In the near future, Tokyo was left flattened as a result from a great earthquake. A new city, MegaTokyo, was then recreated due in no small part from the aid of a multi-million dollar company, Genom Corp. Genom created and mass-produced biomechanical creatures called Boomers to aid in the restoration of MegaTokyo. When the Boomers began to run out of control, the ADPolice at first tried to stop them, but they proved to be far more difficult to deal with than was first imagined. Under the ever looming Boomer threat, a group of four girls from varying degrees of society banded together. Calling themselves The Knight Sabers, they were the only ones with enough firepower and resourcefulness to defend the fledgling MegaTokyo from Genom and its berserk Boomers.
#1: "Konya wa Hurricane (今夜はハリケーン)" by Kinuko Oomori (ep 1) #2: "Mad Machine" by Kinuko Oomori (ep 2) #4: "CRISIS ~ Ikari wo Komete Hashire" by Yuiko Tsubokura (ep 4) #5: "Mysterious Night (ミステリアスナイト)" by the Knight Sabers (ep 5) #7: "Say Yes!" by Maiko Hashimoto (ep 7) #8: "Bye Bye My Crisis" by the Knight Sabers (ep 8)
Given that this is Bubblegum Crisis\' 20th anniversary year, I\'m going to start with some historic background. In 1987, amid the boomtimes in the west, the rise of Japanese industrial and corporate power appeared to be potentially endless and the west seemed unable to match it. Japan, and much of the first world was getting rich quick and advancing technologically in leaps and bounds; but at the same time, other countries were still stuck in a past age, unable to keep up. For the first time socioeconomic concepts like the multinational corporation and the global market became realities, and the division between
the first and third world had never seemed wider. While some revelled in the abundance, others feared it.
Science fiction, ever the barometer of public fear, reflected this in books and film. Alien, in 1979, brought the world a vision of space travel in the future that for once was filthy and corrupt and run by giant corporations with no morals. The seminal Blade Runner stunned 1982 with the visually amazing concept of a huge, grimy neon tech-sprawl future LA of totally mixed ethnicity and robots that behave more like humans than humans do. And William Gibson’s famed 1984 novel Neuromancer gave the world a fevered, lavish nightmare of clashing technology and humanity embroiled in a tale of global tech businesses up to no good, in the process giving this burgeoning genre a name: cyberpunk.
Where one media succeeds, others will follow. Cyberpunk anime was as inevitable then as live action western versions of anime have become now. Bubblegum Crisis was the leading edge of that cyberpunk anime, taking the elements that worked for the rest and expertly marrying it with many of the elements that make anime unique. Today, Bubblegum Crisis is one of those \'classic\' titles that anime fans need to know about, a Terminator or Star Wars of the anime canon. Even though its popularity in Japan was only a fraction of the reception it enjoyed overseas, it’s my contention that without Bubblegum Crisis there’d have been no Akira film.
But is it any good? On one hand, detractors can say that this is a messy blending of many things that have already been done; a Blade Runner city with a flavour of Neuromancer-come-Alien-come-Aliens dystopian griminess and high-tech evil and full of Terminators and Robocops, filtered through that anime staple, mecha. This is largely true, but doesn’t matter. Outside anime, nothing so ambitious could ever work; but within the totally created universe that’s only possible in animation or CGI, and only really practical in animation, it not only works but excels.
Originally planned as a series of 13 OVA episodes, it eventually ran to only 8 episodes, and some key plot points were altered because of this. Another 3 episodes were released later in an OVA series called Bubblegum Crash, using elements of the 5 unmade episodes that never made it originally. Each is largely self contained, but both multi-episode arcs of storyline and a loose overall plotline are also present. Being an OVA, the time period and hence staff is not as fixed as can be seen with a TV series, the net effect of which being that pretty much every episode is different from each of the others, with different emphases and different priorities. On top of this, half way through, some key decisions were reversed about the planned death in episode 5 of a character who, in hindsight, clearly stands out as the main protagonist. Plus, the eventual premature demise of the series stemmed from the two owners of the franchise, Artmic and Youmex, taking each other to court. DVD releases nowadays seem so snarled in legalities that the horrendous dubtitling is almost forgivable. So, it’s a total mess, basically.
But like I say, this doesn’t really matter. What Bubblegum Crisis does so well, well enough that it relegates these things to positions of secondary importance, is cool. BGC may not have a very sure idea of what it wants to be and do, in a general sense, but it does it with irrepressable style; everything about BGC is very cool. Kenichi Sonoda, who went on to be the man behind Gunsmith Cats, designed the characters impeccably, including their incredible sleek hardsuit armour, which look like what Lamborghinis and Ferraris would look like if they were shaped like women. Various other mechanical designs, by Aramaki Shinji, later to be mechanical designer for Evangelion and director of Appleseed 2004, largely borrows from much of early \'80s sci-fi, and frankly looks fantastic. There’s a very brash, colourful, in-your-face ‘80s vibe also driving the general design ethos, which might sound ghastly but is in fact perfect for crumbling, self-digesting neon dystopias. Much of the visuals are, as mentioned, lifted from Blade Runner and run through a series of anime design quirks. Animation is by no means stunning generally, but gets the job done, and when you factor in the fact that this is from 1987, it really has some very nice touches.
No review of Bubblegum Crisis is remotely complete without mention of the music. BGC is famous for its music almost as much as it is famous for popularising women kicking arse. Synth-rock songs that are as artificial and processed as the nutrasweet in diet coke, tunes painstakingly designed to be catchy and memorable, are the order of the day; it is hard to express how much raw fun it is. It\'s also archetypally \'80s, overblown and brash - and outside of BGC, I generally hate \'80s stuff. The songs especially manage to encapsulate that B-movie feeling; like the irrelevant pop songs at the end of a film that was cheesy but still really entertaining, they are driving, infectious ballads with amazing powers of mood-lightening. Many have noted the similarity between the opening of the first episode and the start of the 1984 film Streets of Fire; but the integration of the music into the story in BGC is much smoother. And, while I love the music, it\'s immediately obvious it\'s the kind of thing that\'s likely to provoke strong responses that won\'t be positive for everyone - a gamble any series that relies so heavily on music must make. Even if you\'re not keen on the sound, though, there\'s no mistaking the skill, high production values and copious amounts of effort behind it.
By having the rock singer character as one of its toughest protagonists is a move that trumps Streets of Fire\'s equivalent role in every way. BGC\'s other characters are far from original by modern standards, but it\'s worth remembering that they set many of those standards themselves. These are archetypes, not stereotypes; those that set the trend, not those who follow them. No-one looks down on Dirty Harry, just because he spawned a thousand maveric cop characters.
It can\'t be denied that there are some fairly major things wrong with BGC. For one, it\'s almost totally episodic, with no real overarching plot and little other than the strong, well rounded characters to link one episode to another. For another, the characters may be strong and extremely charismatic, but they don\'t really change much or develop like they should. For a third, it suffers from the lack of an ending; the last story just stops like any other, and you reach for the last disc...and it\'s just music videos (also real fun). These problems are at least addressed in the 1999 remake, Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040, but at the expense of design, music and general coolness. What the remake did not fix, however, is the basic implausibility of the whole thing. Bloodsucking robots, transforming motorbikes and mecha-tentacle beasts strain one\'s suspension of disbelief unpleasantly at times.
Nonetheless, Bubblegum Crisis, or, to give it its full title, \'Bubblegum Crisis MegaTokyo 2032: the story of Knight Sabers\' (yes, BGC was in fact the origin of the now-common phrase MegaTokyo - another example of its wide influence), remains immensely enjoyable popcorn anime, and remains fascinating for anyone interested in the history of anime. After 20 years, that\'s pretty damn impressive.
Containing what might be one of the best opening 7 minutes of an anime ever, this OVA opens with a montage of the future, a dark sprawling Mega-Tokyo.
Immediately Ghost in the Shell comes to mind, some scenes look almost identical, the Oshii vibe so thick, the possible influence on the man (and even Shirow himself) is made more and more questionable throughout the OVA with many stylistic choices bringing the GitS franchise to mind.
After the introduction of the various comings and goings of the city, a concert suddenly begins, introducing a blonde wigged character Priss, and is intercut with the appearance of a boomer wrecking
havoc. The direction and editing, and hell even the music are all excellent and ensure the OVA gets off to a cracking start. 80's cyberpunk at its best!
The story follows four plucky young women with nothing better to do in their spare time than to don cyber-outfits and blow crap up, preferably those pesky rogue boomers who keep appearing all over the city. The combined IQ of these four women finally figures out that Genom corporation, which apparently ”accounts for 68% of the world's cars”, might have something to do with these incidents and so Bubblegum Crisis delivers 8 episodes of pure unadulterated fun in a way only 80's anime can.
Mega-Tokyo, 2032. This is the future, but seen from the eyes of the 80's. Each decade's vision of the future is idiosyncratic, and so each decade produces strange and brilliant works of genius or garbage, with Bubblegum Crisis firmly in the strange and brilliant camp, albeit lacking both genius and garbage, though still retaining quality production and vision. Plenty of great directorial choices, POV shots, pans, zooms, it's all dynamic and makes up for the dated, yet still decent, animation.
No matter the humour or clunky dialogue or 80's sprinkled aesthetics in hair styles and clothing, this is cyberpunk at its peak. Everything associated with the genre is present, the connective nature of society, the paranoia of having satellites hovering above your head with the capability of blowing you up, biotech suits, corporate power run amok. In a sense Bubblegum Crisis is more cyberpunk than a lot of cyberpunk anime out there which sometimes jettison a lot of the genre's traits and settle for dystopic hijinks with the occasional robot AI thrown in. Bubblegum Crisis revels in the genre and doesn’t leave anything out.
The anime came out at what might be seen as cyberpunk's peak of influence and exposure in the mainstream, and as such is worth a watch for its historical significance, in terms of impacting the genre of cyberpunk in anime and also being a window to the time. It's so classy it even has time to throw a shout out to The Third Man!
It’s flawed, but packed with so much creative ideas and flair, you can’t help but bop along to the 80's tunes. Each episode starts with a cinematic musical montage of 80's soft rock/pop and narrative-advancing imagery. This isn’t on-par with cyberpunk like GitS, you have to accept the humour and gaping plot-holes as part of the charm, or you'll just not be involved and will tune out. The AD Police are written as what a 12 year old imagines the NYPD are like, complete with the gruff black police captain arguing with the rookie cop.
There's lots of subtle visual flair in this OVA, the directors knew what they were doing. (Except for episode 5 and 6. That director probably went to the school of Koichi Mashimo, though he wasn’t helped by the screenwriter for those episodes either) Too often in post-millennium anime there are tons of 'arty' shots that are meaningless and the camera either flies around the place like a steadicam-operator on crack, or pans laboriously across the screen as if directed by an old age pensioner, but back in the 80's/90's they knew how to pace episodes just fine while choosing narrative-coherent viewpoints to the action. I guess I’m harping that old cliché of modern day anime being too shallow with emphasis on looks rather than content, but considering that this anime is packed with very clichéd jokes that were old even back when this was released, the argument is kind of moot.
If you want to go extra deep you could propose that Bubblegum Crisis is yet another exploration of the relationship between man and machine and clearly veers on the side of external mechanics and views bio-implementation, or to be simple about it: cyborgs, as a threat to the world. Even though boomers are technically robots, though the distinction is rarely made clear especially when they all have such charming personalities, their humanoid form isn’t a random creative decision. Boomers, anyone associated to them, and augmentation in general are clearly bad for your health and the only way to make the world a better place is to jump into exoskeleton mecha-suits and be a master of cybernetics, not a slave to them. It's possibly an archaic almost Luddite philosophy, especially in the 21st century where bio and nano-technology is getting more and more traction. Yep, I just analysed an anime with 'bubblegum' in the title.
But you get the gist, Bubblegum Crisis is consistently entertaining and has very good direction to boot, and its shortcomings can be seen as part of the package; a conscious decision and not a by-product. You're meant to laugh at the ridiculousness of the entire premise, especially the glorious last episode’s tribute to the character of Nene, and you're meant to lap up the universe presented because you're a cyberpunk fan. The damn anime's called Bubblegum Crisis!
If you're not grinning while watching this, you're in a crisis of your own and I suggest you chew some gum to get over it.
Finally I watched this cyberpunk classic which was lacking in my list.
This anime (more than Gall Force) was considered something like a groundbreaking for opening the way for groups of female heroines.
The story is set in Megatokyo year 2032, a blade runneresque society where androids are quite developed to even look like normal humans, except that they do not have the hability to speak.
Our heroines are an secret and independent force called the Knight Sabers, with some high developed suits and they do the work that the cops, in this case the special force of the police, the AD Police, can't do. Which is mainly
to fight the androids that went berserk and the other kind of special cases just like Rick Deckard did in it's Blade Runner Universe.
We have four main girls here; Stylia, the calm intelligent and founder of the group, Priss, which is also a popular singer in bars and it's the "action" girl of the group, Nene, the infiltrated girl in the police but pretty coward and annoying in the action field and Linna, the average girl.
We also have Leon McNichol, the AD Police detective which is interested in Priss the singer and he turns out to be a pretty dependable and interesting character (thus leading into his own OVA series).
The overall mood of the series runs smoothly ranging from comedy to dramatic and cyber punk obscure scenes and the story flows without much relation from one episode to the other making the series quite episodic, there are indeed some episodes that are stronger than others, but in the end they tend to be a "Case of the Day" alone episode type of stores with just small links between them.
We have either good characters like Priss Leion and Styllia and annoying characters like good for nothing Nene, though she redeems herself in the last episode which was also a nice way of putting things.
Oh yeah, the opening scene of the first OVA is simply great, with Priss singing her popish 80's cheesy songs and showing some police scenes in between. Classic. Hearing that music these days sounds pretty nostalgic.
It is definitive a classic anime sci-fi of the 80's and a must watch nevertheless. The classic Blade Runner atmosphere just can't be ignored. Recommended.
Bubblegum Crisis is a cyberpunk series from AIC, you may remember them from such titles as Sasameki Koto, Viper's Creed, OreImo and Battle Athletes. It's also one of those uncommon series where the anime is the original work rather than being based on a game, manga, light novel or something else. The series has had media based on it including video games, a western comic book from Dark Horse and even a tabletop RPG. So what is it about this OVA that enabled it to grow into a full blown franchise? Let's take a look and see.
Our story takes place in a not too distant
dystopian future. There's a rise in crimes involving robots called Boomers and there's a corrupt multi-national corporation called Genom, because dystopian stories always have to have corrupt corporations. I wouldn't be surprised if Genom sent an ordinary worker into space for no reason and forced him to watch cheesy movies while monitoring his mind. Genom may very well be involved in many of these crimes for their own purposes. Unfortunately, the AD police force charged with handling Boomer crimes isn't quite adequate to the task. Fortunately, the Knight Sabres, a female vigilante group, is there. Possessing powerful technology and highly skilled, the Knight Sabres take up the fight against Boomers. Each episode tells the tale of one of the Knight Sabre's adventures, either fighting Boomers or taking on tasks for money. The story isn't particularly unique, but it is compelling. Those episodes that do tie into each other directly do so in a clever way, the world is fascinating and I like that there are positive aspects of Genom instead of it being just another needlessly evil corporation in a dystopian cyberpunk story. The basic premise has been done a huge number of times, but this does provide a creative and unique take on it. There are some issues with it, however. The most obvious being that the Knight Sabres are kind of crap at safeguarding their secret identities. There are several cases when they should be found out, but aren't. For example, there's a scene early on where they go in their armour to hear about a job from a military group. After leaving they notice a satellite's tracking them. So they meet up with their mobile base under a bridge, ditch the armour and exit out the other end. In spite of no one else being near that bridge or having gone under it, they are not found out. No one watched the footage and thought it was strange that these two women mysteriously appeared right when the Knight Sabres vanished? There are also quite a few episodes that focus on a situation involving someone who just happens to coincidentally be closely connected to one of the Knight Sabres. This is a group of mercenaries/vigilantes, you don't have to give some contrived reason for them to get involved.
The characters in this are mostly really well handled. All of the Knight Sabres get episodes focusing on them and all of them get character developing moments. The characters are largely complex and interesting. They also have some great interactions with one another. There is one notable exception, Mackey. Mackey is the younger brother of the Knight Sabres' leader, Sylia. To call him incredibly obnoxious would be an understatement. He's a perverse little worm who's there to serve as an errand boy and perv on the Knight Sabres, including his own older sister. In fact, she's the one he pervs on the most. Fortunately, he isn't a major character, but the few scenes that feature him are frequently downright unpleasant.
The art is very meticulous. It's a bit dated, but you can tell a lot of effort went into getting all the details right and making the world expansive. The action sequences are suitably epic, the tech is really cool. It just looks excellent. That being said, there is one issue with the art. That's right, there's excessive fan-service. There are semi-long scenes of the ladies changing into their suits for the sole purpose of getting some nudity into the OVA. Frankly, they could have done one changing scene and had it make sense since it does show you something about the way the suits work, but it isn't something that needed to be seen multiple times. There are also some fan-service costumes at several points and some other scenes that have little purpose aside from titillating the heterosexual male portion of the audience. Because that's totally worth interrupting the fluidity of the narrative for. Wait... what?
The cast in this is really good. Hiramatsu Akiko, Sakakibara Yoshiko, Oomori Kinuko and Tomizawa Michie are all great in their roles as the Knight Sabres. The music is excellent. Each episode has about three or four songs and they're all really damn good.
The ho-yay factor is a 5/10. The relationship between Priss and Sylvie is pretty homo-erotic. Nene admires other girls' beauty on multiple occasions, as does Linna. There's also some flirtation between two men in the AD Police, Leon and Daley.
That's Bubblegum Crisis. All in all, it's a really good OVA. The voice acting and music are top-notch, the story is really good, the art is great and most of the characters are really well done. Its biggest issues are Mackey, the occasional story element that doesn't work, Mackey, excessive fan service and Mackey. Still, it is a great cyberpunk series and I do recommend checking it out. My final rating is an 8/10. Next week I'll take a look at Slayers Return.
Mecha anime shows are awesome but it's a shame that so few are released nowadays. Fortunately, AIC is bringing back one of their classics for older and newer fans. Is a reboot of Megazone 23 exciting enough to secure a successful crowdfunding campaign?