the cooling tanks.
      • The Fukushima reactors and the buildings holding them were literally thrown into the air (the peak upward acceleration from the 2011 Sendai quake was greater than Earth's gravity). Even that did not break primary reactor containment.
    • Places in Japan that are prone to typhoons and other tropical storms will build their buildings out of reinforced concrete and put metal cages over the windows (to protect from flying debris), which also also grants them protection against fire... or anything else since they're basically bunkers.
    • A significant number of parks in Tokyo are also designed to serve as emergency survival shelters if things go down, with massive amounts of food and water reserves, solar charging stations and benches that can double as camp stoves. Because the people of Tokyo know that something's going to go down.
  • The Giant Wall of Watery Doom version of this trope is also familiar to people who live in hurricane country. Japan is just as familiar with tropical storms as it is with firestorms, but it's also true in the coastal areas of the southeastern United States, most notably Florida, whose building codes are a standard copied by several other states. Basements are rare even in mansions, let alone in middle- or working-class neighborhoods, and most buildings, even small houses, are constructed from reinforced concrete and have hurricane-resistant windows designed to withstand getting hit by a wooden beam at over 100 miles per hour. Some homes even have breakaway walls designed to give way when the building is flooded or hit by high winds, allowing wind and water to flow through and thus preventing the entire structure from being carried away.
    • The lack of basements in Florida has very little to do with storm surges (though it helps to not have them there) but rather that Florida has an extremely high water table. Children can dig a hole in their backyards with a plastic hand shovel and find water before the hole reaches a depth of forearm length. The most famous "basement" in Florida is the "utilidor" system under the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, which is technically not a basement but a ground floor which was buried and had a theme park put on its roof. Actually tunneling anywhere on the Disney property is impossible, as it is mostly swamp.

Alternative Title(s): Tokyo Fireball