May 2001
Off the Beaten Path : Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040

By Daos Boonma (Los Angeles)

Off the Beaten Path - Reviews of the Uncommon and Exceptional - “Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040,” Volume 1 (DVD version)

It’s “Charlie’s Angels” – with a sci-fi twist! What if there were four “Angels” instead of three – give ‘em sketchy back stories, complex motivations, and a dash of cyberpunk. Now make your mental movie ANIMATED and what do you get? “Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040”! Not only is the movie animated, but it’s animé – that infinitely cool and funky Japanese form of motion picture animation.

For the uninitiated, anime is the commonly used term for Japanese Animation (sometimes referred to as Japanimation). It’s a richly varied visual art form that has a long history in Japanese media. Interest in anime on these shores has swelled due to the popularity of children’s programs such as “Pokemon” and “Sailor Moon”. Lest you think anime is just for kids be aware that a significant segment of the anime genre is geared towards a mature audience and deals with adult themes of an (often) explicitly sexual and violent nature. While the material being reviewed today isn’t quite so racy, it’s decidedly NOT for children. There was no MPAA rating on the DVD I watched, but there’s language and some sci-fi violence in the series, so come prepared.

Having said all that, this video ROCKS! For those of you familiar with anime, you may recall the original “Bubblegum Crisis” series. This is a bit different, visually and stylistically. I highly recommend it to old-school “BGC” fans simply for the change of pace – see how you like it. For the rest of you, here’s what you’re missing: “BGC: Tokyo 2040” takes place 6 years after a massive earthquake has leveled Tokyo. In order to rebuild the city a new type of robotic technology has been developed known as “boomer technology”. Pioneered by the Genom Corporation, boomer technology has resulted in a newly rebuilt, technologically sophisticated Tokyo. The “boomers” are highly advanced robots who perform every imaginable type of service in the new Tokyo, everything from waiting tables to manufacturing to human resources.

However, problems arise as boomers begin to malfunction at an increasingly disturbing rate. The “rogue” boomers turn into destructive, deformed, killer robots with a penchant for crushing anyone in sight. So, to deal with the problem the government of new Tokyo has created a special task force known as the AD Police. Bizarrely enough, this specialized police unit seems ineffective against the rogue boomers. Why? The reasons are hinted at in this set of episodes...Another issue faced by the AD Police is the enigmatic presence of a group of vigilantes in technologically superior “hardsuits”, known as the Knight Sabers. In their hi-tech “power armor” the Knight Sabers battle rogue boomers to the death.

The Knight Sabers are comprised of our four main protagonists, the “Charlie’s Angels” of our beginning exercise, so to speak. Their names are Sylia, Priss, Linna, and Nene. The collection of episodes on this first disc serves as an excellent introduction to the world of “Bubblegum Crisis” and its inhabitants. Episode 1: “Can’t Buy a Thrill” focuses on Linna’s move to Tokyo. We later learn that she’s come to the big city specifically to learn the truth behind a certain boomer-bashing vigilante group. It turns out that she has aspirations to join the Knight Sabers herself. Episode 1 presents Tokyo from Linna’s naïve point of view. When a boomer goes crazy in a restaurant, Linna is rescued by two mysterious hardsuit-clad Knight Sabers. Who’s underneath the sophisticated gear? Inquiring minds have to watch Episode 2: “Fragile” to find out. Through various encounters Linna discovers (Or is she led?) the true identities and lair of the Knight Sabers (Amusingly, the front for Knight Saber headquarters is a lingerie store called Silky Doll. ). The most interesting segment on the disc is Episode 3: “Keep Me Hanging On”. Here we find out whether Linna can hack it as a Knight Saber. More information is given on the power armor the girls wear. It’s implied that there is a connection between the boomer technology and the Knight Sabers’ own suits. There are allusions to the origin of the technology, as well as the various shadow organizations at play behind the scenes of Genom Corporation. Episode 4: “Machine Head” continues where Episode 3 left off – in the middle of Linna’s inaugural battle with a rogue boomer. Episode 4 shows us the dangers inherent in the girls’ suits and begins to flesh out the relationships, motivations and tensions amongst the Knight Sabers.

What’s great about this series, like so many anime features, is the focus on character development. In America we are so inured to cartoons as vehicles for children’s programming that it almost takes you by surprise to experience the complexity of emotion and personality that the characters in this type of Japanimation achieve. “Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040” brings so many dimensions to the story that you really have to pay attention to what’s happening as each of the four chapters unfolds. It’s a rewarding experience for anyone who wants to escape to a futuristic world on hyper-drive.

Look for “Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040” at your local video store on VHS and DVD (I reviewed the DVD version – which I recommend – it’s a better viewing experience.). You may have to venture to a movie rental place that has an anime section. Or try your local Suncoast or Virgin Megastore. Now that anime is becoming more and more popular it should be quite easy to find a copy of “BGC” to view. After watching a few episodes (Currently Volumes 1 through 4 are available on DVD. There are four episodes per disc.) I think you’ll agree that “Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040” is a classic piece of animation, but don’t take my word for it, check it out for yourself.