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The Fine Print
All text is © copyright VIZ, LLC. No reproduction without written permission. All images are © copyright their respective copyright holders as noted. No reproduction without written permission. All images for Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040 © JVC / AIC All images for Bubblegum Crisis (original series) © Artmic/Youmex
Ah, the 1980s.... The golden age of mecha anime! In Japan, that decade birthed countless well-known and long-lived robot series—many of which still thrive in the modern scene. In America, the '80s saw anime explode from cultish gnosis to mass market fare—a trend that grew exponentially in the '90s and has put us where we are today. Only a few anime projects have been key on both sides of the Pacific, cyclically reincarnating in the Japanese market and simultaneously furthering the growth of America's own. Of this exclusive set, one of the prime examples is Bubblegum Crisis.
Written by Toshimichi Suzuki, designed by Kenichi Sonoda's (now defunct) Artmic, and produced by Youmex and AIC, Bubblegum Crisis (or BGC) stands among the decade's most notable children. Time-tested and otaku-approved, BGC has spanned the decades through sequels, prequels, sidestories, and—most recently—a 21st-century televised remake. Furthermore, BGC was among the earliest crop of anime released directly to the American home video market, by AnimEigo, one of the first professional anime translation houses. Arguably the most popular of that early lot, it was formative to America's then-fledgling anime scene.
ADV Film's recent release of the Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040 Perfect Collection (a DVD boxed set of the entire 26-episode TV series) seems the perfect time to reflect on the history and legacy of this venerable anime institution. This is a story with a lot of history, and a lot of drama (both on and behind the screen), and a lot of significance. So suit up! This'll be interesting.
The 2030s: Crisis, Crash, and the ADP
Originally released in Japan in 1987, BGC (then fully titled "Bubblegum Crisis: The Story of the Knight Sabers—Mega-Tokyo 2032") was a humble straight-to-video project featuring rather spotty animation quality and running less than an hour. However, it had something. Set in Mega-Tokyo (the city rebuilt after a second Great Kanto Earthquake) in 2032, BGC followed four young women who moonlighted as an armored mercenary/vigilante team called the Knight Sabers. Opposing them is Genom, the world's largest corporation and the manufacturer of Boomers—a series/race of mechanoids designed to serve man but who often threaten us in berserker fits. Caught in the middle is the hapless AD (Advanced) Police, a heavily armed anti-terrorist and anti-Boomer team.
Heavily influenced by the cyberpunk live-action film Blade Runner (1982) and the "rock and roll fable" Streets of Fire (1984), BGC was both a product of its times and something fresh and new. The anime perfectly captured the characteristic '80s obsession with anti-corporate anxiety, post-apocalypse survivalism, and technology run rampant. For good measure, it added heavy doses of superheroing, rock 'n' roll, mecha combat, and hot chicks. Talk about a recipe for success! The resultant brew was well-met in Japan, but was a smash hit in America's then-nascent anime environment.
Well-conceived by Suzuki, BGC had enough grabbing elements and mysterious plotlines to support nigh-endless development. Bubblegum Crisis proper carried on for eight OAV (Original Animation Video) installments, with each episode featuring better animation, writing, and directing than those before it. (The design work was always top-notch, however.) Now-bigwig designer/director Masami Obari (Fatal Fury, Battle Arena Toshinden) directed fan-favorite episodes 5 and 6, but troubles within Artmic and Youmex brought the series to an early close. Meanwhile, Suzuki had written an A.D. Police manga (illustrated by Tony Takezaki) that garnered praise as Japan's bible of all things cyberpunk.
A three-part video series based on the A.D. Police manga served as a prequel to BGC, and the enduring popularity of the phenomenon led to a rushed (and frankly subpar, compared to the original) three-part sequel called Bubblegum Crash in the early 1990s. Although Crash did tie the whole story to a reasonable close, it did so hurriedly and spottily. Many questions remained unanswered, and fans have been vexed evermore.
Since Crash, meager add-ons to the BGC universe continued to bubble up in both Japan and America; a personal computer game called Crime Wave, a three-book American role-playing game (published by R. Talsorian Games), a couple of hard-to-find novels, a 4-issue limited comic series entitled Bubblegum Crisis: Grand Mal (created by Dirty Pair and Gen13 artist Adam Warren and published by Dark Horse), and short "in-betweener" stories like Soldier Blue (written by Suzuki himself) proved the series' lasting popularity but did little to truly complete the orphaned franchise. All that changed, however, in the year 2000.
The 2040s: No More Mega
Having come into the rights for the aging but still-recognized franchise, the animation studio AIC took up the challenge of reviving Bubblegum Crisis. Best-known for off-the-wall, over-the-top science-fantasy anime, AIC seemed to fans an unlikely bearer of the BGC torch. Be that as it may, in 2000 the studio created and aired a 26-episode TV series roughly based on the original.
Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040 is not a sequel, however; it's a remake, a fairly radical reinvention that makes use of the same characters and concepts but tells a different story and explores different themes.
In almost every way, BGC 2040 is a radically different animal from its ancestor. That's to be expected, though. It's the product of a different age! A lot of changes have occurred between the '80s and the '00s—visual design styles have come and gone, corporate policies have shifted, and new social concerns have overridden those of yesteryear.
In terms of the visual, the first BGC boasted an overwhelming coolness thanks to the consummate talent pool of Artmic. The characters were designed by Kenichi Sonoda (Gunsmith Cats) and the mecha by Shinji Aramaki and Ley Yumeno. The result was one of the most experientially creative spectacles of the decade. BGC 2040, by comparison, is earmarked by AIC's characteristic "fast and loose" approach to design. Everything looks smoother, simpler, more fluid, and the animation quality more consistent.
Continuity, too, went through some changes. Back in the '80s, continuity was an ideal held in high respect by production companies and fans alike. Nowadays, most franchises (Gundam, Transformers, etc.) tend to eschew linear continuity in favor of general "feeling"—a trademarkable sameness unfettered by complex, research-demanding, and (most importantly) young-viewer-alienating backstory. BGC 2040 draws its influence, characters, and basic premise from the '80s OAVs but is otherwise a standalone piece of fiction. This approach makes it easier for a series to attract a new audience, but can understandably have the effect of alienating fans of the older series, who expect to see their show.
Finally, there's the social, political, and economic environment to be considered. In the 1980s, fear of nuclear annihilation, corporate dominion, and the mechanization of mankind gave rise to the cyberpunk movement. Today, cyberpunk as a genre is largely irrelevant. As a product of the early 2000s, BGC 2040 is more concerned with environmental collapse, corporate incompetence, and society degenerating into chaos. By necessity as well as by design, the BGC of the new millennium expresses the ideas of its age. In BGC 2040 killer "Star Wars" satellites have been replaced by an energy-conserving space platform. Conniving businessmen have been replaced with products that overrun their producers (and the world). Cyberpunk cynicism has been replaced with a kind of apocalyptic New Age-ism.
A new BGC for a new generation.