Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040

By The Enthusiast on February 13, 2012

3 Comments

In the late eighties/early nineties, the importation of bowdlerized, repackaged, mediated properties like Robotech and Voltron gave way to pure, (relatively) unadulterated content. Instead of new American cartoons with Japanese provenance, or seventh-generation VHS copies of raw anime, the American Otaku suddenly had access to a (limited) number of high-quality, properly dubbed movies and series straight from the out-sized, jiggling breast of glorious Nippon.

The original Bubblegum Crisis OVA was among the vanguard, alongside Akira, Appleseed, and Ghost in the Shell. It made a huge impression upon nerds of a certain age. Though I hadn’t heard of Shinji Aramaki, I intuited that the Knight Sabers’ rides shared some kind of awesome DNA with my beloved Robotech Cyclone toy. Beyond Aramaki’s iconic mechanical designs, Bubblegum Crisis featured all the right signifiers: Blade Runner (and lots of it), Cyberpunk, 80’s synth-pop, bio-mechanical baddies, and cute chicks in powered armor.

Released more than a decade after the original, Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040 promised to update and expand the mythos beyond the limitations of the OVA format. How did that work out? Ehhhh.

2040 keeps the broad outlines of the original in place: In a gritty near-future Tokyo (the year 2040, to be exact), the Knight Sabers, a gang of vigilante chicks with futuristic motorcycles and powered armor, thwart the nefarious plots of Evil Corporation Genom and its berserk humanoid utility robots, known as “Boomers.”

The production values suffer in comparison to the original. The animation is slicker, but less detailed, less textured. It’s perfectly adequate, but soulless.

Everything is drenched in a crude nineties patina: terrible, dated music and graphic design. I’m not sure if this dreck is from the Japanese release, but I tend to doubt it:

Goth stained-glass clown with noise filter?

Cheap CGI transitions?

Remedial graphic design?

The first half of the 26-episode series uses a monster-of-the-week template. A boomer goes nuts, the Knight Sabers battle the boomer. Most of the action takes place in murky subterranean corridors. Muddy compositions with muddy monsters in muddy tunnels.

Aramaki is back for design duties. The hardsuits are plainer, but still pretty.

The fight scenes are framed so closely that you don’t get a sense of the overall action, though. You get plenty shots of shoulders and heads, but little in the way of choreography.

The second half delves into the backstory of the Knight Sabers’ leader, whose family history is intertwined with the creation of the Boomers and their eventual mutations. The plot and set-pieces become more elaborate. The back end also introduces the Motoslave, who’s inevitable looming presence kept me watching. The original Motoslave remains one of my favorite mecha designs ever, and I was eager for the new version. How’d that turn out? Ehhh.

On paper, it’s all there. But everything feels too restrained. There’s still a dark quality to this place, but just so. The Boomers are weird and monstrous, but only just so. The designs are neat, but not great. The plot feels worn. There’s no point of view here, no clear mood or sense of place. It’s all pretty anonymous, and the little affection I have for this series is entirely because it’s a nostalgic echo of the original.

But hey, it made me dig out my OVA DVD's. I had written a more positive review until I revisited this:

Maybe it’s unfair to judge 2040 by the standards of the original, but that’s what I did, and it doesn’t hold up very well.


VZMK2 - February 13, 2012 9:15pm

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I loved the original OVA's. I still refused to see the TV series.

Dkun - February 13, 2012 11:46pm

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It sure isn't the original OVA!

VZMK2 - February 14, 2012 7:27pm

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IIRC They didn't even have permission to use Kenichi Sonoda's armor suit designs.

Speaking of which, it's a crime what they did to those awesome "glossy" character designs from the OVAs/ They turned them into generic late 90's "zigzag shading" styled design.

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