ADV Films // 1998 // 225 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Sandra Dozier (Retired) // November 18th, 2004
State of the art and ready for action!
Newly released as part of ADV's "Essential Anime" series, the 1998 Bubblegum Crisis 2040 has been given a new 5.1 surround remastering, scene-specific commentaries, and a new visual transfer and packaging. The 2040 series is a 26-episode retelling of the original Bubblegum Crisis original animation video (OAV) series, importing most of the main characters and introducing a few new ones. It stands alone as its own series and truly earns the title of "essential anime." Influenced by, but not based on, the 1982 movie Blade Runner, the series has a very "future now" feeling, with futuristic elements and modern-day elements working together to create a believable but fantastic environment for the story to be set in.
After a devastating earthquake in Tokyo, the Genom corporation steps in and offers the assistance of Boomers, their force of super-strong robots, to handle the repair and rebuilding of the city. As the populace grows ever more dependent on the Boomers, more models are introduced for the services and leisure industries, until they are so ubiquitous that they are showing up in middle management and support positions in everyday workplaces.
However, the Boomers aren't perfect -- far from it. More than a few of the units have gone rogue, mutating physically and mentally until they are holy terrors that leave a bloody trail of destruction behind them. A special branch of the police department, the A.D. Police, doesn't seem to be able to contain them even with their giant mechanized fighting armor, but a group of vigilante fighters called the Knight Sabers is on a personal crusade to keep the public safe from rogue boomers.
Priss, a popular rock idol by day, is their leader. Priss is athletic, fierce, and usually the blunt instrument that brings down the target Boomer. Nene, a police dispatcher by day, is her backup. Nene is a genius with technology, but she isn't very good in the suit, so she offers cover fire for Priss and hacker technology for the team. Silia, a gorgeous white-haired woman in her twenties, is their control -- she remains at base, connected to Priss and Nene by radio and feeding them information and instructions. Silia runs a boutique as her cover operation, and is passionately dedicated to wiping out the Boomer threat. Linna is recruited to the team a little later on, mostly because she recognizes Priss as one of the Knight Sabers and follows her, asking to be let in. Linna is strong and gets the hang of the battle armor quickly, but her lack of experience and training holds her back at first.
Meanwhile, A.D. cop Leon and his partner Daley are investigating the Boomer menace, and they also notice the steady rise in rogue units. When a new service model (a waitress who is made to lick an arrogant patron's pant legs after accidentally spilling coffee on him) goes rogue, they start to suspect something more sinister is going on. Leon notices Priss during this conflict (she is not in battle gear) and becomes immediately interested in her. He tracks her down at her nightclub and tries to get to know her, but Priss doesn't reciprocate his interest. She identifies only with the gruff and distant Nigel, the hardsuit mechanic who appears only when Silia summons him, and who may or may not have something going on with Silia in addition to their professional relationship.
Finally, a little brother for Silia is introduced about halfway through this nine-episode set. Mackie's history isn't really presented up front, and after a brief reunion with Silia, he is left to fend for himself. He takes to working on the hardsuits right away, and shows quite an aptitude for it. Nigel, who normally works alone, takes the boy under his wing. Silia is having a hard time getting used to Mackie being there with her, and Mackie finds refuge in working with the machinery. He even helps to bring out the implacable Nigel a little in the process. Together, they build a special vehicle for Priss to use, and it is debuted on the fly when she has to hunt down a particularly huge and seemingly indestructable Boomer.
I confess that I originally became interested in Bubblegum Crisis because the lead character is called Priss. Until I heard this, I gave BGC a wide berth -- the whole idea of punk riot grrls kicking ass (in high-heeled battle suits, no less!) sounded like animated torture to me. But because I am a die-hard Blade Runner fan my curiosity overwhelmed me, and I had to have a look. To my delight, I enjoyed myself immensely. Bubblegum Crisis was a serious show yet did not take itself seriously. There was a dry sense of humor to the writing that worked very well to balance the violence and punchy action, and the characters seemed appropriately larger than life and entertaining, but also accessible and down to earth.
Much of this attitude is translated to Bubblegum Crisis 2040. At double the length of the original series, the story unfolds more slowly, taking its time introducing characters and building backstory. The original series was entertaining, and I liked the characters, but I connected with characters more powerfully in BGC 2040. More important, I understand them better, which makes me care about their fight all the more.
In BGC 2040, Priss is a more grim character who is prone to brooding, and this ends up being the sexiest, most appropriate change of the whole series. To their credit, animators were able to portray an emotional quality to Priss's temperament that makes us respond to her brooding and antisocial behavior not with annoyance at her "tough loner" act, but with compassion for her as someone who cannot find a way to fit into regular society. Priss is adored by the fans of her music, but she lives in obscurity in her personal life. She craves and rejects attention in equal measure, and we understand that this is not because she's trying to act cool...she just doesn't know any other way to be.
Nene, on the other hand, is a confident whiz kid with a bubbly, head-in-the-clouds personality that clashes with Priss in hilarious ways. You would think her clumsiness and lack of athletic ability would get her kicked off the team, but she has an underlying fierceness that explains why she's still around. When Linna is introduced, she comes off at first as a shy country girl (she gets sucked into a date with her perverted manager, thinking that he's just being nice to show her around), but displays flashes of sophistication and ability that indicate something else. At one point, Priss bumps her as she drives by on her bike, and Linna -- outraged by this casual slight -- chases Priss down on foot through a parking garage. This is what first catches the eye of Priss, who eventually brings Linna into the Knight Sabers group.
The remastered English soundtrack is very pleasing, with nice channel separation and background noise filtering. The 2.0 Japanese and the additional 2.0 Spanish soundtracks also sound good, with good use of stereo sound. Video transfer looks great, with clear and vibrant colors that pop off the screen. Whenever a series has a lot of night scenes, the concern is that the black levels won't be deep enough or will readily show age-related wear, but that is not a concern here; The image looks terrific. On top of the transfer, other extras include character bios (which are actually quite useful to peruse before viewing, as they give information about the characters that is not obvious from watching the anime, such as age), clean opening and closing animation, and ADV previews (which include a preview for Parasite Dolls, the Bubblegum Crisis spinoff series). There are four voice actor commentaries, as well. Christine Auten (Priss), Kelly Manison (Linna), Spike Spencer (Mackie), John Gremillion (Nigel), Jason Douglas (Leon), Chris Patton (Daley), and Hilary Haag (Nene) all appear on various episodes with English dub director Matt Greenfield for the commentary.
One very important caveat regarding the commentaries: They are, in the words of Greenfield, "spoileriffic" -- future plot developments are revealed, as well as character motivations that are only hinted at in these early episodes. This is not a bad thing, but anyone viewing this series for the first time and wanting to be surprised may want to consider holding off until they have seen the whole run. The good news is that these are very thorough and entertaining commentaries, with much discussion and analysis about the series itself, the history of the BGC franchise, and the character arcs. They also point out some of the in-jokes that animators included in 2040, such as characters who drink Duff beer (an homage to The Simpsons).
Finally, a special note on the packaging: I really like the box design for this series. Featuring the "Essential Anime" banner at the top and bottom, the design is a clean white background with Priss on the front in spotlight, and when you open the clear box, you can read through the box to see the episode guide and character portraits on the back. Very slick.
Fans of the original OAV series may be turned off by the focus on characters and story in BGC 2040. The original series had a spare, tightly paced story that was heavy on action and conflict but offered very little in the way of character development or motivation. While 2040 also has beautifully choreographed action scenes, they tend to unroll a little more loosely and involve character conflict and interaction more than in the original series. As a result, die-hard fans of the original format may feel that this newer version is a bit slow. Regardless, I encourage you to give it a chance, as this reincarnation of BGC really does a good job weaving characters and action scenes together.
For anyone who wanted to know just what was going on in Priss's head, or what Silia's backstory was, this is the series to watch. With a brand-new transfer and packaging, not to mention a remastered soundtrack and voice actor commentaries, this is an easy choice for your next library addition.
The court will turn a blind eye to vigilante activity in this case. Priss and the rest of the Knight Sabers are declared not guilty and are free to continue their work.
Review content copyright © 2004 Sandra Dozier; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Japanese)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
* English (Signs Only)
Running Time: 225 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Voice Actor Commentaries on Four Episodes
* Character Biographies
* Clean Opening and Closing Animation
* ADV Previews
* Fan Site