A new anime feature provides some excellent design work and colour, but is saddled with an overly familiar story and an extended climax which both consign it to the pile of disposable entertainment. It is enjoyable enough to watch, but I cannot imagine too many anime fans watching it twice.
In the near future, the world has become overrun with strange floating bubbles in the air. In Tokyo, an unknown critical incident caused a massive explosion that surrounded the city’s ruins inside a massive bubble. Now only teenage gangs roam inside, competing against one another in parkour races using the bubble’s warped gravitational fields. When one competitor almost drowns during a race, he is rescued by a mysterious silent girl who formed out of the bubbles.
Strange. Unknown. Mysterious. It all feels anything but those things in practice. It is easy to lose count of all of the anime features and serials based around post-apocalyptic Tokyo; all of them sitting under the shadow of Akira (1988). Likewise any of the anime productions that introduce a magical but naive girl who falls in love with the male protagonist. It is not even particularly unique to have the magical girl emerge from the water. The same goes for the teen gangs, the character arcs, and particularly the overly long climax; the only anime in which something takes longer to explode is Otomo’s dismal Steamboy (2004).
The film takes much of its inspiration from Anderson’s The Little Mermaid – so much so that it literally pauses the action to point it out – but in honesty it is as much in debt to anime conventions and stereotypes as it is to fairy tales.
Director Tetsurō Araki is veteran of multiple much-loved anime series, including Death Note, Attack on Titan, and Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, so it no surprise that much of the animation is attractive, colourful, and dynamic. The extensive use of CGI feels a little awkward, but does not take long to settle into. The film’s faults are almost entirely within its derivative and deeply ordinary screenplay, credited to Gen Urobuchi, Naoko Sato, and Renji Ōki. Like Araki, Urobuchi brings a lengthy resume of past anime hits including Psycho Pass, Fate/Zero, and the award-winning Puella Magi Madoka Magica. One can only assume Bubble was developed on an off-day. Eye candy is only going to take an animated film so far.
To be fair it is really good eye candy. Future Tokyo’s broken world of shattered buildings, floating debris, and shimmering bubbles looks fantastic. The various race and chase scenes are cleverly staged and exciting to watch. Araki makes great use of the shifting sense of gravity from one building to the next. It is all enveloped by an excellent musical score by Hiroyuki Sawano. In the end, it is all window dressing. Bubble is a beautiful disappointment, but still a disappointment.