Patema, a young woman with a burning curiosity about the world outside of her compartmented existence, encounters an enemy during one of her explorations, and in the act of fleeing finds herself falling into the sky. A young man named Age, a resident of Aiga (as the region she's tumbled into is called) saves her, even though he (AND his world) literally seem to have the opposite orientation to hers. But Aiga is ruled by a tyrant, and indoctrinates its residents to hate and fear "inverts" like Patema. Can Patema and Age come to understand each other when the ruler of Aiga is resolved to keep them apart- and to keep Patema a terrified prisoner?
"Why it is YOU who are upside down," he said, "how in the world did you get up here?"
Martin Gardner would have loved Patema Inverted. For many years he wrote the "Mathematical Games" column for Scientific American, and was intrigued by puzzles and paradoxes, including of perception and including, especially, inversions- I remember quite well one he wrote about a weird comic strip by one Gustave Verbeek, "The Upside-Downs of Little Lady Lovekins and Old Man Muffaroo," which was actually two strips in one- reading it in the conventional orientation gave you half the story; to get the other half, you flipped it over. (The two title characters morphed into each other when you turned it upside-down.) Gardner also wrote a preface for the Dover Books edition of the Baum book I was quoting from, and he called attention to the "upside-down" world in that particular chapter of the book as well. So I would guess Gardner would have been delighted with the reversed perspectives the two protagonists of Patema have toward the "world" (gravity seems to pull them in opposite directions), and I think he might even have been intrigued by the philosophical question of which one had the "correct" perspective- perhaps the best answer to that question would be from a study of the history of how things got to be the way they are here, and you WILL get some information to help you sort that out (beyond that I'm not telling!), but I thought there were still some loose ends left over in the end, and someone like Gardner might have been a little more harsh about the physics than I'll be. Still, while Patema and Age might have contradictory notions of "which way is up," they're nevertheless actually pretty similar to each other as people, and maybe can work all this out.
Patema's world, when we first experience it, is one of closed chambers, whose occupants subsist at least partly by scavenging. Outside of it lie steel corridors, enormous pipes, long-nonfunctional rusted machinery, and titanic airshafts; it's down one of the latter that Patema plunges toward the sky in kind of reverse Alice-down-the-rabbit-hole fashion. Age's world has that same sky, but overhead for him rather than under foot. His world is a tightly regimented, thoroughly Orwellian place where students are summoned to class by air-raid siren rather than by a bell, and are made to memorize mantras like "we follow the laws, maintain order, and watch the ground," and "we must keep our eyes firmly on our feet." Hatred of "Inverts" (people from Patema's world) is drilled into the students, and justified by depiction of them as cursed "sinners." While people in Patema's domain are discouraged from visiting Aiga more by cultural taboo, people in Aiga are kept from Patema's world by much more aggressive coercion (both physical and psychological.)
But Patema and Age, despite being from worlds that are either informally (hers), or formally (his), hostile to each other, and despite the opposite directions gravity seems to pull them, still have a lot in common, most particularly a desire to learn more about those places they're not "supposed" to go, and they both have quite a bit of courage as well. (I suffer from vertigo myself, and the "falling up" scenes, and one scene on the top of a tall tower, made ME feel queasy.) Patema and Age also discover an unexpected personal connection between their peoples, whose revelation brings the youngsters even closer together. (Patema's character would have been right at home in a Miyazaki film, hence my recs.)
Ah, that gravity thing. I don't believe that either Patema or Age experiences a full 1 G acceleration when they fall, partly because Patema would have found it almost impossible to stop the way she did when she first entered Aiga (and certainly not without serious injuries), and partly because I don't see how they could manage to hold onto each other (in what we'll call, from both their names, the "Patemage Clench") for as long as they often have to do. This apparently lower gravity might be consistent with the nature of their wider existence- their world is quite a bit more complex than even THEY thought at first; I recommend drawing a diagram. (The elucidation of that complexity involves exciting, unexpected revelations that both the protagonists AND the audience can share.) The Clench somewhat negates the tendency for one of them to fly off in the other direction, allowing the one to tow the other around, kind of like maneuvering an errant helium balloon. As I said, when you think about this it's easy to nitpick the physics, but as I ALSO said, the show makes many fascinating (AND unsettling) points about perspective, as well as that epistemological question of who actually has the "correct" view.
If Patema Inverted has a major weakness, it's its villain. Called Izamura in the Wiki article (though I don't ever remember him actually being called by name anywhere in the show itself), he's smug and brutal, with an obsession with dominating Patema even though he supposedly finds her "kind" disgusting. (We would assume this would involve sexually dominating her as well, but this is the kind of show that studiously avoids going there in any obvious way.) He has that wheezy, cackling laugh that is normally associated with perverted mad scientists in hentai shows. In short, he's pure evil, with NO nuance, and I prefer villains who have a bit more complexity, though he certainly does have his ups and downs, just like everyone else here does.
So I found the show didn't answer ALL my questions (and I think that final scene actually left me with more FRESH ones than with answers), but as High Concept (so to speak) this is a pretty impressive show. The promotional material for the show describes it as "mind-bending", and that's not really hyperbole- it tries to confound your perceptions and expectations, and often does quite well at that.And Patema and Age are utterly charming together- even if the literal mechanics of their relationship might present some challenges in the future.
It's only 98 minutes long, and it's utterly fascinating. See it. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: There's some mild torture (mostly psychological rather than physical, though there IS some of that.) If you have a severe fear of heights, it could give you nightmares, though. No fanservice at all.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD
Review Status: Full (1/1)
Patema Inverted © 2013 Purple Cow Studios
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