Bubblegum Crisis 5: "Moonlight Rambler": A Cyberpunk Interpretation

Ho Lin, Brown University '92

[Author's Note: The dialogue quoted here is taken from the subtitled translations of Bubblegum Crisis episode 5 by Animeigo, Ltd. I have compared it to other translations, and this version appears to be the best and most accurate.]

Out of the eight BGC episodes, this one perhaps addresses cyberpunk issues most directly, and one can easily see it as a companion piece to Blade Runner in its examination of what exactly it means to be human. As with the Ridley Scott film, the episode is a movement away from apparently clear distinctions to disorientation and ambiguity when it comes to distinguishing humans and machines.

The opening passage of the episode, like many BGC openings, gains significance upon further viewings. At first blush, it seems relatively straightforward: five women are attempting to escape from the Genaros space station, three of them are killed by "Doberman" Boomers, and two, Sylvie and Anri, blast off to safety. The women express fear, hope, frustration, grief, and they even bleed. The lines of battle appear to be clear-cut as the recognizably machine-like and towering Boomers are pitted against the vulnerable but persistent humans. But after watching the rest of the episode and learning that the five women were actually Boomers themselves, one's responses towards the women are changed; if they are androids but seemed so completely human at the outset, who can tell the difference between humans and machines? Our move towards disorientation and ambiguity has begun.

On Earth, the four protagonists are going about their daily routines, but it is Priss and Sylia who notice the twinkling of Sylvie and Anri's escape shuttle in the night sky. It is only fitting, as Priss will befriend Sylvie and ultimately serve as the tragic instrument of her death, and Sylia herself is surrounded by ambiguity when it comes to her humanity.

The next morning Leon and Daley fly out to investigate the clearing where the shuttle has crashed. While in the air, Daley propositions Leon, who pushes aside the advances with "Not now, I've got a headache." It is the first direct mention of sex, but it will not be the last, as it will play an important motif as the episode progresses. As Leon surveys the wreckage, he comments, "There's no way anyone could have survived," which raises our first doubts as to Sylvie and Anri's identities. But in a way, his statement also reinforces the basic stereotypes that separate man and machine, i.e. if it can withstand much greater punishment, it must be a machine, and easily differentiated from humans. With Leon's masculine,

bodies of the couple from the night before are kept. Leon, ever the masculine presence, comments, "Never mind the guy, it's a shame it happened to a nice-looking girl, right, Nene?" Later, in their police car, Leon provides the key, stating casually that the "vampire" killer might simply be an S-33 Boomer on the loose -- a primitive model which requires blood to function. He jokes that they'll have to nab it quick, otherwise "there won't be any cute girls left," to which Nene replies very seriously, "That's true...That means I have to be careful, too!" Leon is confused by this remark...

Nene reports this information to Sylia, who fills in another piece of the puzzle with the fact that S-33's can merge with combat hardware such as the D.D. battlemover. She also mentions (with a slight blush) that the S-33's were originally built as "sexaroids" (and no doubt built for the same purpose as the original Priss from Blade Runner), a fact that Nene is excited about. After a surprised rebuff from Sylia about thinking about "perverted things," she responds, "Well, why not?" Her strong (could one say starved?) curiosity with sex is another sign of the undercurrent of sex which runs through this episode. Sylia spends a quiet moment considering the situation, wondering what "the ladyfriend" is after; the answer is simpler than anything she might have come up with --the opportunity to live independently, without constraints, just like a human. But the revelation of Sylvie's identity adds another feminist slant, as the women we witnessed escaping at the beginning can now be seen as "products" created by technology; female oppression by men and their technology is now in the form of a tangible metaphor, as the sexaroids have been "constructed" for men's pleasure.

Sylvie and Priss relax for a moment on the beach, close to the Genom Research Complex. Despite being scratched by a cat (and thus having her machine nature confirmed), Sylvie winks at Priss, "I'm free now." The irony and tragedy of the situation, of course, is that she will never be free; she has had to resort to killing people in order to keep her systems operational, and even after she has acquired the data disk which will release her from this dependency, she still must rely on the Genom-made D.D. battle mover to survive, a reliance which will be fatal. The point is driven home in the short sequence that follows -- another attack on a human, and a replenishment of blood.

Flint meets again with largo regarding the ruckus Sylvie is causing. "The 33-S is an old model. It won't stand a chance in the city," he states, but insists that it be terminated as soon as possible. The remark reinforces the humanity that Sylvie and her fellow sexaroids have displayed throughout the episode; they may be precision machines, but in many ways they are as vulnerable as humans.

Sylvie replenishes Anri's systems in a scene with sexual overtones, and their relationship -- Anri insisting that Sylvie think only about herself, Sylvie remaining optimistic about the future and gaining self-sufficiency -- proves to be as deep and trusting as any of the other human characters. Despite their non-human need to continually replace their blood supply, their friendship and concern for each other is something that dissolves easy distinctions between human and inhuman.

Back at the AD Police office, the Chief is at it again, and when Daley calls Leon passes his boss' tantrum off (in his typically masculine manner) as "his usual bitchiness." When Daley gives him some useful information about the D.D. and its J-l system, Leon thanks him with a promise that he will be "extra nice" to him when he gets back. In the male world, affection is a commodity that can be exchanged in return for other goods.

Sylvie succeeds in obtaining the data disk but is chased by two Genom Boomers -- tall, muscular men who are unable to keep their "human" forms and break out of their skins to enter battle. Sylvie, however, being an older model, is overmatched by them and must flee, the retaining of her form and her subsequent wounding by the Boomers only enhancing her human qualities.

The Boomers corner Sylvie at the bottom of an abandoned highway, but they are quickly stomped by the D.D. As Leon arrives on the scene, suited up in his own armor, the D.D. (which roars like a lion and whose "head" becomes more "male" as it swings into automatic mode) cold-bloodedly detects "weakness" in the form of Sylvie's decelerated heart rate and immediately takes over, "using" her as surely as her original designers constructed her for Genom executives' "use." There are connotations of rape and bondage in this sequence as Sylvie screams and the machine wraps itself her arms and legs, holding them in place. Leon, who has nothing but courage to rely upon in the face of his technological superior opponent, is quickly rendered helpless by the D.D. And thus it is up to the Knight Sabers, who straddle the line between human and machine (human on the inside but protected by their hardsuit shells on the outside), feminine and masculine (women dressed in suits that were originally designed by a man, Sylia's father), to save the day.

Before passing out, Leon reveals that the D.D. is on a countdown to self-destruction with a micro-neutron bomb, leaving the final battle between the women (the Knight Sabers and Sylvie) and the manifestation of technology that threatens them. Sylvie manages to reveal herself in the cockpit and begs Priss to kill her so the D.D. will shut down, but Priss (perhaps still believing that Sylvie is human) is unable to follow through and is clobbered by the D.D. The other Sabers give it a shot, but for once it appears that Genom and man-made technology will prove to be too much as even Sylia is trapped in the claws of the D.D. The situation looks grim as the D.D. aims its cannons at Sylia...

But then Priss intervenes, the faceplate of her armor destroyed by the earlier blow, revealing her face, a sign of both humanity and femininity. The D.D. attempts to finish her off, and does manage to destroy her moto-bike armor (technology destroying technology), but the human underneath is unscathed, and rising like a phoenix from the explosion, she delivers the fatal shot. Even as Sylvie collapses into Priss' arms, there are no signs that she is a Boomer, no machinery visible underneath a gaping wound. As she asks Priss to give Anri the data disk, there are even visible tears welling in her eyes. When Priss refutes Sylia's suggestion to hand the disk over to the police with the vow, "Sylvie was a friend. I can't betray my friends," any possible means of distinguishing human from machine are lost.

At this moment, our bearings still lost and the old definitions of "human" and "boomer" in grave doubt, we see Largo, back at the Genom Tower, calling Sylia's name, and she hears him and turns. It is the first brilliant hint that Sylia may not be all she appears to be, and coming after the transformation of Sylvie from apparent human to apparent machine to all-but-superficially-human, it throws the viewer's ability to judge into further uncertainty. And with that the episode ends, with more questions than answers, our move towards disorientation and confusion complete.

Last modified 1992