As I write this review for Bubble, I can’t help but think of the last anime movie I reviewed, Belle. The two are very different films — after all, one features parkour in the flooded ruins of Tokyo, while the other involves virtual reality and singing — but they do have one notable similarity: both anime deliver impressive visual spectacle, but fail to satisfy with their story. However, while Belle at least had its heart in the right place, Bubble delivers a more hollow-feeling experience.
Bubble’s Tokyo is the result of a phenomenon involving, as the title suggests, bubbles. Although these mysterious bubbles fell on other parts of the world as well, Tokyo is the only place where they still persist, and the city is even enveloped by a giant bubble to boot. There are also hazards in the form of otherworldly whirlpools and vortexes, objects that now defy gravity, and a strange red light that emanates from Tokyo Tower. Bubble’s depiction of a dilapidated and partially reclaimed-by-nature Tokyo with various anomalies is not particularly evocative, but the CG backgrounds do look sightly and, as a gamer, made me wish for an open world game set in the movie’s urban environment.
It’s a shame that the story doesn’t do much with its Tokyo. Most of the characters are orphans who lost their parents in the so-called “Bubble-fall phenomenon” and engage in parkour matches to win supplies. But aside from some brief dialogue, the story takes little interest in truly exploring the harshness of their life or the fact that they choose to dwell in this abandoned place. Their circumstances are ultimately just an excuse to have parkour scenes in Bubble’s Tokyo (it’s also convenient that all the orphans happen to be suited for parkour), and the lack of attention on the abandoned city’s inhabitants makes a potentially interesting setting feel more like a backdrop than a proper location.
The sci-fi elements are also disappointing. A prominent character is in the city to observe its gravity anomalies and monologues about the cycle of death and rebirth, but neither her nor her musings feel relevant. Meanwhile, the third act brings the bubbles to the forefront of the narrative, but the events that unfold are so unclear that my attention faltered numerous times towards the end. What were the bubbles doing? I frankly haven’t a clue, and the story doesn’t compel me to revisit the final act to figure it out.
That’s not the end of the writing’s problems. The early parts of the movie have some painfully ham-fisted exposition dumps, and protagonist Hibiki’s development from an aloof person to a more sociable one happens much too quickly. Hibiki also has auditory hypersensitivity, but you’d be forgiven for forgetting about that by the end of the film.
Perhaps the biggest detriment to the story is the weak romance between Hibiki and Uta, a bubble who adopts a human form near the beginning of the movie. Uta’s curiosity about the human world is fun to see, and her outrageously bright and colourful appearance somewhat makes up for the other, more forgettable-looking characters. However, the story just doesn’t do enough to make you care about or buy into her romance with Hibiki, and the overt references to The Little Mermaid — Uta outright calls Hibiki the prince and herself the little mermaid before we even reach the midpoint of the show — don’t make this aspect any more meaningful.
Despite all the shortcomings with the writing, I could overlook them for the first two-thirds of the movie due to the brisk pace, visuals, and generous doses of enjoyable parkour. Looking back, the storyboards don’t do enough to make the parkour sequences feel particularly memorable — I’m already struggling to recall any specific moments — but even so, I greatly enjoyed the parkour scenes’ display of movements and the camerawork during my viewing.
Outside of the parkour, the show provides eye candy through shots of striking flower gardens, ethereal displays of light and particles, and Wit Studio’s make-up animation. The regular moments are rather pleasant on the eye too, thanks to the injection of colour into the setting through various props, painted surfaces, and greenery-covered structures. I wished the character costumes were more drab, though, as it’s hard to imagine the colourful-looking cast as orphans living on their own in an abandoned city.
When the last act arrived, however, the film’s visual merits were barely enough to convince me to stay. Centred around an uncompelling, barely developed romance and various sci-fi happenings that I struggled to make sense of, the climax offers little satisfaction and only highlights how weak the overall story is. It would have been better if the movie had tied its parkour action to a nonsensical but entertaining story, instead of a feeble and forgettable result that eats at the goodwill provided by the visuals. It feels like Bubble wanted to have a meaningful story but forgot to put in the effort to achieve that.
Director: Tetsuro Araki (Attack on Titan Season 2–3 chief director, Attack on Titan, Kabeneri of the Iron Fortress)
Scriptwriters: Nitroplus’s Gen Urobuchi (Expelled From Paradise, Puella Magi Madoka Magica), Nitroplus’s Renji Ooki (Godzilla: Monster Apocalypse and GODZILLA: Project Mechagodzilla author), Naoko Satou (The Missing 8 co-scriptwriter)
Original character designer: Takeshi Obata (Death Note mangaka)
Character designer and chief animation director: Satoshi Kadowaki (Attack on Titan Season 3 chief animation director)
Music composer: Hiroyuki Sawano (86 EIGHTY SIX co-composer)
Animation production studio: Wit Studio