Bubblegum Crisis Anime Review
US Release By
8 30- to 40-minute episodes
1987-02-25 - 1991-01-30
What's In It
- Blade Runner Ripoffs
- Battlesuited Brawls
- Satellite Weapons
- Loads of '80s Rock
- Gooey Evil Robots
- Massive Car Chases (part 4)
- Tragedy (parts 2, 4, and 6)
- Violence: 3 (significant)
- Nudity: 1 (mild)
- Sex: 1 (mild)
- Language: 1 (mild)
The year is 2032, and MegaTokyo, the metropolis at the center of Japan, is still slowly piecing itself back together after the destruction of the Second Great Kanto Earthquake. The Genom Corporation, known for their intelligent labor 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. However, Genom and its megalomaniacal leader have their sights set on no less than world domination.
But these Boomers, now pervasive, sometimes go berserk; the occurrence is so common that the city has created the AD Police, a special police division created solely for the purpose of destroying Boomers run amok. There are also the Knight Sabers, a mysterious group of power-armor clad vigilante/mercenaries determined to put an end to Genom's success, and do their best to deal with rampaging Boomers in the meanwhile (while hopefully getting hired for enough work to pay for all that fancy equipment).
They are: 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. Finally, there's Leon McNichol, an AD Police agent doing his best to stand up to Genom and its Boomers who occasionally crosses paths with the Knight Sabers.
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Bubblegum Crisis, one of the first OAV series, is still a solid cyberpunk series featuring a memorable rock soundtrack, a developed dystopian vision (ripped straight out of Blade Runner), several decent stories, nice art, and a few quality action scenes. The voice cast of skilled veterans is matched with a hoarse, edgy performance by singer Kinuko Oomori to round out the picture. It does start out rather weak (and dated-looking), but finds its footing around episode 4, evidence of a historical change in the way anime was produced at that time. Its other weakness is the lack of a satisfying climax, though it doesn't end on a cliffhanger, either.
If you're a fan of cyberpunk or classic anime and haven't seen it, its worth at least a look (and give it some time even if the early episodes don't look appealing).
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Bubblegum Crisis is a decent series in its own right, but it's particularly interesting for the historical perspective it offers--something of a seminal Cyberpunk anime series, it is the series that started the whole multi-episode OAV genre, as well as an interesting illustration of the change in production techniques between the '80s and '90s.
That said, Bubblegum Crisis isn't objectively terribly impressive, but it has managed to remain popular over the years since its introduction thanks to a solid rock soundtrack (with a connection to the story, no less), a developed dystopian vision (much of which is ripped straight out of Blade Runner--the cityscape in the opening sequence is a direct homage), and also because it's just plain well done.
Bubblegum Crisis has an unusual amount of range over its 8-episode run; made up of individual stories only loosely tied together by an overarching plot, the quality and solidity of the production improves steadily as it progresses, and it undergoes a significant stylistic change around the halfway mark that dramatically illustrates the change in anime style that occurred at the time.
Its mid-sized cast of characters strikes a good balance; the cheesy cop and techie kid-brother archetypes are balanced with a range of Knight Sabers spanning standard cute anime girl (Nene), mature leader (Sylia), and angry lone gun (Priss). Linna is the odd girl out, an otherwise normal person stuck in the middle of things, and she never really gets the chance to do much. The Knight Sabers have solid enough personalities (though Priss' suppressed anger definitely takes the spotlight, for better or worse), but they stand out as much because of their maturity--in contrast to the endless hordes of 16-to-18-year-olds, a couple are actually old enough to drink, and all but Nene even look and act like adults.
More noteworthy are the supporting cast: A few sufficiently creepy corporate types, both young and old, to cover the villains; a driver gone mad and his traumatized girlfriend in episode 4; and a tragic pair of escaped pleasure robots in episodes 5 and 6 to name a few. These folks keep things rolling and provide a respectable amount of emotional tension and drama (mostly in the later episodes).
The series has plenty of one- or two-episode stories to tell. Although all the episodes except 3 and 4 are loosely tied together, it tightens up significantly beginning with episode 4 (which is actually supposed to take place 2 years later, though this isn't made clear), and also improves noticeably. Not that the first few episodes are bad (or that the last few are original), but as the series progresses, it definitely builds momentum and significantly steps up the emotional energy. If it doesn't initially grab you, you might want to give it a bit; things really do start to pick up. (Be warned, though, that episode 3 is identical to episode 2 with new victims.)
The individual stories fit together well, and you always have the feeling that the series is heading somewhere--it's just not exactly clear where. Sadly, that is the biggest problem with Bubblegum Crisis: It never reaches a satisfying conclusion, stopping rather abruptly with many loose ends still dangling when production was cut off before the story was completed.
There have since been attempts at reviving it, to varying degrees of success--a number of American-made comic books, a sequel animated series, Bubblegum Crash (considered by many to be kind of a messed-up tangent story), and a second sequel/remake, Bubblegum Crisis 2040. None of these, to my knowledge, tie up what was begun in the original Bubblegum Crisis, but despite the lack of a satisfying conclusion to the series, the stories hold up individually, and at least it doesn't end wide open.
The character designs, by Kenichi Sonoda, are attractive, with a noticeably more mature look to several of the women. Though the art and backgrounds are a bit inconsistent, they generally look good enough and improve significantly as the series progresses. The character animation ranges from passable early on to smooth and expressive later, and the action, especially in the 5th and 6th parts, is well done--not the best robot fighting you'll ever see, but darned good.
Most interesting, though, is the change in the look about halfway through the series, starting with episode 4. The series starts out with a rough, kind of gritty-looking art style with somewhat rough animation, and progresses into a somewhat brighter, much smoother art style, with much more fluid animation. This reflects a change in the way anime was produced that occurred during the late '80s, moving from more detailed art (and more keyframes, but less frames overall) to smoother animation (more frames, less detail in each one). Both styles look good in this case, and although the earlier part has a rougher look fitting for the decaying Tokyo in which it is set, the end of the series generally looks better than the early parts, particularly in the vastly-improved action sequences.
This midway change isn't limited to the visuals; even the music changes a bit through the series, though unfortunately which half is better is reversed. Bubblegum Crisis features a lot of songs, with a different opening and closing theme in every episode and some supplemental songs scattered about. The early songs are mostly performed by Priss in the story, whose Japanese voice, Kinuko Oomori, was a singer rather than a voice actress. These have a hard, '80s-style beat and darker feel that fits well in the Cyberpunk setting. Later in the series, more of the songs are performed by other singers, and the feel of the music also starts leaning more toward the happier, lighter music that prevailed in anime through the '90s. These don't match the setting nearly as well and aren't as memorable.
The Japanese voice acting is generally quite good. Despite the veteran cast, the novice is the one worth singling out; Kinuko Oomori may not be an actor by trade, but she is very skilled (pulling off a couple of particularly good scenes of raw emotion), and also sounds... well, different. Oomori's voice has a dry, hoarse tone to it that makes her stand out, as well as adding an edge to Priss' character as a singer (and to her singing itself). The characters that go with the other voices are also interesting enough; their personalities aren't wildly original, but they manage to be emotional without ever going over the top (by anime standards, anyway). Some of the non-ongoing characters are quite well acted, and add a lot to the series as a whole (look for the disturbed driver in ep. 4, the escaped boomer in 5 and 6, and Largo).
To sum all that up, Bubblegum Crisis is a solid (if unoriginal) Cyberpunk series that, in addition to its points of historical interest, still manages to hold its own today. Although it starts a little weak, the stories are decent, the art is good, the characters are interesting and varied, the action in later episodes is excellent, and the whole thing fits together well. If you haven't seen it, it's worth at least a look (and again, if the first three episodes don't grab you, give the later ones a chance--it really does get better as it goes along).
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Despite the sort-of-sequels, Bubblegum Crash and Bubblegum Crisis 2040, my first recommendation if you liked Bubblegum Crisis would be AD Police Files; it is much darker, more realistic, and stylish than the series that spawned it, and arguably better, too. Keep in mind, though, that it doesn't feature the Knight Sabers, and it's considerably more violent. You might also enjoy Gunsmith Cats (based on a comic by Kenichi Sonoda, the character designer), which has a somewhat similar feel to the later parts of Bubblegum Crisis.
Notes and Trivia
Bubblegum Crisis is one of the first OAV series (as opposed to straight-to-video one-shots), and is largely responsible for the current proliferation of them. As discussed above, it's also worth singling out for the way it clearly illustrates the way Japanese animation changed between the '80s and '90s; older anime (as seen at the beginning of the series) was done with more plentiful and detailed keyframes (hence the rougher look), but less overall frames (leading to choppier animation). Newer anime (as seen later in the series) has far less detail in the individual frames, but because they are easier to draw (and therefore cheaper), there are more of them (leading to smoother animation). Both styles are fine, but many people would agree that the latter ends up looking better, particularly during action sequences; this is demonstrated pretty clearly by Bubblegum Crisis.
It is worth mentioning that Bubblegum Crisis is not based on a comic book, and the only comics of it are the American spin-off series, published by Dark Horse. The spin-off series AD Police Files (it follows the pre-Knight Sabers exploits of cop Leon McNichol), by Tony Takezaki, does have a few manga to go with it, but that doesn't exactly count either.
As with all their titles, AnimEigo publishes their extensive liner notes (including complete bilingual song lyrics) online for those interested.
Finally, it is interesting to note that the coming Great Kanto Earthquake is less sci-fi and more inevitable reality; as of 2010 the Tokyo area is actually overdue for both that and another (every 150 years) massive earthquake. Both are almost guaranteed to occur in the next few years, potentially much sooner than the 2025 date of Bubblegum Crisis. When they do happen, it will dominate world news, as the death toll could easily reach millions in a worst case scenario.
US DVD Review
The original DVD version (since supplanted by a remastered special edition) was AnimEigo's first, a set of three discs containing 2 or 3 episodes each. Each disc includes a slick animated menu (very high tech look), thorough chapter index, and a music video or two (a supplemental DVD of the full set of music videos was released later). The discs all include the English and Japanese stereo soundtracks, as well as English and French subtitles. Even prior to the remastering, the transfer on these discs is great; the colors are much richer than the VHS version (I was surprised) and everything looks very crisp.
In another odd historical note, the set of discs originally came packaged more like software than a video, in clear jewel cases (without even a cover insert) with a big (maybe 8 by 10 inch) software-style cardboard box--it looks like they were just itching to put an inch thick manual in there or something.
Has intense moments and a fair amount of violence, but is relatively easy on the objectionable material; probably deserves a 13-up.
Violence: 3 - A fair amount of violence, but not terribly graphic.
Nudity: 1 - One or two very brief scenes.
Sex/Mature Themes: 1 - Brief talk of pleasure robots, and a couple of spots here and there.
Language: 1 - Some expletives.
Staff & Cast
Original Japanese Cast
Sylia: Yoshiko Sakakibara
Priss: Kinuko Oomori
Linna: Michie Tomizawa
Nene: Akiko Hiramatsu
Quincy (Genom President): Kiyoshi Kawakubo
Mason: Shuuichi Ikeda
Leon: Toshio Furukawa
Daley: Kenyu Horiuchi
Mackie: Nazomu Sasaki
Commander: Teiji Oomiya
Sylia's Father: Hiroya Ishimaru
Bogey: Yuusaku Yara
Retort: Keiichi Namba
Fredrick: Juuroota Kosugi
Deputy Commander: Shinya Ootaki
Checkpoint Guard: Michitaka Kobayashi
Cynthia: Hiroko Kasahara
Female Boomer: Urara Takano
USSD Commander: Teiji Oomiya
ADP Chief: Seiji Satoo
Announcer: Michitaka Kobayashi
Irene: Miki Itoh
Female Boomer: Urara Takano
AD Police Officer: Masaaki Ookura
Opening theme: "Mad Machine"
Written by Tomoko Aran, sung by Kinuko Oomori.
End theme: "Kizudarake no Wild" (Wild and Scarred)
Written by Tomoko Aran, Sung by Kinuko Oomori and the Knight Sabers.
Sho: Kyooko Hamura
Sho's Mother: Senri Nakajima
Funk: Daisuke Gorui
Manager: Ikuya Sawaki
Newscaster: Michitaka Kobayashi
Raven: Kenichi Ogata
Gibson: Kaneto Shiozawa
Naomi: Mayumi Shoo
Outrider: Michitaka Kobayashi
Planning and Original Story: Toshimichi Suzuki
Screenplay: Katsuhito Akiyama
Director: Akiyama Katsuhito
Art Director: Arai Kazuhiro
Music: Maganio Kouji