Anime Spotlight: Bubblegum Crash

Bubblegum Crash is a three episode OVA sequel series to Bubblegum Crisis that was produced by Artmic. The episodes were directed by Hiroshi Ishiodori and Hiroyuki Fukushima. The episodes were released between May 25 and December 21, 1991. As of this writing, AnimEigo holds the North American distribution license for Bubblegum Crash.

It’s now 2034, and the Knight Sabers haven’t been seen for a while. It appears that everyone, except for Nene, have drifted off to pursue their own goals and dreams. Priss is poised to make her debut as a professional singer, while Linna becomes active in the financial markets. Sylia and Mackie seem to have disappeared. Nene still works for the A.D. Police, and is the only one who seems to want the Knight Sabers to continue.

As the story opens, pieces of a unique artificial intelligence are stolen by several villains who act on orders from a mysterious voice. With the Knight Sabers gone, the A.D. Police are having problems apprehending the villains. But things change when Sylia resurfaces unexpectedly and brings the Knight Sabers back together in order to stop the thefts.

It was evident right away that a timeskip had occurred between the end of Bubblegum Crisis and Bubblegum Crash. Admittedly, this took a little getting used to during the first episode of Bubblegum Crash. But I think the idea of the Knight Sabers drifting apart before the start of this series made sense when bringing the property back, since this added new tensions and a new dimension to it. Obviously, I knew the four of them would have to get back together somehow in order to continue the story, but I wanted to know how exactly this happened.

It was a little disappointing to see that Mackie’s role was so diminished in Bubblegum Crash. All I could figure is that the directors and writers wanted to make the girls seem like they had more “girl power” by handling things on their own without any real assistance from Mackie.

In the end, Bubblegum Crash isn’t a bad OVA series, but I didn’t think it was quite as strong as Bubblegum Crisis. I can’t really place my finger on it, but something seemed to be missing in Bubblegum Crash, and that it was something that made Bubblegum Crisis work as well as it did. However, I will say that I think Bubblegum Crash is a stronger addition to the Bubblegum Crisis universe than A.D. Police Files.

Since Bubblegum Crash is a sequel series, I can only truly recommend it to viewers who have already seen or have familiarity with Bubblegum Crisis. If you do decide to watch this series, I will say that I thought that the first two episodes of Bubblegum Crash are more memorable than the third one is.

Anime Spotlight: Bubblegum Crisis

Bubblegum Crisis is an eight episode OVA series that was produced by Youmex and animated by AIC and Artmic. Katsuhito Akiyama directed the first four episodes, Masami Obari directed episodes five and six, and Hiroaki Goda directed episodes seven and eight. The eight episodes of Bubblegum Crisis were released between February 25, 1987 and January 30, 1991. As of this writing, AnimEigo holds the North American distribution license for Bubblegum Crisis.

Bubblegum Crisis is a cyberpunk-style anime that is set in 2032, in a post disaster Tokyo that has been renamed “Megatokyo.” A corporation called Genom holds immense power in Megatokyo, and their main product is Boomers, artificial beings used for manual labor. However, the Boomers end up being used by villains to be deadly instruments of destruction, and the A.D. Police have the task of dealing with Boomer-related crimes. There are also the Knight Sabers, a group of women who fight the Boomers for money for those who are willing to pay. These four women are a fighting team with incredible abilities, and they also have powered armor suits.

Sylia Stingray is the ringleader of the Knight Sabers, and she is the daughter of Dr. Katsuhito Stingray, the man responsible for creating the Boomers. Her father was murdered by a Genom executive, and the death was covered as an accident. But before he died, Dr. Stingray managed to send Sylia a data unit that provided the technological means to create the Knight Sabers’ suits. Sylia is a scientist in her own right and is also a wealthy businesswoman. Sylia’s younger brother, Mackie, serves as the Knight Sabers’ youthful mascot and mechanic. He’s a whiz kid with computers and technology and is the sole caretaker of the hardsuits. Mackie also drives a truck that delivers the Knight Sabers and their bikes to any situation they need to attend to.

Priss Asagiri, a member of the Knight Sabers, is also a rock ‘n’ roll singer. She is a motorcyclist who has a bad temper and hates virtually all authority figures (especially the A.D. Police). Priss also finds herself in a love/hate relationship with an A.D. Policeman named Leon McNichol. Leon has a tendency to rush into things without thinking and is a skilled armor pilot.

Nene Romanova, another member of the Knight Sabers, is a technical conductor and hacker. She is also an employee of the A.D. Police, where she functions as the Knight Sabers’ mole. Outside of her skills as a hacker, Nene is often portrayed as bubbly, naïve, and blissfully inept with real world logic. Linna Yamazaki is the final member of the Knight Sabers, and she is often presented as shallow, greedy, and superficial.

Brian J. Mason, who is also known as Largo, is the main villain of the first three episodes of the original OVA series. After this, there are several other antagonists for the Knight Sabers to deal with.

From the first shots of animation that I saw from the first episode of Bubblegum Crisis, I could tell right away that it came from the 1980’s. But while the animation may look a little dated, that doesn’t detract from the overall production or the storytelling. I was surprised to see that they could get away with using Priss and the Replicants, since both Priss and Replicants come directly from the film, Blade Runner. Perhaps they avoided copyright issues since the production was being made in Japan and was originally intended for Japanese audiences.

I really enjoyed the feeling of “girl power” that’s prevalent in Bubblegum Crisis, and I appreciated that the series was realistic enough to show that these women have weaknesses. Characters like Sylia, Priss, and Linna receive some fantastic character development in the series, and Leon and Nene add some comic relief that helps to keep the stories from becoming too dark. Bubblegum Crisis has the right mixture of drama and comedy to keep viewers wanting to come back for more.

Bubblegum Crisis can be violent, but it has nowhere near the amount of violence that A.D. Police Files has. There are also occasional shots of female nudity when the Knight Sabers change into their hardsuits. But these things didn’t really bother me, though.

The biggest disappointment for me is the fact that Bubblegum Crisis doesn’t truly end. While there are individual stories that run throughout the eight episodes, you can still tell that there’s a bigger overarching story that should lead up to a climax. But since there’s no ending, that overarching story just seems to come to a screeching halt.

Bubblegum Crisis is a classic 1980’s anime that should be seen by viewers who want to have a wide breadth of knowledge of what this art form has been like over the years or by those who want to have exposure to landmark anime from the 1980’s. I think the series can also be appreciated by viewers who enjoy science fiction stories or by viewers who want to see anime featuring strong female protagonists.

Anime Spotlight: A.D. Police Files

A.D. Police Files is a three-part OVA that is seen as a prequel to Bubblegum Crisis. The three episodes were produced by Youmex and animated by Artmic and AIC. Takamasa Ikegami directed the first episode, Hidehito Ueda directed the second episode, and Akira Nishimori directed the third episode. The three episodes of A.D. Police Files were released in 1990. As of this writing, AnimEigo holds the North American distribution license for A.D. Police Files.

A.D. Police Files focuses on police inspector Leon McNichol’s early days in the A.D. Police, back when he was just an officer. A female officer named Jeena is also an integral part of all three episodes.

The first episode establishes the Boomers, which are robots manufactured by the Genom Corporation that take care of most of the manual labor in the city. They have started to malfunction and commit crimes and create violence. After one of Jeena’s co-workers is killed by a Boomer, it’s theorized the officer was part of an insurance scam. Jeena, along with Leon, work to prove the fallen officer’s innocence.

In the second episode, the A.D. Police must work at solving a string of murders in an area called Paradise Loop after its suspected that a Boomer is behind them. It turns out that when a normal police officer goes to an organ bank to replace her eye with a cybernetic one, she discovers the truth about who’s behind all the murders.

The final episode focuses on Billy Fanword, the captain of the A.D. Police Special Mobile Squad. He sustained massive injuries from a rogue Boomer and nearly died. His brain and tongue are his only viable organs, and they are transplanted into an experimental cyborg body. During the episode, Billy starts losing touch with his humanity. Jeena plays an important role in the story, because she is Billy’s ex-lover.

The writers and directors for this OVA series seemed to go into this production with the idea that viewers would have already seen Bubblegum Crisis. No time is spent on explaining the Boomers or what they are, and the first episode just jumps immediately into the action. Fortunately, I had already seen the Bubblegum Crisis remake series, Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040, so I already had that knowledge. A viewer going into this OVA without any prior knowledge of Bubblegum Crisis will be confused about what’s going on.

After watching all three episodes, it felt as if these stories weren’t as fleshed out as they could have been. It seemed like the production team went into this deciding they couldn’t go any longer than 28 minutes for any of the episodes. Since the stories weren’t as fleshed out as they could have been, it made it harder for me to remain interested in what I was seeing or really caring about what was happening.

The animation for the first OVA episode utilized the “hyper-realistic” feel that anime seemed to be going for in the late 1980s into the early 1990s. It reminded me a lot of the look and feel of the animation in Akira and the third part of Megazone 23. However, the remaining two episodes of A.D. Police Files relies on a more traditional look and feel for its animation. While this does create a noticeable shift in the feel of the episodes, I was able to adjust to the different style by the time I made it through the second episode.

If you’re a fan of the Bubblegum Crisis franchise and want to see everything that’s associated with it, then you’ll want to find a way to watch A.D. Police Files. Also, I would recommend that any viewers who are potentially interested in watching this OVA should make sure to watch the Bubblegum Crisis OVA episodes before diving in.

However, it should be noted that A.D. Police Files is violent and gritty, and that the DVD box shows that the content is rated “18+.”

Anime Film Review: When Marnie Was There

When Marnie Was There is a film released by Studio Ghibli and directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi. The story is based the Joan G. Robinson novel of the same name.

When Marnie Was There
Directed by: Hiromasa Yonebayashi/em>
Written by: Masashi Andō, Keiko Niwa, and Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Starring: Sara Takatsuki and Kasumi Arimura
Run Time: 103 minutes
Rated: PG

The film focuses on Anna, an introverted 12-year-old girl who suffers from asthma attacks. Anna doesn’t discuss her feelings with her foster parents, which causes her foster mother to wonder what’s wrong. But after Anna collapses from an asthma attack at school, she is sent to spend the summer with a couple of her foster mother’s relatives out in a rural, seaside town because the air is clearer there.

When Anna arrives and starts exploring her new location, she sees an abandoned and dilapidated mansion across a salt marsh. She wades across the marsh to examine it, and wonders why it feels so familiar. She learns that the mansion used to be a vacation home for a foreigner family but that it has been empty for a long time. Anna begins having dreams of a blond girl in the mansion.

One day, Anna encounters a mysterious blond girl around her age named Marnie. For some reason, Anna finds that she’s easily able to befriend and care about Marnie, when she’s never been able to do that with anyone else before. But as the film progresses, hints are dropped that perhaps Anna’s interactions with Marnie are actually a dream. But the way the film is done, it can be hard to tell where reality ends and where dreams begin. There’s also a major reveal right near the end of the film, but I had pretty much already figured it out before all the pieces for the reveal were presented. But the film had built itself up so well that I still had an emotional reaction when the final pieces were put together for the movie’s big revelation.

The story in When Marnie Was There was very well-told, and the character development for both Anna and Marnie was executed in a realistic way. The character of Anna is very relatable to the audience, and the film’s theme of friendship also resonates with viewers.

It’s interesting to note that When Marnie Was There has the feel of a typical Studio Ghibli film, yet it does something that I don’t think any other has. This movie has strong female lead characters, yet none of the male characters are terribly crucial for progressing the overall story. The only male characters present in the film are all older than Anna, with two of them being old men. It was great to see a film where the female characters shine and are the ones who progress the story forward.

While the animation is what I’ve come to expect from Studio Ghibli, it still looked lush and was great to look at. The visuals for When Marnie Was There were just as compelling as the actual story, and the combination of these elements makes this a standout film from the studio.

When it comes to the DVD release itself, it includes three bonus features. The first is a nearly 13 minute featurette titled, “Behind the Scenes with the Voice Cast.” This feature focuses on the members of the English dub cast, whose interviews are intercut with footage from the film. It’s pretty standard for the “behind the scenes” featurettes that have been included on U.S. home video releases for Studio Ghibli films.

Next is “Foreign Trailers and TV Spots,” which runs for six minutes and 22 seconds. There are seven spots in all, and they have Japanese audio with English subtitles. The final extra is the U.S. trailer, which is one minute and 40 seconds in length.

When all is said and done, When Marnie Was There is a great film that fans of Studio Ghibli should be able to appreciate and enjoy. If it turns out that this ends up being the final theatrical film to come out from Studio Ghibli, at least they were able to go out on a high note with When Marnie Was There.

Anime Blu-ray Review: Eden of the East The Complete Collection (Anime Classics)

Eden of the East The Complete Collection (Anime Classics) is a two-disc Blu-ray set that includes eight episodes on the first disc and three episodes and the set’s bonus features on the second set. The set includes both the original Japanese audio with English subtitles and the English dub.

Eden of the East The Complete Series (Anime Classics)
English Publisher: FUNimation Entertainment
Format: Blu-ray
Release Date: April 30, 2013

Three months before the beginning of Eden of the East, ten missiles strike Japan, but there are no casualties. This act becomes known as “Careless Monday” and is eventually forgotten by the people.

In the first episode, a college senior named Saki Morimi visits Washington D.C. as part of her graduation trip. When Saki inadvertently gets in trouble while at the White House, a mysterious naked young man holding nothing but a gun and a cell phone suddenly appears and saves her. The young man has lost his memory, but finds his way back to his apartment and discovers several fake passports. He chooses the one with the name “Akira Takizawa” on it, and he returns to Japan after encountering Saki again. Upon their return, they learn that a new missile has hit Japan.

Akira’s mystery deepens when he discovers that his phone has 8.2 billion yen in digital money, and that he can contact a concierge named Juiz who can fulfill any order he has for a price. He figures out that he’s involved in some kind of game, where twelve individuals known as Selecao are given ten billion yen to “save” Japan in some way. Saki, along with her friends, find herself themselves more and more entangled with Akira, and the truths that Akira starts to uncover just how deadly this game really is.

The first thing I noticed as I started watching Eden of the East was the animation. The quality of the animation is incredible, and it grabs the viewer’s interest immediately. I also liked how the censoring was done on Akira when he has the full frontal nudity at the start of the series, because the technique that was used fits in with the feel of the series. While the story has serious elements to it, it’s told in such a way that it’s more on the comedic side.

The storytelling in Eden of the East is also very compelling early on, and it manages to keep the viewer interested in what’s going on throughout all 11 episodes of the series. I especially appreciated how, as the story unfolded, the facts that came out would constantly alternate between making Akira look like a villain and making him look like a hero. As a viewer, I was always rooting for Akira, but there were times when the evidence would make it look like my faith in him had been misplaced. I thought it was great how the series strung viewers along about Akira until right near the end. There was also strong execution for the buildup of the mystery surrounding Akira’s past.

Eden of the East should appeal to viewers who enjoy anime with mystery and psychological elements to it. The execution of the mystery element keeps the viewer interested and wanting to learn more in order to try to figure everything out before the final revelations. The psychological aspects of the show help to accentuate the mystery and develop the series’ characters.

The Blu-ray video for this set has 1080p High Definition 4×3 HD Native, and the audio includes Dolby TrueHD 5.1 for both the English and the Japanese audio. I thought the video on this Blu-ray release looked good, and I have no complaints with the audio quality.

When it comes to the actual Blu-ray set, there were a total of nine bonus features included. The first five are all interviews with staff and cast members of Eden of the East. The main exception was the interview where Mamoru Oshii joined director Kenji Kamiyama for an interview. Kamiyama also appeared in an interview with Chika Umino, the character designer for the series. There were also interviews with the voice actors for Akira and Saki, the art director, and the music composer. All of these interviews have Japanese audio with English subtitles, and ran anywhere from 11 to 22 minutes in length. I appreciated seeing all of these interviews, and getting a glimpse into the process that went into creating the Eden of the East anime.

The set also includes a 30-second TV spot and a nearly two-minute long promotion video, and both of these items have Japanese audio with English subtitles. The final bonus feature includes trailers for releases that FUNimation Entertainment was promoting at the time this set was released.

Eden of the East The Complete Collection (Anime Classics) will appeal to viewers who have already seen the series and want to own it in their anime home video library. If you have the capability to watch Blu-ray Discs, I would recommend going with the Blu-ray version.

Anime Blu-ray Review: Evangelion 3.33 You Can (Not) Redo

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Evangelion 3.33 You Can (Not) Redo is the third of four films for the Rebuild of Evangelion, which retells the story of the Neon Genesis Evangelion anime series.

Evangelion 3.33 You Can (Not) Redo
Directed by: Hideaki Anno, Mahiro Maeda, and Kazuya Tsurumaki
Written by: Hideaki Anno
Starring: Megumi Ogata, Megumi Hayashibara, Yuko Miyamura, Maaya Sakamoto, Akira Ishida
Run Time: 93 minutes (theatrical version), 96 minutes (uncut edition)
Rated: TV-14

For viewers who have already seen the original television series, it’s readily apparent right at the beginning of this film that the story has progressed past the ending of the original series. But any viewers, whether they’re fans of the television series or are experiencing Evangelion for the first time through the films, will find themselves feeling very confused for almost the first 20 minutes of the movie. It’s not until after Shinji Ikari is retrieved from Evangelion Unit 01 and is brought to see Misato Katsuragi that the audience starts receiving the exposition that’s needed to understand what’s happening. It’s revealed that 14 years have elapsed since the end of the second film, Evangelion 2.22 You Can (Not) Advance, and that Shinji has been sealed away for all of that time. Perhaps Anno purposefully opened the film in a way to leave the audience as confused as Shinji until he learns what’s happened. By telling the story this way, I think it helps the viewer to better empathize with Shinji.

The character of Kaworu is introduced in this film, and he ends up having a bigger role here than he did in the original television series. The film was better able to develop the relationship between Kaworu and Shinji than the original television series did, so it’s much easier to believe that Shinji would be affected by something that happens to Kaworu during the movie. I really liked the scenes of Kaworu and Shinji playing the piano together as they bond to become a team, even with some of trippy animation of the piano. But this different animation style helps to make the scene memorable.

But poor Shinji goes through a lot over the course of Evangelion 3.33 You Can (Not) Redo. He’d already been dealing with self-esteem issues and depression prior to this film, but between missing out on 14 years, having a couple of bombshells dropped on him that make him realize that he didn’t actually know what he thought he knew, and a major event happening right near the end of the movie, Shinji becomes completely broken. As a viewer, I was left with very serious concerns for him at the end of the movie, and how his mindset will end up setting the stage for the next film.

This film also has a much darker feel than the previous two films. On the surface, this was an obvious choice because the world has become even more of a dystopia due to the Third Impact event that took place at the end of the previous film. However, I also believe the darker feel also emphasizes Shinji’s mental state as everything he thought he knew falls apart all around him.

Fans of the Neon Genesis Evangelion anime series might have problems accepting how the story progresses during this film. While I’ve seen the original series, I’ve been trying to keep an open mind while watching these “rebuild” films. With the changes that were made to the story during the first two films, the progression of the story in the third film makes a lot of sense. Although, I have to say that seeing what happened to Misato and Ritsuko and the other characters that we knew from NERV 14 years later and discovering they have a much different role now, took a lot of getting used to as I watched this film. But I was glad to see Mari, the new character introduced to the Evangelion franchise in the second “rebuild” film, have more of a role in this movie. After seeing this film, I can see why Mari was added. With Shinji sealed away for 14 years, they needed to have another Eva pilot around for the story to work.

When it comes to the bonus features on the Blu-ray release of Evangelion 3.33 You Can (Not) Redo, there were a lot of trailers, teasers, and TV spots included. But in this case, quantity didn’t necessarily mean quantity. Many of the promotional spots seemed to be rather similar to each other, to the point that I had to watch carefully to find any noticeable differences. The “Rebuild of EVANGELION 3.33” feature included 11 minutes of various scenes, showing how they progressed from the storyboard to the final version that appeared in the film. FUNimation also made sure to include previews for other anime releases they were promoting at the time the Blu-ray pressing of this film was released.

I would recommend Evangelion 3.33 You Can (Not) Redo to viewers who have watched the previous two “rebuild” films and enjoyed them. For the “rebuild” films as a whole, I would recommend them to fans of Neon Genesis Evangelion who won’t mind the changes that have been made to the story, as well as to newcomers to the franchise. However, newcomers should be aware that while you don’t necessarily have to see the original television series to enjoy the films, they could be a little lost early on until information begins to be revealed during the second and third films.

Anime DVD Review: Naruto Shippuden Set 24

Naruto Shippuden Set 24 includes episodes 297-309 of the series on two DVDs. Audio options available for the set are the original Japanese audio with English subtitles and the English dub.

Naruto Shippuden Set 24
English Publisher: VIZ Media
Format: DVD
Release Date: November 10, 2015

Set 24 continues the story of the Fourth Great Ninja War, and immediately opens with the battle between Gaara and the reanimated version of his father. The first episode in the set goes into a little more backstory for Gaara, and the viewer finally learns the truth about certain things that had been said in Gaara’s flashbacks from the first Naruto anime. I really enjoyed this particular episode, and to me, it was the best one to appear in this set.

Naruto also has a fateful encounter with a reanimated Itachi Uchiha. Important revelations and events happen during the two episodes that feature this part of the story, and this helped to make this my second favorite thing to see while watching the episodes included in this set.

The next six episodes continue to progress the story of the Fourth Great Ninja War. This includes the reanimation of the Sound Ninja Four, who are out for revenge against the Leaf Shinobi who defeated them during the original Naruto anime. The rematch is interesting, and the stakes are even higher than they were originally. I thought this was a great nod to the series’ past, and the pacing for this battle was perfect.

There are also two episodes that see a reanimated Hayate Gekko having to attack his Leaf Village comrades and encountering his lover, Yugao. These episodes provided some great backstory for Yugao, and also allowed the viewer to see what had happened behind the scenes in the original series that ultimately led up to Hayate’s death. These two episodes would be my third favorite thing to see while watching this set.

There’s an episode that shows Neji and Hinata in the middle of a battle, and Hinata reminisces about something that would have taken place during the first Naruto series. While this was a nice story, it was obviously filler material. And to be honest, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for Hinata to be remembering this event in the middle of a battle because you’d think she’d want to focus on the fighting that’s going on around her instead.

The final episode in the set is very obvious filler material. Naruto appears on the battlefield and recognizes a reanimated samurai, which leads into a flashback of how Naruto met this man. Unfortunately, this story doesn’t finish in this episode, so Set 25 will be continuing with this flashback. But not only is this obvious filler, this story also ignores things that have been established in canon material that was seen earlier on in Naruto Shippuden. By far, this episode was my least favorite on this set, and I’m not looking forward to continuing this particular story when I’m able to watch Set 25.

Naruto Shippuden Set 24 isn’t a bad release when it comes to the episodes, but there are a couple of things that weaken it a little. If the Neji and Hinata flashback and the final episode on the set hadn’t been included, I would have said that this was a very strong release. But the emotional aspects for the Gaara and Yugao storylines do help to make up for those weaknesses to some extent.

When it comes to the DVD set itself, there are five bonus features. First are the storyboards for a section of Episode 297, “A Father’s Hope, A Mother’s Love” (but on the disc, the storyboards are mislabeled as being from Episode 277). Next is the art gallery, which includes six pages of line art of the new characters that were introduced in this set. Next, there are “clean” versions of both of the openings and both of the endings that appeared on the episodes in this set.  There are three versions of the clean openings and endings included: a version without any text, a version with English subtitles, and a version with Romaji subtitles. There are also English credits, along with trailers for other properties that VIZ Media was promoting at the time this set was released.

Naruto Shippuden Set 24 is worth it for the Gaara, Itachi, and Yugao stories. You can skip the Hinata flashback and the final episode on the set and not really miss out on anything.