So a girl and boy meet one another and fall desperately in love, except they're on different landscapes with opposing gravity that meets somewhere in the middle. If the plot of Yasuhiro Yoshiura's Patema Inverted (2013) sounds a little familiar, it's due to the the not-so-well-received
Upside Down (2012), an effects-heavy live action film starring Jim Sturgess and Kristen Dunst. Whether Patema (which began as a four-part ONA series in 2012) borrows liberally from Upside Down or vice-versa, the close development and release dates of both like-minded productions don't make this an easy case to solve. But one thing's for sure: the story is perfectly suited for animation and, aside from a few fundamental shortcomings along the way, Patema is the more accessible, energetic, and satisfying of the two.
OK, comparison over. Patema follows an eponymous princess who lives underground with the rest of her people within a maze-like structure of caves and tunnels. Most of 'em know better than to leave the confines of their modest "city" in fear of the unknown...except for Patema. who routinely scours the rusted, industrial remains. After encountering a mysterious, bat-like creature on the ceiling, Patema falls down into a massive pit...or, as it turns out, upward into the world above. Luckily, she hangs on for dear life before being pulled down by Age (also spelled as "Eiji"), who walks on the planet's surface upside down from her perspective. Meanwhile, Patema and her fellow "inverts" have been demonized by the dastardly Izamura and other surface-level authorities: their religion dictates that sinners fall upward. Age risks his own safety by literally clinging to Patema, who only wants to return to her underground home.
During the first half of its reasonably brisk 99-minute lifespan, Patema Inverted weaves an interesting tale: it's familiar material, of course, but the film's unusual perspective creates a twisting but accessible atmosphere. Slowly, the wonder begins to wear off, however, and we're left with a rather one-note romance...and worse yet, the broadly-painted and laughably evil Izamura is far from a compelling villain. His intentions are almost understandable, but Izamura operates with such reckless abandon that he's hard to take seriously. Had Patema strayed from tradition by omitting the antagonist, it might have improved the story; after all, why bother with a mustache-twirling bad guy when you're in constant danger of falling into space? So while these elements cripple the lasting enjoyment of this otherwise compelling adventure, Patema's stunning visuals and distinct atmosphere manage to negate some of these shortcomings. Either way, it's still a film worth watching once...and possibly one that you'll want to watch again soon enough.
Presented on Blu-ray by Cinedigm Entertainment, Patema Inverted looks very impressive in high definition and there's some fine attention to detail on this disc in most other departments. A comparable English dub is also included alongside the original Japanese track, as well as separate subtitles for each version...plus a short but sweet collection of imported supplements featuring key cast and crew members. It's an attractive package for new and interested viewers, though a recent Kickstarter-funded Ultimate Edition may be the more desirable option for die-hard fans with extra cash.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Overall, this 1080p transfer for Patema Inverted looks strong on Blu-ray. Framed at 1.78:1, many of the dense compositions are given plenty of headroom. Image detail is strong, with crisp line work and stunning backgrounds that mesh well together. The color also looks great from start to finish, favoring a natural but slightly muted palette that offers just enough flourish during the more fantastic sequences to throw viewers for a loop. Digital imperfections---including excessive noise reduction and compression artifacts---were not spotted, though very minimal amounts of banding and edge enhancement could be seen on occasion. Either way, what's here is very satisfying and any minor problems may stem from the original source material. Fans and first-time viewers will be pleased.
DISCLAIMER: The compressed screen captures featured in this review are resized and do not represent this Blu-ray's native 1080p resolution.
Viewers can choose between the original Japanese 5.1 track or a capable English 5.1 dub, and both are presented in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio. Sonic detail and fidelity are virtually identical on both tracks, although the English mix seems slightly louder on occasion (and just for the record, you can't switch between tracks using the "audio" button on your remote, although you can via the pop-up menu). In both instances, dialogue and music are well balanced without fighting for attention, channel separation is strong on occasion, and the film's more active moments create a wide and convincing sound field. Optional English subtitles are available during the main feature in two versions as well: one translates the original Japanese script, while the other replicates the dubbed English track (also known as "dubtitles"). Usually one or the other is omitted for whatever reason, so it's extremely nice to have a choice here.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The basic menu interface is smooth and simple to navigate, offering separate options for audio/subtitle setup, chapter selection and bonus features. This one-disc release is housed in a standard-width clear keepcase with a promotional insert, reversible cover artwork, and a foil-enhanced slipcover. It's a great-looking package overall.
There's a good mix of stuff on paper, but some of it is pretty short and surface-level. The best of the bunch is a feature-length Audio Commentary
with producer Mikio Ono and voice actors Fujii Yukiyo (Patema), Nobuhiko Okamoto (Age), and Oohata Shintaro (Porta), presented in Japanese with forced English subtitles. This is a lively and interesting chat, as all four participants are in very good spirits and bounce off each other nicely. Topics of discussion include their first encounters with the project, character development, general production memories, and much more.
Three short featurettes are also included, which appear to have been recorded on the same day (and, more than likely, so was the commentary). We get a Director Interview with Yasuhiro Yoshiura (5:18), another Voice Actor Interview with Fujii Yukiyo and Nobuhiko Okamoto (6:00), and some Premiere Footage with all three (15:04). Some of the commentary stories are repeated during these short featurettes, but I'd imagine that fans of the film will enjoy them nonetheless. Like the audio commentary, these are presented in the original Japanese with forced English subtitles and on-screen text interview questions. Last but not least is the U.S. Trailer (1:47), presented in English.
Like many sci-fi and fantasy films before it (animated or otherwise), Patema Inverted takes a rather conventional story and simply places it in a new and unusual environment. Unfortunately, the lack of an interesting villain and a deflated third act almost spoil the party, but the film's interesting premise and fantastic visuals manage to save what's left. With that said, I could definitely see Patema Inverted as an accessible "gateway drug" for those relatively new to anime, despite some of the film's fundamental shortcomings. Cinedigm's Blu-ray package is slightly above average with a few thoughtful touches, including two high quality audio tracks and separate subtitles for each one, as well as a handful of appropriate bonus features. Recommended, but a rental might be enough for those on the fence.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.