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4/15/2011

Ggmlk's Anime Dream-Quest 3000

Anime -- not unlike the OSR -- is generally regarded as a caricature of its true self by folks who fail to see it with their preconceived notions turned off. The most common stereotype I encounter is something like 
All anime is mindless shit like Dragonball Z or Speed Racer or a bunch of cartoon chicks getting raped by tentacles.
This is akin to saying
The OSR is a big circle-jerk for fatbeards who are stuck in the past and waste all their time e-publishing their DIY dungeons.
Harsh right? Negative? Maybe a little true in some cases? But dismissive and incomplete. There's a lot more to anime and the OSR than my strawmen imply.

I'll be the first to admit that Japanese animation takes a bit of sifting to get to the good stuff. The median of narrative quality tends to fall somewhere near an 80s B-movie (which is not necessarily a bad thing). Also those particular anime series that get the most attention in the United States give a false impression of the breadth of content and narrative styles to be found among the stuff released in Japan.

American companies generally do not market licensed anime in precisely the same manner that it is marketed in its country of origin. The Japanese tend to categorize their work this way:
  • Kodomomuke -- material for children
  • Shōnen -- material for males ages 10 to 18
  • Shōjo -- material for females ages 10 to 18
  • Seinen -- material for males ages 18 to 30+
  • Josei -- material for females ages 15 to 44+
These categories are just as distinct (and occasionally indistinct) as the West's genderfied/age-appropriate classifications for literature, films, TV shows and games. Each demographic explores its own narratives, themes, character studies, dilemmas and obsessions. I only point all this out because it seems that in America anime is typically downgraded as something essentially childish and sub-intellectual. I can only explain this based on a limited cross-cultural exposure that has confined itself to anime programs and films that line up with what Americans expect animation to be. In other words, most of the more compelling things that anime has to offer remain pretty esoteric to the average American.

The last few weeks or so I've been digging around for new-to-me anime. I don't feel that I have enough knowledge of the stuff to be dubbed an otaku (manga/anime fanatic and researcher), but I'm definitely getting there. Maybe. I definitely have the corn chip stains.

Lately I'm kinda obsessed with

 
Bubblegum Crisis 2032-2033
1987 to 1991
6 Episodes
Directed by Katsuhito Akiyama (Bastard!!, ThunderCats)

Bubblegum Crisis is about a team of cybernetic heroines in a Dystopian, Blade Runner-esque future who battle against an evil corporation called Genom. Genom creates robots called boomers for the military and commercial sectors. There's definitely a superhero vibe here -- the audience not only gets to see the Knight Sabers (our four lady cybernetic vigilantes) in action, but gets a look into their private lives as well. Think Iron Man, with Tony Stark traded out for a quartet of less drunky, more spunky women who inhabit a pessimistic urbanized futurescape. While there are bits of fan service -- in the form of bared breasts and women walking around in panties -- they show up rarely. Certainly nothing as lurid as you might find in a typical issue of Heavy Metal.

Concept art for Mega Tokyo
 
Folks who have a sentimental attachment to cheesy mid- to late-'80s pop tunes will be pleasantly surprised by the film's original score. The English-language dub is quite good and went so far as to include Americanized, English versions of the songs. There's an awkward-but-catchy charm about every bit of it that really works for me.

I dig the Doc Ock-like fingers.
Priss Cheescake

Naturally there is a lot of action to be had, what with all the monstrous robots running amok at Genom's bidding. These scenes are rendered with an eye for cybernetic brutality the likes of which had rarely been seen before. And there's a fair amount of cheesecake involved. For example, the Sabers have to get nekkid before they don their cybernetic suits. Moreso than girl-oggling, there's the techno-oggling. Viewers are subjected to a steady stream of technological objects and environments. There's even one of those voice-operated "Enhance" machines for increasing image resolution you might have noticed in Blade Runner.

All of which might scream that this show is for manchildren. But there's even something for the ladies (womanchildren) as well. The protagonists of the story (Priss, Linna, Nene and their leader/scientific genius Sylia Stingray) are fierce, loyal, complex and unique. The interactions between them resemble the family antics of the Fantastic Four and cement the whole American comic-booky appeal of their adventures.

Original Trailer

WARNING: Contains ultraviolence and a fleeting boob-shot.




Crisis is an OVA (Original Video Adaptation of the manga comic book) that originally appeared on Japanese TV in 1987. The show was aborted after six episodes due to financing issues and as a result it lacks an ending. The studio (AIC) returned to the characters and setting in '91 with Bubblegum Crash. Unfortunately the follow-up lacks the quality of Crisis, both in terms of animation and narrative.

There's also a more recent sequel/re-imagining of these series called Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040. I'm not a fan.

Oh, there's also an RPG based on BGC published by R. Talsorian. I know absolutely nothing about it yet.

10 comments:

  1. Ah, man. Bubblegun Crisis was the first anime real deal anime I saw in college. It blew me away.

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  2. I'm not that much into "anime", but when I was a kid I used to be totally awesomed by Dragonball!! When I grew up, I liked reading Bastards and Berserk, then I moved foreword to Batman, Sandman and, finally, Preacher, which is obviously my all time favorite right now :D

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  3. GZG has some Bubblegum Crisis figures if you are into miniatures... and if you are not, then why not?

    I blew through this series one weekend at a freinds house in LA, and it was pretty great, although not well served by the poor quality of the tapes and tiny tv.

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  4. @Lasgunpacker: Thnx for the GZG tip -- I'll check em out. I recently "acquired" some really nice vid files with dual audio. Definitely worth tracking down.

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  5. I'll give this a look, most of the Japanese stuff I've seen leaves me cold. However, Akira and Nausicä (the graphic novels) are some of my all time favorite things, especially Akira (which I'm rereading right now, actually). I like the movies that their respective creators have made with as well. The Anime Metropolis is a completely overlooked gem, imo.

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  6. @Aos: Sounds like we have similar tastes in this area. BGC doesn't take itself quite as seriously as Akira, but it's no less enjoyable. I'll post about some more of my picks soon.

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  7. Oh man, I have a BGC collection. Tapes, laserdiscs, CDs (music), some artbooks from the OAV's. I also have the RPG using the Fuzion system. I was really into it for a long time, now they just collect dust.

    I have a sizeable anime collection in general. But I have drifted from anime as it gets a little pricey after a while and I'm not as jonesing for it like I used to.

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  9. Bubble Gum Crisis & Akira were pretty much my go to stuff when Anime wasn't well known back in the late 80s. Robotech was shown in the back of a comic shop I used to frequent on "Anime night" on VHS tapes that they used to sell. I miss those times. Cyberpunk 2020 had some really bad rip offs of in some of the early splat books. Personally Record Of The Lodoss War still is my AD&D movie choose. I mean the OAV series.

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  10. Yep I remember when I first saw Bubblegum crisis at a con. It was brilliant and wonderful even if they had high heels on their battle suits. Thanks for a fun trip down memory lane.

    Lazarus Lupin
    http://strangespanner.blogspot.com/
    art and review

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