The world fell into disarray after enduring a near-apocalyptic event in which a massive descent of bubbles of unknown origin and reality-defying damage has fallen upon Earth.
In one corner of the ravages that is left of Tokyo, Japan, a ragtag community of youths and rebels of all creeds have banded together to live in a makeshift commune. They have developed a micro-economy that runs on a system based around parkour tournaments in order to barter and trade resources. One of the parkourists is a young man by the name of Hibiki, who despite being impressive in his abilities, shuts himself out from others—and often unintentionally so—due to having a hearing disorder that makes loud sound sometimes intolerable.
Hibiki nearly gets into a fatal accident trying to climb the Tokyo Tower after curiosity suddenly gets the best of him hearing a strange melodic sound emanating from the structure, only to be saved by a mysterious young woman as he accidentally plunges into the waters that submerged the city below. Although human in appearance, the young woman struggles to communicate with the others and lacks an understanding of basic etiquette, but she adjusts quickly, and the parkour community invites her as a fellow member in taking note of her own acrobatic feats. Nicknaming her “Uta”, Hibiki becomes drawn to her catching her humming and singing a song that sounds familiar to him.
Following a particularly high stakes parkour run, parts of Uta’s body starts literally disintegrating into bubbles. Hibiki begins to realize that not only does Uta potentially have some connection with the bubbles that nearly destroyed their world, but the reason for his bond with her goes deeper than he initially thought—and that can mean it is also nearing its end.
Bubble is an original anime film produced by Wit Studio under the direction of Tetsurou Araki (Death Note, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress) with writing by Gen Urobuchi. The film is accompanied by a soundtrack composed by Hiroyuki Sawano, including a theme song performed by Eve. Using Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” as a framework, music is a surprising, significant element to Bubble’s narrative, heavily tied to the motifs of the retroactive mermaid that is Uta, whose name literally means “song”.
With character designs by Takeshi Obata, known for his work on Death Note and Bakuman, Bubble offers a cacophony of both stellar sound and stunning visuals: Every frame is rendered in an ethereal, dream quality of an alternate world like ours, but still distant enough from our own. The film uses a bright, colorful palette, conveying the very magic that is akin to a fairy tale.
Bubble accurately captures the dynamism and frenetic energy of parkour, enhanced by the technical, artificial camera work through its animation. The characters’ bodies feel real and carry weight as they fling across expensive aerial scenes, and the aftershocks created when they land right back on their toes can be felt through the screen. The film succeeds in suspending our disbelief in recreating a sort of new, believable realism that lends itself to a fictional world.
Although Bubble soars with its technical direction, it sadly does not leave much of an imprint to distract our eyes with enough pretty colors and flashy sights with a rather unimpressive actual story. On top of using “The Little Mermaid”, as its main framework, coming out of Bubble, one can point to similar notes reminiscent of Patema Inverted, MAPPA’s Listeners, and Studio 4°C’s 2006 feature adaptation of Tekkonkinkreet. More specifically, the inspiration is very apparent alluding back to Makoto Shinkai’s work, all stemming back to the waves made with Your Name back in 2016. But despite all of these potential influences, Bubble only carries this weight across everything else in its presentation, but does not bring actual substance to its narrative.
Not only is Bubble basically another iteration of “The Little Mermaid”, it hammers this fact constantly as if the film is unable to trust its audience to understand this. As aforementioned, Uta is like the titular mermaid to Hibiki’s prince, and the original story is directly quoted in numerous scenes. In-universe, the story is also read to Uta, used as a set piece that propels her rapid development of more human-like qualities that enables her to better empathize and communicate with the rest of the characters.
However, unlike these other characters, at the very least both Uta and Hibiki get their fair share of development and closure: The film opens up with a vast, colorful cast and many potential personalities who become all too forgettable and sadly unnecessary. Much of the film focuses on the two main lovebirds, and beyond their collective purpose as if props to flesh out and fill in the setting’s space, the little stakes set up to the film’s overall conflict also gives these characters nothing to do and no motivations to rely on.
When distilled, Bubble’s premise is also admittedly very silly: Bubbles essentially destroyed the world. Any story no matter how strange can be sold, but even Bubble itself had a hard time selling its own pitch. Near the climax of the film, a reasoning behind the bubbles is hand waved. But nothing is ever more elaborated beyond a loose theory that was never alluded to at all throughout the film’s duration until that point. Leaving an air of mystery behind fantastical phenomena in stories can be intriguing, but Bubble’s intentions feel less purposeful and more incomplete, already struggling to bind the rest of a structure that is already weak. Leaving the “why’s” and “how’s” of the bubbles unanswered do not service Bubble’s already blank parts.
On top of all of this—and to reiterate—as impressive as the depiction and portrayal of parkour is, it has very little to do with what Bubble has on its plate. It fulfills the quota for incredible animation, but the practice and sport itself is easily interchangeable with absolutely anything else, and the specifics of it have no real course of impact on any of the events in the film, let alone its themes.
As much as Bubble tries to tread deep with several ideas that have the potential to emerge as something greater, they fail to coalesce, instead rising to a shallow surface. Wit Studio has shown its unparalleled verisimilitude in the variety and diversity of anime work it has produced and adapted across the past several years, rooting its name in the ground for adapting with Attack on Titan, creating an original series with Vivy: Fluorite Eyes Song and Great Pretender, and to more recently adapting Spy x Family. But even accompanied by the star power of noted names from the anime industry, Bubble struggles to wield the course of all those experiences into something much better. Bubble’s bellies the promise of something beautiful, only to burst when the beauty has holes, being merely another production that offers something eye-popping, but not much else.
FORMAT: MOVIE AVAILABLE ON: STREAMING FROM: NETFLIX RATING PG (US) 15 (UK) RUNNING TIME: 1 HR 40 MIN IN A NUTSHELL: Appearances don’t always mean everything, and despite Bubble seemingly excelling in checking all the boxes through both its music and animation, it leaves behind an easily forgettable story the moment your time with it fizzles out and completely pops.