Pilgrimage to Mecha 04: Bubblegum Crisis (OVA)

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Join us for our Pilgrimage to Mecha – where I go back in time and catch up on some of the classics and hidden gems of the mecha genre. Whether it was before my time or I simply missed out on them, it’s time for me to watch them and let you know why you should too!

This time: Bubblegum Crisis

Bubblegum Crisis

1987-1991
OVA (8 Episodes)
Directed by Katsuhito Kiyama (1-4), Masami Obari (5-6), Fumihiko Takayama (7), Hiroaki Goda (8)

Premise

The year is 2032, Mega Tokyo is ruled in all but name by the powerful corporation Genom, whose advanced robotics technology has led to the advent of Boomers, androids capable of serving as everything from manual labor to military personnel to even prostitution. With Boomer-related crime rampant in the city, the AD Police is stretched thin and barely able to keep up. The Knight Sabers, an all-female mercenary team using advanced power armor technology, lead the charge against the Boomer threat, Genom’s aspirations, and ensure the preservation of Mega Tokyo.

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Thoughts

I am honestly ashamed I did not watch Bubblegum Crisis sooner. It’s without a doubt the perennial cyberpunk anime, and after watching it, it’s so easy to see how it earned that honor. It was a fantastic ride from start to finish, exploring a great number of classic cyberpunk themes while still maintaining its poppy anime feeling. Priss, Linna, Sylvia, and Nene all proved to be wonderfully distinct characters in their own ways. Though occasionally played for fanservice, all four of the girls are great heroines in their own right and bring some great talents and traits to the table, whether it’s Priss’s headstrong bluntness or Nene’s bubbly exterior hiding some serious willpower. Considering they only had eight episodes to work with, I think Bubblegum Crisis did a great job of keeping things interesting with its fantastic cast supplementing its fascinating universe. It helps remind us that no matter how dark things get, its inhabitants are uniquely human.

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And boy does it look great. Bubblegum Crisis manages to evoke just about everything I love about the late 80s era of anime, with its perfect mix of grit, strong lineart, and fabulous aesthetic. The show radiates the 80s in all the best ways. The detailed mechanical designs and slightly rounded edges of everything leads to a striking look that’s a joy to look at. Throw in some excellent directing from mecha legends like Obari, and you have a very pretty piece of work that also moves well. It’s undeniable that older anime suffers from certain limits as a result of their age, but it’s these kinds of high-budget productions from this time period that manage to evoke both its distinct aesthetic and the kind of fluid animation that elevates it to an entirely new level.

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Finally, I’d be remiss to not mention it’s astounding soundtrack. To give some context to the kind of work that was put into its music, Bubblegum Crisis doesn’t just have a single musical score, it literally has a soundtrack for every individual episode. Filled with blood pumping vocal tracks accompanied by a whole slew of themes and leitmotifs that set the scene, there’s a legitimate argument that Bubblegum Crisis is just one long 80s rock/synth cyberpunk music video. Taking inspiration from some of the best sounds of the decade, its soundtrack is a love letter to the era, and it’s one that will stick with me for a long time.

If there’s anything that brings it down, it’s not a fault of itself. Due to creative differences and budget issues, Bubblegum Crisis was cancelled before it could finish its full 13 episode run. Ending at eight, its “ending” is very much a case of, “The adventure continues.” It’s disappointing to not get a satisfying conclusion, but in some ways, perhaps this evokes cyberpunk better than its creators intended. No individual can ever hope to save the world in a cyberpunk setting, but if you try hard enough and you never stop fighting, you might just manage to leave the world a better place than it was when you arrived.

Overall, Bubblegum Crisis isn’t just one of the best anime I’ve watched for this feature, it’s one of the best anime I’ve watched this year.

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Why You Should Watch

Despite the vast number of directors for such a short (and apparently troubled) production, rather than feel inconsistent, all of Bubblegum Crisis’s episodic stories feel like parts of a greater whole, all exploring various facets of the cyberpunk genre. Some are bittersweet examinations of the dispassionate devaluation of human life in universe where corporations hold more power than the government. Others are exciting robotic adventures in a world similar, but also distinctly unlike our own. And a couple of them are just plain good entertainment all around.

In a time where cyberpunk anime are few and far between, and truly good ones even harder to find, Bubblegum Crisis stands as a bastion of what the genre should be. It oozes atmosphere on every front. The art direction and mechanical designs are some of the best I’ve seen from the genre, whether it’s the iconic hardsuits or the feeling of Mega Tokyo itself. Its music doesn’t just accompany its visuals, but brings them even closer to the perfect cyberpunk experience. The stories it tells and the characters who inhabit them all come together in a stunning display of the genre’s potential.

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While it lacks the serious tone of other hallmark anime cyberpunk works, such as Akira and Ghost in the Shell, it takes those facets and creates its own unique identity. It’s a bubblier and more irreverent one, but by eschewing its peers’ traits and taking a more heartfelt route, it does an even better job of upholding one of cyberpunk’s most important themes. No matter how dehumanized society becomes as a result of the rise of corporations and the endless march of technology, what makes its stories so interesting are how its human characters interact with that universe. At the end of the day, it’s all about people trying to get by in a harsh unforgiving future. If you’re like me, and feel a deep sense of nostalgia for a decade you were born too late to experience, Bubblegum Crisis is a must.

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