Reviewby Nick Creamer,
Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040
DVD - The Complete Series [Anime Classics]
Linna is the new girl in Tokyo, saddled with a boring job and scummy superiors. But Linna's not in Tokyo to push papers; she dreams of joining the Knight Sabers, vigilante fighters who track down rogue robots in flashy super suits. And Linna doesn't have to wait long, as she soon finds herself stranded in the path of a rampaging robot herself. But will Linna's dreams of heroism be all she's hoped them to be? What is really causing these robots to turn deadly - and what secrets lie behind the mysterious Genom corporation, and the existence of the Knight Sabers themselves?
Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040 definitely has an aesthetic. Now, whether it has a good aesthetic or not, that's the question.
I hope you like the '90s. Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040 is intensely, aggressively '90s, from its tone to its overall aesthetic to its music and storytelling. The character designs are gruff and hard-edged, perfect for its cyberpunk neo-Tokyo setting. The music is an eclectic mix of lukewarm glam rock, dissonant grunge-styled guitar, and bass-heavy electronica. One of the protagonists even plays in a (terrible) Bush-esque rock band, and all the episode titles are based on rock songs or albums. The world is standard post-William Gibson/Ghost in the Shell cybercity fare - a city full of tough-talking cops, robots you can't quite trust, and a whole lot of neon. This is very much a vision of the future that time has passed on by.
I hope you like the '90s not only because this show is the most '90s thing ever, but also because it just doesn't have a whole lot else going for it. The story of Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040 is that Linna is a new arrival in Tokyo (a Tokyo cyber-rebuilt after a catastrophic earthquake a few years back, of course), fresh from the country and eager to join the Knight Sabers. The Knight Sabers are a shadowy group of vigilantes who work to fight rogue boomers (robots) - they clash with the actual robot police, the ADP, but their exploits are largely downplayed by a heavily censored media. Eventually, Linna meets up with the Knight Sabers, who include the tough-talking rock star Priss, hacker and ADP mole Nene, and their mysterious leader Sylia. Together, they fight rogue boomers and investigate the imposing Genom corporation, whose mass boomer production may hide darker secrets to come.
The story plays out in pretty typical scifi-action fashion, with 2040's first half being dedicated to a bunch of episodic “we gotta beat this boomer” stories and its second half focused on investigating Genom and Sylia's past, leading up to a bunch of confrontations with a series of mwahaha-ing cybervillains. Nothing really distinguishes 2040 from any number of other scifi narratives - characters are always pretty much exactly what you'll assume they'd be, conflicts in battle arise for ad breaks and are swiftly dealt with by the next scene, and side characters play familiar roles, from “dedicated butler” to “tough-talking cop with a soft side.” This is the kind of show that includes two separate “you can't kill me, I created you!” speeches, and where villains either occupy menacing corporate suits or literally sit inside giant mechanical shells, making speeches about controlling the world's energy and achieving eternal life. None of the plot beats will surprise you, and there's no greater message or compelling character journeys there to add some personality to the proceedings.
The dialogue isn't much better than the overall storytelling. I found the one episode featuring Sylia's mother to offer some pretty choice examples there, from “I wonder if what he's doing is against the will of god. Even if he's your father. Can I love him in spite of that?” to “Are his experiments more important to him than his family? What kind of man has he become?!?” Characters often just announce what the audience is supposed to take away from scenes, or barring that, reveal their personalities in the broadest strokes possible (another convincing line of human dialogue: "I'm not that little girl anymore. I've grown into an adult female!"). It can feel a little insulting to hear characters outright state “I'm serious, what if someone's controlling all of the media?” while sitting right there in their dystopian cyber-future.
The story's one saving grace is the three central characters, Linna, Priss, and Nene. None of them are particularly nuanced people, but they have a solid camaraderie, their friendships go through a number of twists and turns, and each of them get some endearing scenes. Linna is the newcomer, but even within the first two episodes, she leaps off a building to chase a bike and then punches a coworker for harassing her. It's nice to see a lead with such everyday confidence and personality. On the opposite end, Nene's kind of a dork, but her silly faces and snark add some nice levity to a show that's far too often taking itself much too seriously. Linna, Priss, and Nene's communal friendship feels genuine in a show that's otherwise defined by totally interchangeable narrative parts.
On the aesthetic front, the music here is the big “highlight,” though whether that's actually a plus or minus depends on your love/tolerance for mediocre glam rock and grunge-ish guitar-stabbing noises. Some of the lighter tracks are actually compelling, but personally, I found the show's soundtrack to feel like warmed-over radio fare from twenty years ago. Priss's own songs are sadly the worst of it - her dub voice actress just straight-up can't sing, making them a little wearying to get through. I survived the '90s once, I don't feel the need to do it again - but if you're nostalgic for a mix of late '80s and early '90s tunes, you might find the music a lot more appealing than I did.
2040's visuals aren't particularly impressive. The overall aesthetic is “default cybercity,” full of dark alleys and motorcycles, but everything tends to feel a little washed-out, and without much of a sense of scale. The character designs are equally nondescript, and supersuits frankly unattractive, though some of the rogue boomers have a compelling bio-mechanical horror look to them. The animation also isn't great; though some of the fights have solid cuts, the show often lingers on stills to avoid depicting larger setpieces, particularly once the city starts falling apart. The fights against rogue boomers also just start to feel a little samey after a while, though fortunately the second half mixes this up with a “defend the ADP building” arc and some fun motorcycle sequences.
2040's dub is marked by hits and misses. Some of the main voices really help to bring life to their characters (Nene's a particular highlight, who I initially found overly perky but really came to appreciate), but plenty of the side characters are far from convincing, sounding either monotone or disinterested. Aside from the dub, this is a pretty bare-bones collection; no extras, 4:3 presentation, and a simple DVD case. Overall, I wouldn't consider this a show worth revisiting unless you're really, really into either cyberpunk or '80s-'90s rock music. There's not much going on here that other shows don't do better.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C-
Animation : C
Art : C
Music : B-
+ Main trio develop an endearing rapport; the show goes all-in on its '90s style, if you're into that.
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