OMG! Don't watch the Knight Saber voice actors in Bali extra or your BRANE WILL DIE!
As much as I want to like these a ton, I still like them a lot. I can sum this up in one sentence, Anime are like zombie movies, no matter how good a zombie movie it is, its still a zombie movie. Akira aside, I have yet to see an anime that breaks this rule. Some chirpy character, an explosion that looks like a thousand others even though its still cool, same bulwarked background you've seen in a dozen other animes inside of some bad guy's lair. These aren't necessarily bad things, often the kawaii character is one of the more rewarding parts of an anime, sometimes even its only saving grace, some of those explosions are mighty, mighty cool too (especially when they do it in slow-mo or like frag-mo) and well, those bulwarked backgrounds? OK, they just suck.
All in all though, before I get to individual reviews of these Animeigo releases, I have to say that these are among my favorite anime, the creators have tried to create a unified world with more than episodic elements and story arcage from a time when most television still was staying clear of arcs. There are pop culture references a-plenty, both within the Bubblegum Universe mk. 1 (1987-1991), and references TO the Bubblegum Universe in modern filmmaking, anime and cartoons (sources as namedropping as Revenge of the Sith, Tarantino's karate flick & The Powerpuff Girls). You have to consider that the inner struggle of free ai and ai in circuit depicted in Bubblegum Crisis had some influence on the Matrix as well (although mebbe that all got picked up from TRON).
While there is a sense of fragmentation when the entire set is viewed as a whole, some of that may be due to the long lead time between episodes and series, many Bubblegum Crisis episodes have more than 6 months between episode release dates, and while this made the individual episodes feel more eventful and often have a 'coming home' feeling, you can note some confusion regarding plot elements in the psychic vibeage of the viewers. This is often made up for with a laissez-faire GENOM? Largo? who cares, just kick his ass sensation.
Four young women, Priss, Nene, Linna, & Sylia regularly leave the drudgery of their daily lives, don battle armor, and become The Knight Sabers. A combat-ready crew whose primary goal is to destroy Boomers, androids often indistinguishable from humans that are used for menial tasks, combat, and (until they started going bonkers on a regular basis) sex. The world is a slightly expanded modern world, with more oceanic communities, some satellite, lunar and possibly inner planet habitats, the primary difference being the development of Boomers in the years after the Second Great Kanto Earthquake of 2025 to help repair the damage wrought by Mother Nature. A megacorporation (GENOM) is one of the primary architects of Boomer technology and they have worked aggressively to maintain their dominance, including the murder of key scientist in Boomer development Dr. Katsuhito Stingray 'father' of Knight Saber Chief Sylia. GENOM and its operatives are the primary antagonists in the eight episodes of Bubblegum Crisis, often intertwined with the machinations |snicker| of the Knight Saber's arch-nemesis Largo.
Most of the stories are an excuse to get the Knight Sabers armored up and kicking ass, but there are subnotes of humanity within Boomers (notably Priss's friend Sylvie and her counterpart Anri) and also many moralistic fables riffing upon revenge, including some that take place in the Knight Saber family. There are also a number of Blade Runner references, fitting in an anime that discusses the right of AI to live freely, these elements are as key as the names of the primary protagonist (Priss) and her erstwhile but hapless paramour Leon. Most stories go like Boomer want take over world. Knight Sabers happily going about their business. Argh. Boomer Kill! Knight Sabers suit up and kick ass. But the Knight Sabers have slightly more complex social lives than the Power Rangers, some are like totally across town, not in just another classroom, and sometimes, one haz a sad. Note that this doesn't bring down the sustainability of belief in the Knight Sabers adventures. I mean the Powerpuff Girls have equally predictable situational dynamics and they pull them off with even more aplomb. It does mean you're watching anime, and that's ok, its a comfortable genre, with ZOMBIES! and the creators are definitely doing their best to achieve high concept, and in the two sequels, succeed in attaining greatness.
A note on the art too. Very nice. Lots of lighting effects, including hand-drawn 3d lighting effects, plasma effects, nifty zings of light off everything and some of the coolest reflective shades I've ever seen in animation. One of the last great hurrahs of hand-drawn/xeroxography anime.
As much as I dig Bubblegum Crisis; AD Police does something that Bubblegum Crisis doesn't. It focuses on ACTION! While a key element of Bubblegum Crisis is the action. AD Police has this gritty urban action feel like a good Dirty Harry movie. Cop jokes, car chases, mourning the fallen, strange villains, even corruption within the department. Plus, 1970s level n00dity and even some sex. Way more of an homage to cop genre films than a parody of them, this would be worth watching even outside of the Bubblegum continuity, sort of a sleeper sci-fi action series. Boomer bad guys/gals as are to be expected in post-quake Tokyo, a little bit more of the mean streets though, black marketeers, hookerbots gone bad, drug dealers, a serial killer, and the anti-Robocop. The primary focus of the series is the rookie years of Leon McNichols, why he seems so edgy when Boomers are discussed and other character building elements to flesh him out as much as the Knight Sabers have been.
Of special merit is Officer Billy Fanword, so injured in a battle with a Boomer that the only parts of him left are his brain and his tongue! Needless to say, he soon goes mad, but not before an exposition on what it is to be human, as well as some gratuitous sex, violence and drug usage. Like if Robocop weren't intentionally goofy and didn't have the noble spirit that Officer Murphy possessed.
I recommend this DVD most highly, and although it fits best into its sequence after the 7th Bubblegum Crisis episode, it stands alone well and would serve as a good intro to someone too macho to watch a buncha gals kick ass in battle armor, or for someone big on cop action drama.
So, the Knight Sabers have lain fallow for awhile, all of them are going about their business as regular workers in the giant Tokyo hive. Beneath however, danger lurks, somehow an enemy of the Knight Sabers has returned from the dead and is striking at good guys. All this is told to you in a slightly exposition heavy trio of episodes that still manage to be entertaining and have the spirit of the first batch of episodes. There are suit modifications, new jobs, slightly more developed character traits (as is to be expected among burgeoning young adults), and an underlying feeling of dissatisfaction from the fan base. Still, the stories manage to be decent (if a little more formulaic than the AD Police stories) and (trying not to lay down any spoilers here) some interesting things happen (although some folks are still in denial about it) regarding your understanding of the Knight Sabers and Sylia in particular. Less inspired artwork than the initial series though, and the computer-aided design intro seems dated and poorly advised given the hearty hand-drawn animation that is featured throughout the rest of the series.
Bubblegum Crash is a worthy successor to Bubblegum Crisis, but you can feel dissatisfaction of fans and probably some spiritual sabotage by Youmex (Former partner of Artmic in creation of the original series). While its pretty decent for the most part, it doesn't so much blaze new trails as tie up loose ends. If you've watched and enjoyed the original series, you'll want to see it and if you aren't too picky (Where'd GENOM go?!?!?!) you'll probably enjoy it. I did. A solid conclusion that lacks a little in flair, but still delivers and expands upon the ideas in the initial series only a little heavy-handedly.
Note: Some video artifacts/blear probably from the source tape are on this DVD, only a couple minutes out of 3 hours and nothing to make the DVD unwatchable, but still, hopefully someday a better master will show up.
The extras featured in all these discs bear mention. While mainly they consist of music videos of the vocal performers doing songs from the series (think Bonnie Tyler meets Footloose), there is one feature that is practically too horrible to mention. Somehow, the primary vocal talent managed to convince the ARTMIC/YOUMEX execs that them going to Bali and dining and walking around pointing at stuff and shopping and singing a song would make a good live-action television special. Its LOL bad. Talking almost claw your eyes out. Although I'm sure there were some tweenage girls who want to kill me now because they are so otaku over anything regarding the Knight Sabers. Get in line! I've got way worse enemies than anime fans. Rabid Clash of the Titans fans want me dead too! Still, its probably the worst television special on DVD until the Star Wars Holiday Special is released by George Lucas' fan-bribed heirs. Now you HAVE to buy a copy, at least if you're into horrible video. AIYEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!