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Heads up: I was able to watch this film via a screener sent to me from Netflix. I received no other form of monetization other than the screener. Thank you Netflix for this opportunity.
Studio Wit is a rather fantastic studio full of talented artists that are mostly known for animating the first few seasons of the acclaimed Attack on Titan. It must have been frustrating to be stuck on such a big franchise, because for a while that is all that they helped make. Luckily, they broke free from that franchise’s clutches, because the production committee was being absurdly impossible to deal with. It seemed like after that, they were able to start working on shows and films that they are way more passionate about. This includes Vivy, Ranking of Kings, After the Rain, this spring season’s Onipan!, and are co-producing with CloverWorks the Spy x Family adaptation, to name a few of the projects they have worked on since or alongside Attack on Titan. Now, they have an original film that will be out on Netflix called Bubble that shows that hopefully, Netflix is still going to be committed to original animated ideas and features.
Bubble is directed by Tesuro Araki and written by Gen Urobuchi. It follows a group of people who live inside a large bubble that has overtaken Tokyo after an environmental disaster where these floating bubbles that defied gravity appeared. The game played within the bubble is essentially a more extreme and dangerous version of parkour as teams fight for resources by traversing floating and sunken buildings, and avoiding undertow-like traps throughout the courses. Hibiki, dubbed by Zach Aguilar is a young male who has had a history of hating sound or being affected by it in severe ways enough to wear headphones at all times, but inside the bubble, is one of the top-tier parkour players of his team. One night, he decides to venture to the Tokyo Tower where ground zero hit when the bubbles arrived on earth. As he ventures around Tokyo Tower, he encounters a mysterious girl later nicknamed Uta, dubbed by Emi Lo, who is new to this now sunken city and world of parkour. Can Hibiki, Uta, and their friends find a way to solve the mystery of the bubbles? What about Uta? What is her role in this fantastical story?
So, who said they needed a film that combined anime with The Little Mermaid, and parkour? Because that is what this film is. It’s a modern anime take on The Little Mermaid with the mixture of anime, and, well, you do get a distinct take on the fairytale that makes it stand out from other animated films like Ponyo, Josee, The Tiger, and The Fish, and Lu Over the Wall. There is something fun seeing what studios do with incorporating elements or story beats of fairytale-like experiences and how they unfold within the narrative. However, it’s more like Belle from 2021 in some regards, because it’s not fully a Little Mermaid story, but more of how it implements themes of environmentalism, connection, bonding, and freedom to the Little Mermaid formula, and it works out pretty well. It even has some of those ethereal universal atmospheric moments you would see in Ayumu Watanabe’s adaptation of Children of the Sea. While this film sounds like it goes places and is action-packed, it does tend to have more downtime moments where the characters breathe and the world is expanded upon, which is always a nice thing to see. Still, when the film decides to focus on the action, there is this rush that you get only when you combine some incredible music and gorgeous visuals from Wit Studios.
With this being a Wit Studios production, the animation is obviously some of the best that the industry can offer. The entire sunken city world inside the bubble looks like it took its multiple coloring and intense amount of detail from Makoto Shinkai. The human movements are fluid and fast-paced with this being partly a fun action-packed parkour showcase, and its mixing of both 2D and CGI elements are seamless in the combination of the two. It’s a visually stunning film, and I know it’s easy to take jabs at it because of how it’s taking a ton of inspiration from Shinkai’s work on a visual level, but when the end result looks this fantastic, well, that’s a good thing. The action itself is so much fun to watch. There are definitely different takes on parkour, and there are some shows that make fun of it, but when you take it into the world of animation, it makes it look thrilling and exciting. This is especially true with how the people competing make harrowing jumps from floating debris and try to avoid getting knocked into the water or these dangerous black hole-like entities that are placed all over the city. The designs by Takeshi Obata are definitely some of his best work and don’t feel like leftovers from his collaborations with Tsugumi Ohba. The music is a real deal hit with the music being composed by Hiroyuki Sawano of 86, Attack on Titan, and Promare fame bringing this majestic, awe-inspiring, and epic score that really elevates the already impressive visuals. Granted, the fact this film opens with an anime-like opening sequence with a song by the famed Eve is jarring due to how this is a movie, but Eve has been making bangers over the past few years, so that’s perfectly okay. The English dub cast is full of well-known names like Zach Aguilar, Keith Silverstein, Emi Lo, Erica Lindbeck, Robbie Daymond, Laura Stahl, Landon McDonald, Jalen K. Cassell, Chris Jai Alex, Kyle McCarley, Christina Vee, Bill Butts, Derek Stephen Prince, Aleks Le, Howard Wang, Kaiji Tang, Brock Powell, and Jeannie Tirado.
Now, as for the criticisms for Bubble, it feels like it was drafted in the first half to be an anime series before getting turned into a film. There is a ton of exposition, and it always isn’t the best paced. The film is full of distinct side characters, but outside of a few who get some subtle or upfront character beats or backstories, most of them are forgettable. They are there to help push the story along and that’s about it. Even the other teams don’t have too much to themselves outside of some visual characteristics. It comes off at points, again, that it was meant to be a TV show. It would have definitely helped give the characters who aren’t Hibiki and Uta more time to be fleshed out.
While it may be light as a bubble in some areas, Bubble is a fantastic original experience from a talented studio and team that I would definitely be on the lookout for if they team up again to make another animated feature offering. It will be on Netflix April 28th, and if you like action, lush animation, and something a bit different from your animated films, then definitely put this film on your watch list. Now then, since we are talking about distinct animated experiences from Japan, I think it’s time to check out a film that should have been covered on The Other Side of Animation for quite a while. Next time, we will be talking about Tekkonkinkreet.
Rating: Go see it!