AD Police Is the Closest Thing to a “Good” Bubblegum Crisis Spin-off

Last year marked the 30th anniversary of ARTMIC’s pop rock cyberpunk classic Bubblegum Crisis. Throughout the year we published articles and translations about the series, which you can find using the Bubblegum Crisis tag. This article may or may not have been kicking around in the Zimmerit archives since that time, but we’re not admitting to anything.

“What’s the best Bubblegum Crisis sequel?” was one of the questions that came up when I was on the Anime Nostalgia podcast last year, and unfortunately, there’s no perfect answer. For diehard fans of the original, both Bubblegum Crash (1991) and Bubblegum Crisis 2040 (1998) lacked the charm and edge of the original OVA. Credit where credit’s due, 2040 established its own fanbase and encouraged a lot of fans to check out the original, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone willing to defend Crash (though saying that all but assures that someone will show up to defend it). Vaguely-related side stories and spinoffs like Parasite Dolls (2003) and the sorta-maybe prequel MADOX-01 (1988) might scratch the Bubblegum Crisis itch, but they’re not the same. The strongest contender is the three-part OVA AD Police Files (1990), but it’s not as cut and dry as you’d think.

AD Police Files (1990)

The best of the animated sequels is AD Police Files. A side-story set before the original series, Files is both reminiscent of Crisis and very, very different, as it fits squarely within the contemporary shock n’ gore trend of OVAs prevalent at the tail end of the ’80s. Those looking for more Hardsuits and pop rock will be disappointed, but the side-story status of Files makes direct comparisons to the original more difficult than Crash or 2040. Each of the three stand-alone AD Police Files episodes takes a much darker, more traditionally “cyberpunk” approach to the city of MegaTokyo, boomers, and obviously, the beleaguered AD Police.

Files follows a young Leon McNichol, just recruited from the normal police and not yet the parfait-loving, tail-chasing guy we knew him as in Crisis. His partner Daly Wong is nowhere to be seen and has been swapped out for Jeena Marceau, who serves as a mentor to Leon and has a cybernetic arm to remind us just how cyberpunk this show is. Without the nearly-superhuman Knight Sabers to clean up every mess, the underfunded and overworked AD Police seem to be fighting a losing battle against Genom’s out-of-control boomers.

While this could be the perfect setup for a Patlabor-esque take on the difficulties of dealing with a city overrun with haywire robots and mundanity of future police work, Files takes the much easier path of being just another gory cartoon. While Crisis walked a fine line between lighthearted and serious, Files doubles-down on darkness and ultimately suffers for it. The series feels a few years behind that late ‘80s trend of dark and violent OVAs exemplified by the likes of Wicked City (1987) and Demon City Shinjuku (1988), but it’s bizarre that the creators behind Files went so hard on that darkness while later episodes of Crisis (followed by Crash) were taking the opposite approach. The last two episodes of Crisis, “Double Vision” (1990) and “Scoop Chase” (1991), were both significantly lighter in tone and style than earlier episodes, and Crash followed suit. Files was released around the same time but feels substantially different, almost like it was released a couple of years too late.

Tonal peculiarities aside, the feeling Files leaves you with is not so much disappointment, but wasted opportunity. Files flirts with ideas about losing your humanity from cybernetic augmentation (something rarely touched on in anime, rarely touched on in anime, but a very common theme in contemporary western cyberpunk), but then fails to take those ideas anywhere interesting. Jeena is a tough-as-nails cliche who invariably plays backup to milquetoast Leon, but her potential as a character is wasted. Though given how poorly Files treats every other woman character (which to be clear is very, very poorly), maybe that’s for the best.

Much like the original series, Files at least makes an effort to differentiate itself with its music, including songs performed by Filipina musician Lou Bonnevie in one of those bubble era idiosyncrasies of using a foreign artist to create a soundtrack. Beyond its musical oddities and the Bubblegum Crisis name slapped on the front, there’s little to differentiate Files from the hordes of other violent OVAs released around the same time.

Admittedly, that’s not a rousing endorsement. That Files may be the best of the animated sequel to Crisis speaks more to the quality of its competitors than its own merits. Crash may just be bland and dull, but the uninspired violence and misogyny in Files can make it difficult to revisit today.

There’s a caveat, though: Files was based on a couple of manga series by Tony Takezaki and those are much, much easier to recommend.

Dead End City (1990)

AD Police: Dead End City (1990) was translated and released by Viz right as the legally licensed anime and manga translation industry was really kicking off. Such was the enthusiasm for Crisis in the early ’90s that Dead End City was serialized in early issues of Viz’s Animerica magazine, a magazine that also serialized decidedly more high-brow fare like Leiji Matsumoto’s Galaxy Express 999 and Hayao Miyazaki’s Porco Rosso. Dead End City, like Files, is a prequel starring Leon and Jeena, but Jeena takes more of the spotlight.

Toshimichi Suzuki, ARTMIC head honcho and Crisis creator, is credited with the comic’s story and as a result, there’s some value for those looking to explore MegaTokyo a bit more. But as much as Suzuki and Takezaki dive into the background of MegaTokyo, the AD Police, and some familiar characters, they also reuse plenty of Blade Runner elements that were already trotted out in the original OVA. Most notably, the central plot hook concerning a group of boomers that escape from an orbital space station.

That’s the basic plot of Blade Runner and Crisis‘ fifth episode, “Moonlight Rambler,” but it’s taken in a slightly different direction here; instead of replicants or vampire sexaroids just looking to live their damn lives, we get a quadrupedal service boomer with a messiah complex. While there isn’t much in Dead End City that directly connects to the original OVA aside from the setting and Leon, it does play a major role in an elaborate fan theory linking it with the two primary villains of Crisis.

If you can tolerate the rehashed Blade Runner riffs, there’s a lot to enjoy in Dead End City. Takezaki’s work is detailed and engaging (though his artwork is muddled in the Viz trade paperback version) and he sprinkles in enough humor so that it never reaches the dreary lows of Files. Like the OVA, things get violent and bloody, but there’s enough humanity and brevity throughout that it never feels as overbearing or demoralizing.

Jeena also gets more of a starring role and Dead End City benefits all the more for it, in part because a Crisis spinoff without a leading woman just feels a bit… off. And unlike in Crisis, where Leon mostly creates messes that the Knight Sabers are forced to clean up, here, he’s actually a competent police officer. Had the OVA tried to emulate more of Dead End City’s humanity and humor, it would have been a much better cartoon.

The old Viz release is easy to find and not too expensive, but it has issues with the art reproduction and skips a full-color introductory chapter added to the Japanese tankoubon release.

We’re not quite done, though, because there’s one more AD Police manga that predates both Dead End City and the OVA.

Takezaki’s manga wasn’t the only Bubblegum Crisis comic released during the OVA’s heydey; Tokio Kazuka’s Go! Go! Sabers was serialized in B-Club Magazine alongside Dead End City. Go! Go! Sabers took a more lighthearted approach by focusing on the Knight Sabers and their lives outside of being vigilantes, eschewing gritty cyberpunk aesthetics for comedy. With English-speaking fan demographics being what they were in the early ‘90s, it’s not surprising that Dead End City got localized while Go! Go! Sabers stayed in Japan.

AD Police 25:00 (1989)

These days Takezaki is best known for satirical comics based on Gundam, Evangelion, and Ghost in the Shell, but most of his original work is bizarre, surreal, and genuinely hilarious. He tapped into that with the first AD Police manga he wrote and illustrated, published a year before Dead End City. AD Police 25:00 was serialized in the short-lived magazine Comic Noizy, alongside Crisis character designer Kenichi Sonoda’s own Riding Bean manga. Not only does it stand out because it was published as a dual-language comic in both Japanese and English, but it took the world of Crisis to some very unusual places.

Obscure enough that the English-language AD Police Wikipedia page doesn’t even mention it, 25:00 was a more direct inspiration for Files than Dead End City (Takezaki is listed as the “original creator” in the OVA’s credits). Confusingly, while Files is a prequel set five years prior to Crisis, 25:00 is set concurrently to Crisis and thus includes cameos by the Knight Sabers and other familiar characters from the original.

The chapter “Meatsauce Ecstasy” in 25:00 became the “Phantom Woman” episode of the OVA and tells the story of a refurbished boomer obsessed with being killed by Leon. “The Man Who Bites His Tongue,” arguably the best episodes of Files,  appeared in 25:00 as a chapter by the same name, and tells the story of a cybernetic AD Police officer who injects drugs into his tongue because it’s the only part of him that’s still flesh. Both of those are comparatively “normal” chapters for 25:00.

A Seizo Watase-inspired moment in AD Police 25:00.

The other chapters in 25:00 serve as an excuse for Takezaki to play with unexpected art styles and exercise his offbeat sense of humor. When he’s playing things straight, his work looks like a b-tier Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira, Farewell to Weapons), but the best chapters in 25:00 are when he shows off his artistic range and lunacy. In “Boomer in Nanba,” Leon visits Osaka and things get absurd with a boomer running amok, but not before Leon stops at the noodle shop from Blade Runner. In that single chapter, Takezaki jumps between Monkey Punch-inspired slapstick, creepy horror imagery, and a riff on Seizo Watase’s contemporary normalcy, all with significant changes to his art style to match. Another chapter, “Fear!! Briefs Boomer,” is drawn entirely like an American superhero comic and features an underwear-obsessed boomer, a Colonel Sanders statue gag, and a small subplot about Leon not washing his hands after using the bathroom.

25:00 is a bizarre comic that plays with a well-known franchise in ways you’d never expect. Its strange dual-language format makes it easy for English-speaking fans to follow along (nearly everything is translated, barring some gags in the margins) if they can stomach the occasionally awkward, typo-ridden dialogue. It’s unclear why it was printed like this, as dual-language manga to help Japanese people learn English wasn’t unusual in the ’80s, but that wasn’t the purpose of Comic Noizy. Thankfully, it both adds to how unique 25:00 is and makes it easily accessible for overseas fans. Win-win.

Case Closed

Among all of the disappointing Bubblegum Crisis sequels and remakes, AD Police, in one form or another, is the best of the bunch. The AD Police Files OVA is a dreary, blood-soaked cartoon that’s definitely Not Kid’s Stuff. Dead End City is an enjoyable, albeit unoriginal, cyberpunk comic that’s largely unremarkable but still worth reading. 25:00 is a chaotic mix of styles, humor, and languages that don’t always work flawlessly but is fun nonetheless. Sure, none of them really feel like Crisis, but that’s probably a good thing – why bother with a luke-warm reheat or an uninspired reboot when you could have something that leaves you saying “what the fuck was that?”