Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040

Once upon a time, Philip K. Dick wrote a novel called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? in which he pondered the definition of “human.” Does singing Mozart beautifully qualify the singer as human? Do the mentally defective count? Is it a question of psychology or physiology? Do Androids Dream is hardly Dick’s best book — if you’ve never read Dick, I recommend starting with The Man in the High Castle — but it provides the reader with much to think about.
In 1982, Ridley Scott made a movie called Blade Runner, in which the scriptwriter carefully excised most everything that was interesting in Dick’s novel, even the electric toad, leaving only the notion of a bounty hunter pursuing renegade androids — oops, I mean “replicants.” To substitute for the missing elements, Scott added lots of noirish atmosphere and Harrison Ford. Apparently it works for most people; I must be the only person alive who doesn’t think that Blade Runner is a modern classic.
In 1987, Toshimichi Suzuki and a crew of Japanese animators began an OVA (direct-to-video) series called Bubblegum Crisis. Instead of a single bounty hunter, we now have four young women wearing “hard suits,” mechanized armor that gives the wearer superhuman abilities, battling berserk replicants — oops, I mean “boomers.” I’ve not seen the series or its sequel, Bubblegum Crash; according to what I’ve read, they’re stong on atmosphere and action, weak on plot and characterization. Apparently their most memorable element is the J-pop soundtrack featuring the music of “Priss and the Replicants.” I may watch Bubblegum Crisis someday, but it’s not high on my to-see list.
Enter Chiaki J. Konaka, scriptwriter for Serial Experiments Lain. In 1998, he rethought the premises of the Bubblegum Crisis universe and devised a complicated plot that utilized the full 26 episodes of a teevee season. The result was an entertaining show, but after all these iterations Dick’s vision is pretty much gone.
Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040 opens seven years after a titanic earthquake devasted Tokyo. The city has been rebuilt with the use of “boomers,” bio-mechanical entities made by the Genom corporation that do the work that humans can’t or won’t do. Some boomers are human in appearance; others are hulking machines with glowing eyes. Generally they are obsequious toward humans as they diligently perform their tasks. Once in a while, though, a boomer’s eyes will glow red as it goes “mad.” It then attacks any humans nearby, and it changes shape to something monstrous, usually with fangs and claws. That is the cue for the Knight Sabers to fly into action. What the A.D. Police can’t handle, these young women in hard suits can. Lately, it seems that the number of mad boomers is increasing.
Linna Yamazaki, an athletic country girl beginning an office job in Tokyo, would like nothing better than to join the Knight Sabers. She gets her chance after nearly being run down by sullen, punkish young woman on a flashy motorcycle. The young woman turns out to be Priss Asagiri, singer for the band Priss and the Replicants Sekiria and the Knight Saber in blue armor. The other knights are Nene Romanova, a giddy chatterbox who is neverthless the brightest of the bunch, and Sylia Stingray, daughter of Dr. Stingray, creator of the boomers. Sylia organized and bankrolls the knights and provides them with their hard suits.
Initially Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040 uses the monster-of-the-week formula as Linna finds her place within the Knight Sabers. However, the boomers progressively become more difficult to defeat, and the CEO of Genom has an agenda that goes beyond mere world domination. In addition, it becomes clear that there is a lot that Sylia hasn’t told Priss, Linna and Nene about her past, her father and the boomers. As the series progresses, the story becomes more complex and the stakes become progressively higher. At the beginning the girls are mainly looking for excitement, with saving lives as a bonus; in the final episodes, they are struggling to save the entire human race.
Those looking for nonstop action are likely to be disappointed. Although there are many extended battles between Knight Sabers and boomers, often accompanied by gunfire from the police, Konaka is more interested in telling a story than making adrenalin flow. There are episodes with no fighting at all. In the second half of the series, the emphasis shifts to horror as the origin of the boomers and the course of their evolution are revealed. Those hoping for a glimpse of Dick’s vision will also be disappointed; the final episodes are much closer to the last half-hour of Akira than anything in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040 overall is quite violent, with plenty of android ichor spilled. Adultery figures in one episode; otherwise, there’s no sex. There is some mild fan service in the early episodes and nudity in the later ones. It’s not for children but okay for college-age kids.
It’s not a waste of time, but I can’t give the series a high recommendation. It is entertaining, the plot is interesting, parts of it are spectacular and some of the notions about biological/mechanical evolution are intriguing, if not particularly original. Nevertheless, I had hoped for something deeper from one of the creators of Lain.
I have no idea what any of this has to do with bubblegum.