The “Bubblegum Crisis” Odyssey: From “Blade Runner” to “Love Hina” (80s August Special)
Welcome back to 80s August, The Splintering’s month-long celebration of the greatest decade since cuneiform!
A profound understatement would be saying that the 80s was a good decade for film. Star Trek films with the original cast had a long, lucrative run during the period; Back To The Future I and II took viewers on a temporal roller coaster; a streak of Jason Voorheese slasher sequels thrilled audiences; three Rambo actioners lit up the screen; Predator, ‘nuff said; the original Star Wars trilogy completed itself gloriously; Critters, and both C.H.U.D. films…moving on!
The 80s offered plenty of reasons to go to the cinema, and the fraction of the films mentioned above still hold up as all-time greats, game changers, or cult classic brain popcorn to this day.
While Hollywood was definitely cranking out quality content to both US theaters and abroad, an interesting thing to note is the overall influence that some of these movies had on other mediums, specifically anime.
Three titles of the 80s helped shape one anime in particular.
Not originally a hit in its decade of release, but gaining accolades over time after a bajillion re-cuts, 1982s Blade Runner directed by Ridley Scott was an adaption of Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? A moody, visually striking neo noir, sci-fi brooding over memories and what constitutes being alive, or even real, took its time to resonate with audiences, but its dystopian, rain swept, neon lit streets found immediate purchase in the theater of imagination as it would become the primary inspiration for the setting of 1987’s Bubblegum Crisis.
While Blade Runner requires little preamble for sci-fi fans and film buffs alike, being a criterion watch, Bubblegum Crisis does require exposition as it is set firmly in the territory of anime subculture, a genesis moment for the medium here in the United States having been an early, non-localized, success when AnimEigo released it on VHS and laser disc in 1991.
In the year 2032, Mega Tokyo Japan has recovered from a massive earthquake that ravaged the once great city seven years prior. GENOM, a mega corporation, has rebuilt Tokyo, and at the center of it constructed a looming, vast complex structure where GENOM’s CEO Quincy, and executive Brian J. Mason more or less plot total world domination through controlling the world’s governments.
GENOM being both the supplier and producer of most of the goods in the world, their influence is substantial. Through their lifelike android artifices, Boomers, much of the menial jobs are saw to by GENOM as well (like Amazon, but even more evil). It is through Boomers that the mega corporation wields substantial military capability, many models being designed with higher sentience, synthetic skin, and an array of weaponry ranging from arm blades to powerful lasers. When the Boomers of the combat variety reveal themselves for battle, the fake flesh tears away revealing a horrifying endoskeleton beneath that would make James Cameron proud.
In one episode in particular, the influence of Terminator (1984) is clear when one of the Boomers reveals an endoskeleton that looks like a bulked up blue version of the T-800, complete with human like teeth and glowing red eyes.
Naturally, GENOM is a problem, the Boomers specifically being the main tool used by them to get their way with things. Enter the Knight Sabers, a team of four women in high tech battle armor called ‘Hard Suits’, which are strong enough to withstand the offense of combat-centric Boomers, and powerful enough to destroy them. Think Iron Man meets Charlie’s Angels, and you get the picture.
The Knight Sabers consists of Sylia Stingray, the money and the mind behind the group. Her husband was murdered by GENOM, and it was covered up as an accident. Using her business (clothing, lingerie) as a cover, and her wealth to fund her endeavors, Sylia Stingray created the Knight Sabers, and is the driving force behind them.
Next is the series’ main character, Priscilla “Priss” Asagiri, the front woman of a rock band ‘Priss and The Replicants’ (a not so subtle reference back to Blade Runner). Hot-tempered and an all-out combatant, she’s the strongest fighter of all the Knight Sabers, but her bad attitude and loner tendencies make her less of a team player and more of a reckless hotshot.
Digressing here from Priss for a second, one of the other influences for Bubblegum Crisis was 1984s Streets of Fire, a sly western packaged in a grungy urban setting, where, Diane Lane’s character, Ellen Aim, is a rock singer and front woman for the band ‘The Attackers’ (Ellen Aim and The Attackers), who is kidnapped by biker gang leader Raven Shaddock (a young Willem Defoe), and rescued by Michael Pare’s rough and tumble Tom Cody.
Not hard to spot the vocational similarity there between Aim and Asagiri, interestingly enough, Priss was actually voiced by a rock singer, Kinuko Ohmori, in the original Japanese voice casting.
Returning to the rest of the team, Linna Yamazaki is a 20-year-old aerobics instructor, and the most down to earth member of the Knight Sabers. A team player, she’s the heart of the group, and a load-bearing character for many episodes in spite of not being fully fleshed out. Linna inserts a necessary element of heart into the storytelling.
Lastly is Nene Romanov, the youngest member of the group at 18. She is an employee of the AD Police, Mega Tokyo’s law enforcement (and the series red shirts, honestly, they’re only good at dying!). When Romanov isn’t being a mole for the Knight Sabers, she’s their technical expert and hacker.
Bubblegum Crisis amounted to eight episodes in length, being original video animations (OVAs), released in home video format in its native country from 1987 to 1990. The original plan was for it to go to 13 episodes, ultimately falling short (clearly), but it was eventually padded out with a three-episode prequel in A.D. Police Files (1990), and a three episode sequel in Bubblegum Crash (1991-1992). What’s important to note is that Bubblegum Crisis’ influences were the aforementioned 80s blockbusters Blade Runner, Streets of Fire, and Terminator, and how their success fed Bubblegum Crisis’ success by being the vaunt couriers of the concepts it employed.
While Bubblegum Crisis is brain popcorn storytelling at best (especially when watching the 1994 dub), its impact helped establish interest in the anime medium in the US. Hayashi Hiroki, and Masaki Kajishima, two of the animators for Bubblegum Crisis, would carry the inspirations from the show into new territory, conceiving Tenchi Muyo (1992) as the below excerpt from an Anime International interview elaborates:
J.L. (interviewer): When did you start working with Mr. Kajishima?
Hayashi Hiroki: uh…as everybody knows that Mr. Kajishima came to AIC for he likes Kenichi Sonoda’s “Gall Force” very much and it’s the biggest reason he joined AIC many years ago. We knew each other through “Gall Force”.
JL: And came up the idea of “Tenchi” while working on “Gall Force”?
HH: No. It’s not from there. We also work together on episode 4 of “Bubble Gum Crisis-“. We came up “Tenchi” idea while we were working on “B.G.C”.
JL: “B.G.C” is where “Tenchi” world came from?
HH: In certain sense it is. “Bubble Gum Crisis” is a pretty gloomy anime. Serious fighting, complicated human relationships, and dark Mega Tokyo. Kajishima and me just thought it will be fun to put some comedy portions in “B.G.C”, like, girls WITHOUT Knight-Saber suits go to hot spring tour, and Boomer show up suddenly while they are taking a bath in hot spring bathtub with no cloths on…something like that. We brought the comedy edition “B.G.C” project to sponsors but we were “politely and kindly” rejected. 10 something years ago, it’s sort of the “trend” that bunch of female characters or bunches of male characters with one female character, just like “Gall Force”, “Bubble Gum Crisis” and many classic robot anime. We were working in that “trend” and asked ourselves: “What about Macky (-Syria’s brother in Bubble Gum Crisis)? What is his story?” We thought it would be interesting to use a Macky as a main character and make a reverse version “Bubble Gum Crisis”. That thought was the trigger for us to start writing “Tenchi” story. Fortunately, we got budget this time to make 6 episodes and that is how “Tenchi Muyo! Ryohki” OVA series started.
The full 2001 interview can be found here.
Tenchi Muyo, a story about hapless high-schooler Tenchi Masaki awakening a hot demon chick (Ryoko) from her sealed slumber, then blundering into the intrigues of an elegant cosmic princess (Ayeka). Tenchi Muyo would prove successful in the unusual anime sub genre of ‘Harem Works’, spawning spin off alternate canon re-imaginings of itself in Tenchi Universe (1995), and Tenchi in Tokyo (1997), respectively.
Love Hina, the anime at least, seems to have drawn inspiration for its opening from Tenchi Universe’s opening by using a similar upward crawl of stairs to show off its cast. Love Hina does this crawl at the beginning while Tenchi Universe does it at the end. Watch both below to see for yourself.
The takeaway isn’t that Arnold Schwarzenegger has a connection in the creation of Love Hina’s bumbling Keitaro Urashima, or Tenchi Muyo’s ditsy Mihoshi, but that in the realm of ideas, influence and inspiration make strange, far wanderings.
The odyssey from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner in 1982 to Studio Xebec in 2000 is just one such wandering.
Enjoy the rest of August! Love the 80s!
Thanks for reading!