Bubblegum Crisis Retrospective: Part IV
by Jef Burnham
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In part IV of our continuing Bubblegum Crisis Retrospective, I’ll be looking at the first of the non-canonical spin-offs of Bubblegum Crisis, 1999’s A.D. Police: To Protect and Serve. This 12-eisode re-envisioning of the BGC universe follows the exploits of A.D. Police Officer Kenji Sasaki and his German partner Hans Kleif. As officers in the A.D. Police (short for Advanced Police), they are tasked with protecting Genom City (a.k.a. Tokyo) from the threat of rampaging androids. These androids are the product of the Genom Corporation, Tokyo’s savior in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake. Known as VOOMERS when fully operational, these androids become colloquially known as “BOOMERS” when malfunctions send them on a murderous rampage.
But can a BGC adaptation succeed without the Knight Sabers or Officer Leon McNichol? After viewing To Protect and Serve, I’d respond, “Presumably, sure, but not so much here.” By no means am I asserting that To Protect and Serve fails completely or even that it should be avoided. I’m just not sure who the series’ target audience was. The writers relied too much on their source material in this supposed re-envisioning, so much so that I at times found even a marginal appreciation of the series’ narrative elements to be contingent on an extensive knowledge of prior BGC series. The series thus keeps non-fans at a considerable distance. And yet, as a result of its fleeting attempts at originality, fans of previous BGC installments too will likely feel alienated by To Protect and Serve.
As fans of BGC well know, an integral facet of any BGC series is its presentation of BOOMER technology. To Protect and Serve appears at the outset of the series to adhere to Bubblegum Crash!’s retconned presentation of the BOOMERS as merely defective labor droids. This presentation, of course, opposes the depiction of BOOMERS as sentient beings in the original BGC and 1990’s AD Police, and that’s not necessarily a problem in and of itself. However, it is revealed in the latter half of To Protect and Serve that Genom had secretly been engineering a line of biologically-infused sentient VOOMERS all along. Although this revelation rightly sets the BOOMER tech of To Protect and Serve in line with the original series, the bait-and-switch doesn’t have the effect I imagine the writers thought it would, at least not for fans of prior BGC installments. After all, those who have seen the original series will likely expect the BOOMERS to indeed be sentient going in to To Protect and Serve. To go against that expectation forces us to temporarily reconfigure our notions of the BGC universe in order to move forward in the series. This is fine, I suppose, since we had already done it once for Crash!, but to then simply reverse this representation halfway through, as though it were a significant plot twist, is admittedly a bit aggravating as we had been expecting sentient BOOMERS in the first place. This evidences the sort of mediocre, though well-intentioned, writing that typifies the entirety of To Protect and Serve.
However, as problematic as this technological flip-flopping might be for the viewer, the narrative doesn’t really come alive until this information surfaces in episode six. Once we realize that these sentient VOOMERS can be living in the real world, working and having relationships while totally unaware of their true origins, we can finally become truly invested in the characters and their situations. This game-changer propels the series toward its conclusion, but it comes far too late for the series to really stand out from the superior trilogy of series previously discussed in this Retrospective. What’s more, the reason these sentient VOOMERS exist at all in the series in incredibly mundane. (But that’s all I say about the conclusion in the interest of minimizing spoilers.)
Unfortunately, although To Protect and Serve stands as the first BGC-related entry to contain a complete and insular narrative, mediocrity plagues almost every aspect of the series. The animation figures prominently into the discussion of the series’ mediocrity. Simplistic character models and atmospheric sterility far remove the series visually from its predecessors. And the animation sporadically features exaggerated perspectives that never amount to what could be deemed an actual aesthetic choice. The failure to develop such stylistic elements throughout creates the impression that such deviations as exaggerated views of characters were unintentional. The animation then, which is further plagued by consistently wonky timing, feels exceedingly clumsy as a result. Moreover, the series’ overall atmosphere more closely resembles that of the visually-sterile Appleseed than the Blade Runner-inspired Bubblegum Crisis.
The music too fails to live up to the standard set by the original BGC, which featured an incredible hair metal soundtrack. In all fairness, Crash! and 1990’s AD Police suffered from the same problem, but To Protect and Serve somehow deviates even further from the original than those two series. To Protect and Serve’s soundtrack bounces between lame elevator music and inappropriately-placed bebop. This significantly diminishes the series’ overall effectiveness.
I’d say that only those viewers most dedicated to BGC should undertake the viewing of To Protect and Serve. The series offers the first complete, insular narrative arc in the BGC franchise, and the relationship that develops between the main characters Sasaki and Hans in the series’ closing act provides the series with much-needed heart. Unfortunately, viewers approaching To Protect and Serve without a pre-existing investment in the franchise are unlikely to find the experience worth their time.
A.D. Police: To Protect and Serve is currently available on DVD from ADV Films. Released way back in 2002, the 2-disc set doesn’t look spectacular, nor does it feature a wealth of bonus material. Brand new, the DVD will put you back $20-$40 on Amazon, which is far more than it’s really worth. Fortunately, you’ll find that you can actually buy it used for somewhere between $5 and $8 with shipping, which is reasonable.
Stayed tuned to for Part V of our Bubblegum Crisis Retrospective, in which I’ll be taking a look at Funimation’s upcoming re-release of Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040!
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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