Bubblegum Crash: Total Crash Collection Review
Bubblegum Crash was the original 3-part sequel to the substantially longer Bubblegum Crisis, and consists of the episodes 'Illegal Army', 'Geo Climbers', and 'Meltdown'. When it first came out, it had a somewhat lukewarm reception at the hands of Crisis' more vocal fanbase. There were a number of reasons for this, including the fact that a new voice actor was brought in to play Priss (a singing role, by the way). The fact is, Crash doesn't break any new ground for those who have seen Crisis, and perhaps this is the real reason why it didn't do as well as its predecessor.
On the other hand – as the saying goes – if you liked Crisis, there's little reason to think you won't like Crash; after all, it employs the same plot formulas and story elements that made the first series popular. More importantly, it brings back all of your favourite characters: Sylia, Nene, Linna, and Priss (not to mention our dynamic duo over at the AD Police).
Here's a quick background summary for those who haven't been exposed to the whole Bubblegum universe before. All the action takes place in sci-fi animé's fave haunt, Tokyo (or, more specifically, 'Mega-Tokyo'). Rapid technological advances have resulted in a large and growing class of artificially-intelligent robots called 'boomers', which the populace uses in hazardous environments or to perform menial tasks. Conveniently for the plot, boomer tech is still advancing and there are many kinks that need to be worked out. Not to mention that the more technically-literate members of the criminal underclass seem very keen to use them for nefarious purposes.
Who stands in the way of boomers gone berserk and evildoers everywhere? Well, ostensibly it's the AD Police, a special division dedicated to boomer-related crimes. In actuality, though, they're underfunded, unappreciated, and generally need to have their chestnuts pulled out of the fire at every available opportunity. Fortunately for them (and for Mega-Tokyo, in retrospect), there exists a secret group of four women with the technology and expertise necessary to deal with the worst boomer badness: the Knight Sabres.
Well, that's all you need to know to get into the world of Bubblegum Crisis, but things have changed a little by the time Crash rolls around. It's been a while since the lasses have worked together as a team, and each seems to be drifting off in her own direction. Priss is trying out a new style of music (see the note about the voice actor, above) and is about to make her pro debut. Linna has taken up a new job in the securities industry and thinks she's going to make a killing on the stock market. The only one who seems keen to keep the Knight Sabres from splitting up is the lovable geek Nene, who still works at the AD Police. The real problem is that their leader (not to mention the woman who provides the cash and technology for the entire team), Sylia, has vanished without explanation.
This sets the stage for the three-part Bubblegum Crash series, which features more robotic mayhem, amazing battles, and dubious criminal masterminds in the vein of the original series. Also fun to spot are the many pop homages that pepper the show (e.g., the ones to Rambo and Max Headroom in the first episode).
1: "Illegal Army"
Abruptly something called the 'Illegal Army' bursts on the scene. Employing military combat powersuits superior even to those the AD Police have (but aren't allowed to use, thanks to a weak-willed Police Commissioner), the IA starts to raid various banks across Mega-Tokyo. But are they really just after the money, or is this just a cover for thefts of a much more disturbing nature?
Naturally, Sylia resurfaces and reassembles the Knight Sabres, informing them that they've been hired by a potential target of the Illegal Army, and that she's spent the intervening period upgrading their powersuits. So the lasses head back into battle with nary a blip.
2: "Geo Climbers"
No. Don't ask me why this episode is called 'Geo Climbers'. No one knows. Just try to put it out of your mind. Setting aside the inexplicable title, this is probably the most interesting instalment of the three, featuring a second-generation boomer AI called Adama who in fact gets more character development than all four of our heroines put together. Although there are definite echoes of Akira here, we learn a bit more about Sylia's background and her father's groundbreaking work in cybernetics.
In this, the final episode, the Knight Sabres finally come face-to-face with the shady character behind all of the recent troubles in Mega-Tokyo… and quelle surprise, it's a recycled villain from their previous adventures! When everything goes balls up, he targets the nuclear fusion reactor, and if they don't stop him, all that'll be left of Mega-Tokyo is speed and flame.
The video transfer is generally solid, but not without the occasional minor glitch or pixelation. I suppose the one complaint that could be made is that some of the video looks a bit on the soft side, and – for a show in which most of the action happens at night – the blacks aren't really black. However, if you can forgive this (and it's not that difficult), there's nothing really damning about the overall video quality. The colours are vibrant and the subtitles are extremely clear (which is fairly standard for AnimEigo, which prides itself on bright, readable subs).
OK, the sound is stereo, although most of the time you're not going to be able to detect any real directionality from your front soundstage. And although the audio quality is mostly excellent, there are inexplicable failings here and there on the disc – mostly isolated points where the volume changes for no apparent reason (e.g., halfway through the intro theme music).
Setting these minor niggles aside, I must say the actual dialogue (both in Japanese and in English) comes across sharp, with no drop-outs. Moreover, kudos to AnimEigo for their superb English dub track; the voice acting is excellent (with the possible exception of Nene, who comes across as just a little bit overenthusiastic). If you've read other of my animé reviews, you'll know that I much prefer the original Japanese language track to your average English dub… but this is one disc where I enjoyed the English track just as much.
Part of this is surely thanks to the wonderful translation undertaken for this disc. The English dialogue flows naturally and simply sounds right, not clunky. Surely it helped that AnimEigo didn't flinch away from translating minor obscenities, etc. (Some gems include, 'I'm not putting up with this shit!', 'Knight Sabres, let's kick ass!', and Priss's absolutely perfect muttering of 'Hot shit!' in response to learning that she's going to get a contract for her pro debut.) The fact is, if you listen to the Japanese track, you'll discover that this is precisely how the characters are supposed to sound… so good work, guys.
The main menu for the DVD is fairly basic, which is a bit of a disappointment after the punchy, bass-heavy build-up animation that leads into it. (In fact, while we're on the subject, a few words about forced intro animations before a disc's main menu: 'Don't drag them out.' AnimEigo has demonstrated that it's capable of using intro animations to good effect on its DVD menus – e.g., Macross TV Vol. 1 – but the one preceding the Bubblegum Crash main menu seems to drag on forever. In the course of creating this review I began to find myself desperately punching the 'next', 'forward', 'chapter skip', and 'menu' buttons on my DVD player's remote in an effort to skip past it to the main menu… and all to no avail!)
The menu navigation could be a bit better. Although it features a quick-looping animation in the centre of the screen, the menu options are all distributed around the edge in a kind of 'frame' layout. Fortunately, even though you have to 'walk' your way around the edge of the screen to the option you're interested in, each loads quickly so the annoyance factor is reduced.
The extras themselves are minimal, consisting of two sets of still pages, one for screenshots and one for production sketches. There are at least two dozen images in each category, so that's pretty satisfying. (Even if, due to framing, the picture size means that you won't be able to read any of the notes scrawled on the production sketches unless you have a wall-sized TV.)
There are also a goodly number (six, to be precise) of audio track options for watching the actual episodes. As mentioned before, you can have the dialogue in English or Japanese, and sans subs, with subs, or with captions only. Professional. I wish more animé distributors took care to provide these options.
The DVD comes in your standard black Amaray case, but the cover art is a bit garish and busy. Despite this, the spine and back cover are nicely laid-out, so this redeems the entire package. However, probably the nicest aspect of the packaging is the inclusion of the liner notes AnimEigo is fond of bundling with each of their releases. This time, the liner notes provide full lyrics (in English and romaji) for all six songs from the three-part series.
This series is neither particularly strong nor particularly weak. I know that purists have a problem with how derivative it is (and yes, I know they would say, 'The word you are looking for is "inferior"'), but it's not all that bad. The action is still good, the camaraderie is still buoyant, and there are even more comic elements than in Bubblegum Crisis. The video and audio are unexceptional, but neither are they substandard. The songs, though certainly different from the feel of those in the original show, are pleasant and nicely executed.
If anything, the downfall of Bubblegum Crash is two-fold: first, the stories all seem to be retreads of ones that have been done before; and second, each of the three episodes – although supposedly part of a major plot arc – feels like an isolated and unrelated adventure. But if you miss Sylia, Nene, Linna, and Priss, here's your chance to get another fix.