Reviewby Tim Henderson,
Bubblegum Crisis 2032 Collection
After a catastrophic earthquake, Tokyo has been split in two. The Genom corporation has been monumental in rebuilding the city of Megatokyo with the production of Boomers, androids used for manual labor. However some of these Boomers are used for illegal pursuits and sometimes just running amok and causing chaos. To combat this threat a group called the Knight Sabers have formed, five ladies who are specially trained to fight the android threat using mechanical armour called "Hard-Suits".
Production Company: Youmex
Reflecting on his company's history in one of this releases many extra features, Madman Entertainment founder Tim Anderson discloses stories of the company's bedroom beginnings. It was a time of niche interests and testosterone stereotypes and also a time when AnimeEigo was the only company willing to allow young Tim to license anything for Australian release. The fact that Bubblegum Crisis was the very first title he ended up with is as fortunate now as it was then, as this classic is exactly the sort of title you can be more than happy to release again on DVD to celebrate your company's 10th birthday with pride.
The history of Bubblegum Crisis has been a little more rocky that of Madman Entertainment. Numerous follow-ups always promised to fill in the gap left by its unfinished story arcs or to offer an elaboration on the BGC universe, but always failed to be worthy of the legacy they followed to the point where they were lucky not to leave it shamed and tarnished. While its more intellectual cyberpunk contemporary, Ghost in the Shell, had expansions maintaining a high standard. Bubblegum Crisis's more action-centric focus wallowed in confusion, its sequels and spin-offs suffering from muddled visions. However the fact that the original, unfinished production is very worthy of attention still stands true today.
Straight-up action cyberpunk helmed by a group of hard-suit wearing female vigilantes known as the Knight Sabres, Bubblegum Crisis has aged amazingly well, and it's been aging for a while now as its first chapter dates back a full twenty years to 1987. An eye for detail has made the cast a product of the times, and so there are plentiful huge hairstyles and garish fashion choices that will never surface again, probably to the point where the lead characters would be embarrassed if they were real people capable of looking back at themselves from now. But such things are but a part of the greater whole.
And the greater whole is excellent. Fashion choices aside, the presentation is superb. Megatokyo circa 2032 is a bustling, grimy metropolis where technology can rust and get dirty and the lack of CG is actually a benefit: the city never suffers from looking unrealistically clean for a dystopia. Machinery is detailed and heavy in appearance, and the animation, despite occasionally looking a little clumsy in its execution, still holds its head above many of today's releases.
This high standard of animation and production is a very important to why this anime is still so popular today. The real strength of Bubblegum Crisis is its lack of subtly that almost never comes off as unintentionally cheesy, simply because it's executed to such a high standard that it actually succeeds at being exhilarating, proving that shameless excess can be good if done properly. Be it the Eighties pop-infused soundtrack – something that may seem more tasteful now than ten years ago, thanks to a resurgence of synth use and a new nostalgic generation – or the action scenes themselves, Bubblegum Crisis flips all the switches to max and never slows down or fades out until it's over.
'Not slowing' is a useful description here, as the reason why the action sequences that are so integral to the show are successful comes down to one very simple concept: motion. There is very little, if any, standing around or focusing or shocked facial expressions as seen in a lot of action anime. When the action starts, it follows through. Both the characters themselves and the camera work towards this effect, creating a cathartic visual ballet of action that never stops for breath and never slows down just to stretch the screen value of a single drawing. As the show's leads do battle against the latest menace – often against the influential, but typically corrupt organization Genom – one thing becomes clear: the expression ‘action that doesn't stop’ isn't just a hype-line here. It's a description. There are many visceral moments to be had, and the 100% hand-drawn animation lends an extra boost of energy.
As a word of warning, the story is something of a secondary consideration. It feels a bit detached at first, in part due to the first episode originally being a stand-alone release until it proved successful enough to justify expansion. The narrative feels grafted on for the first few episodes as a result of this, but for all the lack of depth present the plot line is still a few notches above what is strictly required. There's enough substance provided for the story to be interesting both in its own right and as a simple excuse to get from one scene of action or suspense to the next. The core elements, such as evil corporations and technology run amok are hardly unique, but a little extra consideration that ties everything to the history of this tatty future Tokyo makes them feel more robust than they otherwise might. That the story never concludes, thanks to the production stopping at episode eight rather than finishing the planned thirteen episodes, may be both this OAV's greatest flaw and strength: it's unfinished, yes, but the franchise's further expansions suggest it is perhaps better off this way. And as it is, the Bubblegum Crisis only gets better with every passing episode, with the final two being particularly excellent.
This is a release you should seriously consider picking up, be it for purposes of nostalgia, or the need for an initiation. For a show so highly regarded as a classic, remarkably few Australian anime fans have actually seen it, something that a DVD release of this standard should hopefully be changing. The DVD set is perfectly presented, with impressive video and audio considering the age of the series, and the extras are numerous, enjoyable and informative: some are great on their own, while others are great simply because they're so embarrassingly tragic. Even the dub is pretty good by today's standards, with well-delivered lines that only suffer because they make the Knight Sabers sound older than they're supposed to be. Bubblegum Crisis is the real deal: great core content (with small pieces of extra footage that were blacked out for the credit rolls in the initial VHS release), fitting packaging and presentation, and plenty of worthwhile extras make this the sort of release that ticks every box and rightly deserves every dollar that it earns.
Overall : A-
Story : B
Animation : A-
+ Excellent animation; wonderfully paced action sequences; no modern substitute.
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