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Anime on DVD: Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040
Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040
Few can debate the impact that the original Bubblegum Crisis series, first released in 1988 in Japan and 1992 stateside by AnimEigo, has had upon anime in general, and anime in the U.S. specifically. The original 8-part OVA series was a cyberpunk/sci-fi masterpiece, blending fast-paced action with killer music to present a grim future of man versus machine. However, one of the very few complaints about the original set of episodes was that it was short on characterization, being that it was only 8 OVAs. Thus, JVC and AIC set out to animate a retelling of the original story, set farther in the future. This series would be known as Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040.
Originally broadcast in 1999 as a 24-episode TV series, with the final 2 episodes appearing as OVAs after the show had completed its run, one particularly notable aspect of the BGC2040 is that it is one of the first Japanese animation series to be financed in part by an American company, in this case A.D. Vision, who later produced and released the U.S. DVDs. While some might argue that an American company having a hand in the production of something so distinctly Japanese as anime would muddy the waters, it nevertheless goes without saying that, without ADV's financial assistance, this series quite possibly might have never been made.
One of the most important things to impart is that no prior knowledge of the events of the original Bubblegum Crisis is necessary to follow this series. BGC2040 is a complete retelling, taking place in an alternate universe of sorts. In addition to being set in the year 2040 as opposed to 2032 (the time of the original's events), there is a complete beginning and ending; this doesn't pick up where the original left off, nor does it reference its events. With this in mind, one can simply sit and enjoy Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040 by itself.
The series focuses on the Knight Sabers, a group of four women who don powered suits of armor and attempt to protect the citizens of Mega Tokyo from crazed humanoid robots, known as Boomers (also called Voomers, for VOodoo Organic Metal Extension Resource). Under normal circumstances, Boomers are robots created to carry out certain tasks instead of man, such as construction, maintenance, and the like. However, inexplicably, Boomers have begun to go rogue, and mutate both physically and electronically, attacking humans and causing large amounts of destruction. In order to stop them, the Knight Sabers must penetrate the Boomer's armor and "smash the core", destroying its central processing unit. The Knight Sabers are opposed by the A.D. Police, an arm of the regular police force specifically used for dealing with rogue Boomers, who see them as outlaws and rivals, and the mega-corporation Genom, the primary producer of Boomers and the company who finances the activities of the A.D. Police. Nevertheless, these four women, Sylia Stingray, Linna Yamazaki, Priss Asagiri, and Nene Romanova, continue to battle rogue Boomers, each of them for many different reasons. These reasons are slowly revealed, highlighting one of the strengths of this show, characterization. Despite using familiar AIC character designs, each of the major players in this series is very fleshed out, with many layers and distinct motivations for their actions. Almost all of them go through changes throughout the series, some of them major ones.
One of the first things that is striking about this series is that, despite the regular appearance of even more powerful rogue Boomers, things never take on an episodic, "Monster of the Week" feel. Things flow from one episode to the next, with some battles taking place over the course of two or more episodes. This gives things a much more natural feel, and allows the storyline to progress at an even pace, without the downtime for filler episodes that other shows sometimes have. There are, however, 3 or 4 major story arcs, allowing there to still be points where one can take a break from watching.
Another thing that comes to mind is the music in the series, and the role it plays. Priss Asagiri, in her spare time, is the lead singer of the local hit rock group Sekiria, and many of the songs the band performs find their way into other moments in the action; she is even credited with singing the opening and ending themes! The non-vocal music covers a wide range, from booming hard rock with techno beats for action sequences, to quiet, ambient piano and electronica pieces for the reflective moments. The music takes an active role in the proceedings, and really heightens the experience at every turn.
The Japanese voice acting in this series is excellent, especially for the main characters. Nene is bubbly and cute, but also has the insecurity that comes with being at that point between child and adult; Linna is unsure of herself, but confidant and not willing to give up; Priss puts on a facade of coldness and indifference, but hints at a wider array of emotions beneath the surface; and Sylia can be pleasant and cordial one moment, and can do a complete about face and become quite angry and aggressive. All of the actors do an excellent job of conveying the range of emotions their characters go through, and the secondary character voice acting is also quite good. Things are a bit more mixed in the English dub, but the actors for the four main females do a good job here as well, with the highlight being Hilary Haag's performance as Nene.
Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040 is somewhat controversial among Japanese animation fans. Some who were introduced to anime in the late eighties by the original Bubblegum Crisis consider this series an inferior knockoff. Speaking as a fan who viewed this series first, and then the original afterwards, I can say that I enjoyed both immensely for their differences as much as their similarities. But, risking immolation by longtime anime fans, my vote has to go to this series. The increased length allows for much more characterization and a more developed storyline, and these are two departments (among others) where BGC2040 shines. These, combined with the catchy music, fast-paced action and solid voice acting, make this show one not to be missed. The best thing to do is not to judge it based on the original series; let it stand on its own merits, and enjoy it for what it is.