The aesthetics of the 80s cyberpunk anime is probably one of the most memorable things of this era. And it’s a shame that this style has not found a revival in our times. The gritty decadence of a modern society contrasted between an impoverished population and the advantages of technology is rare to see now. Psycho Pass is probably the last show to pull this out. But today we will be talking a show that created a precedent on its execution and that led to several continuations and even a reboot of the shows in the 90s. Today is time to remember Bubblegum Crisis.
About the show
Bubblegum Crisis (バブルガムクライシス) is an original video animation series produced by Youmex and animated by AIC and Artmic. The OVA begin airing on February 1987, and ended on January 1991. The original run of the show was supposed thirteen episodes, but because of production problems the show ended abruptly leaving only eight episodes available.
After an earthquake destroys and splits the city of Tokyo, the city has been rebuilt with the help of Genom, a megacorporation with global influence and power. Creators of the boomers, robots created to help with the reconstruction and revival of the city, they can take the form of a person and be indistinguishable from the other human being. But the robots are not perfect, and Genom knows it, and they could turn into deadly machines that will destroy everything that is on their path. While the police tries to stop these machines, Genom puts pressure to stop any investigation that might tarnish Genom’s image. Thankfully a group of robot vigilantes, called The Knight Sabers, work tireless to stop this menace, not without a reward or leaving their lives behind.
Cyberpunk is one of my favorite genres, and when it’s well executed it creates stories that last forever. Bubblegum Crisis is one of these works. The story has a campy tone that goes unnoticed during the first episodes but is more obvious at the end. Our heroines are not really the saviors of this world, they just happened to be employed in situations that will lead them to confront the corrupt world they live in. At the end of the day, the ruthless corporation is still controlling the city, politicians are corrupt and the menace of machines going out of control and creating havoc does not decrease. While this sounds depressing, it works in the context of the show. And this is because Bubblegum Crisis is pure and unaltered schlock. Far from an insult, the show wears this on its sleeves. Bubblegum Crisis is a dirty, violent, and over the top anime and damn if it’s not entertaining.
This show has a ton of references to Western cyberpunk works. The city design is similar to the ones seen on Blade Runner, one of the most direct homages is that Priss’ band is called “The Replicants”. The design of the robots is inspired by The Terminator, one of the main villains is called Gibson. This also can explain the absence of similar anime shows. Most of these took inspiration on the wave of Western cyberpunk literature and movies but now with the rehashing and endless adaptations the genre has not gotten another similar popularity wave. Bubblegum Crisis has aged well despite being released 30 years ago. The technology portrayed is not far from the ones we are using today: Video calls, computerized homes, robots. Although there are small details that there are not as prevalent, like VHS-like storage devices and 80s clothing on 2033, but it does not matter.
I want to expand a little more on the schlock part by describing one of the most memorable arcs in this anime. At the beginning of the episode we see girls escaping from a laboratory, trying to reach a space shuttle. Only two of them survive and get outside of the compound. Later, through the eyes of the police, we see their shuttle did not make it and crashed in a forest. The girls seem to be important for space research and the government agency is willing to risk everything to find them. Now we change to our heroines, and one of them is already an acquaintance of the fugitive girls, without knowing the nature of its escape. At the same time, the police is investigating a series of murders of people that got their blood sucked. This is the part where it reaches the high point of the episode. As you may imagine, the fugitive girl is the one committing the murders, but why? Well, because she is a boomer, a special kind of boomer that needs blood to function. It doesn’t end here, because she is doing not for herself, but for the other fugitive girl who is her lover. Now you realize the central plot of this episode is about fugitive lesbian vampire androids. These levels of schlock are difficult to reach but they made it. The tone has already been set at this point, you will only have to enjoy the ride.
Bubblegum Crisis has flaws. It suffers from being short, and it’s obvious that it was planned to be longer and with a greater story over the course of its airing time. Exposition is clumsy, sometimes the show stops to explain what is happening or to retell past events. Either you have the time to create a large universe or give us constant action with minimal exposition. I also have a minor complaint with the design of the robots, they all look the same. The only robot design that stood out was destroyed in the first episode. I understand that it was meant to represent how these machines that were mass produced now roam the streets, but if you established that there are powerful variants of them, make the others different.
When everything is said and done, Bubblegum Crisis is a good show. If you are fan of cyberpunk or 80s schlock action movies, this show is for you. Give a chance to anime that can take a campy approach to a serious genre. The show is available where anime is.