Back in the 1980s with the rise of home entertainment, demand for anime increased. This lead to “Original Video Anime”, or OVA, series that was made specifically for the consumption in the home, and not to be shown on TV or cinemas.
While the unusually named Bubblegum Crisis was not the first OVA, it is one of the most fondly remembered from the early days of the format. Beginning in 1987, the series was intended to be a 13-part but sadly it ended up with just eight after the companies that made the series fell out. There have been several attempts to continue it. In 1990 there was three-part prequel A.D. Police Files; in 1991 there was a three-part sequel called Bubblegum Crash; in 1998 there was a 26-part TV retelling entitled Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040 (a second series was put into production, but never made); and in 2003 there was another three-art OVA spin-off called Parasite Dolls. Bubblegum Crisis was a cyberpunk series and arguably part of the mecha genre as it seem the lead characters fighting in heavily armoured suits. It was popular when it originally debuted, but seems to have fallen out of favour with some.
The original anime is set in the year 2032. Seven years earlier an earthquake destroyed much of Tokyo. It is now replaced with the city of Megatokyo, and there is a clear split between the rich and the poor. Much of the menial labour has been taken over by Boomers; a form of robot designed by the shadowy Genom corporation, which is often exploited by criminals. While there is a separate branch of the police force called the A.D. Police devoted to tackling Boomer-related crimes, for most of the time the problems caused by Boomers are dealt with by a mysterious group of four heavily-armoured women called the “Knight Sabers” (that is the correct spelling).
The Knight Sabers are led by Sylia Stingray, who on the surface is a successful businesswoman primarily running a lingerie business, but who also the daughter of the man who invented the Boomers, who was killed by Genom executives. Sylia’s penthouse is the base of the group operations, which she helps run with her brother Mackie. Aside from Sylia the other Knight Sabers are Priss Asagiri, a biker and wannabe rock singer in a love/hate relationship with A.D. Police officer Leon McNichol; Linna Yamazaki, an aerobics instructor with a love of money which results in her taking a job as a stockbroker in Bubblegum Crash; and Nene Romanova, who also works for the A.D. Police, plus is the team’s technical expert and hacker. Together the four women wear specially designed armoured suits to combat enemy Boomers and those humans who use them for illegal means.
In terms of looking back at this series, we need to look back to when it came out. In the 1980s Japan’s economy was booming and there was a demand for more anime titles, which they got. Meanwhile in the West, there was demand from anime fans for more shows, especially if that anime was something different from the animation they normally got. This sci-fi story stood out among all the kids shows at the time. As a result, it was snapped up by the fans, and thus the fan base for the show has remained loyal to this day. The most clear sign of was in 2013 when an American company launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring out the original show on Blu-Ray. The target was $75,000 – in the end they got more than double that, with over $154,000 being paid.
There are other positives concerning the series too. It is arguably rather forward looking, and not just because it is set in the future, or because you happen to have four women as the lead characters, but also in terms of attitudes to minorities. For example, Leon’s assistant in the A.D. Police, Daley Wong, is openly gay; and their boss Chief Todo, is an African-American from Chicago. It was rare at the time for such minorities to be covered in anime.
Bubblegum Crisis was clearly a product of its time, and was heavily influenced by the American sci-fi movies of the day. For example, Priss’s band is named Priss and the Replicants, a clear reference to Blade Runner, and there is a clear relationship between humanity and robots played through both works; meanwhile many of the Boomers also look like the robots in The Terminator. However, many see the fact that Bubblegum Crisis as a product of the 1980s as being its downside. It is a 1980s idea of what the 2030s would look like. In much the same way that the crew of Red Dwarf use analogue video tapes three million years from now, in Bubblegum Crisis people talk on large mobile phones and use rather bulky computers to work on.
Then you have the soundtrack, which was one of the big appeals of the series. At the time the music was considered to be great, but by the time the 1990s came by it had fallen out of fashion. But now, perhaps it is time to look at it again. Maybe people judged it too harshly.
OK, Bubblegum Crisis is not perfect: it ended too early, its idea of the future was wrong in certain ways, and some technical aspects of the show are an acquired taste. However, you can’t help but watch it again with rose tinted spectacles. It is a bit of a nostalgia fest, not just for anime fans, but for people who into the sci-fi scene at the time. If you grew up like films like Blade Runner, RoboCop, The Terminator and so on, this is a series that fits into that mould.
By the way, in case you are wondering, according to the show’s writer Toshimichi Suzuki, the title of Bubblegum Crisis comes the idea that it seems like everything is about to blow up, like a chewing gum bubble.
Bubblegum Crisis is available on a region free Blu-Ray from US company AnimEigo. In the UK, Bubblegum Crisis was released on DVD by MVM Films; Bubblegum Crash and A.D. Police Files was released by Manga Entertainment; and Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040 and Parasyte Dolls by the now shut down ADV Films label.