TL;DR – Inspired by the story of The Little Mermaid, Bubble tells the story of a boy named Hibiki who lives in a flooded and abandoned Tokyo and meets a mermaid. But wait, viewers should be warned this is not some traditional fairy tale but instead meshes it with sci-fi elements and a potential apocalypse surrounding the city. Crazy premise? Yes.
Review (warning: spoilers)
A strange phenomenon has occurred that causes Tokyo to be flooded and sink into the ocean while also being enveloped in a bubble where gravity has gone funky. The phenomenon is literally an invasion of trillions of bubbles that fall from outer space. Buildings and bridges have collapsed, there are dangerous energy whirlpools, and floating (smaller) bubbles permeate the atmosphere.
Tokyo becomes a no-go zone. But some teenagers, who have lost their families in the bubble disaster, have chosen to stay along with a small number of scientists who seek to unravel the mystery of the bubbles.
From the rubble, a sport called ‘Tokyo Battlekour’ has arisen that involves two teams competing in parkour to reach a flag. Teams bet daily necessities for survival. The decimated city of Tokyo has become the perfect playground obstacle course, and the film opens to a team called Blue Blaze (BB) competing against another team to capture the flag. We are introduced to Hibiki, the ace of BB, whose parkour style and athletic ability allows him to traverse the floating bubbles in a way other athletes cannot. He’s not much of a team player though as he gets to the flag first, winning the round, then disappearing leaving his teammates to celebrate without him.
The story focuses primarily on Hibiki, who was present at Tokyo Tower when the bubble phenomenon hit. The tower has now split in two, its upper half defying gravity and floating above a cosmic cloud of red bubbles from which Hibiki periodically hears a female voice singing.
In an attempt to find the source of the voice, Hibiki uses parkour skills to climb the tower only to be prevented by the cosmic cloud and thrown back into the ocean. He almost drowns but is saved by a blue bubble, which combines with the bubbles of his final breath to form a human girl (or mermaid as viewed by Hibiki before he falls unconscious). The girl joins the BB family, and they give her the name Uta.
For those of you who have read “The Little Mermaid” by Hans Christian Andersen, Bubbles draws inspiration from this material and even goes so far as to have one scene where one of the scientists reads to Uta the same fairy tale. Uta doesn’t know how to be human but slowly learns to speak and eat. She has a natural ability for parkour, likely attributed to her bubble form, and she falls in love with Hibiki who she sees as her prince. And just like “The Little Mermaid”, Uta’s family (i.e., the cosmic cloud surrounding Tokyo Tower) is none to pleased and wants her to abandon the human world and return home.
An inciting incident occurs when one of the scientists of the BB family is kidnapped by a rival parkour team known as The Morticians and used as part of the prize for whoever captures the flag. The BB team race against the Morticians and succeed to get to the flag first, but in the process Hibiki grabs Uta’s hand and we see it starts to turn to foam. This reflects the tragic ending in the fairy tale where the mermaid transforms to foam when she returns to the sea.
After the Tokyo Battlekour, Hibiki confronts Uta and gives her a seashell pendant. There he confesses his feelings to her, which causes the cosmic cloud to be none too happy and commences a repeat of the bubble phenomenon seeking to sink the rest of Tokyo into the ocean.
The climax involves Uta willing to sacrifice herself, return to the cosmic cloud and preventing any further devastation. Of course, Hibiki and the rest of the BB team look to save her. And although Hibiki manages to reach her, escaping with her in his arms, the rest of Uta slowly begins to turn to foam.
Uta ultimately prevents the cosmic cloud from destroying Tokyo, and the giant bubble enveloping the city evaporates. In the aftermath, Hibiki has to watch as Uta turns completely to foam but not before she thanks him for giving her the chance to be human. To have a human heart that can feel love and loss. When she disappears, all that is left behind is the seashell pendant he gave her.
The ending sees the city commence rebuilding. Tokyo Battlekour lives on and Hibiki and company continue compete in matches. Blue bubble remnants still float around the city and the song that Uta sang can be heard by Hibiki indicating that her spirit lives on.
Overall, the story is rather abstract and the invasion of bubbles is never explained. My view is the bubbles are sentient aliens, but why they came to earth is unknown. Not that it needs to be explained because it is more about what it means to be human and to experience feelings, which is represented by the bubble-turned-Uta character.
In a way, she ends up being more human because Hibiki spends most of the movie as a stoic character who doesn’t seem to want to spend any time with anyone. We later discover that as a child, Hibiki suffered from hyperacusis; a type of auditory hypersensitivity meaning ordinary sounds are too loud and cause discomfort and pain. Living in a big city like Tokyo meant that a trip outside would be overwhelming. His mother tried to find a cure for him but failed, and Hibiki interpreted these events as meaning that he had failed his mother. He now wears headphone earmuffs to dampen outside noise. When Tokyo was abandoned and encased in a giant bubble, it became the perfect place for him as all that noise disappeared.
The fact that Uta teaches him about the good things being human and to accept that painful things will also happen in life is the transformation that Hibiki undergoes by film’s end.
The animation from Wit Studios (who also brought us other great anime like “Attack on Titan” and “The Great Pretender”) is nothing short of astounding. The parkour action scenes are thrilling and the character animation (especially close-ups of their eyes) are exquisite. The colour is vibrant and even though the idea of bubbles invading a city is absurd, there is no denying the animation is beautiful.
In the end, you need to dig deep to see the meaning behind the story, which is a shame because you really want to feel the meaning and not have to try to decipher it all afterwards.
Bubble is a visual testimony to the greatness of animation in anime even if the plot is somewhat weak.
7.5 out of 10