Like last year's A Whisker Away, the anime movie Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop was originally meant to be released in Japanese theaters but was delayed due to the pandemic and is now premiering worldwide on Netflix. You can easily tell the script by Dai Sato (Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex) was written in a pre-COVID world because a big point is made out of one of the characters wearing a face mask for very different reasons than most would be wearing one today. That minor datedness aside, Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop is a delightful experience.
Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop is a teen romance set to pop music, as it feels like most original anime movies in the aftermath of Your Name have been. Kyohei Ishiguro's film distinguishes itself from the pack largely through its visual style. Whereas Makoto Shinkai and his imitators aim for naturalistic beauty, the art in Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop is all bright pop-art colors with minimal shading and cartoonishly expressive designs that evoke FLCL. Produced primarily at Signal.MD and Sublimation with outsourcing work done by dozens of other studios, the animation is fun to watch throughout, though there are occasional issues with awkward camera work.
The central "meet cute" is between Cherry, a quiet, haiku-writing boy who works at a shopping mall senior center and shows possible signs of an Autism Spectrum Disorder, and Smile, a popular influencer who projects energetic confidence but wears a face mask to hide her buck teeth and braces. An incident at the mall sees them both accidentally grab each other's phones, and the ensuing comedy of errors sends these two on the path to romance. Both Cherry and Smile are strong and likable characters, supported by entertainingly eccentric friends -- Cherry hangs out with a Latino street artist named Beaver and a weeaboo clerk nicknamed "Japan," while Smile has her equally popular influencer sisters by her side.
Interestingly, after the first act establishes Cherry and Smile's personalities and relationship, much of the rest of Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop is less focused on their love story and more focused on the couple helping one of Cherry's clients, a loudmouth old man named Mr. Fujiyama, find a lost record. Fujiyama is suffering from memory loss, but he wants to hear this rare record one last time before he forgets about it.
The backstory that gradually emerges as Cherry and Smile solve the mystery behind this record is an emotional one that works as both its own subplot and as a motivator for the protagonists to face their personal insecurities. The pace is slower for this section of the story compared to the manic comedy in the early parts, and viewers will definitely figure certain things out well before the characters do, but seeing the characters figure out these solutions is still satisfying to watch.
Working music into the fabric of the story makes the now-expected big romantic scene set to a pop song all the more heartwarming, and Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop masterfully brings all its disparate elements together for a beautiful ending. Though definitely targeted at the teen crowd, this G-rated film is both wholesome enough and mature enough that anyone of any age can enjoy it. Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop is an adorable summer love story that deserves to be spared getting lost in the Netflix algorithm.
Directed by Kyohei Ishiguro and written by Dai Sato, Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop stars Somegorou Ichikawa and Hana Sugisaki and is now available in Japanese theatres and on Netflix.