#1 These are not movie-quality visuals
The benefit of anime movies is often that you get a smaller story with visuals that are far above the quality you see in TV anime. The title Patema Inverted is perhaps a little too apt, because here it’s the other way around.
The movie tries to go for that anime-style realism that means you get washed-out colors and drab sceneries. The film enjoys shots of greyish apartment complexes, underlit classrooms, and even has a big chunk of its runtime take place in an old shed. The result is a film that just looks boring; it lacks colors, interesting lighting, or even the directing skill to make the look work. The exception here are the scenes taking place underground, where the industrial look leads to some admittedly nice backgrounds.
On top of this, there are many smaller annoyances I encountered, like how the movie lingers on unimpressive shots for what feels like eons or little animation mistakes like how the fire escapes on the apartment buildings. Most obnoxious of all are the blooming beams of light, which the movie loves to use whenever it wants scenes to feel prettier.
In a year that also saw anime movies like The Wind Rises, Little Witch Academia, the third Berserk movie, and Madoka Magica: Rebellion, I would be feeling severely ripped off had I seen Patema Inverted in a cinema.
#2 Undercooked plot
The underlying problem of Patema Inverted, besides the lackluster visuals, is its misuse of its strong premise. In this movie, gravity is relative. A portion of humanity lives as we do, but others make a living underground because, for them, gravity is inverted and they would fall to the sky if ever they went above ground.
It’s an interesting idea to play around with, except writer Yasuhiro Yoshiura opted to use it to tell the most painfully generic romance story available. An “inverted” girl called Patema one day falls towards the surface after being attacked by an assailant. However, there she is grabbed by a boy called Age, who barely manages to prevent her from floating up into the sky. Patema hides in an old shed because Age’s evil government wants to capture her, and in the confines of that small storage space, their romance starts to blossom.
A romance story isn’t the worst direction for the story, except it never gets the build-up or chemistry it needs. Patema is an alright character, so it’s a shame that Age is rather boring and doesn’t have enough scenes with her to make for a satisfying love story. Meanwhile, this romance is something we got instead of storylines like exploring the inverted world, learning what kind of people live there, or exploring what it would be like for regular and inverted people to live together.
#3 This is your villain???
I made mention of Age’s evil government before, but I want to stress that point a little bit more because Patema Inverted was recommended to me on the basis of its strong writing. Of all the elements of its cliché story, the presentation of the government and the dictator at the head of it are perhaps the worst the movie has to offer.
The guy is just your basic, power-hungry adult who is competing against literal children. Remember Oberon from Sword Art Online season 1? He is basically that with less setup. He throws tirades, his eyes go all twitchy, he excitedly mutters about his sexual desires for Patema, who is of course underage. Every twist involving him you see coming from a mile away, it’s a character that I can confidently say has 0 originality worked into him. I can’t imagine writing a plot for a film that is intended to be emotional and has this amazing premise at its core, and then thinking that a villain of this caliber is acceptable for it.
Now, you could argue that you should zoom out and look at the society this man has created, but there too I find that Patema Inverted falls short. It tries to establish a sort-of religious state where the inverted people are demonized, except this is only shown through the off-brand Nazi goons that Patema and Age have to avoid, all of which are kind of slow-witted and easily fooled. The students we see all appear kind of perpetually bored and we never see if the propaganda and speeches actually affect them at all. In fact, aside from Age and the bad guys, none of the “regular” people ever interact with their inverted neighbors, so we get a whole bunch of setup and world-building here that amounts to absolutely nothing in the end.