The new millennium saw me getting back into anime in a big way. I’d been a fan since the Star Blazers days, but my interest began to cool after the space opera/giant robo craze gave way to other, less interesting-to-me fandoms.
The force that swung the pendulum came from multiple overlapping vectors. My forays into import gaming helped revive the old mystique (especially surrounding things like soundtracks, art books and other ancillary trappings), while the fast-developing emulation scene offered access to scores of retro-offerings inspired by favorite anime franchises. The DVD format’s ascendance over VHS led to a flood of box sets featuring complete localized series from the “giant robo” golden age, a multi-magnitude lead over the $30 per episode tapes which had been the previous norm. Meanwhile, fansubbed files of once-coveted rarities began to pop up on some of the shadier corners of the internet.
Availability and affordability had long been the primary obstacles to my fandom. With those no longer an issue, my two decades of pent-up demand went a little wild for a time. The vast majority of stuff I worked my way through was retro in nature, with the exception of FLCL. It was about exploring a moment, not anime in general. One of first (in not the first) DVD sets I picked up was the run of Bubblegum Crisis OVA series complete with the music video collection.
I’d originally discovered the series through an issue of the Animag fanzine which somehow managed to filter down the distribution chain to my local comic shop in 1988. The article describing the series was hyperbolic and haphazardly edited, but still managed to convey something straight out of my wildest adolescent fantasies — a cyberpunk future where a group of sexy professional women donned mecha-meets-Iron-Man “hardsuits” to battle synthetic humanoid “boomers.” It was Blade Runner, Streets of Fire, and The Terminator rolled into a single stylish package and capped off with a cryptically strange title. One of the leads is a Ellen Aim doppelganger named Priss who fronts a band called The Replicants. How could I resist?
My fandom stayed strong despite the fact that I had no means to actually see an episode. It wasn’t until I was in my freshman year of college that I finally managed to see the series in action, thanks to a punky but shy fellow Sci-Fi Club member who lent me an unsubbed VHS tape with a couple of episodes on it. After the summer break, she brought me back a Bubblegum Crisis t-shirt from AnimeExpo ’91 as a surprise gift whose “hey, I’m kinda into you” subtext was regrettably missed on my part.
I still own the shirt, by the way.
She and I did eventually become a couple, which only cemented the “Japanese animated cyberpunk classic” as a sentimental foundation stone of our relationship. When she made another trip to AnimeExpo in the mid-Nineties, she even bought me back another Bubblegum Crisis shirt as a commemorative in-joke. By the time I scored a hi-def, properly subbed copy of the series, we’d had been together nearly a decade, adding an extra touch of poignancy to the purchase.
That was the prevailing mood when I was browsing the stacks at Pandemonium Books in 2001 and came across the complete trilogy of official Bubblegum Crisis RPG sourcebooks released five years prior. My tabletop gaming days were well behind me, but I couldn’t resist picking up the lot for old times’ sake.
The game was an R. Talsorian product, which made perfect sense considering that they were also the publishers of the Mekton and Cyberpunk RPGs that already covered both halves of the anime’s source material. And the Bubblegum Crisis RPG is, in fact, a license-grounded marriage between stripped down versions of the Mekton Zeta and Cyberpunk 2020 iterations of R. Talsorian’s “interlock system.”
That said, I didn’t buy the game to play it. I bought it as fan wank, and it exceeded all expectations on that front. Even if you don’t give a shit about ability scores or range modifiers or construction points, the three sourcebooks are jam-packed the type of backmatter and fluff I’d have traded a kidney for when I was sixteen. Most, if not all, of the illustrations are pulled from the original cels or original production art assets. For all intents and purposes, the books are “Roman Albums” created for English-speaking markets that just happen to have an RPG folded into their pages.
When I was getting ready for the move to the House on the Hillside and deciding what stuff to bring and what stuff to dump into storage (which has now come back to bite me in the ass), all the Warhammer and Champions stuff I’d played and loved for years got packed up into a corner of my grandmother’s attic. I took the Bubblegum Crisis RPG books with me, however, to be shelved alongside the collection of import anime and videogame artbooks Maura and I have collected over the years.