“Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop” is an Important Movie for the Anime Community

“Words Bubble Up…” took me by surprise. It showed up on my recommendations from Netflix a grand total of one time before vanishing. I found this a little odd — add the fact that it didn’t show up in any of my sub categories either, despite them being mostly anime related. It wasn’t until I saw a few adds on YouTube that I decided to give it a go. The ads weren’t anything amazing. They showed off the hyper saturated color pallet and beautiful backgrounds (possibly done by Studio I.G. as they are listed in the credits.).

If anything I am a sucker for pretty looking anime. So, after a considerable search to dig this one up from the pile of content on Netflix, I settled in for the night to watch. I expected a cute anime with quirky characters — which this movie delivers. But I was taken aback by several themes and stylistic choices that the movie’s team settled on. It is for these reasons that this movie should be a must watch for any anime fan.

The Role of Adults and the Elderly

Anime is kind of famous for not having great roles for anyone over the age of thirty. Most anime feature casts that can barely drive, let alone purchase tobacco and alcohol. The role of adults are often relegated to unimportant teacher roles, or bosses. For the elderly, roles in anime are often the rarely speaking obaasan and ojiisan, present for some light humor, or the plot necessary data dump. It’s the “I’m old, so I have all this information for you, Main Protag” scenario.

However, in “Words Bubble Up…” much of the plot is driven by the wants and needs of the elderly. The opening sequence places one of these characters, Fujiyama-Ojiisan, at the center of the film, following him on his search for something he lost. It is his search that drives most of the main plots points of this movie.

Without getting spoilery, “Words Bubble Up…” enforces his importance, as well as the importance of many of the adult main characters that color this film, by mirroring the opening moment in the close. The beginning follows his search; the film ends with him finally finding his treasure, and his words, shouted to the young boy Cherry in the opening moments, are made clear in their intent, as he calls the young boy to action, to seize his moment despite his fears.

Characters with Character

There has been an emphasis in the anime industry over the past twenty years or so on beauty. Character are often designed and animated with the figurines and t-shirts in mind. While this has led to some incredible character designs — think Princess Connect Re: Dive, Zombie Land Saga, or the entire Pokemon franchise — it has also led to a near obsessive focus on the proportions that has somewhat standardized anime character design. This can, and has, led to a certain sameiness in characters between series, and can make it difficult to remember who comes from what.

Where “Words Bubble Up…” differs is in, not just how characters are designed, but how they are animated. Along with the hyper-stylized color palette, the young main characters are exaggerated with long necks and skinny limbs. They have a sense of incompleteness, as though they are still growing into themselves. This is made more clear when they are placed alongside the adult characters, whose proportions are closer to industry standards, though still just far enough off to be noticeable.

Equally exaggerated are their movements, which deviate considerably from the type of animation anime fans have come to expect. In a conventional anime film or TV show, there are two types of animation. The first is the stiff and selectively animated scenes. These are often conversations, plot heavy, or dedicated to world/character building. The focus is to keep the designs on model, pretty, and easy to reproduce from frame to frame.

The second is the Sakuga, the eye candy. This is where the bulk of the animation team’s efforts are place. These are very often fight scenes, but don’t have to be. In “Food Wars” the Sakuga comes from cooking. Sk8: Infinity it comes from skate scenes. In quieter animations — like “My Teen Romantic Comedy…” or “Fruits Basket” — the Sakuga comes from subtle, nuanced, and often very introspective scenes depicting complex emotions that require considerable effort through both animation, lighting and camera work.

“Words Bubble Up…” threads a needle between both, giving both scenes of frenetic eye candy, and highly animated conversations. An early chase scene through a mall really lets the key animators flex, and delivers a nice hit of dopamine to the viewer, while conversations are equally kinetic and nuanced.

These design choice lead to a feeling of authenticity to the younger characters. They give the feeling of being both, full of energy and unable to control themselves. The main character Cherry, in particular, is a great example as he often struggles to hide himself in plain view. He contorts his neck and body, trying (and failing) to shrink himself down and out of existence.

Smile, our buck-toothed heroine, is also often trying to hide in plain sight. Where Cherry twists and bends to hide himself, Smile’s movements are focus on perky and poppy motions. All of this is in an effort to distract from her teeth, which are the source of her insecurity. Additionally, she wears a medical mask to hide her mouth, often obsessing over its placement, much like one might fret over lipstick application and hair styling.

It is all the more telling when the imperfections of the character are made central to why Cherry and Smile fall for each other. By the end of the film Cherry is still an introvert, turning beet-red and sweaty. Smile is still a buck-tooth girl, and her insecurities aren’t shown has having been overcome, though certainly alleviated by Cherry, just as he is able to face his anxieties because of Smile.

Cherry probably says it best in his final haiku, in which the kanji for leaves and teeth (pronounced the same, spelled different) are swapped out:

Yamazakura, I like the leaves (teeth) that you’ve hidden.

Importance of Time

While the arc of Smile and Cherry is cute, if a little conventional, it is only made possible by their experiences with Furiyama-ojiisan, and his search for what he’s lost.

I cannot go into anymore detail here. I don’t want to spoil what is possibly the most emotional moment in animation since Anohana’s last scene. But, suffice to say, it touches on themes of memory and mortality that are not usually in anime.

The idea of time being finite is echoed in both Furiyama and Cherry/Smile’s arcs. For the young, it is about summer nearly being over. For Furiyama it is about life being over, and about memories slipping away into the darkness as the mind unwinds and begins to fail.

There is more I’d love to say, but — really — just go watch it.

Defy the Normal

In a sea of ready to produce waifu’s and husbando’s, teenagers with DD cup sizes, and bodies like bodybuilders, “Words Bubble Up…” stands apart. Much like its color palette, it captures life in all its colors. It places importance on the young and the old. It shows beauty in imperfection. Most importantly, “Words Bubble Up…” feels more deeply and acutely. It should be seen by everyone. Any anime fan would be remiss to skip over this one.

Writer, Photographer, #hashtag, Father.