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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Anime Review: Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040

I probably don’t talk enough about classic anime on this blog. Let’s rectify that today with Bubblegum Crisis.

Bubblegum Crisis was an eight episode OVA (original video animation; a "straight to video" sort of deal with more prestige) released in Japan starting in 1987. Set in and futuristic cyberpunk setting the series focused on a group of women who used mechanical suits, to battle against rogue robots called “boomers” and the evil mega corporation Genom. Heavily influenced by Blade Runner this series is considered to be both a groundbreaking and classic anime series. Despite this it’s initial run was cut short from thirteen episodes to eight leaving it unfinished. This was due, it would seem, to in-fighting within the studios producing it, budgetary problems and supposed a lack of initial popularity in Japan. Since then there has been a (less critically revered) sequel to try to tie the loose ends up, called Bubblegum Crash, as well as numerous spin-offs, prequels and adaptations. Furthermore Bubblegum Crisis was a pretty important anime for American audiences as it was from the same era of cartoons brought over cartoons like Akira and Project A-ko. It was one of the late 80s/ 90s anime exports that gained a cult-like fandom from collage age Generation X-ers (because there was once a time where Gen-X-ers were young and hip, apparently) that directly led to the anime boom of the early 2000s. The show is still popular today, having recently been the subject of a successful Kickstarter campaign to bring it to Blu-Ray. With so much pedigree and historical significance it’s a no-brainer that I review it now.

But instead I’m going to review its 1998 remake. Hooray.

It was decided to commission a re-telling of the original OVA, almost certainly because that anime was never properly finished. However in this new version the character designs were greatly altered, as were the personalities of most of the cast, and the story ended up going in a completely new direction with different themes. As far as I can tell Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040 (as it was called) is not considered to be as good as it’s predecessor. In fact it would seem that BGC fans kind of think of it as an afterthought. Hell, it doesn’t even have its own TV Tropes page, which I found to be really odd as those guys make pages about everything! (By the way, I wouldn’t mind a Beta is Dead TV Tropes page. I’m just saying…)

Anyway it was produced by Anime International Company and licensed for America by ADV Films in 2001. Since ADV Films’ mid-2000s bubblegum financial crisis FUNimation has picked up the license and re-released the show on DVD in 2010. I have never seen a single episode of the original Bubblegum Crisis so, unlike a lot of classic anime fans, I will be reviewing this on its own merit rather than comparing to the beloved series. Is it unfairly judged or does it have its own crisis of content?

Full review after the jump.

[WARNING: The review contains a few spoilers for a cartoon that came out in the 90s so read at your own risk if you managed to remain spoiler free this whole time]



Because if their robot suits weren't shapely how would we know they were ladies?
Yay feminism?
 In the year 2033 a huge earthquake devastated the city of Tokyo. Seven years have passed and the city has been rebuilt in shocking speed thanks to a class of worker robots known as “boomers” supplied by the corporation Genom. Rumors have been running rampant that some boomers go rogue and engage in sprees of destruction and murder but the mainstream media makes no mention of such things. Linna Yamazaki, a farm girl from a traditional Japanese family, has just arrived in Tokyo and takes an office job. However her real purpose for moving to the city is so she can track down and join the Knight Sabers, an urban legend of female hardsuit users who fight against the supposed rogue boomers. Linna soon learns that both he attacks and the Knight Sabers are very real.

The first thing you may notice about the show is that in addition to the cyberpunk motif there’s a sort of classic rock theme. Every episode is named after a song by some rock band or another including Jimi Hendrix, Queen, Cheap Trick and tons more, though none of the songs are played during the show itself (since, you know, that might make it the most expensive anime of all time if it did). So I suppose if you are both an anime fan and a big classic rock guy you may find some enjoyment instantly recognizing song titles as you watch the show.

Anyway I was pretty much into the show from the beginning as Linna won me over with her “I don’t give a shit who you are, no one f**ks with me and gets away it” attitude that was in completely contrast the to the initial image we’re given of her. I really dig the fact that the main protagonists are all women. A major issue lately in American media has been the lack of female starring roles in action movies and things but there never seems to be a shortage of such roles in anime. The characters themselves are fine. They are developed well enough, some better than others, though there’s a few typical anime archetypes in there. They’re not the best cast but there’s nothing offensively terrible there either.

And then Linna relentlessly hunted someone down like a dog for bumping into her
Character designs are also decent. Nothing spectacular but they’re fine. However I think they are head and shoulders above what I’ve seen from the original designs of the four main characters. They were very typical of the time; I prefer the more varied look of the current group.

Of course a lot of this is balanced by the fact that this show dragged so much damn much. It took me a long time to finish watching this anime as it bored me very quickly despite how much the first episode hooked me in. Ultimately the problem comes from just how much the series seemed to stretch the plot. Content that took three episodes that could have easily have been told in one, tons of exposition and technobabble; the show kept losing my attention, which is a really bad sign. If this show had been thirteen episodes instead of twenty-six I’m pretty certain the pacing would have been significantly better. The villains of the show are less interesting than the main cast by a pretty high degree. Who the perceived Big Bad of the series is changes a few times before the show ends but none of them are particularly memorable.

Now we’ve come to the designs of the hard suits the characters wear. So...why do their suits have high heels? I mean, it’s already completely unnecessary for any suit like that to have feminine or masculine features anyway but so many of these type of shows have the robotic suits with curves and breasts that no one really seem to even notice it now. Even so I cannot get passed this high heel thing! It seems that this is far beyond simple aesthetic/decorative issues; I don’t see how heels wouldn’t making jumping around on rooftops incredibly difficult or even running incredibly uncomfortable. Someone tried to design a sexy robot suit and instead it just looks silly.

Maybe the heels keep her steady while she's busting caps into fools
The ending is a bit confusing. I’m not talking flat out mindf**k confusing or anything like that but there’s a lot of unanswered questions. Not the least of which is the [SPOILER ALERT] the fates of the Knight Sabers, which I assume will be all of them dying of exposure somewhere. Right now I just don’t know. I heard at some point there was talk of making a sequel to this show (which apparently would be titled “Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2041”) but as far I can tell nothing has come of this. As it’s been sixteen years since this show originally aired I think it’s safe to say a sequel is out of the question.

On its own merits this anime is okay but absolutely nothing spectacular at all. There are a million shows better but then again there are a million shows way, way worse. It could be boring and it seemed to take forever to get to its point but a lot of it was still pretty enjoyable. Why the f**k they have high heels on their suits I’ll never understand but you might still enjoy it. Case in point this show was recommended to me by my father, who north of fifty has decided he likes watching anime now, and he apparently really liked it. So if you have the time and patience you might want to give it a try. I am, however, now curious as to what the original OVA was like. Hmm…

"Spaceball-1 has now become...MEGA MAID!"
"Commence Operation Vacu-Suck!"
 I give Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040 3 Adorable Pandas out of 5.


Pros 

-Strong female leads

-Decent characters

-Cool Rock & Roll motif

Cons 

-Gets real boring real quick

-The villains aren’t very interesting

-Ends with a lot of dangling plot threads

-High heels? Are you f**king kidding me?!


I often have trouble deciding what anime to watch next so if you have any suggestions for shows I should check out e-mail me at betaisdead@gmail.com. If it's convenient I'll try to watch and review it.

4 comments:

  1. What would aa 'Beteisdead' tv tropes page say?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Whaat does thatt mean?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Just some nonsense. Don't worry about it.

      Delete