Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040 vol. 1

BubblegumCrisisTokyo20401coverIt seems the future is either going to be a horribly bleak netherworld where machines are omnipresent, corporations have taken over and the cities are always shrouded in darkness…or a neon-lit pleasant pastel wonderland where…machines are omnipresent (and friendly!), and jobs with world-dominating corporations are plentiful and have good benefits. Welcome to Tokyo 2040, the new rendition of everyone’s favorite Blade Runner derivative, Bubblegum Crisis. Like Ridley Scott’s overrated sci-fi classic of the early 80s (and the excellent Philip K. Dick novel upon which that is based), Bubblegum Crisis is about killing robots. However, unlike Dick’s anthropomorphic replicants, BGC2040‘s boomers are readily identifiable as inhuman and, when left to their own devices, are usually no threat to humanity.

But sometimes boomers go mad, and that’s when the vigilante group the Knight Sabers goes into action. Led by Priss (who’s also lead singer for a rock ‘n’ roll band), the Knight Sabers are attractive young women wearing very fashionable looking “hard suits” that allow them to kick boomer butt. Why the Knight Sabers have formed and why they don’t let the officials in boomer madness (that’s a phrase that ought never have been written), the AD Police, take care of things is a slowly unfolding mystery, involving Sylia, the very pale, blue-haired daughter of the boomer inventor.

The protagonist of the show seems to be little Linna, a country girl who came to Tokyo just to join up with the Knight Sabers and fight for justice, truth, and the dystopian-future way. She’s quite likeable, with enough pluck and eagerness to make her endearing, but not enough to be annoying. The other Sabers include the competent but distant Priss and the overly-young, overly-cute Nene. They are the constant thorn in the side of AD Police officer Leon, a tough guy in what seems to be a chronically incompetent police force.

The grasp on character these early episodes have is impressive, with none of the principals seeming too derivative. Priss is the unflappable tough girl, but she’s also willing to give Linna a chance. Sylia, the Knight Sabers’ sponsor, brims with cnfidence and aplomb, but seems to be more than a little unbalanced. There’s something interesting in all of these characters, which is good since the plotting of these episodes is mediocre at best. While the show has an interesting feel, its direction is inconsistent. The pacing in all of the episodes seems off, and the endings dictated more by time constraints than careful scripting. There’s also an unfortunate dependence on coincidence. While that’s never been a big deal for me, I know it’s very annoying for some folks. Hopefully these issues will clear up with the next few sets of episodes, since as it is the show is a bit of tough going.

The English dub of the show is also fairly uneven, though by no means unlistenable. In fact, it’s probably better written than it is acted. There are some bright spots on the English cast, particularly an eminently likeable Hilary Haag as Nene and an appropriately monotone ChristineAuten as Priss. However, by the fourth episode even the weaker spots seemed to have settled into their roles, and there are indications that by next disc the dub may be one of the more admirable of recent A.D.V. releases. Kelly Manison’s Linna in particular grew on me by the fourth episode as her voice grew progressively less provincial (read: her Texas accent finally went kaput).

What BGC2040 does do well are individual moments and character motifs that help keep up interest. The interactions between Leon and Nene are cute, and I like the first encounter between Priss and Linna, where Linna chases after Priss’s bike in high heels to get remonstration for a spilt lunch. There’s also enough eye candy to help skate over the poor plotting. The animation, while not the most stylish stuff coming out of Japan, is fluid and good-looking, particularly for a TV show. The character designs are attractive, and I like the way the hard suits look, even if they are a bit uber-fashionable (though why in hell does Linna’s suit have high heels?). Another plus for me is the decidedly perverse transformation of the waitress boomer who becomes addicted to…ahem…licking.

There are some hiccups in the visual design, though, which relates to what I was getting at in the first paragraph. The show seems to want its Ridley Scott-like dystopia and its very clean neon happy-land, and the two do not necessarily sit well together. The scenes with the boomer attacks are darkly lit, with mainly reds and dull blues, which contrasts oddly with the visuals from almost all of the surrounding show. What this results in is an uneven tone and an almost total lack of a coherent atmosphere to the show so far. Maybe future episodes will have a greater sense of congruity, but what I’ve seen so far isn’t striking.

This review seems pretty down on BGC2040, but I really do enjoy it. When the pacing is on, it is really on. The show has energetic action scenes and very likeable character interaction. It isn’t the finest start to a series, but I’m still looking forward to the next set of episodes. A.D.V. has announced that this will be a six-disc release, akin to Cowboy Bebop in reverse, which means the discs themselves will be a good value. I think this is a series with great potential. Here’s hoping it lives up to it.

Rating: B

About Kent Conrad

To contact Kent Conrad, email kentc@explodedgoat.com