Bubblegum Crisis 2040
Hm, took a lot of will-power to write this review. Seeing as the original series, one of the first gritty cyber-punk anime, still has a legion of fans there'll be a lot of people ready to defend or attack the strengths and weaknesses of a modern rendition. And, like the show, a review is almost certain to offend someone. Then again, my feelings about the show are a weird mixture as well.
The show begins with a young woman named Linna coming to work in the big, and mostly rebuilt, city of Tokyo. Apparently the city was almost destroyed by a huge earthquake centered on the city itself. And even with the maturation and wide use of boomer technology, a technology that makes intelligent robots possible, the labor of rebuilding the city still continues. In any case, whether in the gleaming corporate blocks or the dark and unrepaired fringes life goes on. And, everywhere, boomers have made things easier.
However Linna has a more complex purpose than that. She has heard tales of boomers that go rogue, both their minds and their bodies becoming monstrously warped. Though of course the sole manufacturer, a huge company, discounts any such possibility. She's also heard of a brave group of power suited warriors, the Knight Sabers, who fight this threat. Although of course the media makes it clear that they're merely an urban legend and the police make it clear they wouldn't allow such a thing to happen. Fortunately, perhaps, for her she'll get the chance to discover the truth. Both about the Knight Sabers, and the danger and reality of the threat they face. And that threat is much bigger than she, or anyone else, could possibly have imagined.
Those who have seen the original, which surely must be just about everybody, will find no surprises in that synopsis. Effectively the old knight sabers have been re-designed and the story begins prior to reaching their full membership. We get to re-meet Priss, Nene and Sylia who are both familiar and quite different. For one thing they've become a bit more complex, realistic and brittle both as people and as a group. It's actually really interesting and rewarding as the story begins to unfold and we learn the complexities and details of the situation.
Of course the old, "rookie earning her place on the team", storyline has a lot of pull to it. And at the same time we meet some new characters, who widen the pool a bit. And then, of course, there's the hardsuits and a bit of boomer-busting to keep the adrenaline high and provide some lovely action. These hardsuits make some odd sounds, and have been streamlined a bit, but they're still just as much fun as ever. They also have the modern addition of limited `batteries' to make things a bit more stressful and exciting.
All good fun. Although strangely enough this element begins to fade a bit as the `big story' kicks in. The original didn't really have one, being more `scenes' within a complex environment, but this series seems to have taken that as a challenge. It's going to tell a big story, one that blows your mind and re-defines the whole concept of the Bubblegum crisis world. And as it begins to slowly emerge from the shadows the importance of the characters, to my dismay, started to seem less important.
And, I must admit, I'm deeply uncertain about the story itself. Obviously I can't say too much for fear of spoiling it, and it has some good elements, but I'm not sure I like the finished product as much as I should. The foundation of the story, once revealed, is perilously weak. While it's a good opportunity to have some really full on action and scenarios play out (including a long `horror' section) these seem to be more because they were `fun' than truly connected or explained by the story. Likewise as the power level climbs the team, not to mention the suits, start to seem a little bit unimportant.
Given time the story is fully explained, thus removing a lot of mystery and subtlety, but the science and logic behind it is bodgy. The lack of `response' to this crisis, even the failure of the team to think and act, makes it feel somewhat artificial. And the power level, and capabilities, of the foe simply don't make much sense. Likewise the action, once excellent, begins to devolve towards `goo' wars (you'll know what I mean). The final conclusion seems more than a little over the top. So intent of `blowing' your mind that logic and meaning have to take a back seat. And since the thrill of the first was a gritty and complex world this conclusion could not be more surprising. In some ways it even mirrors Evangelion in scale and scope, but it doesn't manage the depth or complexity of that show.
Don't get me wrong though, it's still good fun to watch. There's a nice momentum to the story that will keep you feeding the tapes into the machine. A balance of action, character and discovery that means you always want to know what happens next. Many of the individual scenes are not without a good deal of dramatic power and the determined will read something about the human condition into them. It is also, at times, quite dark and scary. However, taken as a whole, it seems to have too many story holes and too little depth to get anywhere close to the heights it was aiming at. Which makes it feel like a somewhat flawed experience.
As mentioned the action is rather nice. The hard suits still have a sense of power and cool about them. And they allow for some exciting actions scenes which make excellent use of motion, lighting and effect. This is also retained in the `horror' components which have been done with a solid sense of style and visual effectiveness. Although the suits actually end up having less `action' time than you might expect, and the length and depth of action fades as the show goes on. As does, to some extent, the flash and depth of the animation. Still, solid and watchable production for the environment, hardware and characters. The voices are interesting, I watched the dub and they are both skilled and painful. Nene's `genki' voice and Sylia's sharp and psychotic voice are skilled but not much fun to listen to for their own reasons. The music is pretty good, including the catchy opening and even some nice Priss song breaks.