Bubble tells us to listen

First drafted June 11.

I hear a tractor passing on this sunny afternoon. Its heavy diesel engine echoes from the buildings in this tiny Belgium village, somewhere in the Ardennes. Other than the wind and birds, it is quiet. I’m on the annual team weekend, having just returned from a few days off with my parents. Similarly to the last couple of days, I find myself in nature. With limited city sounds or the general business of the working life my mind is in relative peace.

This subdued external input creates space. Space to think and space to listen. 

Listening to my own thoughts is something I value. Especially when it concerns my writing or my current (life) situation. Unfortunately, my agenda was filled to the brim during the last couple of weeks with all kinds of stuff. Thus limiting my time to listen and reflect. I’m sure many of you are in similar situations, where your life is teeming with so many activities that you’re not even thinking about creating a moment to breathe. Luckily Bubble (2022) sparked my drive to conciously create a moment to listen.

What is Bubble (spoilers)

Bubble is an animated feature film produced by Wit studio. It features the visually stunning post-apocalyptic version of Tokyo which was largely flooded by a mysterious event known as the “Bubble Fall”.

During the film we follow a group of teens who do dangerous parkour battles to gather supplies so they can survive. One of these teens is 19-year-old Hbiki. He is an exceptional player, yet limited because of his hearing disorder (hyperacusis).

Part of his exceptional skills come from his ability to hear a song when he focuses. It is implied only Hbiki can hear it because of his hearing sensitivity. The rhythm of the song enables Hbiki to read the ever changing terrain of Tokyo like he practiced it for years. And practice is what he needs. Because when not competing in the parkour, Hbiki tries to reach the epicenter of the bubble at Tokyo Tower which calls to him. However, he constantly fails at his attempts to reach it due to the complex gravity forces. In one attempt he nearly drowns, only to be saved by a mysterious girl he names Uta. 

He takes her back to his team home and Uta joins the team. Over the runtime of the film, Uta influences the lives of everyone around her. Not only those on the team, but also her mysterious sisters. Convince them that they can coexist with humans by simply being among them; listening and learning from them.

If you watched the film you’ll realize the basic plot is a retelling of The Little Mermaid. It even uses the book to give context to the story of Uta and Hbiki. Which is not something that I was expecting before watching this film. Regardless, the plot execution is abstract and sometimes hard to follow. Luckily the visuals are amazing and Hyroyuki Sawano’s soundtrack elevates those visuals to an even higher level. It is a shame that the plot and underdeveloped characters don’t contribute to it1.

Are you listening

I would’ve loved it if Bubble’s on screen action wasn’t limited by some of the mandatory plot or exposition. For example: It is nice to know why Tokyo is in this state, but it would also work if this was shown in the opening of the film2.

If done so, there would be more time for the viewer to spend with the characters. The time we would need to watch them grow. This can be done when the main plot is minimized to let the characters shine. We could learn more about them. Why are they (re)acting like they do? And what are these characters learning from Uta since she is someone who learns from watching and listening to others. On top of that she is a person who values that experience appropriately, as can be seen in the scene where she creates bubble figures. This is why you could argue that Bubble is a study of the human experience; although I would sooner link it to our ability to grow as people through the act of listening.

While Bubble culminates in a rather tumultuous ending, the below scene explains exactly what I mean. Through listening and watching Hbiki, Uta is able to understand him. And she is able to return that experience by singing.

She may not be able to talk, but she is able to convey her feelings. Thus showing us that she grew from someone who clung to Hbiki to someone who has a better understanding of the world3. Sadly the moment is cut short because the plot needs to happen. Which is not a criticism. It is me feeling sad that the moment ends. Especially because these moments are limited compared with the energetic action. But when viewed as a complete product, Bubble is very clear in its visual and auditory storytelling. Storytelling that touches the heart.

 “Listening is an attitude of the heart, a genuine desire to be with another which both attracts and heals.” 

L. J. Isham


1. Which seems to be the consensus among reviewers

2. I want to use Laputa’s opening credits as an example because that kind of short and to the point exposition that Bubble would have benefited from. I couldn’t find it on Youtube so you have to do with an analysis on why it is so good.

3. One with rose-coloured glasses, but a better one nonetheless.

Additional sources/research

What Great Listeners Actually Do; by Zenger, J. and Folkman, J: https://hbr.org/2016/07/what-great-listeners-actually-do

There’s NO Such Thing as “Soft Skills”; Simon Sinek

Bubble (2022) Honest Review; Unleash the Ghouls

Bubble: The Beautiful Mess | Bubble Anime Movie Review; ProfessorViral

Bubble | Director Araki and Composer Sawano Reaction | Netflix Anime