Reviews of Bubblegum Crisis (1987) and related work

Bubblegum Crisis (1987Moving picture, 5.5 hours)

Four women work secretly as hypertechnological vigilantes and mercenaries in 2032 Tokyo. Wearing sleek powered suits, they battle rampaging by-products of a megacorporation’s careless research in pursuit of market shares. The women are outlaws, and many consider them dangerous. Indeed, would destroying the corporation really be a good thing?

Cyberpunk action. Part of the wave of female action shows that followed Fight! Iczer-1 (1985) and Gall Force: Eternal Story (1986). One of the great works of cyberpunk in the medium, produced in the final year of an innovative “golden age” of Japanese animation. Even as such, it is greatly inferior to literary cyberpunk or Blade Runner (1982) in portraying a credible near-future society. Bubblegum is also plagued by a great deal of heart-warming silliness. The women are not quite as practical and battle-hardened as one might expect, and musical skill seems to confer a major bonus in battle.

Every other episode presents some new unbeatable foe who is duly beaten and forgotten. Still, a pleasing epic when set to fine animation and lots of prominently featured era music. Unrealistic but entertaining Sonoda character design, often implausible mechanical design, Engrish and battles heavy on posing. The long intro is stolen from Streets of Fire (1984) to great effect. Keep in mind that only the first three episodes were part of the original plan, as far as I know, hence the showdown on Genom’s tower.

References here: “Gall Force: Destruction” (1987), “Sol Bianca” (1990), “Scramble Wars: Step on It! Genom Trophy Rally” (1992), Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation (2001/2005), “Blade Runner: Black Out 2022” (2017), Cyberpunk: Edgerunners (2022).

moving picture animation Japanese production mecha fiction series cyberpunk

A.D. Police Files (1990Moving picture, 121 minutes)

Three cases from Leon’s early years with the Advanced Police, in the mid-2020s. All involve transhuman insanity.

Artistic cyberpunk vignettes, much more noir than the original. Schlocky—clearly misogynist and racist—but far more serious than the original. The last episode is a twisted Robocop (1987), and there is plenty of Blade Runner (1982).

moving picture prequel animation Japanese production mecha fiction series cyberpunk

Bubblegum Crash (1991Moving picture, 150 minutes)

A somewhat alternate world, where Genom is almost invisible and intelligent boomers are rare. Nene suspects the Sabers might be breaking up after a long period of inactivity, but a sudden string of mecha-powered bank robberies put them back in action. It turns out that the closest thing the original series had to a main villain wasn’t entirely killed. In fact he plans to blow up Tokyo for no good reason.

Basically the same as the original, but cheesier. Asagiri Priss goes soft and girlish in the first episode. Action in the first two episodes is ridiculously harmless and a conglomerate boomer consciousness in episode 3 screams “More data!” as though it were a mighty threat, which brings to mind Bob the Angry Flower reassuring nobody that “All they care about is data!”. Crash gains a bit of depth and seriousness towards the end, but not enough.

moving picture sequel animation Japanese production mecha fiction series cyberpunk

Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040 (1998Moving picture, 10 hours)

Here the malfunctioning robots—semi-organic as in parts of the original—are usually non-military, and they were instrumental in the reconstruction of the city after a massive earthquake. Their warping malfunctions seem essentially supernatural and are connected to human disrespect. There is an ever-present, obvious and static villain, who eventually causes a cataclysm.

Science fiction, action. More coherent and a lot longer than the original. Parts of the avant-rock soundtrack are disappointing, and the main problem of the original, i.e. insufficiently thought-through and poorly executed futurism, is not dealt with. In fact, the remake doesn’t really bear the trademarks of cyberpunk, even if some of the man-machine interaction has the proper tendencies. More serious in tone than the original, but also more critically flawed. Based heavily on the revolution concept in the final episode of Bubblegum Crash via the spin-off AD Police (not Files) series, which was itself based on Crash and sucked.

moving picture remake animation Japanese production mecha fiction series