Bubblegum Crisis Retrospective: Part V
by Jef Burnham
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In Part V of our continuing examination of the BGC franchise, we’re looking at the 1998-99 reenvisioning of the series, Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040 which was recently re-released on DVD by FUNimation Entertainment. As part of their Anime Classics line, FUNimation’s release of the series collects the complete, 26-episode run in a single, four-DVD set. Having already watched four BGC series for this retrospective prior to Tokyo 2040, I had some definite expectations of what this series would be. And although those expectations were admittedly pretty high, they were completely surpassed by studio AIC’s brilliant reworking of the original BGC’s elements into a more cohesive, serialized narrative than any of the franchise’s previous installments. Looking back at those previous installments now, I can’t help but view them as little more than test runs in the buildup to this incredible series, which blends all the best elements of the BGC franchise with the conventions of a zombie film.
Sure, it’s the same old BGC setup. Following a disastrous earthquake in 2033 which leveled Tokyo, the Genom Corporation becomes the city’s savior, rebuilding the city with the aid of humanoid robots known as Boomers. Seven years later, the propensity for the Boomers to go “rogue” and murder civilians had become such a problem that the AD Police was formed specifically to quell Boomer violence. But they’re not alone in their efforts. A vigilante group known as the Knight Sabers too has taken up arms against the Boomers, much to the AD Police’s chagrin. The Knight Sabers, a group of women in advanced combat armor called Hardsuits, and their immediate acquaintances including AD Police officer Leon McNichol, serve as the series’ protagonists.
So what allows Tokyo 2040 to rise above its predecessors? For starters, the characters. In the first episode alone, the characters (Knight Sabers, Leon, and all) are developed more thoroughly than their original BGC counterparts had been in that series’ entire eight-episode run. Most surprisingly, Linna, a character afforded virtually no screen time in the original series, here becomes an instrumental part of the narrative. As the audience stand-in character, Linna recently relocated to Tokyo with the unspoken ambition of joining the Knight Sabers. A run-in with Knight Sabers team leader, Priss, sets events in motion that find her doing just that over the course of the first few episodes. Thus, we are eased into the world of the Knight Sabers and allowed time to absorb the information required to properly understand and enjoy the narrative that follows. Further evidencing the smartness of AIC’s reworking of the character, Linna’s constant exercising in Tokyo 2040 is a manifestation of her ambition to usurp Priss as the Knight Sabers’ top fighter. This expands on the original series’ superficial definition of Linna as a simple aerobics instructor in such a way that she becomes exponentially more human and relatable through its incorporation. For the sake of addressing other series elements in this review, suffice it to say that the writers treated the revision of all the series’ remaining characters with similar reverence.
The visual design and animation of Tokyo 2040 respectfully resembles the original BGC in most ways. Character models, however, which have been noticeably modernized and simplified, provide the perfect counterbalance for the series’ complex Boomer and Hardsuit designs. Whereas Tokyo 2040’s Hardsuits do closely resemble those of the original series at the outset, they get a massive overhaul mid-series. The importance of the changes to the hardsuits in Tokyo 2040 cannot be overstated, as the Knight Sabers in the original series seemed virtually all-powerful while armored. This limited the extent to which I could personally invest in the climax of any original series episode. In addition to certain late-series revelations about the Hardsuits’ construction, their limited battery life represents a design/story element unique to Tokyo 2040 which allows for added tension as battles rage on.
The adoption of zombie movie conventions in the latter half of the series represents the most drastic and welcome deviation from previous BGC installments. While the first half of Tokyo 2040 depicts conflicts similar to those of the original BGC, all Hell breaks loose in episode 14! Before long, the Knight Sabers’ Hardsuits are trashed and Tokyo has been evacuated, leaving the city under the control of a lumbering legion of rogue Boomers. The Knight Sabers then lock themselves inside leader Sylia’s fortress at night and seek the means to disable the Boomer hordes by day. Elsewhere in the city, survivors take up shelter in Boomer-free parks, emerging only to scavenge for food and supplies. This makes for an intense and unforeseen change of pace that, along with the other additions to the BGC narrative, characters, and costumes here, raises the stakes of the series’ four-episode climax higher than any prior episode or series climax in the franchise.
Tokyo 2040 is by far the best entry in the Bubblegum Crisis franchise. What’s more, FUNimation’s release of Tokyo 2040 is the best looking and sounding of BGC releases. The set boasts a thoroughly clean, bright image throughout and a solid audio mix that incorporates the series’ hard rock soundtrack with appropriate intensity. Even the English dub is good (a first in my experience with North American releases of the franchise). Still, you’ll definitely want to watch Tokyo 2040 in the original Japanese for Priss’s singing, which carries certain portions of the series in ways that don’t quite work in the dub. The packaging of the FUNimation release of the series is the typically classy packaging of the Anime Classics line of which I am particularly fond. Moreover, a clear case with the spine-width of a standard DVD case houses all four discs to space-saving effect. Special features on FUNimation’s release of Tokyo 2040 are sadly limited to textless opening and closing songs as well as trailers for other FUNimation releases.
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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