Crash!… and burn
There’s a scene in the first episode of the Bubblegum Crash! OVA where Priss is having an argument with her sleaze-ass manager, who is trying to dress her up in a frilly orange one-piece and make her sing songs she didn’t write. ‘Huh?’ Priss deadpans. ‘This ain’t my song!’ The manager still tries to wheedle her into cooperating (while trying to smarm his way into bed with her), but she explodes: ‘That does it! You got some nerve thinking I’ll sit down and take this! There’s no way in hell I’m letting you make me something I’m not, you son-of-a-bitch!’
Unfortunately, though, that’s precisely what the entirety of Bubblegum Crash! feels like. Crash! drains the original Bubblegum Crisis characters of their original manic, all-over-the-place energy and does its level best to turn them into something they aren’t, the same way Priss’s manager tries to do with her. A big part of the problem appears to be that Artmic couldn’t grab a hold of rocker Ômori Kinuko for the title role (she wanted to pursue her own music career), and instead gave it to Tachikawa Ryôko. I kind of feel a bit sorry for Ms Tachikawa; Crash! seems to have been her first and last venture into voice acting, and unfortunately she stepped into some shoes that were way too big for her.
Here’s the biggest problem with Crash! in a nutshell. It consistently tries to make BGC darker and edgier, but it isn’t willing to go quite as far as AD Police Files. Crash! therefore feels like it has a bad case of split personality. Because AD Police Files focusses thematically on the making of Leon McNichol as a cop, on the seedy underbelly of Mega Tôkyô and on the messy sexual misuses of cybernetic technology, it can afford to go a lot further in terms of gritty true-crime content and commentary on the extreme potentials of the warped psychology of living in a cybernetically-enhanced society than anything the Knight Sabers do.
After all, the original Bubblegum Crisis was at its sublime best when dealing with messiness on the ‘normie’ side of its cyberpunk world. It didn’t deal (as often) with criminal minds and people driven to extremes of hate and lust and power-madness by cybernetics, but instead with the impact of corporate malfeasance and bureaucratic indifference on the lives of bystanders and working-class ordinary people. Even Sylvie and An-li, despite being escaped cyborgs who are forced to feed on human blood to survive, ultimately just want to find a way to fix themselves and just live out normal lives.
Speaking of whom… the plot of the entirety of Crash! seems to hinge on pretending that those two never existed. Sylvie and An-li were designed to act fully human, and were capable of acting fully human (albeit with a few built-in flaws). And now Crash! wants us to believe that the first fully human-like Boomer with an experimental AI is being developed in secret 2 years later, and is far less advanced in terms of behaving or looking like a human than Sylvie. This is a massive and unconscionable oversight in terms of continuity, but one which we’re expected to overlook.
Also, Crash! seems to have turned Priss into a bigoted, self-centred jerk. (By the way, I don’t blame Tachikawa for this – it’s not her fault she got such a bad script – I blame the writers.) In Crisis Priss actually made a genuine connexion with the Boomer Sylvie and was truly distraught when she died. In the second OVA episode, Crash! wants us to believe that Priss hates Boomers and everyone involved in making them (including Celia’s dead father), and hammers us over the head with that every chance it gets.
In BGC Priss was definitely a tough cookie with a mile-long independent streak - but she genuinely did care about Nene, Linna and Celia, and was apparently beginning to feel some affection for Leon. In Crash! Priss not only behaves like a narcissistic diva every chance she gets, she literally says she doesn’t care what happens to the Sabres or the AD Police or even what happens to the world, that she’s only fighting for herself. So why the hell is she with the damn Sabres anyway? Who needs a team with someone like that on it? Unfortunately, Linna also got kind of a selfish brat makeover as well in the first episode; it seems like the only character who sort of grew between BGC and Crash! was Nene. (Possibly also Mackie.) Again, this writing choice – trying to make Priss into a loner antihero – reflects Crash! trying to be a darker and edgier BGC, but not being able to outdo Files.
Crash! isn’t entirely bad news, though. The technical design is handled by Aramaki Shinji (who worked on the original BGC as well as other titles like Metal Skin Panic MADOX-01), who gets a great opportunity to show off his work on the inner workings of the Knight Sabres’ hardsuits. Instead of the Charlie’s Angels-esque cheesecakey suit-up sequence of BGC, we now get treated to a sequence which deliberately shows off more of the internal technology of the suits - the armour, the wiring, the rotating seals, the HUDs - than the skin of the girls in them, which is (quite frankly) awesome.
Even though there’s a lot less music here, too – it’s not like they could afford a full soundtrack for every OVA episode like on BGC – the opening theme of Crash! is frankly a pretty catchy, atmospheric 80s synth-rock number and they get pretty good mileage out of it: that is to say, it gets a lot of turntime without sounding overused or stale. (Frankly, even though it’s not Ômori Kinuko, it’s still catchier than ‘Dead End City’ and suits the mood a lot better.)
Crash! also does play with some interesting ideas around AI and how it is used. There’s even some pretty radical gæopolitical edge on the bloody consequences of NATO in the first episode which Nene gets to pass comment on, which is cool. We get to see things briefly from the standpoint of the AI – kind of an Agent Smith speech at the end when Mason is monologuing to Celia about the environmental destruction wrought by humanity. But there’s no mention of Genom Corporation, no dealing with the consequences of corporate power, no exploration of the wealth gap the way there was in BGC. And when it comes down to it, without spoiling too much, the main plot arc is quite frankly a retread of territory BGC already covered better than Crash!. I hate to say it, but Crash! is really an unnecessary buildout of the original OVA, and honestly it’s probably not worth watching unless you’re an OCD Bubblegum completionist.