Reviewby Mike Crandol, Sep 9th 2002
Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040
DVD: Perfect Collection
Manual labor is a thing of the past in the year 2040. All less-desirable lines of work have been taken over by Boomers, humanoid robots manufactured by the super-corporation Genom. The only problem is Boomers have the nasty habit of malfunctioning and attacking their human masters.
Tokyo has established the AD Police to deal with the rising number of rogue Boomers, but so far, proven to be somewhat less than effective. Enter the Knight Sabers, four young women dressed to the nines in cybernetic body armor who have made it their mission to rid Tokyo of the Boomer plague. Sylia Stingray, daughter of the Boomers' late inventor, leads rock-star, Priss, office girl, Linna, and computer whiz, Nene in their desperate crusade, but they have much more to worry about than just rampaging robots.
The AD Police doesn't like competition, and Genom will protect its lucrative creations at any cost. While facing attacks from all sides, the Knight Sabers uncover a dark secret that may spell extinction for the human race.
The difference between the original Bubblegum Crisis and its remake, Tokyo 2040, is like the difference between Adam West's and Tim Burton's Batman. Originally a bit of self-aware camp, it has been reimagined as a dark, sophisticated, deadly-serious action adventure. Expanding on themes that were only briefly touched upon in the original, 2040 delves into the origins of Bubblegum Crisis icons like the Knight Sabers, Boomers, the AD Police, and Genom. It also explores more deeply their relationships with one another, and--unlike its precursor--brings their story to a definite conclusion. The motivations and personalities of the four main stars are better delineated as well, although some massive changes in character will no doubt leave many classic Bubblegum Crisis fans crying foul.
In any incarnation, Bubblegum Crisis is--at its heart-- your basic, American superhero story dressed up in Japanese cyberpunk trappings. A vigilante team of costumed do-gooders with secret identities protect the innocent citizens of a glittering metropolis from evil, but these superheroes wear mech suits instead of capes, and the bad guys are (what else?) robots. The first Crisis series wore its kitsch on its sleeve and delighted in piling on as many over-the-top characters and situations as possible, making little or no attempt to explain them in any rational way. Tokyo 2040 works with these same camp elements, but it also lends them credibility with careful plotting and sophisticated writing. The result is a fantastic bit of escapism told with wit, intelligence, and charm.
But is it better or worse than the original? After all, the first series had no pretense of taking itself too seriously. But 2040's depth of story does make it more engrossing than its forerunner. Instead of an episodic series of unrelated adventures, the remake has a beginning, middle, and end. Where everything in the first Crisis was pretty much taken at face value, here we have a wealth of twists, turns, and surprises. The hidden depths of the plot are only very gradually revealed as the series progresses, keeping the audience coming back for more. The characters change and grow instead of remaining constant, and their relationships to one another are dynamic as well. Originally the Knight Sabers were just four happy girls who hung out and fought crime together, but this new team has its fair share of ups and downs. This trend starts out with Priss trusting no one and later with no one trusting Sylia. Linna and Nene struggle to keep up with the more experienced Sylia and Priss, and Nene must deal with the fact that although Linna joined the Sabers last, she already surpasses her in skills. Watching them learn to act as a team turns out to be an extremely entertaining opportunity on which the original missed out.
Little was known about the original Knight Sabers' personalities. Priss was the tough one, Nene was the cute one, and Linna and Sylia were the just-kinda- there types. The re-imagined Sabers all feature fully fleshed-out personas, and in keeping with Bubblegum Crisis's superhero roots, they appear to be modeled on some classic comic-book stars. The brooding, revenge-crazed millionaire, Sylia, is VERY Batman, even down to her Alfred-clone butler, Henderson, and her secret underground lair; Priss's grunge makeover makes the angry, motorcycle-riding lone wolf seem even more like X-Men's Wolverine; a few less-than-obvious parallels can be drawn between heart-of-gold country girl, Linna, and Clark Kent; the youthful, wisecracking Nene is slightly reminiscent of smart-talking Spider-Man/ Peter Parker.
These sharp changes in personality fit the story well, but purists may complain that the original glam-rock Priss has become too gritty, and certainly the old Sylia was not prone to fits of rage. Other character rewrites include a more solemn version of Sylia's brother Maki, a much more bullheaded Leon McNichol, and a seemingly-straight Daley Wong.
The Bubblegum Crisis world has also been given a major visual facelift. Kenichi Sonoda's original Hardsuit (the girls' combat costumes) designs are retained, but everything else has been redone from the ground up. Many fans were unsatisfied with Masaki Yamada's new character designs, which strongly recall Tokyo 2040's contemporary Tenchi in Tokyo. While not as memorable as Sonoda's classic cotton-candy designs, the new cast has an appealing, “real-world” look that is better suited to the more mature tone of this new series. The animation is of good quality for television, and attractive color schemes coupled with creative layout work make things look even more impressive.
Today the Cowboy Bebop and Hellsing soundtracks may be all the rage, but veteran fans remember when Bubblegum Crisis was the last word in anime music. The kitschy, infuriatingly-catchy, glamrock tunes that highlighted each episode were many anime fans' early introduction to the eerily addicting world of J-Pop. For the new version, rock-star/superhero, Priss, has dumped her old band, The Replicants, in favor of the grunge act, Sekiria, and Priss herself comes off more like Joan Jett than Debbie Gibson. Though the hard-edged sound better compliments her badass attitude, the musical numbers are wholly forgettable, and their brevity suggests the creators included them merely as a formality. This version of Bubblegum Crisis is definitely NOT about the music.
The Japanese vocal cast is a fine troupe of actors, but the real news here is the English dub. Rivaling Cowboy Bebop and Tenchi Muyo!, the American cast is about as perfect as can be. The four main actresses are all superb…it's hard to single out any one particular achievement because they're all so darn good. The story requires a wide range of emotions from each of its leads, and the cast demonstrates an amazing amount of nuance and versatility; scenes between Sylia, Maki, and Nene are especially convincing. Supporting members also turn in strong performances, especially Chris Patton as Daley. The only weak areas are Priss's song: common wisdom is that Japanese musical numbers are best left untranslated, but Crisis's songs are sung by one of the main characters performing onstage, making it necessary to dub them into English. Christine Auten is a hell of an actress, but her singing leaves something to be desired, and the lyrics are clumsily translated.
With a full 26-episode series on six discs for $89.98 (though this reviewer saw it at Best Buy for a mere $50), Tokyo 2040 is currently the best deal going on Perfect Collection releases. ADV presents us with what may be the first-ever sextuple amaray DVD case, which looks cool and is heavy enough to hit rouge Boomers over the head with. But the package artwork is strangely bland and unappealing. A vague portrait of the Knight Sabers entirely in grey and light blue on a stark white background makes it hard to tell just what series you're buying. Additionally, the generic “Bubblegum Crisis” title font on the spine looks like it was made at home on Microsoft Word. The gorgeous full-color artwork that graced the individual volumes of this release is sorely missed. The equally-drab insert forgets to supply any episode breakdowns per disc, leaving the viewer to guess where they left off last viewing session. If you already own the individual volumes and are considering “upgrading” to the Perfect Collection release, don't bother.
Just as many fans of the original Bubblegum Crisis will embrace Tokyo 2040 as will revile it. Major changes in visual style, character, and tone distance this work from its forerunner, but a deeper, more involving story and better-developed personalities make the changes well worth it. Newcomers to the Bubblegum Crisis universe will only see a finely crafted anime cyberpunk adventure that is head-and-shoulders above most other series out there today. And with the economy price tag, it's also the most affordable.
Overall (dub) : A-
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : C
+ a complete story arc and dynamic characters improve upon the original, low price for a whole series
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