Reviewby Theron Martin,
Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040
DVD - Complete Collection [Classic Line]
In 2040, Tokyo continues to rebuild from a devastating earthquake seven years earlier, with an android labor force called Boomers playing a large role in that recovery. Country girl Linna Yamazaki has come to Tokyo ostensibly because she landed an office job there, but her true motive is to find and join the Knight Sabers, a widely-rumored but publicly-denied group of armored suit-wearing female vigilantes who compete with the AD Police (a police group tasked with investigating and dealing with Boomer-related incidents) to take down Boomers who have gone dangerously rogue. Chance encounters with Priss Asagiri, a rock band singer who secretly moonlights as the Knight Sabers' main striker, and her fierce determination in those encounters earns Linna her opportunity. Soon she finds herself work for Sylia Stingray, the owner of the high-class clothing store Silky Doll and secret leader/sponsor of the Knight Sabers, and with Nene Romanova, a young AD Police operator who doubles as the Knight Sabers' resident hacker. While Linna dons her own Hard Suit and becomes accustomed to the dangers and thrills of being part of the Knight Sabers, Nene must deal with Sylia's newly-arrived younger brother Mackey and Priss must deal with the attentions of amorous AD Police officer Leon. Sylia, meanwhile, must contend both with standoffish love interest/Hard Suit whiz Nigel and her own gnawing fear that Genom, the megacoporation responsible for the creation of Boomers, is up to something foul concerning the Boomer designs originally created by her father. Things take a turn for the worse when Mason, a Genom exec who once worked for Sylia's father, goes digging for something best left buried by the dreadful earthquake.
The original 1987-1990 Bubblegum Crisis OVA series was essentially a fusion of old-school sentai series with the iconic American movie Blade Runner, but it was ground-breaking in many ways: it was the first anime series to integrally feature a female rock singer (rather than an idol singer), it was the defining cyberpunk series until Ghost in the Shell came along, and it was the first to feature an all-female team wearing powered armor. Its 1998-1999 TV series remake, Tokyo 2040, retained all of its predecessor's core elements but was otherwise an updating and complete visual and storytelling reimagining of the original concept. The result was a broader and more developed series which triggered a fierce, years-long debate amongst franchise fans over which version of the story was actually better. (An OVA follow-up to the original created in between the two, Bubblegum Crash, is almost universally reviled by fans.)
Although the original OVAs have always been lauded for the quality of their storytelling and strong musical chops, Tokyo 2040 has its own advantages. Whereas the original series started and always functioned with the Knight Sabers team intact, this one begins by using the first three episodes to show how the final member of the team joins up and gradually delves into the backstories on the rest of the team members, support staff members Nigel and Mackey, the villain Mason, the creation of Boomers, and the circumstances surrounding the defining great earthquake. Instead of running multiple shorter, independent plot lines, this one melds all 26 episodes into a single cohesive story; only a couple of episodes have even a whiff of being side stories, and even those still have developmental connections to the whole. Perhaps most importantly, the original series mostly focused on Priss and only minimally defined Nene, Sylia, and especially Linna, but all four get fully developed and explored in this one and each of the four has her own substantial time in the spotlight. This series also shows how the relationships amongst the Knight Sabers and with supporting characters like Nigel, Mackey, and Leon evolve over time, something that the original series never had enough time to do.
The heavy emphasis on character development, and the way it smoothly mixes in with action and story elements, is where the series' greatest strength lies and what sets it apart from most other sci fi action titles featuring female leads. The Knight Sabers members don't neatly fall into current standards for personality archetypes, either. Linna might be classified as a more adult version of the tough-minded “earnest girl,” but she does not so blindly push forward and has a personality beyond that. Nene, who at 18 is the youngest member, is the enthusiastically immature one, but she also shows a capacity to get deadly serious and is a master at what she does. Priss is the hard-edged rocker/biker girl whose attitude shows in quieter and more subtle ways than the typical in-your-face approach of attitude-laden characters, such as her intense glares, meaningful gestures, and habit of simply not acknowledging questions that she does not feel inclined to answer. Even when doing so she never gives the impression of being above or beyond the surrounding events, though (as is all-too-common when such minimally communicative characters have been attempted in more recent years), and she shows on many occasions that the can get passionate about certain things. Sylia is her polar opposite: an intense, moody woman who quietly yearns for companionship and is deeply haunted by both her father's legacy and her own role in the development of Boomers. (Dr. Stingray is essentially a more kindly Gendo Ikari.) Most of the supporting cast members and villains are less distinctive, although Leon does stand out as the cool cop who's not as handy with the ladies as he'd like to be but nonetheless diligently pursues a difficult target like Priss. In a distinct change from the original, Leon's partner Daley is far less blatantly gay in this version, with only a couple of random comments even hinting at his preference.
The story reuses the basic Blade Runner-derived premise of the original – i.e. tracking down and dealing with members of an artificially-created slave labor force which have gone dangerously rogue while a megacorporation stands in the background – but decidedly diverges as it brings the backstory elements and the related Thing Which Must Stay Buried theme into play. The first half the series mostly involves a succession of rogue Boomer-destroying operations as the character development and behind-the-scenes scheming gain traction, with the turning point being the mid-series revelation of the true final villain. (Unlike in the OVAs, it's not Mason, though he certainly plays a major part in bringing the real villain out to play.) That's also the point where the series gives up any pretense of using actual science and just starts doing whatever its writers think is cool. That doesn't necessarily prove to be bad, as it opens the doors for some serious soul-searching, new conceptualizations of the iconic Hard Suits, and some thrillingly crazy sequences involving a Boomer rampage through the AD Police HQ and a climactic space battle, but the pseudo-philosophizing which is especially prevalent near the end gets to be a little much. The series is strongest when focusing on its characters and action elements and only stumbles when it tries to think too deeply.
Like its predecessor, Tokyo 2040 contains homages to Western sci fi titles, other anime, and classic rock music, though it does so in different ways. Each episode shares its title with a song and/or album title by Western artists ranging from Jimi Hendrix to Steely Dan to The Police to Bush; a complete breakdown can be found on this fan site. Although Priss having a namesake in one of Blade Runner's Replicants remains, the reference in the name of Priss's band was dropped. (New band name Sekiria was supposedly a reference to the real-life band of screenplay writer Chiaki Konaka.) An obvious reference to Star Trek: The Next Generation can be seen in a bar name shown in episode 11, while a photo in one episode looks like an homage to the Battle Athletes anime.
The original OVA series was a three-way collaboration between AIC, ARTMIC Studios, and Youmex. AIC, the only one of those companies still in existence in 1998, collaborated with JVC to create the TV series, which included visually revamping almost everything from the ground up. The Hard Suit designs still retain the signature sleek, sexy look which has long made them popular with American fans, though Nene's suit shifts to red from pink and Sylia's has become a more purely silvery-white color. Character designs see anywhere from minor to drastic changes as hair and clothing styles are updated to shed the outdated '80s looks, with Sylia's switch to long pale hair (the Rei Ayanami effect, perhaps?) and Nene's change to short blond hair being the most drastic. While none of the ladies are flawless beauties, each has her own kind of sex appeal and gets occasional chances to flaunt it, though actual nudity is limited to the final couple of episodes. Boomer designs, even in monsterized forms, have fairly standard robotic looks until things start going crazy in the later stages; the biggest difference here compared to the OVAs is that none of the Boomers here can pass for human. (Well, almost none.) Backgrounds and other equipment show a greater anticipation of future architectural and technical trends than the original series (whose biggest failure was not anticipating the ubiquity of cell phones), but despite the more modern look and the sharp poses seen in feature art, the actual episode artistry still has the rougher edges common in late '90s series. Animation quality is above-average in the fully-detailed and sometimes intense fight scenes but typical for TV series animation otherwise and a downgrade from the OVAs. Even so, this was a fairly sharp-looking series for its time, but it is starting to show some age.
One of the biggest splits of opinion concerning the two series involves the drastic change in musical style. The original's soundtrack was a paean to glam rock which many older fans remember as a standard-setter for the late '80s and '90s (few would dispute that “Konya wa Hurricane” is one of the all-time-great anime songs), but this series takes an entirely different approach. It still has regular infusions of '90s-styled rock songs and still uses some rock beats in some of its theme music but relies most heavily on a wide range of electronica sounds to induce tension and drama, a focus which sets it apart from almost all other anime series. Opener “Y'know” is a hard-charging rock number with good visuals and some freaky lyrics, while closer “Waiting For You” is a milder rock song with more conventional lyrics and weirder visuals.
The Japanese cast for the series, which has no significant carry-overs from the OVAs, does a serviceable job with the material, but the American cast truly brings it to life. Christine “Priss” Auten, Hilary “Nene” Haag, Kelly “Linna” Manison, and Laura “Sylia” Chapman all turn in performances that are (at the least) amongst their career-bests as they bring out their respective characters' personalities with crystal clarity and ample subtleties. Andy McAvin is at his slimy best as Mason, while Chris Patton makes an impression as Daley, Phil Ross sounds just right as Sylia's butler Henderson, and John Swasey gives Quincy Rosenkroitz one of anime's most distinctive speaking styles (he tends to draw out all of his words). Minor supporting performances are weaker and Ms. Auten's singing chops are nothing special, but she can at least sing and the strengths still immensely outweigh the faults. The English script is so interpretive that it's almost a complete rewrite (including some entirely different childish references that Nene uses towards Leon), but except for some clumsiness in revamping some song lyrics the dialogue is plenty smooth and fitting enough to head off major complaints.
ADV originally released this series in singles in 2000 and 2001, followed by Complete Collection rereleases in 2002 and 2008 and an Essentials release in three parts in 2004-2005. Funimation's late 2011 rerelease retains and even improves upon some of the upgrades that have happened over time but falls short in other aspects. This release does have the 5.1 English audio track added during the Essentials releases (the original releases were done in 2.0), dramatically improves on subtitle and opening credits formatting, and shows a more minor but still distinct improvement on visual quality despite some lingering rough spots. It uses the ADV English dub as presented in the Essentials release, which is itself a slightly tweaked version of the original English dub. (At least one line was changed between the 2002 and 2005 releases.) Funimation has dropped the Spanish dub seen on previous releases, though, as well as the liner note profiles seen in the earliest releases and most of the previously-provided Extras; the character, voice actor, and equipment sketches and profiles are not present here, nor are the English VA audio commentaries added for the Essentials sets. In fact, the only Extras this set does still have are clean versions of the opener and closer. The episodes are spread across four disks in a regular-sized, slipcovered case, making this the most space-efficient release to date, and some bonus interior art is provided.
Because of the lack of Extras, this release is a significant downgrade for those who already own the Essentials release or the 2008 Complete Collection. It might be an upgrade for those who only owned the earliest releases (the case is certainly a big improvement over that damnable brick pack ADV used to use!), however, and is certainly a worthwhile purchase for those new to the franchise and those who never picked up one of the earlier releases. Not all '90s action titles are worthy of keeping in circulation, but this sexy, dynamic series definitely is.
Overall (dub) : B+
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B
+ Sexy women in sleek powered armor, good music, involved characterizations.
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