Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Anime REVIEW: Bubblegum Crisis


Bubblegum Crisis is possibly the first anime I ever heard about. When I was younger, any VHS I bought released by ADV (so the Sonic the Hedgehog and Tekken movies) always had an advert for it, and even then it always looked like something I'd enjoy. So here I am, years later, watching the original Bubblegum Crisis OVAs for the very first time. These eight episodes were released between 1989 and 1991.

The series takes place in the year 2032 in the city of MegaTokyo. Japan is still slowly piecing itself back together after the destruction of the Second Great Kanto Earthquake. The Genom Corporation, known for their intelligent labour robots (called Boomers), took a major role in the rebuilding of Tokyo, and as a result has become one of the largest corporations in the world. While the Boomers are supposed to serve humanity, in the wrong hands they are a deadly threat. Enter the AD Police force, who are tasked with dealing with any Boomer-related crime in the city. The only problem is that due the influence Genom have, the inability of the department to deal with certain threats due to politics and red-tape often shows.

Enter the Knight Sabers - a mysterious all female fighting force clad in hi-tech armour that deal with the Boomers in situations that the police can't. The team is made up of Sylia Stingray, the leader of the group and wealthy business owner; Priss, a popular rock singer, and the loose cannon of the group; Linna, an exercise instructor in her alter ego; and Nene, the group's tech, who also moonlights as an AD Police office worker. There's also Mackie, Sylia's younger brother and the group's mechanic.

What really sold this show to me was its style. Bubblegum Crisis takes heavy influence from the film Blade Runner, and this is illustrated in both the noir cityscapes of MegaTokyo and some of the more subtle (or not so subtle) references dashed throughout the show. Its opening, in which lead character Priss takes to the stage with her band Priss & The Replicants (see, there's one already!) launches you straight in with both fantastic art that still holds its own today and also the other thing that Bubblegum Crisis excels in - the music. While the background music again owes a lot to Blade Runner, the vocal tracks are female-vocal 80s J-rock at its very finest (with many of the songs performed by Priss seiyuu Kinuko Ohmori).

Coming back to the art, alongside the dark cityscapes Bubblegum Crisis has some great character designs on offer. The Boomers are shown to be hulking, robotic brutes while the Knight Sabers are quite the opposite - curvy anime babes in simple yet highly effective armour. The Hard Suits are certainly one of the more memorable pieces of anime design from that era, and arguably still one that's equally significant today. The fight scenes are nicely animated, with smooth motion and enough explosions to prove that the girls here kick far more ass than the men do.

Despite its retro charm and beauty, there are quite few problems with Bubblegum Crisis. The main issue is that the stories are all very self-contained, and as a whole lack any overall substance. None of the episodes specifically centre around the Knight Saber team, instead focussing on characters newly introduced each time, with their own predicaments somehow involving the team. Back story is non-existent, and the team's battle against the corrupt Genom corporation never reaches a conclusion. Its shame really, because plenty of the Knight Saber's history would have made far better episodes than some of the plot lines that did make it into the show. The episodes themselves are often too long to house the actual plots they contain, making scenes drag until you finally get the explosive climax where the Knight Sabers finally take on some Boomers (this is the formula for pretty much every episode by the way). After the final battle is concluded, the episodes pretty much stop - making the endings seem even more abrupt. The final episode ending is rather disappointing in that while it doesn't end on a cliffhanger, it doesn't give any closure to anything at all either.

So to summarise - Bubblegum Crisis is a slick piece of retro anime charm that has some great art and a brilliant soundtrack. Granted it's definitely a case of style over substance, but at the same time it certainly shows that they don't make sci-fi/cyberpunk anime like they used to.

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