The Other Side of Animation 84: Japanese Animation Month 2 Part 2: Patema Inverted Review

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When watching a film, you should be able to get into the world without spending time away from focusing on the story and characters, and wondering how everything works. It becomes more distracting as time goes on when they introduce elements that don’t’ get a lot of explanations in terms of how it works, and adds to the universe as a whole. This is the fate of GKids’ release of Patema Inverted. This sci-fi Japanese animated film was originally released in 2013, and was brought over to the states by GKids in 2014. The film was written and directed by Yasuhiro Yoshiura, a director who worked on the one-off OVA Pale Cocoon, a designer for Evangelion 2.0, the director, creator, and screenwriter of the web series Time of Eve, and the director of Bureau of Proto Society. It went on to get solid reviews, but is definitely one of the weaker films from GKids’ library in terms of critical reception. So, do I agree that it’s one of the weaker films from the awesome distributor? Well, let’s find out.

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In the far future, mankind decided to try to harness energy from gravity. Of course, by doing so, mankind basically screwed over the earth and caused a rather large mass of the population to die due to the now messed-up gravity. This has led to a certain group of people having to live underground, and some forced to live above ground due to how the gravity is inverted. We follow one of our leads, Patema, voiced by Cassandra Morris, as she dreams of seeing the above world and its inhabitants, despite the multiple warnings she has been given to not do so. After escaping a threat, she ends up flying upwards from her world to the outside world, where the other side of civilization lives. She ends up meeting a young man named Age, voiced by Michael Sinterniklaas, who is a student that lives under the tyrannical rule of a crazed priest named Izamura, voiced by Richard Epcar. Can our two young heroes survive Izamura’s grasp, and find out what exactly happened to the world?

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Sadly, one of the biggest problems of the film is, like I alluded to at the beginning of the review, the world and setting. Besides being yet another story of “man is stupid for screwing over the world”, some elements are never explained. For example, later on in the film, Age and Patema end up both flying upward into the sky. They find a massive metal contraption is in the sky in Age’s side of the world. We never really find out if the metal piece was man-made or not. I did learn what it was, but I don’t think I should consider it a good thing that I had to learn something about the film after going to the internet. I mean, isn’t that the power of filmmaking that you can show the viewer what’s going on and not tell them? There were times when I felt like the film was not telling me enough about the setting, and the huge twist at the end was less “oh golly gee wow, that’s a shocker that I didn’t see coming!” and more like “So, did they appear on the other side of the world? What is going on?” To be honest, I don’t personally think it’s my fault for not catching what the film was throwing. I even looked it up to see if I was the only one who was confused by the setting and the twist. Luckily, I was not the only one looking for answers, and even though I found the answers to be helpful and did help shape the world of the film more, I still felt like it was unsatisfying. Again, the film should have done a better job at its story and setting, so I don’t feel like I’m missing something.

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Sadly, that’s not the only problem this film has. Besides the main two characters the story follows, no one else is really that interesting. It’s a shame, since you would think a film with a rather interesting setting would have more intriguing characters, but it doesn’t. Most of them are traditional anime tropes or are completely pointless to the story. Seriously, from time to time, they would cut to this red-headed girl who doesn’t do anything, and has no real character. It’s distracting, and I don’t know if she was meant to have more time on-screen, but she feels like an idea that was forgotten to be taken out in the editing process. Even the villain, who is usually the most entertaining character in these types of films, is such a bore. Richard Epcar does a fantastic job as usual, but the villain has no layers to him. He isn’t even good enough to be one of those really intimidating, if one-note, villains. He’s one of those stereotypical high priest characters who went crazy with power, and anyone who doesn’t agree with him dies. I mean, how many times have we seen these types of villains in animation? They are almost as boring as the villains from films like Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Disney’s Tarzan.

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In terms of animation, it is good. It moves well, and the idea of how the gravity works can lead to some great visuals and mind-bending moments on whether the side Patema is on or Age’s side is the accurate side of the earth. However, I found the character designs to be fairly bland. They don’t really stand out to me. I guess the only one that stands out is Patema, but everyone else? I think it’s fairly cookie-cutter. I think why it’s bothersome to me is because, once again, the world is interesting, but everyone looks so bland, and made to make animation easier. It doesn’t have a distinct style to it.

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After all that complaining, is there something I like about the movie? Of course, there is. Even if the designs look bland, the world itself is still visually interesting. Maybe a bit generic by sci-fi standards, but the scene and background you see when the “twist” happens is very pretty. I also like the chemistry between Patema and Age. Sure, you probably have seen these two types of characters before in other films, but I found them cute together. Like I said earlier, the idea that the gravity is messed up can and will lead to some mind-bending moments. It also leads to reinventing the whole “villain dies by falling” trope with the gravity situation. I also like how it does bring an interesting twist to the whole “why can’t we get along with each other” kind of story. There was a scene in the film that almost felt out of place, but was really funny. It was when Patema and Age first meet, and Age takes her to a safe shed-like building, leading to a rather funny joke. You don’t see this style of humor in the rest of the film, but it was humorous to see it.

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While I do agree Patema Inverted is probably one of the weaker films to be brought over by GKids, I still enjoyed watching it. It’s like saying Hayao Miyazaki has a “bad” film because even the weaker films from that guy are way better than the best from mediocre directors. Patema Inverted still has some great visuals, a cute set of protagonists, and a setting that is fairly admirable. I would definitely recommend checking this film out. Well, that was fun talking about a hidden gem, but next time, how about we talk about one of the best films based on anime’s favorite thief? That’s right, we shall finally talk about Lupin the III: Dead or Alive. Thanks for reading, I hope you all enjoyed the article, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Go see it!

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