Reviewby Tim Henderson, May 13th 2012
Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040 - Complete Collection
Set a rebuilt, futuristic Tokyo of the titled year 2040 after a disastrous earthquake, Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040 spins a tale of a future where mechanoids known as Boomers have played a pivotal role in said rebuilding, and have apparently taken all the jobs at grocery stores and fast food retailers. They also have a tendency to go berserk, which leads nicely into an all female vigalantee group known as the Knight Sabres and a corruption power-struggle within the mega-corporation Genom.
It's difficult to get past the notion that Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040 sits in an odd place insofar as assessment is concerned. Upon its initial release, the show drew plenty of comparison to the original Bubblegum Crisis OAV – a straight to video work that had, by that time, seen its earlier instalments sneak past a decade in age – that it was reinterpreting, its identity an amalgamation of flashes of the past and a desire to appeal to the future.
And, at the turn of the millennium, this was largely understandable, appropriate even. The original Bubblegum Crisis may serve as but a footnote in the growing catalogue of anime classics, but it was also among the scant few legitimate releases that could be purchased locally in Australia during those hazy days of the VHS. 2040 by comparison, was a modern spin on what felt like a relic; a contemporary product set to do battle with nostalgic memories. It is therefore, a mite disconcerting to think that 2040 has now itself, passed ten years of its (not just yet) mortal coil. At this point, backed by a recent re-release, it's living its own life. A life that is for many people, surely divorced from its own heritage.
This independence causes some questioning over just how much has changed. When 2040 first rolled around, the original OAV was already looking very much a product of its era: the soundtrack, the character designs, the plot sensibilities, the hairstyles – no amount of CG re-touching could hope to give it a modern chic. But, while the 80's flavour of the OAV may constitute a near genre-like classification all to itself, what with all the nipping it did around Blade Runner's ankles, 2040 presently feels lost in a flux of almost-but-not-quite timelessness. While the original character designs wore day-to-day outfits that draw obsessive detail from the worst decade in fashion, their modern counterparts walk a stark contrast of simple designs and clean colours; where streets were painted with decrepit sketchiness, colour is now bold and smooth; where synth pop-rock once reigned, there now stands Sekiria's rock-ish soundtrack, one with enough breathing room that even it defies easy era classification.
Allow your imagination to toss in some polygons for the mechanical designs, change the aspect ratio and saturate the odd scene with CG light sources, and BGC 2040 could easily be mistaken for a show produced just this year past. All of which creates some bizarre believability problems – while just a glance is enough to tell that the original Bubblegum Crisis was a product of a time that though people would still use phone boxes in the far flung future, 2040's more contemporary appearance makes the bulky nature of much computing equipment – to say nothing of the total lack of smart-phones (although it tepidly does flirt with the idea) – seem bafflingly out-of-touch.
But to dwell on this too much might be unfair. This is a show about powerful corporations corrupted with evil agenda, and it is all backed by the general anime logic that futuristic technology must always eventually equate to robots. And, also according to rote anime logic, robots always lead to problems.
While the original Bubblegum Crisis introduced a stack of concepts and characters that it was happy to leave largely unexplored in the name of high-octane action sequences involving robots blowing up a lot of helicopters, 2040 makes a deliberate effort to breath life into everything that could have been considered underutilised. This is apparent from the very beginning, where viewers discover that Linna Yamazaki – a character largely left on the sidelines in the OAV – has been given the leading role.
Having just moved to Tokyo from a small rural town, she is out to prove that a 'hic' (a term that, mercifully, only appears in the dub) can succeed in the city and, more importantly, has a burning desire to track down the Knight Sabres – an all-female vigilante group that dons specialised hardsuits in order to pacify occurrences of Boomers (robots) going rogue. The first few episodes are used to set up this scenario and to establish how Linna – surprise, surprise – becomes a Knight Sabre herself.
Despite several bursts of action, these opening episodes nonetheless feel a little slow. This is largely down to the show taking its time to get all the pieces in play, and failing to do the best job of foreshadowing what's to come, or even what came before – Tokyo was largely destroyed by an earthquake, you say? Funny. That morsel is given so little time (and, from a post 2011 perspective, so little significance) that I may have missed it had I not read the back of the case – as well as lacking finesse in the action scenes themselves. Extra frames of animation and embellishments seldom seen and when they are, they're used in the oddest places.
More frustrating is that illustrations seldom stretch in that exaggerated way that anime can get away with to emphasise the effort and intensity of the feats performed on screen. The ideas are sometimes there, but the execution is frequently off; a criticism that for some will be unfairly amplified by the inevitable comparison to the originals' impressive ability to maintain a sense of continuous flow and motion when punches were thrown and shots fired.
Nonetheless, these opening episodes eventually slip by and, around the one third mark, the pay-off starts to come with not inconsiderable impact. Familiar characters show that their change of role and – occasionally – personality was not implemented without purpose, and an earnest effort is made to explore the mythology behind this future Tokyo, the Boomer technology, the ligic behind bumbling AD Police forces, and the Knight Sabres themselves. It's a little heavy-handed at times – Sylia (the leader of the Sabres) in particular has intentionally been developed as having a razor-edged emotional aspect to her personality that is frequently employed as an excuse to over-sell the drama.
In fact, although the execution routinely flops a little shy of greatness, the middle chunk of 2040 could well be argued to justify the price of admission alone – an odd twist on the usual spikes and dips in storytelling formula. There's enough happening here, replete with sufficient information and revelations being dripped at a well-measured pace, to cause one to overlook the more general weaknesses in the production such as some fairy uninspired robot/monster design, as well as bizarre logic holes, and pondering over why rogue Boomers somehow seem to grow teeth.
At least the hardsuits, visually consistent with the original but modified with conspicuous curves that make them look at once more feminine and more dangerous, a kind of ergonomic sleekness that brings to mind the speed and compressed power of a panther, appear sufficiently sexy. As the core mecha design, they go a long way in aiding the show's visual appeal. It's a shame then that things all fall apart towards the end – colour is sapped from the screen to indicate the immediate, race-against-time danger, and the whole plot degrades into some kind of cloying, under-baked robot-zombie-like apocalypse complete with heavy-handed messaging of wholly unoriginal ideals and ideas.
Taken as a whole, Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040 is a difficult beast to heartily recommend, but it's hardly a show to ward potential viewers away from either. Its strengths and weaknesses flux around with such boldness that enjoyment may, more so than usual, be inseparably tied to expectations. And the first expectations you should lose, should you be old enough to have them, are those seeded by the original. The second is that the writers had any kind of realistic idea of the kind of cold that a human body might be able to withstand.
It's hard to tell if generations moving full-circle or the apparent live action film expected at the end of this year is the key motivator behind this release, but it's a solid value offering, if a slightly under-celebrated one. Don't expect any new retrospective features here – just about the only difference between this release and that from when Madman was first pressing DVDs is the list of trailers and the amount of space the collection will take on your shelf.
©FlyingDog ・ AIC.
Overall : B-
Story : B-
Animation : B
+ A few cracking revelations around the middle bit; cool hardsuit designs
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