Music, bubbles, parkour and fairy tales are wildly smashed together in Wit Studio’s bizarre romantic sci-fi.
“The bubbles have become active!”
I’ve seen quite a lot of anime films with very loose ties to classic fairy tales lately, it seems. 2021’s Belle was a VR-themed Beauty and the Beast retelling, while Jin-Roh: The Wolf Bridage made many references to Little Red Riding Hood. It seems that Wit Studio’s latest outing, the 2022 romantic sci-fi Bubble, continues this trend by quoting and loosely taking plot points from Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid.
Set in a vaguely-defined future, Bubble tells the story of a group of kids living in ruined Tokyo: five years back, bizarre reality-bending bubbles fell from the sky all over the world, with something of an emphasis on Tokyo. The bubbles caused a gravity-defying explosion around Tokyo Tower, leaving the city half-submerged in popped bubble water, surrounded in a Simpsons-style dome and entirely uninhabitable. These kids have formed groups of parkour-loving daredevils who hold competitions for basic amenities.
Hibiki is the star athlete in his group the Blue Blazes, but his hypersensitive hearing prevents him from socialising with his teammates. One day, while climbing Tokyo Tower, a mysterious song distracts him, causing him to miss his footing. He slips and is almost drowned when he is resuced by a bubble who takes the form of a young woman. Hibiki brings her back to meet the team, and names her Uta for the song she keeps humming. From here the story plays out mostly like a romantic drama, with the relationship between Hibiki and Uta taking centre stage.
It’s hard to say whether sticking to this plot is a good move or not, in a story where the basic premise is so bizarre. To make it work, the film needs really strong characters who can only exist within the world the film has established. This is partially true. Uta, the bubble girl made real, could only exist in this world, as could all of the outcast teen acrobats. Hibiki is given quite a lot of depth and development, though far less can be said about Uta, whose entire character never goes past the manic pixie dream girl archetype. Uta could have been a useful insight into the nature of the bubbles, but nothing is really expanded upon. It’s not like I necessarily wanted an explanation as to the point of the bubbles, but if one of your romantic leads is made entirely from them, it would help to give them some personality.
Bubble is just really odd, for better or worse. Psycho-Pass and Puella Magi Madoka Magica’s Gen Urobuchi is credited as writer, and it’s hard to blame someone with his creativity for trying something new. Much like last year’s Belle, I’m appreciating the inventiveness that’s going into these fairy tale-inspired sci-fis, but Bubble simply has nowhere near enough time to do everything it is setting out to. At least the world of Belle was relatively straightforward, allowing more time to go into character development and detailed storytelling.
Bubble on the other hand has to establish so much, while working in a romantic main plot, the parkour rivalries, the science of the bubble and then a massive action climax. It stretches itself way too thin. It might have worked better as a miniseries or even a video game, but none of it was terrible in any way, just frustratingly under baked. Nevertheless, there’s something that the studio didn’t skimp on, and that’s the film’s stunning visual values. The animation and production design alone make this worth checking out: vibrant colours, memorable character designs (notably the costumes for the villainous Undertakers) and fluid parkour animation come together perfectly to make what is, if nothing else, a visual treat. This is going to be a movie I’ll remember for certain sequences, especially its final race across a crumbling Tokyo, and less for its story. I guess for that reason, Bubble is about a perfect a name as you could pick for it: beautiful in its own way, but with almost no substance.
Verdict: A serviceable story, some underwhelming world building and a lot of gorgeous art combine to make a decent, if frustratingly shallow alternative romance.
Overall entertainment: 6/10
Video games I could be playing: Mirror’s Edge, Gravity Rush
Bubbles: Red ones are bad, blue ones are good. Duh
Spirals: Suddenly Junji Ito. Run!
Alsop known as: バブル
Director: Tetsuro Araki
Writers: Gen Urobuchi, Naoko Sato, Renji Ōki
Jun Shison – Hibiki
Riria – Uta
Alice Hirose – Makoto
Mamoru Miyano – Shin
Yuki Kaji – Kai
Sayaka Senbongi – Usagi
Tasuku Hatanaka – Denki Ninja
Marina Inoue – Undertaker Leader
Shin-ichiro Miki – Kanto Mad Lobster