“Charming” is a word that I’m probably starting to overuse, but that was very much the first thing that came to my mind — or shall we say, bubbled up like soda pop — at the climatic ending of Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop. As already hinted at in the trailer, the scene in question depicts the shy male protagonist Cherry publicly delivering a haiku to female protagonist Smile during a festival. I was expecting to finish the movie with feelings of mild disappointment and apathy, for reasons I’ll get to soon, but the sheer power of that scene’s passionate and moving character acting resulted in a different outcome — I was content and also a little awestruck.
But before Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop gets to that lovely finale, it both sparkles and falters. Made to celebrate the 10th anniversary of record label Flying Dog, the story revolves around teenagers Cherry and Smile. The former loves haiku but generally doesn’t like talking to others, so he prefers to tweet his haikus instead of reciting them. Meanwhile, Smile is a lively social media influencer who hides her buck teeth behind a mask. When the two cross paths, the influence they have on each other encourages them to overcome their respective insecurities.
It’s not an out-of-this-world story, but its positive themes are welcome, and Cherry and Smile are likeable leads. The haiku element isn’t so major that someone unfamiliar with the Japanese poetry form won’t be able to enjoy the film, but those that do have the relevant knowledge or are into poetry in general will likely glean more enjoyment from the haiku scenes.
The problem with Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop‘s plot is that we don’t see enough of how the duo’s relationship deepens further past their initial encounters, or how they continuously exert a positive influence on one another until they break out of their respective shells. Instead, the second half of the movie switches focus to a subplot about a lost record, which has an important emotional connection to an elderly side character that Cherry and Smile are acquainted with.
“It’s not an out-of-this-world story, but its positive themes are welcome, and Cherry and Smile are likeable leads.”
It’s not that the subplot is bad, but it comes not long after Cherry and Smile become acquainted — a process that takes about half an hour — and eats up an awful lot of the rest of the movie’s sub-90 minutes runtime. It can also feel rather draggy, which isn’t helped by its heavier atmosphere. While Cherry and Smile do spend a lot of time together during this time, the focal shift away from them is substantial enough that plot elements like the duo’s impending separation due to Cherry moving away feel less weighty, while the romance side is underdeveloped.
I found myself losing interest towards the end because of this subplot, hence my earlier comment about expecting to finish the movie with mild disappointment. It’s really a testament to the animation in the movie’s final scene that I felt satisfaction at the end instead.
A colorful world
Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop provides more consistent enjoyment with its visual elements, like the bright pop art color aesthetic, the details or framing of a shot, and the recurring stylistic depiction of Cherry turning completely red when he’s embarrassed. In terms of memorability, however, the first half’s energy allows it to narrowly edge out the second half — even with its final haiku scene — for me.
Take, for instance, the early mall-set chase scene that, although a little tonally incongruous with the rest of the movie, leaves a clear mark with its frenetic and loose animation. An amusingly chaotic video call between Cherry and Smile, flanked by their friends and sisters respectively, is another highlight, with the recurring split-screen presentation motif lending itself well to the scenario. Additionally, the show’s mall, where the welfare center that Cherry works at is located, features more prominently as a setting in the early parts of the film. Its details, strong sense of three-dimensionality (due perhaps to the use of 3D modelling), and moving crowds make for an immersive experience, and the location itself is a refreshing backdrop for an anime movie.
The movie features music from Kensuke Ushio which, well, sound recognizably Kensuke Ushio-like. The music suits the movie, but I also couldn’t help but hear it as “Kensuke Ushio’s music” rather than a natural component of the movie a lot of the time. The parts of the soundtrack I liked more were the two sung tracks. The record subplot contributes a slightly old-timey song for the finale that makes the festival setting feel a bit more special and magical, while the main theme song that plays during the credits is a livelier affair with a sing-along vibe. If I were watching this Netflix release in a cinema instead, I certainly wouldn’t leave until the credits were done.
It’s hard for me to sum up my feelings about Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop. I first thought it to be a film that sparkled with charm, then deemed it to be a plodding experience that, in spite of its visual merits, literally had me pausing the film to take a break. Then, at the finish line, I felt wowed and was filled with nothing but positive emotions despite my earlier and still-existent gripes.
In the grand scheme of things, Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop doesn’t live up to its potential as an inspiring movie with a slice of cute romance. Still, because of the film’s delightful first half, the strong visuals, and the absolutely wonderful finale, I’m glad it exists.