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The Fine Print
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Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040 © 1999 JVC/AIC
What's old and what's new in the world of Mega-Tokyo and battling Boomers. By Benjamin Wright.
In 1987, the first volume of the Bubblegum Crisis OAV series was released by the then-booming anime production house Youmex. With strong character and mecha designs by Artmic (headed at that time by Kenichi Sonoda) and a foreboding story written by Toshimichi Suzuki, BGC fared well in Japan. But in 1991, when it was released to America by the then-booming anime import house AnimEigo, BGC became a top-selling fan favorite. The eight-part OAV series' mutant fusion of the styles of Blade Runner and Streets of Fire, its widely varied cast of sexy female heroines, its cornucopia of mechanized props, and its indomitable rock-'n'-roll soundtrack ensured its place as one of American anime fans' all-time favorites.
Despite the fact that BGC went on to spawn a three-part OAV prequel series, A.D. Police, and a three-part OAV sequel series, Bubblegum Crash, the franchise sputtered and its story was never truly completed. A.D. Police's hardcore cyberpunk approach (not to mention its high sex and gore quotients) didn't fit stylistically with the original series, and Bubblegum Crash was cut down from its originally planned length of six OAV episodes, the remaining three coming across as rather rushed, shabby afterthoughts to the original series' vision and energy.
Now, over a decade later, Bubblegum Crisis has returned. This time, BGC is a 26-episode TV series produced by AIC, the studio behind Tenchi Muyo!, and the entire story is being retold from the beginning. This is no sequel, but a substantially lengthier remake, with substantial changes. After all, in the past ten years we've seen the crest and demise of the cyberpunk movement in film and literature, and we've seen the anime industry go through changes both in Japan and here in the U.S. The result: A new take on a classic.
The series in now set in the year 2040 - no doubt to preserve the "40 years in the future" precedent set by the "Mega-Tokyo 2032" of the original series. Furthermore, the setting of the series (Tokyo) has been de-Mega'd; In the OAVs, Tokyo had been destroyed by the Second Great Kanto Earthquake in 2025 and was rebuilt as Mega-Tokyo by the monolithic Genom corporation. No longer. Why the name change? Perhaps, since 1987, the shtick of naming cities "___-Tokyo" has simply become a cliche, but a more likely possibility is that the name change is intended to reflect a change in attitude. With the fall of cyberpunk literature, Bubblegum Crisis has been re-oriented - BGC is no longer a dark, dystopian vision but rather follows a "trouble in paradise" theme. To reflect this, 2040's Tokyo looks clean and bright, unlike the dark, crowded, scarred sprawl of 2032. In this setting, Genom's machinations take on a more conspiratorial air (and we all know how popular conspiracy-theory shows are these days).
As for Genom, the evil superconglomerate has undergone a facelift as well. 2040's Tokyo skyline is not dominated by the volcano-like structure of Genom's arcology headquarters. Instead, Genom manipulates the world's economies, politics, and social structures from its own space station, located in geosynchronous orbit above the Earth. This orbital facility is actually tethered to a massive artificial island in the middle of Tokyo Bay by a 22,000 mile long "beanstalk" elevator! (Talk about remodeling... !) But despite its new real estate, Genom is still up to the same dirty business: Manufacturing androids and Trying To Take Over The World! Led by the ancient, mysterious Quincy and his right-hand man, Brian J. Mason, Genom's series of androids - a fusion of biotechnology and mechatronics known as Boomers - are mass-produced, affordable to even small businesses, and ubiquitous. Little has changed here from the original OAVs, except for the fact that 2040's Boomers are even more unsettling - although they're more widespread and more innocuous-looking, they're also prone to "monstering out" into mutants, even more horrifying than ever! This sounds like a job for...
Well, technically, it's a job for the A.D. Police, but they're just as hopeless as ever. And so, taking up the copious slack for the A.D.P. are our heroines, the high-tech vigilantes (and part time mercenaries) known as the Knight Sabers. Just as in the original series, the team is made up of four good-looking women from all walks of life, but this time around we're introduced to the Knight Sabers from the outside. BGC 2040 begins by following Linna Yamazaki as she adjusts to life in Tokyo, having just moved from the countryside. She's in town ostensibly for her new job at Genom, but she's more deeply motivated by a burning curiosity about the legendary, nigh-mythical Knight Sabers.
The first four episodes of the show are told largely from Linna's point of view, allowing the audience to vicariously experience how "inhuman" a place Tokyo is, and to see how the Knight Sabers figure into it. Highlighting Linna's lack of experience (but surfeit of spunk), these episodes follow her integration into the team, introducing the other members and showcasing their fabulous resources and technology.
And fabulous they are. The building owned by team leader Sylia Stingray still doubles as a shopping center and as the Knight Sabers' headquarters, but in 2040 the obvious parallels to Bruce Wayne and his stately manor are even more pronounced. The eclectically decorated building now has an amazingly large, deep, and advanced facility in its multilevel basement, and even has its own Alfred-like butler (named Macy) to tend to it. And you won't believe the base's new "launch facility" until you see it...
Also of note are the changes to the Knight Sabers' mecha. Curiously, on first appearance, the team's signature Hardsuits seem to be the only visual design carried over from the original OAVs - they're the second-generation Hardsuits seen in Bubblegum Crisis 8: Scoop Chase. Each Hardsuit has only minor alterations; most important is the fact that now both hands are fitted with powered exo-gloves. Technologically, these Hardsuits are clearly more advanced than those of the previous series, seeing as how they "morph" into existence when first fitted to a wearer - a defensible change, since if Boomers can shapeshift, why can't Hardsuits too? These familiar armor designs were then changed mid-season to totally new, never-before seen models which, like the characters' new looks and the new Motorslave, bear all the earmarks of AIC's style, abandoning sharp angles, straight lines, and realistic engineering for a "smoother" look.
Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040 is a thoroughly modernized work, but still does its predecessor proud. A good example of this can be seen (or heard) in BGC's other influential element: the soundtrack. 2040's music is markedly updated, exchanging the highly-lauded rock of the original for a rakishly techno sound. Similar alterations in the look and the story work just as well - the new character designs are loaded with... well... character, and the plot and story tweaks work better than most would have expected. 2040 exchanges the OAVs' breakneck pace for a more gradual, ominous feeling, and dopes the atmosphere with the sense of a coming storm. The original series never had its chance to fully realize the potential of this, but it looks like 2040 finally will.