Considering we are not out of the woods yet when it comes to a certain pandemic, there is at least some entertainment to perk our spirits as 2021 has been a phenomenal year for animation, particularly on Netflix where you can watch the likes of The Mitchells vs. The Machines and the latest anime feature, Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop. Originally slated for a 2020 release, Kyōhei Ishiguro’s debut feature film has been the unfortunate victim of COVID-19 delays and has now ended up in the aforementioned streaming service.
In light of other teen romance anime films that have emerged in the wake of Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name, Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop is accessible for those who don’t have to worry about the baggage when it comes to long-running anime franchises.
The film centers on two youngsters who meet in a mundane suburban shopping mall. One of them is Cherry (Somegorô Ichikawa), a boy who is terrible at communicating with other people, so he always wears headphones and puts the feelings he cannot utter into his hobby that is Japanese haiku poems. The other is Smile (Hana Sugisaki), who happens to be a popular video star despite wearing a mask to conceal her large front teeth, for which she has dental braces. Despite their personal issues the two kids bond in an awkward but touching relationship in which they open up about each other.
If you are well-versed in teen romance anime films you will see some familiar tropes in this movie, in which the central relationship is built upon a connection of them being outsiders in their own way, whilst the supporting cast don’t get much development other than the comic relief. In fact, if you are familiar with romantic comedies in general, the film follows a formula that would actually match that of most Hollywood films. This is not always a bad thing because it helps that the film centers on truly likable youngsters.
With an emphasis on social media, as well as the recurring image of Smile wearing a face-mask, the film sure seems relevant by today’s standards, even if the reason for the mask is one of insecurity. Although there isn’t much emphasis towards Smile’s role as a video star— other than for one of the comical characters, Japan, to freak out at such a presence— the film presents a positive side of the internet and how our two leads get over their insecurities. Although you are rooting for Cherry and Smile, at times the emotional core of the story gets shifted to a subplot involving an elderly character who has a pivotal role.
Having previously directed Your Lie in April, which you can watch on Netflix, Kyōhei Ishiguro continues to make music a key character to drive the story as there is a unique blend of past and present musical styles, representing the numerous generations of characters. Considering the stylized nature that you get with anime, the comic nature of Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop adds more moments of slapstick, but what will initially capture your attention is the visuals, all of which are done in bright colors evoking pop art.
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