If the sky that we look upon should tumble and fall or the mountain should crumble to the sea
By Yasuhiro Yoshiura
I stumbled across Yasuhiro Yoshiura 2013’s animated film Patema Inverted by accident. An image search for something else turned up Patema Inverted ‘s eyecatching cover. As has been well-established, I am a sucker for a pretty cover.
Patema yearns to find a world beyond the tunnels and corridors she grew up in. One careless step later, and she plummets down into an endless abyss. Luckily for Patema, high school student Age is in the right place at the right time to prevent Patema from falling up into the endless sky.
Years earlier, an attempt to manipulate gravity went horribly right, hurling people and buildings into the sky. The accident didn’t temporarily reverse gravity; it permanently imbued everything it affected, living and otherwise, with negative weight. What’s down to Patema is up to Age and what down to Age is up to Patema.
The totalitarian state of Aiga is determined to prevent another such calamity. Aiga enforces strict conformity; those who flaunt convention, or the law, have a way of suffering fatal accidents. Age’s father died in an (alleged) mishap years ago, plummeting from the basket of his flying machine.
Age is just as unconventional as his late father. The law demands that he turn the Invert (as Patema’s people are called) over to the authorities to imprison (or worse). Instead of doing his duty, Age conceals Patema in a convenient shed. But keeping Patema’s existence secret is impossible in a panopticon state; in short order, Age’s transgression is discovered and the girl from underground is captured and imprisoned.
Years earlier, Aiga’s leader, the ruthless Izamura, had captured an Invert … but that Invert inconsiderately died before revealing where the rest of his people were hiding. Patema is a second chance to find out where the Inverts have secreted themselves. Izamura intends to end the Invert threat (flagrant disobedience to the laws of gravity) forever. They are to be ethnically cleansed.
This is an empowering story about resisting mindless conformity, about how one person’s perspective can be literally 180 degrees off one’s own and still be correct,. So let’s start off by talking about the Macguffin, that is, weight-inverted matter.
Age and Patema are very nearly the same weight, which means if they cling together. the slightly heavier Age can jump vast distances.
I was impressed by how quickly they figured out how to work as a team. I was even more impressed by the upper body strength and stamina pretty much everyone demonstrates, whether holding onto Patema
Remember that from the point of view of the Inverts, they are hanging — often one-handed! — over a bottomless pit.
For the most part, the film plays fair with its One Impossible Assumption 1; I am willing to give the author the convenient coincidence that Age and Patema are so close in weight, because without that coincidence the movie does not work as well (and is very short and tragic if Patema is the heavier one).
The somewhat heavy-handed moral is that opposites are to be tolerated, because when they cooperate they can do great things. Boy and girl, Invert and … you know, it’s telling there’s no term for someone who is not Inverted.
I did have two quibbles. The lesser one involves the big reveal at the end, one that makes less sense the more I think about it. Why on Earth would people think that was an appropriate reaction to the Incident? But I admit the reveal was both deftly foreshadowed and quite dramatic.
I was even more annoyed that Patema loses her protagonist status to Age soon after the movie starts. She is quickly captured, after which she becomes a mere pawn in the struggle between the inordinately creepy Izamura and the plucky Age. I wanted her to have a more active role.
Aside from (for me, a major) quibble about needless sexism, this was an enjoyable diversion. It’s even kid-safe, as long as your kids don’t have barophobia and as long you are OK with telling your kids to stand up for principle over cruel conformity. And you could even treat the sexism thing as a learning moment, because there’s nothing kids like more than entertainment with learning moments.
Patema Inverted is available here.
1: I was a bit surprised neither Age nor Patema hit on what seemed like the obvious precaution of using small inverted-wrt-them weights to allow fine tuning. Put that down to lack of time on their part. Other Inverts with more time to consider the issue do invent the idea of ballast.
This seems like a great place for me to prove I don’t overthink things by not going on at great length about the possible physiological effects of breathing in and consuming Inverted matter. And not wondering if you could slowly turn someone from Inverted to Other Inverted by feeding them matter of the other sort.