The anime Bubble (streaming on Netflix, either dubbed or in Japanese with English subtitles) takes place amid the ruins of a devastated Tokyo. The remaining citizens play a dangerous game in order to acquire what they need to survive, jumping across broken buildings to avoid falling into the deadly waters that now make up much of the city. However, unlike in a lot of dystopic sci-fi/fantasy, this chaos was not man-made. Instead, it was caused by the arrival of mysterious bubbles that continuously drop from the sky. The resulting story is a strange mix of fantasy, action and romance, with a thin plot and derivative characters, but good action and spectacular visuals that cover for its flaws. It is a movie that is fun as it unfolds, yet doesn’t leave a strong lasting impression.
In this version of Toyko, teams battle for food or supplies in a game called Battlekour. It is a race through the city that requires extensive parkour to get to a flag before a member of the other team does. The protagonist is a young man named Hibiki, the star of the Blue Blazes. One day, he is saved from the water by an odd young woman who is as skilled at using the bubbles to traverse Toyko as he is. Her secrets and their connection to each other fill in the majority of the plot.
That is essentially all there is to say about the story. It is quite weak in that department. The eventual revelations are very familiar and not so captivating. Thankfully, the filmmakers spend less time on that and developing the characters and far more time on the thrilling games of Battlekour.
Though it can be a little difficult to engage with Bubble as a whole, the scenes featuring Hibiki and his friends racing another team over fallen buildings, bent bridges and scattered pieces of land are consistently exciting. The animation as they backflip, twist and spin from one structure to the next, while trying to out strategize their opponents, is breathtaking. The emphasis is less on physicality and more on speed and grace as Hibiki effortlessly leaps through the damaged landscape like an elite gymnast. The animation in these sequences is beautiful and creative.
What makes it so spectacular is that the animators have created rules for movement, most notably in the way the bubbles can be jumped off of. Because this has been thought out, the characters never seem supernatural. If they step wrong, mistime a jump or judge distance incorrectly, they will fall. That adds some suspense, not so much as to whether or not the Blue Blazes will win, but as to how.
While dystopias tend to be depicted using washed-out colors, Bubble is bright and sunny. It is enjoyable just to look at these frames. It is a great looking movie that is more entertaining when it lets Hibiki and the enigmatic Uta loose in this world than it is when it deals with story or character. Though it may not capture the imagination the way the best anime does, it sure is pretty.
3 out of 5
Voice Cast: Jun Shison as Hibiki
riria. as Uta
Alice Hirose as Makoto
Mamoru Miyano as Shin
Yuki Kaji as Kai
Sayaka Senbongi as Usagi
Directed by Tetsurô Araki
Written by Gen Urobuchi