Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040 (1998-1999)
Directed by Hiroki Hayashi

Artistic Value: * * *
Entertainment Value: * * * *

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In 2040 Tokyo has been rebuilt by robots called voomers after having been destroyed in an earthquake. These robots occasionally go mad and attack the city's citizens, but four young women, called the Knight Sabers, have taken it upon themselves to fight the rogue machines by donning robotic armored suits which give them tremendous strength, speed, and agility.

Hiroki Hayashi's twenty-six part animated series Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040, which is based on an earlier series titled Bubblegum Crisis, is not only consistently enjoyable, engaging, and exciting, but is actually a far better work than its predecessor. The central characters are all appealing; their world is surprisingly well developed, and the story told is complex and interesting.

Three of the four protagonists are nicely realized, intriguing individuals who grow throughout the program. Several episodes, for example, are given to exploring the past of Sylia, the leader of the Knight Sabers, and her relationship to the voomers, which were invented by her father. As is often the case both in anime and American live action programs, there is in Bubblegum Crisis a character, Nene, who provides comic relief. While such characters are frequently extremely annoying, Nene is not a hindrance to the enjoyment of the story. In the first few episodes, she is somewhat grating, but, as her character evolves, she becomes, perhaps, the most likeable and interesting in the series, as well as genuinely funny. Of the other two Knight Sabers, Priss is given a real vibrant life, although she is never as involving as are either Sylia or Nene, but Linna, while she is made the focus of the first several episodes, is soon pushed to the side and largely ignored thereafter.

The evolution of all these characters, including Linna, is assisted by the way in which the episodes of Bubblegum Crisis have been connected with a continuing narrative. Several of the middle episodes can stand alone, but most episodes need to be watched in the context of the whole series. In fact, the presence of such an overarching storyline not only gives the program's characters a real complexity and depth, it also allows Hayashi both to develop an intricate fictional world and to craft a story that, by itself, is able to hold the viewer's interest. Generally, the world portrayed in Bubblegum Crisis resembles that of the 1990s, but, as the director does not forget each episode once it has ended, this imaginary world's distinctive features are brought out and explained in greater detail than is commonly the case in films or television programs depicting some future time. Even the way in which the series' narrative is unfolded keeps the viewer constantly fascinated and engaged with its characters.

What is more, the animation is well done for a television program , although it is not of the same quality as film animation. While most of the backdrops used are forgettable, the character designs of the four protagonists are all attractive and appealing. There are a few episodes later in the series in which its visual quality does deteriorate noticeably, but the final two episodes are perhaps better animated than are any of the others.

Finally, I should add that the English dub of Bubblegum Crisis is passable, although, other than Hilary Haag, who portrays Nene, few of the voice actors excel, and several overact.

Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040 is by no means a masterpiece, but it is an entertaining, well made program.

Review by Keith Allen

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