By Matthew Moorcroft
- Directed by Tetsuro Araki
- Starring Jun Shison, Riria, Alice Hirose, Mamoru Miyano
On paper, one could see how Bubble could be something of a sure thing. For starters, it’s directed by anime maestro Tetsuro Araki of Attack on Titan and Death Note fame, who has made a name on cinematic and high octane storytelling on television. Except this time he’s working on a movie budget, which is in of itself exciting as all hell. It’s writing staff is led by Gen Urobuchi, who is one of the premiere writers in anime and arguably one of our best writers in general across any medium. It also features Renji Oki, one of his major writing partners, along with video game writer Naoko Sato of Gravity Rush fame working along with him. Combine that with the talents of the ever impressive Wit Studio and composer Hiroyuki Sawano lending his excellent skills and you should have recipe for something really special.
So it’s a shocker then that the biggest surprise Bubble has going for it is that it’s something of a clunker, unable to really stand out among the crowd of romance anime films that have cluttered the anime space since Your Name swept audiences away nearly a decade ago. In fact, Bubble feels like at least 5 years too late to capitalize on that hunger and instead feels instantly dated in both it’s presentation and it’s general ideas.
The somehow both overly simple yet overly complicated premise, which involves (possibly sentient?) bubbles coming down to Earth and screwing with our gravity, is mostly stationary in one location for much of it’s runtime. Despite the implications of some kind of major worldwide upheavel, we get zero idea as to what’s happening at the outside world and instead are based with parkour jumpers in Tokyo which, while a cool idea for animated action sequences, is mostly there just as a plot device to explain why our lead can jump high places.
And once the love interest shows up, a mostly silent yet quirky and cute blue-haired girl, the film becomes painfully obvious with it’s intentions and never really manages justify itself. It makes constant references to The Little Mermaid to the point where you expect it to subvert it in some way but then when it decides to play it straight it feels hollow and unearned. Urobuchi has always had an interest in German fairy tales and myth as seen with Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Blassreiter but here he seems at odds with what’s likely Sato’s influence – that of the gravity defying, light hearted antics that make up most of the runtime.
Thankfully when that gravity bending stuff does happen it’s absolutely gorgeous to look at, and Araki’s direction, while a bit subdued this time around – an odd choice for a director known for his bombast – uses his time on Attack on Titan and Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress to great use when the characters start flying around. And when Sawano’s score kicks in, a glorious mish-mash of orchestra, vocals, and piano, it’s hard to ignore and the emotions do manage to occasionally land.
Note that I do say occasionally, cause Bubble ends up missing more then it probably should and after a strong middle act action sequence it quickly loses momentum. Eventually I have to ask myself what exactly went wrong here, especially with the myriad of talent on this thing. I wouldn’t do so far as to say it’s worst thing of their careers (Araki has Guilty Crown on his resume and Urobuchi has been struggling recently outside the always great Thunderbolt Fantasy) but it’s certainly one of their least interesting, a footnote in long and storied careers. This team up should have been one for the ages but sadly ends up being nothing more then a substandard affair. Disappointing.