Not So Nostalgic Tonight: Bubblegum Crash

If there is one major complaint that could be lodged against Bubblegum Crisis by its fans, it would be that it was an incomplete work; planned to run 13 episodes, it lasted only eight. One could argue that this incompleteness adds to Crisis’ appeal, the lack of a definitive ending creating a bit of mystery about the whole production. If nothing else, it likely sparked the creativity of fans in the 1990s, who produced a staggering amount of fanfiction based on the Knight Sabers, mostly ignoring the “official” sequel, Bubblegum Crash. It’s not hard to understand why: despite the involvement of ARTMIC and AIC (two of the studios behind Crisis), Crash is a poorly executed, low-budget disappointment that feels more like one of the worst of those fanfics than a proper sequel.

Gay stereotype character #1

The original Crisis’ early demise is usually attributed to rights issues between the three primary companies involved in production: design studio ARTMIC (the people behind Gall Force, Megazone 23 and MOSPEADA) and animation studios AIC and Youmex. Twenty years later, no one seems to know what actually went down but examining the production of Crash makes it easy to take a guess. The first episode of Crash was released in mid-1991, six months after the final episode of Crisis, “Scoop Chase.” ARTMIC and AIC were still involved, although Youmex had been replaced with Noboru Ishiguro’s Artland studio (who had previously worked with ARTMIC on Megazone 23).

The most obvious discrepancy in Crash, due to Youmex no longer being involved, was the change in musical content. Crisis boasted a prominent musical score, with new vocal themes for each episode. The sheer amount of music featured (there was little, if any, recycling of music between episodes) helped the original stand out from other ’80s OAVs, which rarely had so much attention paid to the music. Episode soundtracks were released on Youmex’s music label, Futureland, and the scope of music featured in Crisis likely had a lot to do with Youmex/Futureland’s musical connections.

Beyond just the vocal stuff, Kouji Makaino’s background themes were varied and quite good, even if they were eclipsed by the more popular vocal tracks. Comparatively, Crash’s BGM is slow and uninteresting, often featuring boring jazz riffs during action scenes that just don’t fit the mood. It’s typical half-assed ’80s OAV musical production, which is severely disappointing, especially when compared to its progenitor.

Priss’ voice actor, Kinuko Oomori, was also not involved with Crash, although her absence likely had more to do with the popularity of her band Silk, and a desire to focus on her musical career. Her replacement, Ryoko Tachikawa, attempts to mimic Oomori’s husky voice, but ends up sounding congested. Anime News Network’s encyclopedia suggests that Tachikawa was something of a pop idol, and this change is reflected in Priss’ character’s attempt to make it in the mainstream music industry in Crash. It’s not a goal that Priss ever alluded to in Crisis, but perhaps the image of a grungy underground rocker living in a trailer wasn’t as suited to the 1990s as it was the 1980s. Oomori was the exception, though, as all other returning characters were voiced by the same actors who portrayed them in the original series.

Key people at ARTMIC also returned to work on Crash, such as mecha designer Shinji Aramaki, story planner Toshimichi Suzuki and writer Emu Arii. Kenichi Sonada is credited as character designer, although it’s unclear if that’s simply crediting him for his original character designs from Crisis. Arii is credited for writing all three episodes of Crash, and while he wrote one of the more interesting episodes of the original (“Revenge Road”, a.k.a. the one with the car), he clearly dropped the ball with Crash. The pacing, characterization and plots are all poorly orchestrated. Characters are out of character, plot points are recycled and the scripts are uniformly boring.

The storyboarding isn’t any better, relying on lots of pans and cost-cutting techniques. It’s readily apparent that they were working with a low budget, but a lack of time and interest probably played a part as well. The action feels flat and exudes a vaguely “Saturday morning cartoon” feeling, never producing anything that comes to the excitement of Crisis’ better moments. Compounded with this is a general blandness and malaise of design; the locations, tertiary characters and situations are all painfully unoriginal. If you’ve seen other anime set in the future and produced in the early 1990s, you’ve probably seen something that looks a lot like Crash.

Recycled material runs rampant, a practice usually reserved for long-running TV programs. Numerous shots seem to be traced-over reproductions of scenes from Crisis, and plenty of design work was recycled as well. Characters sport some of the exact same clothing as they did in Crisis, which, given the original series’ propensity to change up the character designs leads me to believe it was a cost-cutting measure rather than an attempt to establish continuity.

If you stare at the right mage long enough, Priss begins to look like a character from one of Macross' ugly episodes

The mechanical designs, while mostly new, are uninspired and highly derivative of the designs from the original OAVs. Priss’ new hardsuit features a number of bizarre add-ons, like giant clawed hands and shoulder lasers, which seem inconsistent with the established mechanical design. This can be attributed to one of Crash’s mechanical designers, Junichi Akutsu, who also worked as a toy designer, explaining why these add-ons look a lot like action figure accessories.

Many of the changes within the story itself seem arbitrary and are rarely explained, as per my fanfiction comparison earlier. In the beginning of the first episode, expository dialog explains that Mackie moved to Germany to work on research, although it’s never explained why he did this, nor does it serve any function within the plot other than to show us how much things have changed since Crisis’ last episode. The AD Police’s inexplicably black police chief Todo has been replaced by a limp-dicked middle-management type, who only bothers to show up for one episode and complain about how difficult Leon makes his job. Todo did the same, but the effect of a vaguely progressive notion (a black police chief in Tokyo) tempered with typical Japanese animation racial stereotyping is missed.

The most glaring omission in Crash is the lack of the mega-corporation Genom, which has absolutely no presence. Within the context of Crisis’ story (the biggest corporation in the world that all but controls Mega Tokyo), and as a catalyst for the formation of the Knight Sabers, the disappearance of Genom is hard to explain.

Even though Genom is absent, Boomers are still a major part of the story. Oddly, the portrayal of Boomers in Crash bares more resemblance to their portrayal in AD Police Files than it does to Crisis, which doesn’t make much sense chronologically. Within the canon, it’s assumed that the uncanny valley-esque Boomers of the AD Police Files (circa 2027) gave way to nearly human models of Crisis (circa 2033), which are all but identical to humans. This works well given the influence of Blade Runner upon Crisis and the near human Replicants of that film, but Crash throws this logic out the window.

Instead, you have very robot-looking construction Boomers, and waitress Boomers that have built-in coffee makers. Crash’s second episode presents perhaps the most jarring incongruity among the portrayal of Boomers, with the inclusion of ADAMA, a “second generation” Boomer who impresses people with his ability to speak just like a human. This runs contradictory to other Boomers seen in Crisis and even other episodes of Crash itself, both of which are littered with Boomers that posses human-like speech abilities.

Gay stereotype character #2

Some of these discrepancies could possibly be attributed to the rights issues that caused Crisis’ cancellation; perhaps the producers of Crash weren’t allowed to reference the events of the original, or perhaps they just wanted to avoid potential legal entanglements. Licensing in the Japanese animation industry of the 1980s seems to have been a complicated affair.

Like the worst fanfiction, large parts of Crash seem to be either shamelessly ripped from Crisis and/or illogical and contradictory. The ending of the first episode is a near copy of the battle at the end of episode five of Crisis, “Moonlight Rambler,” with a powersuit housing a ridiculously powerful bomb that will destroy the city if the Knight Sabers don’t act fast enough.

The final episode of Crash features the return of Largo, the superboomer from episodes five and six, otherwise known as the Vampire Lesbians arc. His return is never properly explained, but the ending is so telegraphed that even the characters don’t seem surprised. Early in episode three, Priss remarks that after after the events that occurred in the first two episodes, it certainly feels like something big is about to happen soon. A final showdown in a fusion reactor in the middle of Tokyo Bay proves to be as uninteresting and poorly done as the first two episodes, made all the more ridiculous by the use of an giant drill (considering that Largo had control of orbital weapons, attempting to destroy the reactor from underground rather than blow it up from orbit seems counter-intuitive) and the fact that Largo wears the same outfit he first wore when he appeared in Crisis.

It’s a completely disappointing conclusion for fans who had hoped for a proper ending, but in the context of Crash, it’s just more of the same. One more stab at the awkward is taken in the final scene as Sylia boards a plane to Europe and Priss tells her “If the plane crashes, don’t expect us to come rescue you!” And then the credits roll. It’s said that Crash’s three episodes are a condensed version of what had been planned for the final five episodes of Crisis. That may be true, but considering Crisis’ own internal contradictions, perhaps Crash was just made up on the spot. If not, perhaps the last five episodes of Crisis just weren’t going to be that good, as suggested by the lackluster eighth episode.

Aside from its opening (check out the totally rad CG cityscape that looks right out of Beyond the Mind’s Eye), there’s not much I can praise about Crash. While it works as a sequel that doesn’t require the viewer to be familiar with the original work, it shoots itself in the foot by being wholly uninteresting. Old fans will take issue with the changes, and new viewers won’t be interested because it’s just not very good. Unsatisfactory endings are a recurring problem among anime productions, so perhaps Crash‘s value can be witnessed in its final lesson: sometimes it’s just better to have no ending at all.

7 Comments

  1. That just leaves Tokyo 2040 and Parasite dolls. Unless I am not aware of another spin off. Looking forward to a writeup of 2040 if you get around to it.

  2. It’s said that Crash’s three episodes are a condensed version of what had been planned for the final five episodes of Crisis.

    My fumbling with the Japanese Wikipedia article on Crisis and Google translate tells me that two of the Crash’s episodes were based on the unfinished ninth episode that was stopped in mid-production due to the falling out between the companies.

    And on the English Wikipedia article on Crash it says Youmex sued ARTMIC after the third episode, making Crash unfinished as much as Crisis. Maybe that’s why Genom was absent from the plot – they didn’t get to it.

  3. > Alemann
    That would certainly explain a few things. Not sure if I buy the idea that it was canceled after the third episode, though, as it ends pretty decisively.

  4. Um, unless I’ve lost my mind, Youmex was (is) a record label. Ishiguro’s Artland was the evolution of Studio Nue and, IIRC, morphed into Artmic.

    (or, perhaps better to say. Artland was the gun for hire design studio while Artmic developed concepts and shopped them around to be made)

    It should be obvious from the musical content of the original BGCrisis that the entire PURPOSE of the series was to pimp songs. That’s why it was made. Take away that reason that you get BGCrash. It also explains the change of Priss seiyuu. Her appearance was tied to a music contract and label.

    Man, I’m not even a bit a BGC fan and I know this crap. Kinda surprised none of this made it into the article.

  5. > Steve

    According to Japanese Wikipedia, Youmex was a anime production company that was a subsidiary of Toshiba Emi.

    I’m also not sure where you’re getting the direct relationships between Artland/Studio Nue/ARTMIC. They seem to have been separate companies, that happened to work together on a few projects. Nue, like ARTMIC, was a design studio, not an animation studio.

    Also, not sure how Artland morphed into ARTMIC, considering ARTMIC shut down in 1997 and Artland is still around. Nue’s last credited work was in 2004, for Gundam Seed Destiny.

    Man, I’m not even a computer expert and I still looked this crap up online. Kinda surprised none of this made it into your comment.

  6. Well, the Studio Nue/Artland connection is solid as key people moved back and forth, and Studio Nue evolved from Submarine blah blah.

    It’s about the people drifting from one circle to another, like Izubuchi and Ishiguro. The relationship chart on pages 118-119 of the This is Animation-SF.Robot.Action Anime book paints an interesting picture of how the animation studios and the production companies (Studio Nue, Top Craft, Artland, etc) interact. Regretfully it stops at early ’82 so it’s missing the insanity of the boom years.

  7. Yea, I really only like the first episode when i first got this off the net back in the Kazaa era of media sharing and thought “Oh wow, this looks awesome, I wanna see the rest”. Only to find out 5 years later… it was bad, laughably bad (the DVD was a gift from some girl I meet online, so I didnt pay jack for it SCORE!!!!)

    This OVA did have some songs I liked such as “Kiss me Boy” and the Opening theme and I think 1 or 2 others, but of course no comparison to the original OVA. BTW, is Colony Drop ever going to do a review on the BGC music as stated at the end of the review of the anime series? Ill still continue to dream of that day.

    > Groove-A
    I just got all 3 DVDs of the ADV collection from Goozex not to long ago. That is a series I do wanna rewatch again, despite how “bashing” by fans it may be. It was my first BGC series before I watched the original and I wouldnt mind revisiting it again.

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