Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop is a rare sort of anime film, managing to be highly stylized while delivering a more conventional romance that nevertheless has plenty of surprises. There are no supernatural elements like in Your Name. or Ride Your Wave, and yet it feels otherworldly.
The premise: Sakura “Cherry” Yui is a young and shy haiku poet who greatly prefers writing over speaking. “Smile”—real name Yuki— is a successful streamer, but who wears a mask because she’s embarrassed about her large front teeth. When the two bump into red other and accidentally swap phones, they inadvertently jumpstart a new friendship. Learning about their respective passions, they both grow closer through their art forms. Their budding feelings for each other, in turn, help each respective individual discover more about themselves.
One thing I love about WBULSP is the way it celebrates multiple forms of art without pretentiousness. There’s the contrast between the tradition of haiku and the cutting edge of live streaming, but there’s also the environmental flourish of graffiti and the retro timelessness of 1960s (?) Japanese music. Distinctions between high and low art fall by the wayside as each artist finds ways to express themselves through their chosen medium. Colors and sound dance playfully throughout, making scene after scene both an aesthetic joy and an emotional one. The additional side plot about an old man looking for a lost vinyl record seems to be a silly detour but then transforms into one of the most impactful moments of the film.
Cherry and Smile don’t so much break out of their comfort zones as find ways to expand them, discovering and fostering confidence through their works. The romance feels like a bit of a slow burn, but it’s the kind that steadily and reliably progresses, as opposed to being full of fits and starts. Neither of them feel as if one is a pure audience stand-in or that the other is too perfect a partner, resulting in a romance that feels very equal in the best of ways.