Friday, January 22, 2016

Friday Review! A.D. Police: To Protect and Serve

It's amazing how many spin-offs spawned from the original Bubblegum Crisis OVA series. Though only lasting 8 episodes, released between 1987 and 1991, the series gave way for a number or sequels, prequels, and spin-offs (most of which don't even feature the Knight Sabers, the main characters from the original OVAs!).

A.D. Police Files (1990) was a prequel to the original, Bubblegum Crash (1991) was a sequel, Scramble Wars (1993) had been a non-cannon crossover, Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040 (1998) attempted to reboot the series, and then there was the offbeat spinoff Parasite Dolls (2003).

In 1999 A.D. Police: To Protect and Serve was released, planned as a prequel to Bubblegum Crisis.

It's hard to know where to begin with this show, because it's such a disjointed mess that it barely stands on its own two feet, let alone that it supposedly shares any DNA with the original (and far superior) Bubblegum Crisis.

The plot is pure cyberpunk, taking place in a near future Tokyo, now renamed Genom City. The general premise follows two police officers, Kenji and Hans, who are part of the AD Police, an anti-robot crime division that tracks down robots called Boomers that have either malfunctioned or gone berserk.

First off, A.D. Police features none of the atmosphere or any of the unique characters that the original '87 Bubblegum Crisis had, or even a number of the other prequels/spin-offs/sequels. But for the sake of this review, let's pretend Bubblegum Crisis never existed and A.D. Police was its own show, removed from any of its predecessors. Unfortunately, taking A.D. Police on its own and ignoring it's lineage, the show still fails on so many levels.

A.D. Police is comprised of 12 episodes and there is a continuing plot thread that runs throughout, but everything is so formulaic and predictable that there's no real surprise by the show's final episode. I actually had high hopes for this series, and the first episode does provide a decent starting point. The animation is fairly slick early on, and the action/plot is fast paced and interesting enough to keep everything moving. That all ends by episode 2.

Story-wise, episode 2 and 3 are nothing to write home about (renegade Boomer goes out of control while loose-cannon cop, Kenji, and his new happy-go-lucky partner, Hans get over their differences to take down the threat), but it's a grim forecast of the problems that will continue to haunt this series.

The makers of A.D. Police wanted to depict such a grim and gritty world that the complete absence of humor or levity becomes increasingly noticeable as the series goes on and it ultimately hurts the show. Add to this some very stiff character designs and, surprisingly for a cyberpunk anime, generic technology and vehicles/weapons that are mostly forgettable. Even the Boomers aren't particularly impressive here.

Sure, episode 1 had some nice animation, but by episodes 2 and 3 it looks like the budget was slashed in half, and then some. A few episodes later on don't look as bad, but along the way you'll see  every cost-cutting measure known to the animation industry (time consuming flashbacks of footage from previous episodes, lengthy static shots, etc). Even the staple of cheap '90s animation is here: terrible camera pans where they move the drawing or camera, instead of drawing the movement. And the worst offender? There's an episode that takes place entirely at a bar! And that's no exaggeration, all the characters meet in a bar, talk, and do little to progress the story or series' overarching plot...for the whole episode.

I watched this with the English dub and I honestly feel that the voice actors gave it the best they had, which was probably difficult because the story is so lifeless and sterile. None of the characters themselves exhibit much energy, and the whole affair meanders along to its eventual end, with only Hans probably being the most interesting of the primary cast.

By episode 12 I was wondering just why I hadn't given up on the show...maybe in the vain hope that it would improve? I'd suggest skipping out on this one, even for the most die-hard of Bubblegum Crisis fans.

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