From the director Yasuhiro Yoshiura of Time of Eve, Patema lives in a closed off world and is always pushing the limits to explore beyond where the elders will let her. But one day, mostly by accident and fear, she finds the limits of her world and soars into the sky as gravity reverses around her. Surface dweller Age sees her and manages to hold her down and the two work together to try and solve a mystery that everyone knows about but nobody speaks about.
When you look at the synopsis for the movie you think "oh that could look cool" and it looks even better than "cool", the art isn't as hyper-realistic as a Makoto Shinkai film but the composition, framing, and sheer imaginativeness of the situation means that the film doesn't need top of the line images to look great. Not that the actual artistry was bad but I was just struck more by how the film was presented, when Patema looks down into the open sky you feel vertigo along with her and can viscerally understand why having the world flipped upside down on you is both stunning and terrifying. Yoshiura put lots a thought into how this would affect even the most banal of situations and I loved those little details, like a shot where the two characters are sitting under a table so they can be face to face instead of always having to look up at each other. And the actual explanation for why the world is like this worked better than I expected, there's absolutely nothing even close to resembling science about it* but the idea did fit in with the rest of the story so I was satisfied with it.
Unfortunately, I had been most worried about how the setting of the story would be handled since after Time of Eve I knew that Yoshiura could create interesting, complex characters and that did not happen here. I'm not sure why, especially since ToE had a good sized cast so it's not as if he can only write one or two really great character types but almost all of the cast just fell flat for me. Patema was the most rounded character and came out the worst for it with how the story was determined to hinder her at every point and not give her a single chance to do something for herself and that realization pulled me out of the movie as I was watching it. I see a lot of people saying "don't blame me for what my characters do!" as if a writer has no control over what characters do, published writers who testify how many times they had to rewrite a scene or cut it entirely because of the characters to the contrary. I feel as if that's what happened here, Yoshiura really wanted Age to become more confident in himself, saving Patema in the process, so he never let the story provide bold Patema, who was willing to explore a different world when Age didn't want anything to do with the one he was already in, a chance to save herself from the villain first. The "villain" was also quite terrible, a government that was a mixture of fear and self-created religious intolerance (which was quite bizarre since it seemed like they had the intolerance first and then created a "religious" reason for it) that was a unrealized and over the top as any freshman high school English class homework might be. Again I was confused since ToE did have a tense arc at the very end and shadowy "villains" throughout but they were realistic enough for me to say "this will probably happen in the future", what happened?!
Does Yoshiura need more time between projects to better flesh out his stories? Did he use up all his good characters in ToE?^ I think it would have been possible to write this story without the "villain" at all, or at least with a much more ambiguous "the villain is not the head of society but rather society itself" character, although it's possible that he didn't want the story to be too close to ToE. The movie isn't outright terrible enough to keep me from recommending it to people, like my mom who adored Time of Eve when I showed it to her, but I'll only be recommending it for the imagery with a caveat about the story.
*"are you telling me that by fracking they broke the world?"
^since, IIRC, Pale Cocoon only had one major character in it