Judge Roman Martel remembers the great bubblegum crisis of '99. It blew.
Our review of Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040: Volume 1, published November 18th, 2004, is also available.
So you've got an anime called Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040. Are you surprised this show has nothing to do with bubblegum and everything to do with women in high-tech form fitting armor kicking robotic ass? No, I wasn't surprised either.
Truth is, I'm very familiar with the original incarnation that started in 1987, simply called Bubblegum Crisis. As much as I love the original series, there was plenty of room for improvement. The series never had a proper ending and all the focus on action and hair band style rockin' left little time to fully flesh out the characters.
So let's see how this version, created nearly ten years later, handles the series. It starts with Linna Yamazaki (Kelly Manison, Those Who Hunt Elves) arriving in Tokyo to join the Knightsabers. This group of female vigilantes use high tech armor to take out rampaging robots called Voomers. But first she has to find them. She meets the angsty rocker Priss Asagiri (Christine M. Auten, Eden of the East), who brings her to the Knightsabers' leader Sylia Stingray (Laura Chapman, Noir). Sylia thinks that Linna's enthusiasm and athletic skill will be the perfect compliment to Priss' aggression and Nene's (Hilary Haag, Ghost Hound) skill with computers.
Linna learns quickly and becomes a valued member of the team, and just in time too. It turns out that the huge Genom corporation is up to something sneaky. Not only are they responsible for the creation of the Voomers, but they may have something to do with them going rogue. As the Knightsabers dig deeper into the mystery, they face not only rampaging Voomers and the power of Genom, but a secret from Sylia's past that may put them all in danger.
Taking numerous elements of the original series, Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040 goes out of its way to modernize and improve on the original. A few things remain the same. Most of the names and basic personalities are taken from the original series. The hardsuit design is taken directly from Kenichi Sonada's (Gunsmith Cats) work in the previous incarnation. Priss and her band still provide a few songs along the way.
Of course now there are 26 episodes to work with instead of 8. That means a lot more character development and a plotline that goes much further than a simple corporation gone power mad. Most of the character changes are for the best. Linna now has a full blown backstory and personality. She's eager to join and eager to fight the Voomers and help people. Sylia's little brother Maki (Spike Spencer, Neon Genesis Evangelion) becomes a key part of the overall plot and an interesting character to boot. Nene even gets a little more depth as her character develops a crush late in the series.
But some of the changes to characters are less appealing. Priss goes from a hot tempered gal with a heart of gold to a raving bitch who sometimes decides to act less self serving. She is so cool she doesn't even speak more than seven lines in the first few episodes and spends most of the time giving everyone the evil eye. Like the original, Priss ends up taking center stage. But unlike the original, this version of Priss just doesn't earn that right. You end up wanting to smack her instead of cheering her to victory.
Then there's Sylia. In the original she was the level headed leader of the team. True she was a bit on the bland side, but there were hints at a past between her and the main antagonist of the show. In this version she's completely bonkers. She acts cold and calculating at first, but quickly loses it completely: ranting, raving and even catatonic at one point. Maybe this was supposed to be ironic. The end result is a character that is different, but still one note and not terribly likable.
I will say that the English voice acting is really solid. All the main cast get into the characters and provide the extra depth the twisted story requires. While I wasn't pleased with Sylia's character, Chapman does a great job with her, managing to make all the moods feel legitimate. She even takes on a different role later in the series and makes it her own.
The more complex plot is a blessing and curse. On the one hand, the series builds on the stakes as it goes along. The obstacles the Knightsabers face get more and more powerful and motives behind the antagonists twist several times. The story allows for plenty of battles between the girls and the Voomers. And the animation does a fairly good job of showing off the battles.
But in all honesty I lost interest in the series fairly early on. Once Linna got indoctrinated into the team, she was pushed to the side. This turns out to be a bad decision because suddenly we focus on Priss and Sylia, two of the most annoying characters in the series. Had Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040 stuck with Linna and her interaction with these two, it might have worked better. Instead we get to see Priss glower, shout at people, kick Voomer metallic ass and then mope around after it's over. Meanwhile Sylia shouts about how evil Genom is and breaks something.
The entire series is drenched in angst. On top of that the plot twist involving Sylia's past takes a few pages from Neon Genesis Evangelion. It feels calculated instead of organic. By the final quarter of the series, some serious padding kicks in, as we watch the Knightsabers mill around, sit in a room grumpy with each other and despair. The final three episodes pick up the pace a bit, but for me it was too little too late.
The animation follows the same pattern. There are some things I really like about it. Tokyo in 2040 is more firmly realized here and less reliant on images from Bladerunner and Terminator. There is some great atmosphere too, with many of the settings creating a cold glittering future with a rotten core. On the downside, the character designs are typical AIC styling, very reminiscent of what was seen in Tenchi in Tokyo. These end up looking more like stock designs rather than unique characters. The hardsuits get an upgrade later in the series too and Sonoda's smooth lines are replaced with silly spikes and points.
Here's the thing, the original series was fun. This updated series is so serious and dower that it managed to suck the fun right out of it. Just look at the two versions of Priss. The original version liked kicking Voomer butt because it was fun. The new version is so cool she can't be bothered to enjoy anything at allÉ ever. OK, so I exaggerated a little. She does enjoy annoying people.
Funimation presents the entire series on four discs. I was given screener copies. I mention this because I did notice some pixilation around the black lines on the third and forth discs. It's not too bad, but noticeable enough. The sound was nice and clear. Koichi Kornaga's score never overpowered the English dub or my spot check the Japanese dub. The extras were your typical clean opening and ending credits
Full confession time, I've watched Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040 before, back when it first came out on DVD in 2000. It didn't impress me much then, but I figured it was because I loved the original series so much. I asked to review it because ten years had passed and I haven't watched the original in a few years. But my reaction was just the same. There's a lot of potential here, but the series never really grabbed me.
Guilty of not quite reaching its goal.
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