🔖 6 min read

The original fairy tale from Hans Christian Andersen (first published in 1837), The Little Mermaid, receives an inventive cultural and temporal retelling in Tetsurō Araki’s new film Bubble.

In this bubble-filled, post-apocalyptic animated feature produced by Wit Studio (Attack on Titan, The Ancient Magus’ Bride, Great Pretender), a burgeoning love story unfolds between Hibiki, a parkour prodigy, and a mysterious girl he names ‘Uta’. The film had early screenings at the Berlin International Film Festival in February 2022 which has been followed by its worldwide release on Netflix on April 28, 2022 (and a theatrical release in Japan in May). A manga adaptation of the film by Erubo Hijihara debuted in Shōnen Jump+ on April 22, 2022.


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After mysterious bubbles rain down over Tokyo, a huge explosion centred around Tokyo Tower results in a massive bubbled dome enclosing the city. Several years later, the derelict city is deserted and decaying, illegally occupied by ‘the orphans of the Bubble Fall’ – organised teams of rebellious youths who treat the precarious landscape as a parkour assault course. In one such team, there is a withdrawn young man with hearing hypersensitivity, Hibiki (voiced by Jun Shison), who is an exceptional parkour talent.

As part of his search to find inner peace, Hibiki constantly tries to find the source of a song connected to the bubbles that emanate from the centre of the original blast that destroyed Tokyo, a song that only he can hear.

One day, Hibiki attempts to climb the tower chasing after the source of the familiar song, but due to a misstep and gravity abnormalities of the atmosphere, he ends up falling into the ocean. His last breath as he sinks deeper underwater combines with some of the bubbles to create a mysterious young woman. Hibiki names his saviour ‘Uta’ (‘Song’ in Japanese) as it becomes apparent that they both share the ability to hear the song.

Uta (voiced by singer-songwriter Riria) and Hibiki train parkour together and gradually become closer, but it becomes clear that their relationship is not meant to be everlasting. Nearing the finish of a heated race, Uta reaches out for Hibiki after a dramatic jump, but as soon as their hands connect her arm fades away into bubbles.

Destructive bubble activity starts up again forcing all Tokyo residents to flee. As the only ones who can hear the song connected with the bubbles, Uta and Hibiki venture to Tokyo Tower in search of a solution to the bubble activity. As the history of the Bubble Fall is uncovered, their connection, both past and present, will be put to the test.

An All-Star Creative Team

Image credit: Netflix

Directed by Tetsurō Araki (responsible for the first 59 episodes of global megahit Attack On Titan) and produced by Genki Kawamura (Weathering With You, Your Name, Belle), this film also features a screenplay by Gen Urobuchi (Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Fate/Zero novel, Psycho Pass), character designs by Takeshi Obata (Death Note, Platinum End) and an exciting pop-synth score composed by Hiroyuki Sawano (Kill la Kill, Promare, Attack on Titan and co-composer for 86).

The ideation of Bubble began when Tetsurō Araki approached Genki Kawamura with the idea of creating a film together. He was looking for someone that was familiar with creating things for a wider audience, while conversely, Kawamura was a fan of Araki’s work on Attack on Titan. After half a year of discussing ideas, Araki’s concept illustration of a mechanical Little Mermaid in a dystopian Tokyo became the core foundation for the film. They were conscious of trying to tell a very beautiful and ephemeral love story so from early on there was a clear desire, according to Araki, that ‘this derelict, futuristic Tokyo present itself as more of a utopia than a dystopia’; there were countless deliberate choices to make the world very colourful and the touch very light.

With this foundation in place screenwriter, Gen Urobuchi fleshed out the science fiction concepts. Araki claims that he was acquainted with Urobuchi because the latter helped him with Guilty Crown ten years prior in an uncredited writing capacity (Urobuchi belongs to Nitroplus, a writing company that contributes scripts to many series and films). Kawamura was also eager to work with him as a fan of Puella Magi Madoka Magica. It was Urobuchi’s idea to have the protagonist Uta enter the world in a bubble. In an interview with Anime New Networks Araki said that ‘this motif of a bubble is very symbolic of this ephemeral, kind of slipping through your fingers, type of love’ which is also at the core of the film.

On original character design by Takeshi Obata, it was a risk-taking on an animator known for their dark, violent projects – and asking them to create something sweet, soft, and sincerely romantic as Bubble. But Kawamura commented that Obata is ‘both mainstream and has a sense of artiness, so [he’d] always wanted to work with him.’ Obata was initially too busy to accept the offer, but after reading the plot and seeing the concept illustrations, he contacted Kawamura to say that he wanted to do it.

Kawamura has described the film in interviews as ‘a festival of creators involved with director Araki.’ This is a project that gathers people they both loved to see what would happen if they made a film together.

Bubbles to Mermaid

Image credit: Netflix

The idea of using Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid as the inspiration for this coming-of-age story came from a desire to tell a story of meeting someone that would make you break out of your own shell and break free. In the original story, a mermaid falls in love with a Prince and makes her way to land, but unfortunately, the Prince does not love her back. With a broken heart, she is offered the opportunity to return to the sea if the Prince is killed but she is unable to perform the deed and jumps to hear death in the sea only to find herself eventually turning into bubbles and ultimately disappearing. The lesson learned is less about fairy tale love and more about selflessness. All sorts of questions are posed: Can you truly love someone else if you don’t love yourself? What do you represent to this world? Do you put others before yourself? These are questions that the Little Mermaid is forced to contemplate in this classic tale.

Bubble however flips the story on its head, positioning these dilemmas around Hibiki, the prince in the original fairy tale. It is Hibiki who must learn from Uta, who is herself experiencing a crisis in a new world in which she doesn’t belong. As Hibiki becomes accepting of Uta’s strange behaviours and begins caring for her, we see him opening up to the world as well. He starts to ask people questions, he becomes a team player, and most importantly we see him start to care for himself more.

Surrounding that incredibly relatable tale is an interesting world full of fun, colourful settings. The motif of the bubbles naturally comes from The Little Mermaid but Araki and Kawamura reverse this and make it a story about bubbles that turn into a girl. Since the bubbles in the film have their own lore, they had to work to convey their role in the story through visuals. In a Netflix interview with Araki he said that ‘since the details of the bubbles can’t be explained through dialogue, it was a tough task to convey their role in the story while ensuring that the audience understands. We tried to express a sense of life in the bubbles through controlling their colour gradation.’ They also thought to use sound as a way to add life to the bubbles. Samples of Riria (who voices Uta) breathing were used to create a unique sound which conveys the fact that she’s not just a bubble but an intelligent lifeform with purpose.

Final Thoughts

Image credit: Netflix

At its core Bubble is a love story, but it is also a post-apocalyptic tragedy, a look at the science of vortexes and the Fibonacci sequence, a demonstration of parkour athletics, commentary about the struggle of auditory sensitivity in individuals, a reminder of the cycle of birth and rebirth, and more. It’s a lot, and unfortunately, Araki, Kawamura, and the rest of the creative team may not have been able to fully ground all of these aspects in a cohesive manner.

Araki’s experience shines in Bubble‘s parkour moments as teams of distinct characters vault, flip and throw themselves over wormholes in a crumbling, beautifully saturated city. A sense of speed is skillfully communicated to the viewer by the way the camera is never stationary as it moves alongside, behind or just in front of the characters. The animation during those parkour scenes is truly outstanding. The 2D/3D hybrid animation has a vibrant, glossy sheen which, although not the most stylised, makes for some truly striking moments.

But the pacing and focus constantly switch between incredible animated action sequences and slower more personal scenes that are intended to make us care about the burgeoning romance. Unfortunately, the latter scenes never give us enough insight into either party to make the story really resonate. There is a lack of human turmoil due to underdeveloped characters who are desperately needed to tie together all of the various elements of the film.

That being said, for a film focused on a well-known love story, Bubble feels much larger and more impactful in its scope and social commentary. Bubble creates a sci-fi world that uses fantastical elements to convey simple, universal struggles we all face, namely our desire for unity and support as well as for self-love and acceptance. Bubble gives solace and power to the individual, to those who struggle, and to anyone finding their true identity.

Where to Watch Bubble

Bubble is now available to stream on Netflix worldwide.


About Keltie Mechalski

A self-proclaimed pastry aficionado, outdoor enthusiast and film lover from Canada. Keltie is based in London and writes on film, literature and anything else that piques her fancy.