BUBBLEGUM CRISIS (1987-1990)

 

Format: 8 OVA episodes, ranging from 25 to 45 minutes, on 3 DVDs

††††† Note: A boxed set including a fourth DVD featuring music videos is also available

 

Rating: R (N, AC, AL, GV)

 

Type: Sci-Fi Action-Drama (cyberpunk)

 

American Production: AnimEigo

 

Japanese Production: Youmex

 

Grading

 

Premise:

B

Story:

B

Writing:

B

Character Design:

B-

Mecha Design (suits/general):

A-/B

Animation:

B+

Artistic Merits:

B

English Dub:

C

Musical Score:

A-

Songs:

B+

Opener:

B+

Closer:

B+

 

 

Humor Content:

n/a

Action Content:

B

Drama Content:

B

 

 

DVD Presentation:

C

DVD Extras (regular/boxed):

B-(?)/B+

 

 

OVERALL:

B

 

Synopsis

††††† The setting is Mega-Tokyo in the year 2032 (2033 starting with the fourth episode), seven years after a massive earthquake that killed millions. Much of the credit for getting the bulk of the city rebuilt quickly goes to the development of advanced robots popularly called Boomers, which have taken over menial labor tasks and solved the cityís labor shortage problem. Some are constructed for labor, others for combat or security duty, and still others for communications purposes or service jobs. Some can even pass for human until they shed their skin or their inhuman strength is revealed. GENOM Corporation, the company principally responsible for producing and developing Boomers, has become a massively powerful conglomerate as a result of their lucrative worldwide Boomer contracts, which gives its director an undue amount of influence on various political and economic matters. Because Boomers occasionally go rogue or are used for criminal purposes, the AD Police has been established to deal with Boomer-related problems.

††††† The AD Police has competition, however, in the form of the Knight Sabers, an independent mercenary company comprised of four young women using Hard Suits (as personalized combat suits are called) that are far more advanced than anything that the police, military, or even GENOM have - a fact which causes no small amount of consternation amongst those three groups. Sometimes the Knight Sabers take missions for pay, other times they act on their own interests, but almost always their actions are in opposition to Boomers.

 

The Long View

††††† Advanced combat suits have been a staple of sci-fi anime since the Ď70s, but in 1987 Youmex Studio came up with a novel approach: why not appeal to the more prurient side of the mostly male audience of the genre and make the combat suits sexy? The result is Bubblegum Crisis, an OVA series widely-regarded as an anime classic. Although what the series does isnít exactly novel - form-fitting combat suits and female action heroines had been a staple of comic books for decades before Ė thereís no denying that the series has had a significant impact on what followed it in sci-fi anime. It is also noteworthy for being one of the first series to have a major breakthrough into the U.S. secondary market.

††††† The focus of the story is, of course, the Knight Sabers. They have access to such advanced technology because Sylia Stingray, their founder and leader, is the daughter of the man chiefly responsible for the development of Boomers. She inherited all her fatherís research data when he died while she was still a little girl and used it to develop the Hard Suits. The cover for the Knight Sabers operations is a high-end lingerie store called Silky Doll, which Sylia owns and operates along with her younger brother Mackie, who also assists with Knight Saber operations in a support role. The Knight Sabersí other members include Priss, the temperamental lead singer of a rock band who is the central character for much of the series; Linna, an aerobics instructor; and Nene, a high-strung and somewhat whiny computer specialist for the AD Police. Although Nene is by far the least of the Knight Sabers in combat, she excels as their expert hacker and all-around computer whiz, and her suit has special features which reflect that. Other recurring characters include Leon, the dashing AD Police officer who steadfastly works at trying to get dates with Priss, and his easygoing gay partner Daley. The main villains of the series are Mason, the right-hand man of the chairman of Genom Corporation, and the chairman himself, although not all of the episodes are focused around opposing their actions.

††††† The Hard Suits worn by the Knight Sabers are as much the stars of the series as the characters themselves. These form-fitting, very feminized suits enhance the wearerís physical abilities, allow limited flight capability, and provide both ranged and hand-to-hand attack capabilities as well as serving as top-caliber body armor. Neneís suit also includes advanced capabilities for manipulating electronics. (In many ways the suits are reminiscent of those worn by the Marvel comics super-hero Iron Man, though I doubt there is a connection.) The Boomers the Knight Sabers must fight are fairly ordinary technological opponents by anime standards; even their ability to merge with and absorb nearby materials in a couple of episodes has been used many times elsewhere. On other tech fronts, BGC predicts widespread use of rooftop solar panels, view phones, and satellite-based laser platforms, but totally misses the boat on ubiquitous personal communication devices; the main characters donít use cell phones or PDAs or the equivalent, which would surely be universal in 2032 and which would make a significant difference in the story in some places. That the series was made in the mid-80s canít be used as an excuse; portable phones were a reality by that time, and other sci-fi movies of the time did predict that trend.

††††† The eight episodes, which vary in length, include a stand-alone story sandwiched between two rough story arcs: the first set in 2032, the second in 2033. The episodes are a balanced blend of solid (sometimes great) storytelling and dynamic action scenes. The overall tone of the writing is dark, with its best material focusing on revenge themes. On the downside, dialogue is not one of the strong points of the series, though whether thatís more the fault of the translation or the original writing is hard to say. Character development beyond Priss is also sparse, and there are some key story aspects - such as how the Knight Sabers came together as a group - that are not adequately explained. Logical gaps also exist, such as where the human-disguised Boomers get the extra mass from when they reveal their true forms. (One other seeming logical gap - why the AD Police isnít better-armed for fulfilling their mandate - is sort of explained in the series.)

††††† One of the greatest strengths of BGC is its music. Each episode is backed by great and varied rock musical scores, with different intro and closer music for each episode. The music also becomes a story element, as we frequently get to hear Priss perform with her band during the story. (Think Ď80s rock in the vein of Heart.) In fact, the music is such a big selling point for the series that the boxed DVD set includes an extra DVD composed just of music videos, and the lead seiyuu toured and did concerts of BGC music. The cel-only artwork and animation are both good for their age; this is one of the earliest series Iíve seen that fully animated combat scenes of this complexity rather than relying on stop-action shots. My one quibble with the artistry, beyond the fact that it is starting to show its age, is that the characters are prone to infuriatingly inappropriate expressions at times. The English voice work is adequate but does not distinguish itself.

††††† BGC is labeled as a cyberpunk classic, although I think thatís stretching the definition of cyberpunk. It isnít ashamed to acknowledge its inspirations, however. Many aspects of it parallel Bladerunner, and the name of Prissís band - Priss and the Replicants - is a clear indication that the creators had that classic sci-fi movie in mind when they made this series. Other homages can be seen if one looks for them carefully, such as a city map on a computer screen in one episode that uses actor and character names from Top Gun for the cityís district names. (Early in episode 2, I believe.) Other hidden details can also be found by pausing to read the computer screens displayed in various episodes, such as recipes and lines of poetry.

††††† BGC gets its rating for lots of violence, some graphic content, and a few instances of fan service (I believe you get to see all of the female leads bare-chested at one point or another). None of these factors is pervasive or extreme, however, so even a sensitive viewer is unlikely to be turned off.

††††† Finally, to answer a commonly-asked question: the ďbubblegumĒ in the title is a reference to the city being on a bubble of tension that could burst if given a good prick.

†††††

DVD Extras

††††† I can say for sure that the DVDs included character profiles, company previews, and music videos on the shorter third DVD, but I do not recall what (if anything) else they have. I do know that the boxed set, as noted above, includes an entire extra DVD of music videos and concert footage.

  

Principle English Voice Actors

Role

Voice Actor

Priss Asagiri

Sinda Nichols

Sylia Stingray

Jamila Ericson

Nene Romanov

Susan Grillo

Linna Yamazaki

Elizabeth Becka

Mackey Stingray

Frank Trimble

Mason

Eric Paisley

Chairman Rosencranz

J. David Arnold

Leon

Brad Moranz

Daley

Marshall Carroll

Professor Stingray

Kevin Dowling

 

 

 

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