I’ve decided to resurrect an old series of posts called Boku no Anime no Omoide (My Anime Memories), discussing the various series and movies I’ve seen throughout my life that has had an impact on my fandom of this genre of storytelling.
Way back in the days of my budding anime fandom, a dear friend of mine pulled me aside and said he had something to show me. It was called ‘Bubblegum Crisis,’ and he was positive that I would enjoy it. Now, of course, I had my doubts as to the veracity of his claim. After all, it was kind of a ridiculously absurd name and did not really pique my interest all that much. In response, he simply told me to ignore the name and try not to judge an anime based on the title. I was too tired to put up much of a fight, and after work we ended up at his place and settled in for an afternoon of anime watching.
Yeah, I was taught a rather valuable lesson that day. Had I gone with my instincts of begging off, I would not be the same person I am today. I think, along with many other early titles I watched, Bubblegum Crisis is a staple of anime fandom. At least, it’s a staple of my personal fandom. I’m not talking about the remake from Pioneer/Geneon in the late 90s, either. I’m talking about the late 80s produced original, where you could tell it was all hand-drawn and not computer-assisted. Along with classics like Urusei Yatsura, Choujiku Yosai Macross, Uchuu Senkan Yamato, Kimagure Orange Road, and many others, Bubblegum Crisis is a must-see for any anime fan out there. It’s a common frame of reference, a point of contention between fans over what constitutes a bad dub, and if you haven’t seen it, you’re punched right out of the conversation, I guarantee you.
In short, its summary is this: Four women battle against the out-of-control creations of the Genom corporation: one driven by revenge, one driven by boredom, one driven by excitement, and one driven by loyalty. Led by Miss Sylia Stingray, these Knight Sabers band together to crusade against the injustice of androids with too much power. Underground singer Priss Asagiri, Linna Yamazaki, and police data specialist Nene Romanova round out the group, wearing Stingray-designed hardsuits and kicking some serious Boomer ass through eight episodes of OVA goodness.
Can you sense my enthusiasm? Good.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with this series. It delivers action, romance, drama, and a memorable soundtrack the likes of which has never been reproduced. Every character shows a level of depth that you really only got to see in much longer series. What a story like Crisis, it would take a series such as Full Metal Panic or Gundam much more than eight episodes to provide you with a clear background, and even then it took a sequel, Bubbblegum Crash!, to really screw the pooch. Which in a sense was an additional three episodes to the story, but you see how perfect the eight was? It really didn’t even need the full eleven, right?
Though… Crash had good music. What is it with all these series that are bad, but have kickass OSTs?
Not that BGC was any slouch in the OST department. Quite possibly the most recognizable set of vocal tracks in anime history belongs to this series, which includes the perennial Konya wa Hurricane and my personal favorite, Bye, Bye, My Crisis. The latter of which is just a fun song to chairdance to. Also, it took me forever to find the music in the pre-Complete Vocal Collection days. Essentially, the entirety of the soundtrack is an homage to the girl bands of the early 80s; specifically the overall sound and vibe from The Runaways, a band that was a huge hit in Japan in the late 70s. I could write a full review on the music, itself, so I’ll cut myself short here. The bottom line is, if you haven’t yet watched this series, then crawl out from underneath your rock and get thee hence!
Character-wise, my favorites had to be Priss and Nene. Priss is singing her heart out in the very beginning of the entire series, and you’re slowly introduced to the rest of the Knight Sabers. But, I always felt that Nene got something of a bad rap throughout the series until the very last episode of the initial eight. Priss was shown to be this ass-kicking woman of power. Even Leon was unable to avoid her charms due to the sheer amount of confidence portrayed within the character. Nene had a quieter strength that was often overshadowed by her fears. In battle, she often tended to stay out of the way, or fire wildly while letting out a scream queen-esque shriek at the enemy. In her own element of research, she showed her prowess, especially in “Scoop Chase.”
There’s even a scene where Nene is showing the police chief’s niece around in one of those Mini Cooper police cars, and she catches a speeding motorcycle. A motorcycle that happens to be drive by none other than Priss. The look on Nene’s face when she realizes that she’s just caught a member of her group and friend is priceless. Given that the chief’s niece is watching with interest, she can’t just let Priss go. Especially when Priss is taunting her to not give her that ticket. Instead, she gather up her courage and issues that ticket, to Priss’ surprise and later anger.
Crisis’ writing did a great job of exposing not just the four members of the Knight Sabers, but some of the supporting characters as well. Mackie, Sylia’s younger brother, gets his introduction in the first episode as being a bit of a creeper. Later, he’s developed into a decent mechanic and even ends up with his own hardsuit. I started kind of shipping him and Nene and I got a reward for that in “Scoop Chase,” where he refuses to leave Nene behind during a climactic scene.
The two AD Police detectives, Leon and Daley, even get a lot of screen time in working things from their angle. A lot of their cases end up intersecting with the Knight Sabers, so the stories often show things from their perspectives. Leon’s unabashed interest in Priss is used as a comedic premise and foil, respectively. Daley is an interesting entry in the story because he’s openly gay, which I hadn’t really seen in an anime up until then. I enjoyed his obvious flirting with Leon to see his reaction.
Bubblegum Crisis’ story is told and retold over the course of several series. Beyond the original series, there was the aforementioned sequel (Crash!) and a prequel (A.D. Police Files). Pioneer/Geneon decided to do a reboot/retelling in Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040, which was far less impressive and focused far more on the drama than the comedy. It, too, had a side-story called A.D. Police (known as A.D. Police: To Protect and Serve in the US). And then back in 2003, there was an in-universe OVA called Parasite Dolls, which focused again on the AD Police.
Next Time on Anime no Omoide: Macross!
I was taking a look at the anime line-up in 2012, and I realized that I don’t really have much of a clue as to what I should be watching. I mean, the last newest series I watched was Kami Nomi zo Shiru Sekai, the first part of it. I really loved it, too. But that was over a year ago, and I feel like I’ve lost touch in the anime world and I don’t know a whole lot about the series that are coming out this season.
Well, that’s not entirely true. I actually know of only one series I know I’ll be excited for, and that Zero no Tsukaima F. My buddy, Todd, is a huge fan of Zero and always had been, so I know he’s looking forward to it (if he’s not watching it already). My former Unwound co-host, Jesse Barredo, recently suggested Ano Natsu de Matteru to me, so I went ahead and placed that on my Crunchyroll queue. So, I started taking a look at some of the other shows coming out for Winter 2012, and I wanted to get an idea of what suggestions there might be for me out there in blog-land.
I should be watching Zero no Tsukaima from the beginning...
I read through the list and a few titles kind of leapt out at me. There’s Nisemonogatari, which is the sequel to Bakemonogatari. I’ve never seen the latter, because I kept waiting around for my pal Dave to spend some time with me to actually watch it. I have it, I want to see it, but when a friend says, “Hey, don’t watch that without me,” I try to accommodate. It’s been months, but whatever. The sequel looks pretty cool, but without having seen the first part of it, I’m not sure if I’ll actually get it.
Another title that caught my eye was Moretsu Uchuu Kaizoku. I know nothing about it, but the images I’ve seen from the series lead me to believe that it’s right up my alley. All I see is a cute starship captain with an even hotter executive officer/sidekick. I know that sounds superficial, but look… my eyes are connected to my brain and my brain enjoys looking at women, animated or otherwise. Half the appeal of anime sometimes is the sexy quality of a character or two that acts like a hook. This is how the industry makes most of their money. I’m not immune to it! Anyone have any information on this, and whether I should be watching or passing?
Another looks a little too creepy for me.
Inu x Boku SS I want to watch, but again, I’m not sure if it’s for me.
After the second season, I don't know if I should be excited to see this or not... (Eiga K-ON!)
And then, I stumbled upon the announcement of the new Eiga K-ON! movie, and after sitting through a few of the episodes that was the second season of that show, I’m not really sure if I’m going to be disappointed or pleased by what I see. Knowing myself like I do and how much I may bitch and moan, I will most likely end up watching this in spite of my reservations, because I love all-girl rock bands since The Runaways and I think I always will. K-ON! the first season was nothing short of amazing, and I still watch episodes of it from time to time. Perhaps they’ll go back to that formula for the film? Who knows.
In any case, I look forward to hearing from my readers. What are you watching this season?
To start in on Gunbuster, I’d need to talk about Ken Lau, first. Ken was someone I’d met while working at Acer America back in 1995; we both worked the grave shift in the technical support department, though he was in a smaller group that handled online requests, while I was in a larger group that handled phone calls. Anyway, we met, we hit it off, and thus began a friendship that I still tell stories about to this day. Ken introduced me to a wide range of anime, and I recall that he had a love for one particular anime: Mamono Hunter Yohko. But I’ll talk about Yohko some other time.
I didn't know it then, but this was going to be burned into my memory forever...
Toppu wo Nerae was one of those series that I had little to no information about beforehand. This had a lot to do with the fact that I trusted Ken’s tastes in anime. Nearly everything he put before me to watch, I ended up liking. Gunbuster was no exception to this, in fact, it might be the defining moment. And before I continue on, as I dive back into my memory, I remember how close he and I were before I got married to my first wife, and I regret that we drifted apart. I was in a horrible place then, and I thoughtlessly pushed him away and never heard from him again. It’s one of those times I wish I could go back and change, but I’m sure he’s doing well for himself. But, if he ever happens upon this site and reads this, I want to make sure he knows that I miss him.
Anyway, if you’re completely unaware of Gunbuster, and it seems the Naruto Generation generally is, then let me begin by saying that this is, for all intents and purposes… a parody. A parody of what? Pretty much every giant robot/space pilot story I’d seen to that point. This includes Gundam, Macross, a handful of others. This is a story about a duo of space pilot girls (right away I hooked) of differing ages. The youngest is the lead, Takuya Noriko, the daughter of a famous spaceship admiral who died in combat against a ferocious enemy named only as “Uchuu Kaijuu,” (Space Monsters) when she was eight years old. This story gets going as she’s attending the Okinawa Space Pilot Girls’ High School in order to train and follow her late father into space.
So far, the plot sounds pretty pedestrian, right? Nothing to write home about, and with the additional information of it being a parody (ie: it probably won’t take itself seriously), you’d probably pass on watching it. Well, not so fast. In six episodes, Gunbuster manages to tell a compelling story with surprisingly dynamic characters without resorting to a breakneck pace. If you’ve never seen it, I wholeheartedly recommend that you do. And to prove that it can speak to younger anime viewers, I showed it to my young nephew (20 years old), and he loved it. Head to Bandai’s site and find it, buy it, and enjoy. Tell them I sent you.
Of course, back then, the version I saw was the one released by U.S. Renditions, which was translated by Trish Ledoux & Toshifumi Yoshida. The reason I mention those names is because I had actually met Trish then Toshi on separate years of the same convention (Anime Expo). Crazy as it may seem, I was astonished that both of them remembered me years later (especially Toshi when we ran into each other at Kumoricon in Portland a couple of years ago). I had kept up a lengthy email dialogue with Trish while she was working on Ranma at VIZ. Thinking back on that, I don’t know from where she must have summoned the patience to put up with my incessant questions about anime production and translation work, but she did… and even now, I shake my head and chuckle to myself as I remember months of talking about Ranma and Gunbuster. I honestly don’t know if she remembers those emails or not, but I do. It was amazing to get that perspective on how anime is produced and really opened my eyes. So, a special thanks to them for being so kind to me when I was 18 and learning about anime. It heightened my appreciation for the work done on both sides of the Pacific.
When Noriko (left) met Kazumi (right)...
Back to the story of the anime itself… Noriko’s sempai is Amano Kazumi, whom everyone refers to as “Onee-sama.” They meet, and Onee-sama gives some very encouraging words to Noriko, after she’s been mistreated by some of the closed-minded students who think less of her because of her father. Kazumi is considered a shoe-in for one of the two slots for a special space program (The Machine Weapon Advance Assault Squadron, aka the “Top”). And to choose those two lucky students, is Coach Ota. He appears on the scene in dramatic fashion, with his sharp, no-nonsense tone and his strict regimen of exercising the students. When Noriko fails to execute his command, he shuts off her RX-7 machine and makes her run laps on her own two feet to the amusement of the rest of her class.
The conflict for the first episode comes when Noriko is selected along with Kazumi for that special program. The entire school is turned on its ear as no one can figure out why Noriko was selected. Then, the accusations fly: Obviously, because she is the daughter of Admiral Takuya, she got special treatment from the Coach. Even Kazumi’s surprised that Noriko was chosen. Kazumi wanted Kashihara to go with her. But Coach is adamant that Noriko was the right choice, and tells Kazumi to shove it. After all, he decides who goes and who stays, not her. But it’s clear from the scene, their discussion alludes to a deeper relationship than instructor and student. More on that later…
Noriko (with her friend, Kimiko) is now training harder, but simply being there is difficult enough. The other students have marked up the announcement with libelous remarks about her, they covered her RX-7 machine in graffiti with unkind things, and to put the cherry on the sundae, a sharp thumbtack was waiting for her scantily-clad rear end when she sat down to pilot said machine. This drives her tears and she approaches Coach to reconsider his selection. It’s one of those pivotal character moments, when Coach convinces Noriko to stay the course. He uses Kazumi as an example of how hard work and disciplined training could turn her from an inept pilot to a skilled one. He even shows her how Kazumi trains, and then Noriko gets the determined shine in her eyes.
This is all set to a thinly-veiled homage to the music from the movie Chariots of Fire.
Coach helps her train and soon she becomes skilled enough in her RX-7 to do pretty anything she could do with her own body. She does push-ups, lifts things, and runs along Coach on his little scooter against a scenic sunset on the beach. She has grown into that selection of being sent into space ahead of her peers, and Coach is proud of her accomplishment. But, Kashihara isn’t too happy and she tells Coach that she feels she’s superior to Noriko. Coach tells her he doesn’t answer to her, and even Kazumi says that Kashihara is acting unseemly. Well, Kashihara with the crazy eyes and unseemly behavior decides to take matters into her own hands and challenges Noriko to a straight-up fight between their RX-7 machines.
In the beginning, Kashihara is wiping the floor with Noriko using some strange tactics. At one point, she even slaps the head of Noriko’s RX-7 machine as though it were a bare-fisted match. Anyway, Noriko’s machine is now down in a supine position, and Kashihara is just stomping the shit out of the chest of Noriko’s robot. There’s a kind of a “Use the Force, Luke” moment with Noriko whiles she’s being rattled inside like a pea in a tin can and she decides to turn off all of her monitors so she can’t see what’s going on. This impresses Kazumi, Coach is dispassionate, and for some reason this totally enrages Kashihara. In a dick move, she decides that now is the time for the Mortal Kombat “Finish Her” move and whips out a long blade with the intent of totalling Noriko’s ride. Noriko, on the other hand, somehow senses this and when Kashihara’s blade comes down, she jumps up with her machine out of harm’s way and does an acrobatic maneuver. Noriko rights herself and brings the leg of her machine down while screaming, “Inazuma Kick!” The kick is the deciding blow, as Kashihara is now sitting in the remains of her machine with the realization that Coach was right. Noriko’s selection is now no longer in question and she and Kazumi board a shuttle to take them to the orbiting space station where they will be working from now on.
I don’t do the actual story justice, and if I seem like I’m belittling the anime it’s not because I hate it. I guess, while rewatching the first episode I forgave a lot of the absurdities of the parody part of the show. I feel that you have to in order to let the story take you where it wants to go, but trust me when I say that the show will not disappoint you. By the time I got tot he end of the sixth episode, I was a mess. I was crying openly, and just left there to try and compose myself. Any story, written or acted, if it invokes an emotional response then the production has reached me.
I want to take a moment to acknowledge the seiyuu. Noriko and Kazumi were played by seiyuu from Ranma Nibunnoichi, Hidaka Noriko (Tendou Akane) and Sakuma Rei (Shampoo), respectively. Coach Ota’s voice came from Wakamoto Norio (Oskar von Reuenthal from Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu, among many many others). If I were to use any anime to state my preference of why I love the Japanese seiyuu over North American voice acting, Gunbuster could quite possibly be my Exhibit A. I cannot imagine any English-speaking actor to pull off the passion and emotion equal to the Japanese voice track. There are rare occasions where I might prefer English over Japanese (Ranma, Taihou Shichau zo!), but that’s about it.
Gunbuster was directed by Anno Hideaki, who needs no introduction. But, just in case he does, he was the creative force behind several Gainax projects, including Fushigi no Umi no Nadia and Kareshi Kanokyou no Jijyou, but most notably, Evangelion. I should also point out that he worked as an animator for the original Macross series, and was the animation director for Oritsu Uchuugun: Honneamise no Tsubasa (The Wings of Honneamise).
Kouhei Tanaka composed a brilliant score for Gunbuster. In my opinion, I think he’s as good a composer as Kanno Yoko (Escaflowne, Macross Plus/Frontier) or Shiro Sagisu (Kare Kano, Evangelion). Maybe not quite as spectacular as Hisaishi Joe (of Studio Ghibli fame), but nonetheless, his score for Gunbuster lives in my memory as helping to make the whole show as powerful as it is. If, by chance, you get a chance to watch Gunbuster, I invite you to pay special attention to how stirring the music is as the scenes play out. There is no question in my mind that the ending would be as impacting without that gorgeous track, “Toki no Kawa wo Koete…” (“The End of the Endless River”) playing underneath it all. Like so many other anime, the music is essential and necessary to everything the story is trying to do here, and I can point to that last episode and present it as an essential example of why I love the music of anime as much as the anime itself. Of course, personally being a musician helps my appreciation of that aspect of any visual media, not just anime.
Sailor Noriko shows off her fandom! (click on the image for the animation)
In addition to being a great story, Gunbuster also had a series of shorts to explain the science behind the technology and the history of the war between the humans and the Uchuu Kaijuu. It was hosted by super-deformed versions of Noriko, Kazumi, and Coach and managed to make me laugh as Noriko played the dunce and Kazumi the straight man of the duo. I especially loved the part where Noriko’s going through the planets of the solar system and changing costumes to the various senshi of Sailor Moon as she does so. Obviously, Sailor Stars hadn’t come out, yet, because she only does the inner senshi. When she moves to naming the planets of the outer solar system, thee’s no Sailor Jupiter, Saturn, etc.
The point of the shorts is to flesh out some of the reasoning behind why Noriko and Kazumi would never grow as old as their peers that remained on Earth, thanks in part to Einstein’s theory of Relativity. During our email chats, I recall Trish telling how difficult it was to translate those shorts because of all the heavy technical talk (I think). Even now, after my brief Japanese courses at Foothill, I could hear some of the language used and try to sound it out, but it was way way way above my level of understanding. So, thanks Trish and Toshi, for all that hard work!
In summary, Gunbuster remains one on a list of anime that will be with me until I die. I just wish that I held onto my original U.S. Renditions version… but along with several other tapes I had in storage, it was damaged beyond repair when a storm of mice ate several boxes. Apparently, our next door neighbor in the storage place was keeping food and it attracted vermin for miles until he got evicted. I lost a box of old anime tapes when they chewed through them and actually managed to chew the cases up pretty bad, rendering them unable to play. I nearly cried when I was informed.
Anyway, this ends yet another post about anime from me. If I have time, I’ll try to work on another one. I would love to hear from you all on your thoughts on Gunbuster, in the comments here or on Facebook, where this will get cross-posted. Thanks!