I remember being bored in class a kid, wondering what it would be like if suddenly there was some sort of gravity malfunction and upside-down would become right-side up. I pictured myself stuck to the ceiling of the classroom, afraid to venture outside of the door and fall into the sky. This is the same dilemma the lead character in anime film Patema Inverted faces. No, it’s not that she is bored in a classroom, but the shift in gravity does become a problem when she ends up in an alternate world. I know I’m not the only one to think of this concept before, as I’m sure it’s a daydream thought that’s crossed the minds of many people, but there is a childish fantasy element to it. In this way, it was a good decision for the writers of Patema Inverted to make the movie for kids. In 2013, Patema came and went, but as it stands, it’s a fun children’s feature that has a nice element of mystical science fiction.
The story goes as mentioned, where a young girl named Patema ends up being curious and breaks the rules by going into an off-limits area of the steampunk-like world she lives in. She ends up falling down a hole and then finds herself above a bottomless sky. She’s holding onto a fence for dear life, and luckily there is a young boy on the other side of the hole that can actually walk around on land as normal. Basically, gravity is reversed in his world, and he has to help out Patema to make sure she doesn’t fall into the sky. From here, the story then turns into a rather gripping science-fiction dystopian tale. It doesn’t get too complex as to not alienate the younger target audience but the concepts are well built enough that adults will still get something out of a story that features futuristic displacement and government conspiracies.
Being made with child viewers in mind, Patema Inverted also comes with some little pushes of common thematic elements that are found in science fiction for kids. Age, the boy who helps out Patema when she arrives in the new world, is tired of his daily, seemingly monotonous life. In class he gets scolded by his professor because he’s looking out the window. It’s a very “stay-in-line” sort of viewpoint on behalf of the society within Patema Inverted, but interesting enough is that it goes a little further in terms of authoritarian discussion. There are concepts of sin that are placed among the citizens and the very idea of going against the literal rulebook is blasphemous. In class the professor pulls out the rulebook for society, which is a piece that is met with cynicism on the director’s part. It might be going too far to say that this is a stand-in for the bible, but it’s a metaphor that is certainly hard to ignore.
Nonetheless, these ideas are only touched upon, and the audience is thrown back into a futuristic adventure story. It may not be the most unforgettable work of filmmaking, but it’s still exciting and it’s taking on a more whimsical approach to science fiction, as opposed to say something that is made for an older target audience, like Psycho-Pass. The characters are all charming and there is actually a threat of certain death that is necessary for a story like this. It could have shied away and went with a less severely threatening take on the material for the younger viewers, but thankfully it doesn’t coddle the kids watching the film. Unfolding this leads the movie into being a little too long for its material, but it’s not too much of a detriment on the script’s behalf overall. In the end, the realization the two kids come too is appropriately bright and forthcoming given the intentions, but it’s a nice change of pace from the harsher components that can come from this kind of story.
Technically, Patema Inverted is also nicely executed. This is a movie (although it also came in the form of an ONA) so production values are certainly higher than your average television series. The characters and action scenes move with defined fluidity, and the motion is decently fast paced overall. Even the score feels a little more fantastical than something seen in a television production.
Patema Inverted may not be a groundbreaking film, and in fact is a little slight considering the initial simplicity of the concept and retread “whisked off into a magical world” story point, but thanks to its youthful energy, this future tale is a breath of fresh air. Because it’s a feature, it goes down pretty easily despite that it could have lost about twenty minutes, and as far a science fiction goes it really is just a solid film all around despite some rough edges story wise. The reason it made little noise upon its release was probably due to the fact that it was slight enough that it only demands perhaps one viewing, but that viewing will certainly prove worth the time for a bright little venture of optimistic science fiction.