With my first formal licensed and legal foray into the world of domestic anime coming in the very early 90s, one of those influential titles was Bubblegum Crisis.
Which I did not see first.
No, I can still vividly remember going into Bop City Comics in Framingham and perusing their selection of bootlegs in the back room and not finding much that was making me want to spend the $20 on it. What was changing at the time, however, was that licensed shows were starting to come out more and the front counter had the three VHS tapes from AnimEigo of Bubblegum Crash there. It looked interesting with its character designs, it had the far-flung future of 2034 as its setting to me back there in the early days of 1992 when it saw English release, and the small TV on the counter playing it on a loop made me want to see more. So, plunking down some $30 or so that I recall it being priced at, I got a slick-looking professional package with a clean transfer, full subtitles, and a printed sheet of liner notes that explain some of the nuance and more of the project.
And it’s why, to this day, that I still hold a special place in my heart for this show whereas, for most others, it’s a pale shadow of the original Bubblegum Crisis series. That OVA project, which was released between 1987 and 1991 in Japan for eight episodes, which was produced by Artmic and Youmex. The two companies had a split and Artmic continued on the project, resulting in this, and it was a short-run series because Youmex promptly sued them over it and kept it from being worked on again until the 1998 Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040 series and the occasional AD Police project here and there. The magic of that original 1987 series is what it is and I love it so. But Crash was my introduction to it and working backward, slowly in order to purchase all of those tapes, meant I was continually treated to better and more engaging material each time.
Bubblegum Crash shares much of what the original was but it’s also one that still feels more western-oriented than the original. Amusingly, you can see this in the first minute or so of the show. Once you get past the rather now-dated CG city view and into the animation side of the show, there’s a flyover of a billboard that reads “American Popcorn”. That’s what this show feels like, an American popcorn movie sequel. The team comes back after hiatus, a new villain that’s tied to an old villain, formulaic plot ensues. While there were callbacks in the original, this one just made it a lot more blatant and it hit all the hallmarks of a movie sequel in TV form.
It’s been several months since the events last seen in Bubblegum Crisis and things have changed. Linna has moved out of the aerobics life and into the stock market and is making big bucks really fast. Priss has changed her style of music somewhat and is close to making her pro debut and getting a contract while Nene still holds down a job at the AD Police. But Sylia seems to have gone missing and, in general, the old team essentially seems to not exist, though the remaining girls do get together as friends.
It’s at this time that the Illegal Army, a group that uses some high-grade military combat suits that are modified, begins to make various hits throughout MegaTokyo by robbing banks. On the surface, they don’t look more than common criminals in gear that nobody, even the AD Police, can take down. But under the cover of the bank robberies, they’re stealing parts to an advanced new AI system that’s being developed by several companies.
It’s when this gets truly serious that one of the companies offers a contract to Sylia for the Knight Sabers and she ends up bringing them out of their “brief vacation” as she calls it. She had taken the downtime to revamp their suits and their operations to take on the new kinds of evil out there in the world. So it’s with a fair amount of gusto, after some predictable scenes, that the girls are once again back in the saddle and taking on the enemy suits.
Being a completist, I’m glad to have Bubblegum Crash on physical media so I can say I finally have everything I once had on VHS and LaserDisc once again, having sold those off. I think with the amount of time that’s passed since the show was first released and the larger number of fans out there, the OVA series will continue to find itself a new audience, albeit a quiet and small one, that will appreciate it more than the old-timers who have issues with it. This is one of those projects that I completely understand why it gets the derision it does but at the same time it’s one that is just pure and simple magic for me. It’s nostalgia-colored lenses to be sure, but there is also something at the core of this that does work and tries to find its own path. It doesn’t succeed but I love it for its attempt.