Monday, February 2, 2015

28 Day Bubblegum Crisis Challenge, Day 2: Best Episode

Considering that Bubblegum Crisis is only eight episodes long, you would think it would be easy to determine which is the best episode overall, but it really is not. The quality of the series is consistently high, from the animation to the music to the plot, so narrowing it down to one single installment as the best example is even more difficult than choosing the best Battlestar Galactica episode. After much pondering, I have decided to choose the fifth episode, "Midnight Rambler."

If you haven't watched the episode (you can catch the whole series on Hulu!), be warned that I will be dropping some spoilers, but this series is from the 1980s, so ... it's really your fault that you haven't already treated yourself.

But, anyway. The episode focuses on Priss Asagiri and her new friend, Sylvie*, who shares the former's love of motorcycles. Nobody knows much about her, except the audience, who was privy to the opening sequence where she and a friend, Anri, escaped from a space station and pretty frightening Doberman boomers (that were actually inspired by the xenomorphs from the Aliens franchise), for unknown reasons. It becomes pretty obvious that Sylvie is a boomer - a cat hisses at her and she's unrealistically beautiful - but then it's revealed that she's a banned model that can meld with various types of technology and be used as an exceptionally powerful weapon. However, she also needs blood to operate - yet another reason why her line was discontinued - and she begins murdering people in order to continue to live. While she's draining people of their blood - and fueling a media frenzy about vampires - she's searching for a data disc, which apparently holds the secrets she needs to end her dependence on blood. In the end, Sylvie faces off with Priss, who is then forced to kill her in what is a pretty emotional scene.

It's a pretty simple plot, actually, and not one that is even that original: artificial intelligence wants to be free to determine its own destiny. Even EDI went through that story line in Mass Effect. But how it's interwoven with corporate greed, government apathy and corruption, and the relationships between the characters makes it outstanding. First off, it's not even really Genom who's the bad guy here; it's a rogue head of a department within the company, which comes as a surprise, given the generally negative depiction of Genom, and even he really isn't in control. Instead, it's a shady character, Largo - who, trust me, we will discuss at some point during this challenge - that seems to be orchestrating the whole thing behind both the government's and Genom's backs. Second, Leon and his partner, Daley, the main AD police officers that we see in Bubblegum Crisis, aren't really expected to solve the above mentioned murders, but it's through their tenacity that they are able to put the pieces together. The chief of the AD Police is just concerned with how he looks to his superiors and is quite fed up with the media mentioning vampires, which, to be fair, I get. I'm sick of vampires, too. Finally, though - and this is what I think is the strongest part of the episode - Priss and Sylvie's friendship, as short-lived as it might be, is incredibly moving. Despite her connections with the other Knight Sabers (Sylia, Linna, and Nene), she never really does anything with them, but she sees Sylvie as a kindred spirit and the two have obviously spent quite a bit of time together. Whether or not it's sexual is never addressed, almost as if it doesn't even matter, but their emotional connection is undeniable. Priss' initial refusal to hurt her friend at the end of the episode is heart-wrenching and, despite the fact that this is an animated series, quite believable., and I actually cried when Sylvie died (I told you there would be spoilers).

It was just nice to see another side of Priss, as well. For the most part, she's just the hard-partying, hard-fighting possible lesbian** of the group whose emotions ran between "meh, whatever" to "KILL THE BOOMER!" I blame a lot of the lack of characterization on a couple of things: 1) Anime is an exceptionally subtle (well, some of it is, at least when it comes to personalities) medium, where the creators assume that the audience will be able to pick up on things that aren't explicitly stated***, and 2) the series was supposed to be thirteen episodes long but was cut down to eight, due to licensing issues****, so it's possible that a lot of things were cut to make sure they could tell the story as best they could.

I'm not claiming that it's a perfect episode. There is plenty of melodrama and awful voice acting, and there are times where you want to scream at the screen because people make dumb decisions. For example, Leon, who actually is a pretty decent cop, just decides that he is going to take on a new type of boomer that is more powerful than anything he's ever faced before (Daley actually tells him this) instead of waiting for backup. Nope, he suits up (in armor that just happens to be there? Or maybe he keeps it in his trunk? I don't know, and you'd best not ask) and just punches at stuff. Like you do. Despite all that, though, "Midnight Rambler" has the emotional depth that was only hinted at with the first four episodes, and the remainder of the series rides on from here, opening up the world past Genom and Neo-Tokyo+. Plus, I think it's the closest the series ever came to being a part of the Blade Runner universe, echoing a lot of the themes from the film.

And there you go, what I consider to be the best episode of Bubblegum Crisis. Tune in tomorrow for the exact opposite of this: the worst episode EVAR.

* I was never really a fan of the name because of its similarity to one of the main characters, Sylia Stingray. While I don't necessarily care when characters have names that begin with the same letter - although it is kind of a Writing 101 rule so you eliminate confusion for readers - I often found myself thinking, "Wait, she's talking about Sylvie, right? Because Sylia's right there, and I highly doubt that she'd be referring to her in the third person ... Maybe?"
** Leon actually wonders aloud in the first episode if Priss is straight, seeing as she pretty much dismissed him from the very beginning. But that's a dude for you.
*** This carries on into the remake, Bubblegum Crisis: Tokyo 2040, particularly in reference to the wink-wink-nudge-nudge "secret" romance between Sylia and Nigel, a character that isn't in the original series.
**** It's a long story, but basically, two companies jointly held the rights to the series, and then they entered into legal issues with each other. So yeah, they stopped making the series. GOOD JOB, JAPAN. Eventually, though, the "sequel" followup, Bubblegum Crash, was produced.
+ They actually have a Texan dude in one of the later episodes, because that's what the U.S. looked like to the Japanese back in the 80s. Southern drawl, cowboy hat, and complete depravity.
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