Before Ghost in the Shell, and before Akira, when Japanese animation fans wanted cyberpunk, they turned to the eight-part Bubblegum Crisis OAV (Original Animation Video) series.
The name may sound odd, but itís not without reason; the situation in the Blade Runner
-esque MegaTokyo of 2032 is so tense, itís like bubblegum, a mere pinprick away from popping.
The "situation" is the increasing presence of Boomers--artificial cyborgs--running amok in the city. (These have been referred to as "illegal" Boomers, but we never see a legal one throughout the series. Go figure.) These Boomers are not-so-secretly controlled by the predominant Boomer manufacturer, the omnipresent and untouchable Genom Corporation. The AD (Advanced Defense) Police has been formed to deal with rampaging Boomers, but theyíre outnumbered and outgunned.
This is where the Knight Sabers come in--a vigilante/mercenary quartet of four cute (naturally) women with plenty of high-tech gear and some free time to spend kicking Boomer butt. They are: Priss Asagiri, rock star and the teamís spiritual leader; Linna Yamazaki, aerobics instructor; Nene Romanova, traffic cop and the groupís communications officer; and Celia Stingray, the groupís founder and leader, whose lingerie store acts as a front for the Knight Sabersí headquarters.
Despite its atmosphere, nods to Blade
Runner, and various man-machine interfaces, Bubblegum Crisis
is really more of a "lite" cyberpunk production. It has many of the surface features of cyberpunk, but never really takes them any further. (Of course, some say that cyberpunk is all about style over substance, so I suppose in that sense it might qualify.)
The true key elements to Bubblegum Crisis
are music, angst, and action--all of which it delivers in spades. The score is, for the most part, significantly ahead of most anime; while hardly orchestral, the synthesizer-driven techno score generally fits the mood of MegaTokyo as seen by our heroes, far better than the recycled, repetitive soundtracks of many other productions. Most of the songs sung by Prissí voice actress, Kuniko Ohmori, are a cut above the standard Japanese-pop idol singer fare.
Between Prissí moodiness and Celiaís grim determination, thereís enough angst to fill a monthís worth of Marvel comics. Even though Linna seems perennially optimistic and Nene is a bit of a throwback to the "cute anime chick" school, the two team leaders and the unfortunates they try to help have plenty of angst to spare. But if youíre used to Japanese animation youíre probably used to melodrama, so itís only a problem if youíre attempting to watch more than two episodes in one sitting.
As for the action, itís hard to complain. Letís face it: if youíve got big, ugly cyborgs, four women in power armour with cool weapons and fast motorcycles, and a futuristic urban environment, youíve got the raw ingredients right there. Bubblegum Crisis
goes the extra mile and delivers not only good action scenes but great ones, with animation and editing ranging from competent to stellar, combined with very effective choreography. The Knight Sabers fight very convincingly as a team.
The only problem is, the action scenes might be a little too good. In many cases, particularly in the first three episodes, it appears as if so much care is put into the action scenes that everything else suffers. Camera pans across static images substitute for actual animation; character movement drops to only a few frames per second; dust is clearly visible on the cels; need I say more?
Still, after the third episode things pick up in terms of animation quality and story direction. Though it has a few rough edges, Bubblegum Crisis
holds up as an enjoyable SF action series.