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"Hug me Tight:"
Reflections on Bubblegum Crisis, Episode 6:
"Red Eyes" (1989)

27 March thru 26 April 2022 []

spoilers ahead. Please don't read this before watching the episode; it might ruin your enjoyment of it.

Well, here it is. A sequel article. I really burned myself out on the last one, so deciding to write this is probably a mistake. But once again, Bubblegum Crisis managed to leave me in awe and reduce me to tears. The more I think about it, the less I can resist dissecting it.

I can hardly imagine that I'll be writing more of these for seven or eight; I just can't see them managing to top this - especially given the circumstances of production as relationships broke down and lawyers started circling the show like vultures.

In a perfect world, where I had infinite time and no other problems to concern myself with, I'd probably enjoy writing up this series as a whole. But I just don't see it happening, and these two episodes definitely deserve this treatment more than the first four did.

I'm sorry in advance if I repeat myself a lot in this article. I wrote half of it near the end of March, stopped for about two or three weeks to keep up with schoolwork and do other things, and only just now came back to it. I've probably repeated things I talked about when I first sat down to write this that I didn't catch while reading and revising.

Another reason I am writing this is that I had shown Moonlight Rambler (episode 5) to some friends, and showed some of them my giant writeup about it to see what they thought and if they had different interpretations of things. Now that I've shown some of them Red Eyes (episode 6), a couple have asked me if I was planning to write about it.

Title card for the episode "Red Eye's"
There's a mistake there, of course. There should be no apostrophe.
And what happened to the fancy '"MEGA TOKYO 2033" | BUBBLEGUM CRISIS' logo?

I am not sure if this post will live up to the standards of my last one. It depends partially on my mood while writing it, and how much work I put into the editing stage after the initial thought dump. I am also feeling kind of burned out from writing for school at the moment.

It also is worth noting that since many of my thoughts on six are logical extensions and conclusions of things I discussed while writing about episode Moonlight Rambler, I would be repeating myself if I tried to explain everything from that episode again here. On account of this, I would recommend that you read my manifesto on episode five first, as I will be referring to it rather frequently.

Unlike Moonlight Rambler, which I wrote about largely as philosophical rumination on the nature of people, I think that my Red Eyes analysis will focus more on highlighting the choices the writers made, and illustrating why their literary devices were so impactful to me personally. I sort of did this with Moonlight Rambler as well, but I talked about it more to address questions that the episode posed. I didn't see as many of those kinds of ambiguous questions with no clear answers in Red Eyes; it felt like this episode was more about closure – as well as celebrating the intensity and beauty of compassion, empathy, kindness, and love that most of us have the potential for.

I hope that while dissecting this one, I don't lose all of my feelings about it - like how explaining a joke just kills it. My feelings have returned somewhat for Moonlight Rambler, but i don't see it quite the same as I did before writing about. Maybe part of my brain is just tired of it after seeing it probably a dozen times. I bet if I take a break from it and come back in five years it'll hurt almost as bad as my first watching. On my first watch, however, it totally blindsided me by portraying sylvie sympathetically (the show had not really done that up until that point, with the exception of maybe a few seconds with Cynthia).

It also was especially effective because I didn't know for sure if Sylvie was a boomer or not (the sparks should be a giveaway, but sometimes anime likes using sparks for electrified things. Maybe the debris was electrified). I also had no idea what was happening until near the end of the episode, but had to stay engaged piecing it all together.

But anyway, this post is supposed to be about episode six; not episode five. Again, If you want to read about episode five first (which I would recommend), you can do that by clicking here.

I am sure I will gloss over or miss some aspects of this episode, because the definite standout part is the ending and my attention naturally gets drawn there.

Red Eyes has central themes of love, grief, frustration, anger, loss, purification, and rebirth.

Table of Contents

Small Things First

Before I get underway, I just want to say that I was right about Leon. In the miscellaneous notes at the bottom of the Moonlight Rambler post, I asked if Leon was aware for the end of the episode. It tickled me that I was right about it, because that's the kind of detail I usually wouldn't notice or think about. I think it came to mind because:

  1. I knew leon was still in the broken K-12, and
  2. Priss taking off her helmet (while appropriate for the situation) felt like an excellent opportunity to set this up.

It was fun to think like a writer for once.

Priss's confidence is shattered, and her decision to quit and subsequent solo adventure are a focal point of the episode. Priss is in almost every scene that I felt strongly about... although Largo's variety of evil was also hypnotic because I was trying to figure out his motives and background. Somehow, it never clicked during that the insider knowledge within Genom and the access to the satellite attack ("S.A.") system both pointed to Mason. I didn't realize its significance at all until the next morning after watching. What a payoff for episodes 1-3 and 5.

I wonder if we'll see more of Madigan in the last two episodes. If it hadn't been cut short, I am certain she'd appear again. I wonder if she's one of those "cyberdroids" or something. I also have no idea about the chairman (Quincy's) real goals. The way he asked if there was proof or not of someone working from within to help the Knight Sabers makes me curious just how much he knows.

Madigan could also just be a top level human executive or something. I really have no idea. She had enough screen time that I assume she will be (or was meant to be) important.

Masami O'bari was the director for both episodes five and six. I wonder what else O'bari wrote/directed, outside of this series. If it's anywhere near this beautifully done, I owe it to myself to see it.

I noticed that the animation/drawing style seems a little different in this episode. It's certainly noticeable compared to the first three episodes. I wonder if the style was consciously changed, or if it just sort of evolved that way. This was the first episode of 1989, so I suppose we were approaching the 90's at this point. "Quincy" especially has a different look to him. I suppose it's 2033 or later now, but still.

I kind of like the art style change, but I also miss the rougher look just a little.

This post's title comes from my personal translation(¹) of a lyric in the song that plays when the credits start: "Rock Me."

Who Wore it Best? (Moonlight Rambler vs. Red Eyes)

I should mention that most of my writing will probably focus on the latter half of the episode. Moonlight Rambler definitely kept me more consistently engaged. This episode had some dragging moments and stuff which felt like it didn't need to be there. Not that it was actually bad – but the really incredible stuff only happened in the last half or third of Red Eyes, while Moonlight Rambler had me totally enthralled from beginning to end.

I will be talking about the ending of Red Eyes a lot, since it's the best part of the episode, but for now I'll just say that where Moonlight Rambler kept me in a constant state of heartbreak and pity, Red Eyes' impact was more like being slapped in the face or bitten. In other words, it was sudden and caught me utterly unprepared to deal with it. There was also something beautiful about it though. Even moreso than with Moonlight Rambler, it can destroy me every single time I watch it.

So, Moonlight Rambler left me sad and aching, and Red Eyes was uplifting – and disarmingly human, given its setting. It left me seeing the good things people can do, instead of just wallowing in the tragedy and cruelty of human selfishness.

As awe-inspiring as the ending was for me, if I were to rate it like a critic, I would say that Moonlight Rambler was better constructed. It kept me guessing and piecing things together the entire episode, almost like a mystery. It also focused on the sense of belonging, which was touchingly human to me. Even clichée's like the cat scene were effective. Meanwhile, this one did have some of that going on, but honestly that was only if you were locked on to Largo the entire time and trying to figure him out. The satellite attacks really should have been my giveaway. But then there's things like the crazy maniacal laughter on the top of the bank the fake Knight Sabers are robbing. Honestly, that entire fight felt forced. I get that it was to be able to follow Priss solo, but it still was such a ridiculous situation.

If I were just to rate the second half of Red Eyes, it would definitely come out on top, no matter how much I still adore Moonlight Rambler. It was almost perfect. I say "almost" because I'm sure there's stuff I could criticize (like tropes) if I wanted to. By comparison, I noticed many fewer tropes in Moonlight Rambler. As I have said before, though, I don't care so much about those. Instead, I value character interactions, growth, and larger, more abstract concepts behind a story. If it was supposed to be realistic, it would have had a different setting with a different plot, and it would be in a different genre.

Plot & Character Studies

I think the best way for me to tackle the rest of this episode might be to focus on individual characters first and then tie up loose ends. So, without further ado, here we go.

Priss: Sorrow, Rage, & Renewal of Spirit

Sylia leaves Priss's trailer. She tells Priss that she
                    believes in her before closing the door.
"I believe in you, Priss."

Moonlight Rambler largely followed Sylvie, and to a lesser extent Priss. Red Eyes, by contrast, largely follows Priss, and to a lesser extent Largo.

Priss has been crushed by grief and feelings of survivor's guilt. After having to shoot Sylvie and let her friend die in her arms, I think it's a reasonable reaction to have.

That does not mean Priss should have felt the way she did... but it does feel in-character for her to be upset. Sylvie was doomed the moment the J-1 activated, which was before Priss even got there. "Not being strong enough" only makes sense as an excuse if she meant she couldn't destroy the DD fast enough. But I'll give it a pass, because later in the episode something happens to make it take on additional meaning, and I know what was meant here in any case. Priss feels that she failed to protect her friend.

Later in this episode, we return to the concept of humans that look like robots embracing robots that look like humans. I still don't know if that was intentional or not, but it was still striking for me, and even more powerful for the bloodletting (which Priss could see as atonement, I guess?).

Anri has just stabbed her, but clearly hasn't got any true killing intent. Priss seems to feel it's deserved, and just lets it happen. She explains, crying as she speaks, what happened between her and Sylvie. At that point she pulls Anri into a hug and forces the knife to cut deeper.

One of my favorite images from the episode. Priss hugging Anri.
Possibly my single favorite piece of imagery in an episode packed with wonderful pictures.
It is the inspiration for this post's title, alongside the song lyrics at the end.

One last thought: at the very end of the episode, overlooking the sunrise, Priss remembers Sylvie and Anri and puts down her visor. I wonder if she is crying under her mask.

Anri: What Was She Thinking?

While watching this, especially for the first time, one question kept nagging at me: "What's up with Anri?"

Sure, she was being manipulated by Largo, but she still seems to be surprisingly willing to keep complying, after I'd have thought he'd made his true nature apparent to her.

Anri's passiveness and willingness to take part in all of Largo's plots was sort of unnerving for me the first time I watched it. It still feels strange... but not entirely implausible. I have thought of some explanations that might at least somewhat rationalize how she acts in this episode.

Whereas Sylvie seemed to be a go-getter and leader, the entire time we know Anri (from the start of episode 5 onward), she's being guarded or moved around by others. I think the reason she stuck with Largo even after he (to her eyes) possibly killed Priss is partially out of fear by that point, even if she initially joined him because she was manipulated by him.

Anri shouting out to Largo as he prepares to hit Priss
                    with a satellite attack.
I perceive Anri as being "concerned, but powerless" for much of this episode.²

Anri seems to be going along with Largo almost 'by default' much of the time. I get the feeling she didn't know what to do with herself without Sylvie or any of the others, and perhaps Largo gave her a 'purpose.'

No matter how many misgivings Anri may have, she might not see any way out in a world that is hostile to people like her. Hiding behind Largo, which she does several times at Genom Tower, she is at least somewhat protected from that hostility. By defaulting to supporting Largo, holding fast to the idea that in the end everything might work out for the better, she ignores many warning signs about him. I suppose the idea is that "to make an omlette, you have to break some eggs."

As those eggs start to stack up, though, it seems to become obvious even to Anri that Largo is not only dangerous but revelling in the destruction he causes. Destroying all of the genom towers he targetted was pure grandstanding and also totally unnecessary mass murder.

When he destroys the research center in front of her, we momentarily see her face as she watches. She looks on as one looks at a train crash. Horrified, but unable to look away.

Anri's petrified face of shock/horror as the genom research
                    center is destroyed in front of her.
I read Anri's face here (as she watches Largo destroying part of the city) as a mix of shock and dawning horror.
Maybe she is realizing how many deaths she's complicitly become responsible for.


Oh, boy. Where to begin?

I'm probably going to skip quite a few things I could be talking about. The whole "Mason" aspect of this feels like a topic for another day (and no, I am not currently planning to write about that in the future; not sure if I even want to write more about Bubblegum Crisis at all.)

Interacting with Anri, I see Largo as a devil-like figure tempting Anri to sin. He offers promises of vengeance, whispered half truths, and suggestions that after exacting revenge, she might finally feel at ease. In Anri's moment of grief and weakness, he finds tender soil. Nowhere is this more apparent than when he is handing Anri the dagger and whispering in her ear.

Largo handing Anri the dagger.
"Now is your chance. She's upset... The one who killed your beloved Sylvie is your hated foe. Kill her. Kill her!"

The "soon, you will be free" thing earlier in the episode also feels like a cruel, ironic joke... sort of like the mother in the third episode who was saving up to leave the city and move to the country "where the air is clean," only to be crushed when her apartment was demolished as she ran in to get her life savings. Mason was, of course, responsible for this.

Want to take a guess as to where the graveyard is (as seen in episode two: Born to Kill)?

The graveyard in the countryside, with the city in the
                    distant background.

I don't know if they intended for people to make that connection, since the graveyard's in a different episode, but I did. I think episode three would have felt a lot more powerful if they'd used the same graveyard from episode two for its credits.

I told my mom about this idea, and she likened it to Dostoevsky. I think She made a nice observation.

Even as she stabs Priss, Anri's heart is clearly not in it. Face to face with Sylvie's killer, she stabs in a non-lethal spot and then stops. Maybe she thought that was enough to kill Priss, but I think she was telling herself that making Priss hurt was enough. Or maybe she's just that ill-suited to hurting people. I think I like the last explanation most.

While Priss did undeniably kill Sylvie, and in that way Largo was telling the truth, his omissions were used to his advantage. Anri realizes that, as always, the devil is in the details.

Perhaps, then, revenge wasn't the thing Anri really needed to be at ease. But she has already been drawn into Largo's web of lies.

Finally, despite having more 'organic' origins, originally, Largo is more of a coldhearted machine than a completely artificial robot designed as a sexual object. I think the episode asserts that something like Anri or Sylvie has more of right to be called 'human' than an actual human like Brian J. Mason, because they exhibit the hallmarks of what people consider to be "humane." They are capable of acting altruistically, and have a sort of ambiguity about their goals. They are independent enough to be able to do things like rebelling, but also fragile enough to feel insecurity. They can feel as lost and lonely as many people do, looking for somewhere they can fit in. Largo, meanwhile, in spite of originally being human, has cast that aside in a quest for power.

To me, Sylvie/Anri/Priss, in sharp sharp contrast with Genom/Largo, represent two sides of the same coin: humanity's capacity for great compassion and kindness, versus its capacity for avarice/greed, cruelty, and lust for power. They both are capable of anger, but Priss's rage comes from a sense of justice and love; Largo's comes from malice towards someone who has interfered with his power tripping.

Priss & Leon

I don't have a ton to say here, except that this show managed to have Leon show that he knew Priss's "other job" as a Knight Saber, without making it feel like he was trying to use it as leverage over her. I'm glad they included the scene. It was a good, tender moment. I think Priss is starting to appreciate Leon more, too, even if she won't let him know it.

To be honest, it reminded me of something I'd see in a (good) Spider-Man comic or similar.

Priss & Blood

Priss and blood continue to have an interesting relationship in episode 6.

Priss during Leon's flashback/dream. The only thing that
                    isn't blue is the scratch on her cheek.
The only thing that isn't blue in this flashback is the scratch on Priss's cheek.

I don't know how much of it is on purpose, but Priss's bike, eye color, and performance getup all feature red heavily. It feels like something of a calling card for her. I don't know if blood relates to that. But maybe?

Whatever the case, there's plenty of blood to go around in this episode, especially near the end, from Anri's death onwards. I think it probably means the same things here that it did in episode 5, so see that review if it interests you. I just thought it was worth mentioning again.

What made the ending so powerful?

I think much of this episode's power and intensity comes from the rapid succession of emotional states it worked me into in a short span of time.

I didn't have time to really process what I was feeling. I knew on an emotional level what the episode was doing, but on a conscious level I was too busy fixating and thinking about the ramifications of some previous event to be able to come to terms with what was happening on the screen. In other words, I think I was responding emotionally in the moment, but having delayed responses articulating and accounting for my feelings. I think things started piling up because of this.

I tend to analyze things from many angles at once, and the jumping around added to the turmoil, too.

Effective Visuals

There were a lot of good visuals in the second half of this episode... I feel like can't focus on them too much because I feel like I'm using too many screenshots already. But a few of the particularly strong ones I feel like I need to talk about.

There's a lot of stuff that is more effective in animation than still photos, like many of Priss's expressions while holding Anri, as Largo provokes her.

Priss's armor vanishes in light of Anri's accusation.
"You killed Sylvie!"

The shock of last time has been replaced with a feeling of... emptiness, I suppose. Anri's words penetrated all of Priss's defenses, because Priss herself is still haunted by what she had to do and feels responsible for what happened.

I think another reason this shot worked so well because it was sort of a callback to a shot in the previous episode.

Priss's armor vanishes in light Sylvie's request.
"Kill me."

This show has been giving us "x-ray" views inside the suits of characters more recently. It happened to Priss and Sylia in Moonlight Rambler, and both of them had it happen again here at key moments. I think part of the reason this works emotively is that is in response to disarming words that hit weak points. It serves as a reminder of the fragile people inside the outfits, as well as the elimination of a facade.

In Japanese culture, it is rather common to represent someone's soul or core as a naked version of themselves.

When we are alone in a room, things like clothes that hide, protect, and disguise us matter little. We cannot hide from our own natures, and might even feel more comfortable naked in the privacy of our homes. Discarding all superficiality, therefore, we are the most vulnerable, but also our purest, without any trappings of society. I think (correct me if I'm wrong) that this is one of the main reasons that nudity is associated with purity in Japanese culture.

There's no nudity here, of course, but we still do see underneath the suits of Priss and Sylia at key moments, when something that someone's just said has shaken them. This happened in Moonlight Rambler as well.

Priss's suit also gets mostly destroyed in this episode, slowly removing her armor and rendering her more and more vulnerable, in the same sense that nudity would (even if not actually naked here).

Priss dashing under one of largo's robot cohorts' legs after it crushes her helmet.
First, Priss is stripped of her helmet... and then everything else.
She is left completely vulnerable, both physically and emotionally.

Come to think of it, there was also a scene much earlier in the episode where we get to see Nene facing many of the same emotions at the shooting range. This episode deals a lot in feelings of helplessness.

Nene also feels frustrated, enraged, and helpless.
Nene, also crying in rage, frustration, and helplessness.

This is unrelated, but did you know? The character designer for this series, Kenichi Sonoda, loves guns and collects firearms. He later drew a manga called "Gunsmith Cats."

I sort of wonder if Leon is/was going to figure out Nene's identity, too. It feels like a distinct possibility... Argh, the fact that this series ended prematurely drives me crazy. This is why we can't have nice things.

Anyway, Priss is frustrated to the point of tears. This frustration stems from her own physical weakness next to these man-made terrors. She has once again failed to save someone she cares about, and is angry about her own limitations.

Priss crying in rage, frustrated by her own
Once again, a mix of sadness, rage, powerlessness, and frustration.

This display of weakness makes Sylia's ending line about human frailty all the better.

There's one other visual that I think is striking. This isn't a visual from this episode, but it feels relevant, especially considering the emphasis on blood that this series has been working with for a little while now.

Mason discards his humanity (and blood) in exchange for power, and becomes a true monster.

Mason, reflected in a pool of his own blood.
Here, Mason looks eerily vampiric... though I suppose he still at least has a reflection here.
Not to mention, he is the only thing stained red in the blood's reflection... except the eyes.

The God in the Machine

Then, the deus ex machina enters. In my opinion, it looks almost angelic, although that's probably just a coincidence. In any case, it delivers a new suit and gives her a second chance to fight. I think it feels like the arrival of this robot is Sylvie and Anri helping from "beyond the grave," as it were. By the way, would sentient robots have an afterlife (if humans get an afterlife)? Would they have "souls?" It would seem only fair to me... although I bet a lot of religions would take issue with the idea.

Top: Priss's "Guardian Angel." Bottom: Priss's
                    armour mysteriously flies away as she approaches the
Priss's "guardian angel" appears.
How does the remaining armor know to fly off of Priss? Magic? Maybe...

When the robot opens up and reveals a suit, it almost seems like a gift from the gods. Highly unlikely, but exactly what Priss had just wished for. The new combat suit itself almost looks like it is inviting Priss in as the compartment containing it opens. It bears its arms outwards; The old suit practically dissolves off of her as she runs for the machine.

Finally, the last of her armor mysteriously flies off as she rushes toward the new suit, and after her ultimate moment of weakness and vulnerability she is reborn, stronger than ever.

Priss's new armor. Stitched picture to get the full view from feet to head.
"Here I come, you monstrous bastard!"
To me, this new suit is also indicative of purification and rebirth.
It's also the moment I officially started falling apart.

Priss flies into an enraged attack on the robots and largo. The three cronies are no longer any match for her; they are completely ripped apart. These are the same robots that had three of the Knight Sabers completely helpless before. One wonders if it's just the suit, or if there's a figurative emotional point being made here. I think there definitely is.

I think for me, the moment when she basically says "I'm coming for you, monstrous bastard," her delivery (at least in the Japanese dub) is so perfect, and timed so well with the soundtrack, that I consider it bar none the single most emotionally charged moment in the episode. I think I felt more at the end, but that's primarily because I finally had a chance to breathe and start processing things. Upon re-watching, this is the scene that can get me going every single time (including when I went back to take this screengrab).

It is interesting to note that they originally planned to kill Priss off in this episode due to contractual problems with Priss's voice actor's managers. I'm glad that didn't end up happening. It actually feels better this way... we still had our character death for the episode, but it felt so good for an episode to finally end on a somewhat positive note.

I know that was a lot of pictures, but it feels like there's so much visual communication and subtlety to these short scenes near the end. It would feel like I wasn't doing it justice if I didn't do this. The first half of the episode was interesting, but ultimately inconsequential for me compared to the emotional whirlwind of these last few minutes.

Giving Voice to my Thoughts

Hearing Priss and Largo say some of the things I talked about in my my Moonlight Rambler post felt really nice and affirming. I will also talk about Sylia's final line in a little while, but it was excellently delivered and its relevance to what I was talking about in my last post was perfectly placed.

All in all, I think that my interpretations from episode 5 (my last post) were right on the money. I was thrilled to have so much of what I talked about either explicitly or implicitly affirmed.

The Music

While this episode didn't feature much new music compared to past outings, the music that it did introduce was excellently placed.

As Priss's "guardian angel" appears, a new song gets introduced: "Angry Priss" (using the soundtrack's title). Priss's rage, renewed power, and fundamental goodness shine through, and she makes a miraculous comeback. The song pushed me over the edge the moment the lead guitar came in (along with the wonderful line delivery that I mentioned earlier). Even if it felt unlikely, it felt good to see Priss be able to face the man who was ultimately responsible for nearly all of her suffering (and the suffering of her friends) - even if she didn't realize the full extent of it.

To me, the music somehow added to my impression that Priss was like an enraged mother bear, going all out to protect its cubs. Priss has an unusual amount of strength and tenacity here that, and the adrenaline rush (or suit upgrades, or any combination of factors?) makes her an unstoppable force of nature.

The wailing guitar really did feel like an expression of Priss's rage, and even on my fifth or sixth watch it can still elicit a wobbly lip for me if I'm alone.

And I can't forget the credits music ("Rock You"). After the bombshell Sylia dropped at the very end of the episode, the song meant my brain no longer had to try to keep up with events on the screen, leaving me able to start articulating ideas. As the thoughts washed over me, so did waves of sadness (and relief).

Somehow, that high energy number works really well here. It felt pretty weird to be crying to something that sounds so upbeat, but it conveyed the right kind of expressiveness and finality that the episode needed.

The Humanity of Idealism

I think that for us to really improve our collective lives and living situations, it is sometimes important for people to act out of idealism rather than carefully calculated movements. If no one did, this world would be bleak, cold, and heartless. I would compare that kind of world to the twisted world of Charn from "The Magician's Nephew" (one of C.S. Lewis's Narnia books), where idealism drained away and the ruling class increasingly saw citizens as nothing more than means to further enrich themselves. Genom feels like this, as does Largo.

Even as someone who doesn't really believe in a higher power, that doesn't mean I wouldn't like for there to be things like souls, or even (benevolent) gods. If people need to call acting on idealism "religion," then I think I'm fine with that.

I like to fancy that "deactivated" robots the likes of Sylvie/Anri would have some lingering presence. I suppose in the end, all that needs to happen for that is for someone like Priss who remembers them to survive.

Now I can't help but remember the "Still in my heart" lyric from Moonlight Rambler's ending credits.

Sylia's Final Line: Icing on the Cake

I think that the music, paired with Sylia's delivery of the last line of the episode, is what really did me in.

Sylia looking behind her at the sunrise.
"Frail humans need not fear anything more...
...Brian J. Mason."

I don't know enough Japanese to know the original sentence, but I have two interpretations of the english translation.

The first (my initial interpretation)is that Sylia is saying "humans don't need to be afraid of anything anymore," now that Mason/Largo is gone again. Maybe also expressing faith in people (and boomers like Sylvie/Anri?).

The second explanation is that Mason wanted/expected Sylia to continue what he started... but that whatever their similarities, she won't follow his lead. The biggest threat to mankind was Mason and other humans who use robots to exact cruelties on those who can't defend themselves.

I think the first explanation is more likely, but the weird sentence structure really throws me off. I need to try to figure out what she's saying in Japanese sometime. I like either message.

For a moment when looking back, Sylia's face looks a little scared and sad, like it did as a child in the flashback in the first episode. Not sure if that's just me seeing things, but I really liked it.

Anyway, Up until this point in the episode, I'd been watery eyed, but I'd mostly held it together in rapt attention. The second she finished saying "Brian J. Mason" and it cut to the credits, I completely and totally fell to pieces. I think my reaction to the end was even more acute than my reaction to Moonlight Rambler. I was a sobbing, heaving mess on the couch. I haven't cried like that for probably four or five years, and it felt absolutely great to let it all out. I cannot remember the last time a piece of media did this to me.

Sylia's line confirmed for me that she was not entirely human, but still saw herself as one (as opposed to Largo/Mason, who discarded his old life and name, and who saw his new form as a superior being). It also reminded me that Mason and Sylia have a history together... my expectation now is that Sylia's current form was a prototype for transferring a human consciousness into a machine. Who knows how old she actually is now. It also voiced one of my main points from the episode 5 writeup (the fragility of humans).

If they don't address the flashback in the next two episodes, I'll be a bit disappointed, but I will still cope with it. I like my explanation.

I do remember Sylia's arm getting crushed on at least two occasions, though, and I did observe that she used the crushed arm to put down her visor at the end of episode 5. There were a few little hints here and there.

I think that's most of what I wanted to discuss here... I might once again come back here and make some changes, but for now I think I finally have this article that I started about two months ago finished. I will probably think of more once I'm not stressing about exams and assignments coming due and have time to re-watch the episode properly again.

I think this is probably the best anime I have ever watched, at least up to this point (I have not seen Akira or Grave of the Fireflies). The first few episodes were interesting but didn't feel too special until the death of Mason at the end of episode three... which I suspected had some significance behind it. I am glad I kept watching.

I really don't anticipate that I'll be doing this for episodes seven and eight, but who knows. Maybe I'll be surprised. I'm still looking forward to them, but I don't think there's any way they can top episodes five and six. It seems like a shame we didn't get the originally planned 12 or 13 episodes... but I am glad we at least got this far.

Priss puncing a hole in one of the robots.


  1. (^) The translation that was used for the subtitles uses different english words for the same sentence.
    The verb in the phrase 「私お抱き締めて」 ("watashi o dakishimete"), 抱き (daki), means to embrace/hold something closely/tightly (in other words, to hug it). The end of the word just makes it an imperative. So if you didn't recognize the quote, that's why. I just fancy my interpretation a little bit more.
  2. (^) (The reference to Radiohead's "OK Computer" album is intentional.)

"We Shouldn't be Born to be Sad:"
Reflections on Bubblegum Crisis, Episode 5:
"Moonlight Rambler" (1988)

01 Feb. thru 07 March 2022 []

It's my first post of 2022, and it's also my first post that isn't about about technology!

…Well, okay. That's a lie. It kind of is about technology. It's just more about science fiction, theoretical situations, and philosophy. I did originally say I might not do much non-tech stuff on my site, but here we are. Something finally motivated me to do a thought dump on philosophy.

This post is primarily about an anime from 1987– specifically, one episode from 1988– and the thoughts that it provoked, both as I watched it and afterwards upon reflection. It hit me harder than anything I've watched has in a very long time. It elevated the series from being "something with an art style I appreciate" to being "one of the best things I've seen."

Title card for the episode "Moonlight Rambler"
This is a fantastic episode; many times better than any prior release in the series, in my opinion.

This is a long post, so I am making a table of contents to facilitate navigation.

Table of Contents

Foreword/Spoiler Warning

If you enjoy manga or anime, especially from the 80's or 90's, or if you liked Blade Runner/Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (or Chobits) a lot, I would suggest and recommend that you stop reading this post for now, and go watch the show up to this episode (or at least watch the episode itself), and then return before I spoil it for you. I was glad to experience this with nothing spoiled for me. It made it easier for me to have reflections on it that are genuinely my own.

…Well, okay. That might also be a partial lie. Even though I was not spoiled on this episode, I have already been deeply influenced by things like Astro Boy (the manga), Karakuri Odette (the shojo manga), and the aforementioned Chobits. Those are three manga I've read specifically because they touch on the subject matter this episode focuses on, and each in its own way. Maybe I'll make this into a series of posts.

I will also be spoiling details of other literary works and video games, so proceed with caution.

Also, do note: I have not finished the series. Episode 5 was so good that I had to take a breather, and I also re-watched it a couple times. The episode feels like it has a lot to pack into its time window, but the ideas are strong. If more stuff happens on this topic (I think there's a decent chance of it – but there's only three more episodes to go…), I will be over the moon.

I often actually dislike science fiction for its tendency to focus on fancy looking technology, terror/horror, or other sensationalism, overlooking the philosophical questions of humanity that great science fiction can effectively reflect on. If you'd like to know what I consider 'great science fiction,' I'd say Ray Bradbury was good at writing that discussed things in very relatable human terms (The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451), as was Kurt Vonnegut (Cat's Cradle). It's the ability to connect humanity as it is now to the future - and recognize that regardless of when we live, people will still be people for better and worse - that distinguishes 'great science fiction.' I think this episode does that with aplomb.

If you don't want to watch all of it, at least watch episode 1 (which is longer than any of the others) to get an idea of the characters and setting. Actually, you don't even have to do that; I think you'll get an idea for the general setting and names of things if you watch the opening performance (about five minutes).

With the exception of the very beginning of the opening, before the song kicks in (which I liked a lot; it was very atmospheric and gave a sense for the scale of things), this video on YouTube has the entire thing. This video is also the thing that made me decide I wanted to try watching this anime. It's pretty rare for me to make that decision, but I am just enamored with the art style of this show (and much of the other manga and anime of the time period). The fact that it is all hand drawn and colored just adds to the appeal; this series has gorgeous colors and a fantastic setting.

Thumbnail of the opening to Bubblegum Crisis
YouTube video of the opening song from the first episode of the show. Five minutes well spent.
The footage features a lot of exposition, so you can get a sense of what's happening in far-off 2032 by watching it.

Sorry for the lower than normal resolution. I don't want to get any trouble (not that I think anyone would really DMCA me for one or two higher resolution shots - but you never can tell). At least this way, I can claim "fair use." I also submit to the copyright holder(s) that this series doesn't get very much attention, being over 30 years old, and so you might want to just consider this free marketing.

So, Hello, and welcome; Welcome, to those of you who have no inclination to watch the show at any point. Welcome, those who have seen it already. And finally, I extend a warm welcome to theoretical person out there who wants to hear what some random person in Indiana thinks thinks about an episode of a TV show that came out seven years before he was born. Thanks for listening to my shouts into the void.

Reflections & Analysis

Refer to the table of contents above if you're looking for something in particular. Otherwise, the real analysis begins here.

'If we don't get to the planet, we won't have any future.'
The focal character of Moonlight Rambler, Sylvie.
(my personal guess on the kana spelling is 「シルヴィ」.

I am going to try to avoid just turning this into a plot summary. If you want to know about the plot, I suggest you watch the episode. It does a nice job explaining things for the viewer, in my opinion. I've shared this episode with a handful of friends, and they all seem to agree that everything comes together pretty cleanly.

The crux of this topic that I kept harping on about, but never properly defined above, is of what can we call 'human?' I've had a few different lines of questioning come to mind while thinking about this episode and writing this post. I'll touch on a few of these, but I'll mention the rest in case the others get you thinking.

In short, then, we are addressing the quintessential "what does it mean to be human?" question.

My theory is that people consider other things to be "people" based on our ingrained social behaviors and our desires to interact with others. Most of us don't function well in complete isolation. If I could be a total shut-in, and have all the time to do my tinkering with electronics or whatever, but I could never invite someone over or go to see anyone else, I'd rapidly become depressed. It has happened to a lot of us during this unending COVID-19 pandemic, myself included. But no matter how much I do need some degree of social interaction, it can often be supplemented by the sorts of attachments we get to inanimate objects and non-human animals.

People can get attached to all kinds of things that aren't humans. People often feel that they are friends with their pets (especially dogs), and others have hobbies and passions like a musical instrument, or painting, or even working on a project car. I was devastated when my silver '91 Volvo got wrecked. Not only because I was out a car, but because I was out that car. I'd spent a lot of time and effort making it as good as I could - trying to ward off the rust, hand-drying it after a wash, and generally taking better care of it than I took of myself. I think this is related to the idea of attachment formation, or maybe "imprinting."

Overcoming the Uncanny Valley

This behavior of imprinting, and of applying our own emotions or thought processes to explain the behaviors of other animals, is part of why I think people can be so sentimental (which I think is a good thing). But there's a strange thing that I and many others have noticed, where the closer something is to looking like us, the more we get unnerved by it. This is termed the "uncanny valley." That is, the closer to human something gets, the more we fear it as inhuman– at least to a point. After that point, they are imperceptibly different, and they become effectively seen as people.

Boomers (ブーマ, "buma") in Bubblegum Crisis seem to exist on both sides of this uncanny valley. Many of them appear normal, but then their skin comes off (all the time), or metal blades slide out of their fingernails (episode 2, I believe), or they turn into some form of huge twisted metal monstrosity (episode 1), and things become incredibly unsettling. But those experiences in past episodes are why I find Sylvie, and this whole episode, so interesting.

They took the anthropomorphization of robots to a level I'd never even thought of before, by giving them blood. Sure, I've seen Terminator, and I remember that gruesome scene. But there, it was played for the unease. Similarly, Shigesato Itoi once said that the logo for the game Mother 3 was a fusion of metal and wood because it is an unnatural pairing, befitting the chimera that the game features. It was also intended to make people uneasy. I can see what he means; it's a weird dichotomy.

Not so much here. Here, the fusion of (wo)man and machine is done so deeply that you might not even be sure what you're seeing at first. At the very least, I was uncertain for much of the episode. By hiding the robotic parts of these boomers, Bubblegum Crisis forces the viewer to anthropomorphize them by default. The discomfort is avoided, because we can't see the metal that would make us uneasy. Instead, all we see is blood and the other things that we would typically associate with biological humans.

Altruism & Self-Sacrifice

Nam/Namu(?), the other gray haired girl near the beginning of the episode, and also seen below, displays an act of pure altruism when she pushes Sylvie and Anri into the ship as debris falls from above, sacrificing herself in the process.

Namu pushing Sylvie and Anri into the shuttle, at the cost
                    of her life.
Namu pushes Sylvie and Anri out of danger, at the cost of her own life.
This is the first selfless sacrifice by a robot that I've seen in this series.

I've heard different theories (mostly from NPR's Radiolab program, and TED talks) about why people act altruistically. One I've heard multiple times is that "it helps to ensure that the species as a whole survives." I think that's a load of garbage. We are social creatures, and while it may be fair to say that a lot of things we do as groups are evolutionarily inclined, if there was a "self-sacrifice gene" one would expect that it would be naturally removed from the gene pool relatively quickly. Not everything we do has to have cold, rational explanations.

I think this kind of sacrifice is an independent thought. I'm sure there are some that have done it because they don't value their lives as highly as someone else's, or, in Spock's words, because "the good of the many outweighs the needs of a few" (or one). But for me, I don't think I have the right kind of mind to coldly analyze costs and benefits when a truck is barrelling towards my friend.

Putting myself in these shoes, I think the only thing I'd think is "I don't want to see my friend(s) get hurt." I don't even think I'd get as far as "how can I live with myself otherwise" before it would be too late to do anything but watch.

Machines that Bleed

Namu, dying. Spark visible from her bloody wound.
The strange dichotomy of blood and electricity is on display here, if only for a moment.
We also see their remarkable fragility - at least when compared to the boomers from episode 1 that can move without a head.

The moment above is the moment when my brain started running at full-tilt. I wasn't sure if what I was seeing was simply something "electrified came down from above", or if it was a sign of something else. Having just seen what I consider to be the ultimate act of love, Seeing the blood, feeling the sinking in my stomach, and then seeing the unexpected sparks "sparked" something in me.

Unlike the discomfort I felt in the case of Mother 3, here (well, really later in the episode, I was still unsure at this moment) I felt something more complicated. It reminded me a bit of the feeling I sometimes can get when I hear a truly beautiful piece of music. I experienced something that was beautiful in its sadness— something cathartic, even. I think some would call it "divine," but I didn't feel like I was connected to a higher power or anything. I just felt a huge knot of emotional turmoil.

This feeling of awe (and anticipation) continued to grow throughout the entire episode from this point. I knew it was going to end in tears – I just wanted to know how it would get there. But my sadness grew alongside my awe throughout the episode. Even as I write this, about a month after first watching it, I still feel something.

In short, it was an extremely bittersweet feeling, the kind that I get when I witness something beautiful. It felt like it filled some void I didn't know I had... in the end, it's the kind of thing I wish I could cry more about, because the crying feels so good. I hope I'm making sense.

I wouldn't necessarily call it "sadness," because I love this imagery. It's sort of a sublimely beautiful idea for me, for reasons I don't feel totally equipped to explain.

Anyway, the moment depicted in the image above is also the moment when this episode started signalling to me that it was going to have a very different tone than the previous ones. I noticed the spark coming from her back; I sort of just assumed it was because something that fell was electrified, but at this point, my mind also started entertaining an alternative explanation: that the electricity came from inside Namu. Since this is one of my favorite things to think about, I started feeling excited as well. It's what I'd been hoping this series would do since the beginning.

Actually, the show had already come sort of close on one prior occasion. In the opening of episode 2 ("Born to Kill"), it felt very clear to me that Genom was essentially desecrating the grave of a young girl and stealing from her corpse. I can't imagine that it wasn't on purpose. Sylia even said "to us, she was just a little girl who needed protecting;" I think she even said that next time they should make the robot look like a dog instead.

Robbing Cynthia's watery grave.
This also hurt to see. Cynthia's corpse, being disturbed in its watery grave.

Born to Kill?

Up to this point in the show, Boomers had only really been portrayed as monsters wearing human skin (with the possible exception of Cynthia, who we really didn't get much personality from before her demise in the first episode). The other boomers in episode 1 didn't seem to mind much when their companions were destroyed; they seemed to not have anything like an emotional attachment to each other.

But this episode suggested an alternative future for robots. Instead of being war machines, they could be a sort of extension of humanity. The "33S" type robots are physically fragile things by comparison, but with willpower as strong as any person's.

These robots are clearly not made to be fighters. They were made to seem as human-like as possible, which was done so well that they even die like humans. When Lou (blonde) gets injured by the Doberman (basically a killer robot sent to prevent their escape), Meg runs to her. In the face of certain death, instead of running, Meg pulls lou closer.

Meg, pulling Lou closer as the Doberman approaches.
Meg, holding her injured friend Lou closer as they prepare to meet their end together.
To me, this is a profoundly human expression of love and compassion.

This scene comes right on the heels of the sparks from Namu's back. I think that the blood was the overriding factor for me in these scenes. Though I kept those sparks in mind, everything about this situation seems very human for a series that previously has not shown many robots in this kind of light. I am so glad this episode exists. I'm glad, even though hurts a bit for me to write about, and I feel like I can't even adequately describe why I'm so glad.

In Bubblegum Crisis, the really interesting thing is that they never let you see what these 33-S characters look like under their skin. I think this was deliberate. The sparks in this scene are enough to suggest they might be robots, but the blood makes you unsure. I think the overall point is to make people worry about it, but in the end there's just so much human vulnerability that they show compared to all of the other varieties of Boomers we've seen so far. They are fragile. Whereas with alot of boomers just taking the head off isn't enough to stop them, these ones can bleed out. They appear to feel pain, sorrow, guilt, and a range of other emotions.


To me, it feels cruel to give them such sentimentality and fragility, especially since in the case of these 33-S's, they were originally meant as sex robots. For this reason, they had to feel warm to the touch, and have something like flesh, and a pulse. So, given that you percieve them as human or sufficiently close, it seems clear that they are basically "born" into sex slavery.

Beyond that, it means we're just offloading our own burdens onto something else so that they can do something for us. We give them both the ability to feel pain and emotions, we give them the ability to desire things and make their own decisions, and then we force them to serve us. How is that any different from slavery?

I mean, maybe that would help solve the human trafficking problem (I highly doubt it; people can be terrible and would find some reason to continue being terrible), but if we make them behave like us to the point of giving them free will, then what has really changed? Nothing– except that now we can feel better about their subjugation, since they are not "people," but rather a consumable product.

So, to me, at least, that's a sickening concept. Especially because, if AI can get that far, I could actually see this happening in the future (even if not by 2032, necessarily). The power of money is such that I am certain someone would come forward to fill that market.


On the subject of emotions, it might be time to bring up Chobits now, since that was a prior influence on my thoughts on this subject.

Unfortunately, Chobits has a bit of a reputation. There seem to be a surprising number of "neckbeards" who want robotic girlfriends because of their misogynistic views or bad experiences with living human women. This is a shame, because the manga itself is quite thoughtful and asks a lot of tough questions about how we would treat such robots (and was also authored by women). It was one of those early things I read that shaped my impressions of what a good manga could be, along with "Astro Boy" (Tetsuwan Atom).

Not to get too deep into it, the major take-away I had from Chobits was a question: even if the 'feelings' of robots were programmed by a person, if they feel real to others, and they react appropriately in the right situations, does that distinction really matter?

The Imitation Game

(not the movie)

The "imitation game" approach to the Turing test, whereby a computer and a human are both asked questions and tasked with responding, and an observer tries to tell which is which, is a test that at least in theory I can ascribe to as a measure of "human intelligence." The episode makes it clear that sylvie managed to pass this, to the extent that even with the full knowledge that she is a robot, Priss treated Sylvie's death as the loss of a friend.

When Sylvie asks Priss to kill her, Priss's shock and confusion is palpable. Her job is destroying robots, but she clearly feels differently about this one (even though she also was attacking people).

Priss, looking shocked/disturbed.
"Kill me."
Priss sees this request not as being asked to destroy a machine, but as being asked to kill a friend.

In a moment of shock, confusion, and pressure like Priss is facing here, she ends up doing what was asked of her to save the city. But I have no idea what kind of turmoil this could bring out in her in the last three episodes (I hope they don't just ignore that this ever happened going forward).

In the end, it seems quite clear to me that Priss doesn't care about Sylvie's "humanity," or lack thereof. Priss had already formed an attachment to her, as one would with any other close friend. For that reason, I think she passed the turing test with flying colors.

Androids in Human Suits… Humans in Android Suits

In order to stand a chance against hostile robots and technologies, in Bubblegum Crisis people have to use the same technologies which gives the robots their strength to level the playing field– effectively taking the characteristics of those technologies onto themselves. The K12 operated by Leon in this episode is a larger, boxier, less "human looking" form, but the more sophisticated combat (戦闘/sentō) suits donned by the Knight Sabers essentially give them a robotic exoskeleton while letting them move normally. So from this perspective, the main difference between them and boomers is that boomers are metal on the inside and skin on the outside, while they are skin on the inside and metal outside. It's a strange reversal, where biological humans appear less conventionally human than robots do.

As these technologies become increasingly prevalent (and we become ever more dependent on them), in other words, we become cyborgs. Even if they contain no biological components (though Sylvie does— blood at the very least, and one would assume something like flesh as well), we become closer to them than we might admit to ourselves. Even now, the rise of "Internet of Things" and corporate surveillance devices like Echo (as well as things like augmented reality and even smartphones) signal (warn?) of the ever more prevalent requirement for people to embrace technology to be considered useful members of society.

That doesn't mean that we necessarily have to become luddites in order to be "human," but it does mean that we might need to consider re-evaluating our definitions of humanity (especially if robots as sophisticated as those in Bubblegum Crisis existed).

In a combat suit, Priss looks less like a human than the robot she is grieving for. Isn't that strange? I wonder if that was an intentional decision, or merely coincidental. I hope it was on purpose, but even if not it's something that I think would be fascinating to think more about.

Priss cradling Sylvie in her arms.
"I can't betray my friends."

Sylvie and Priss are actually similar in a lot of ways. Apart from both biking, they are both fiercely protective of their friends, and they are both hiding secrets from each other. Had they mutually known each others', I have a feeling things would have ended quite differently. Maybe Sylvie wouldn't have had to kill all of those people; even if the rest wouldn't go through with it, I am certain Priss would help Sylvie to get the disk she needs for Anri. Priss had no way of knowing Sylvie's secret, though – likewise, Sylvie had no way of knowing Priss's identity as one of the Knight Sabers – someone who certainly had the power to help her, if she had only known.

But what a feeling of alienation that must be, particularly for Sylvie. Like most people, both have kept their problems to themselves. it's a little startling to think how little friends might really know about each other, even in the real world. But Priss's heart-melting and deeply held "goodness" just makes that ending scene all the more bitter and cruel. It is a classic tragedy – a good person who has to do bad things for a reason they feel is just, and meeting their end for it.


Computers cannot know their own methods of operation. For instance, a program cannot know how its CPU is laid out physically, or how its own instruction set is implemented. Likewise, humans don't really understand our own brains. In fact, we dissociate our sense of "self" from that of our brains, because in reality the brain itself is what is thinking "my brain." It is extremely difficult to turn compiled code back into human-readable code. So, in other words, a robot does not know inherently the reasons why its thoughts or 'emotions' work the ways that they do. It only knows that it has them, and that some are favored over others. isn't that also a lot like us? All we can do is theorize why people would act selflessly, or why people are protective of their children, because we don't really know from empirical information.

The Right to Happiness

No matter how much we tend to anthropomorphize robots, objects, and other, non-'human' animals, we (well, most of us) don't really see them as equals. We don't afford them with all of the same rights that we have.

When you think about it, it seems probable that a fully grown dog or dolphin would be smarter and more "sapient" than a newborn baby, right? They have experienced some part of the world, and certainly have more of an idea of what it is than a newborn. But because babies tend to become more sapient over time, and also tend to become "adults" eventually (and because they are our offspring), they are given higher priority. This is understandable, since it's as much an instinctual thing as it is a social thing to care for your own child.

But, what if what you deem to be your child wasn't actually considered to be a person at all?

You probably want your child to be happy, but if your child's happiness is programmed to have similar requirements as a human's, that happiness can be hard to come by, and mercurial when it is found. And a lot of happiness comes from the validation of others (for me, at least). People who are shunned or seen as abnormal often suffer from depression.

Sylvie was brought into the world, and given something approximately equivalent to sentience, only to be used as a disposable object (sold for sex) and denied the opportunity to find happiness. It'd be like having parents that didn't love you.

Companies can do some evil things for money, even in the present. Exploitation is rampant and in some ways essential for capitalism; the only way to make a profit is to pay employees less than the value of their work, so it could even be seen as inherent. I think there's also something to be said for people in a group project being able to deny individual culpability for their actions. On account of this, I could actually imagine something like this happening, and that truly frightens me.

This is where the title of this post comes from - and also a lyric in the song that plays during the opening credits ("Mysterious Night.") I think, of all the human cruelties responsible for Sylvie's very creation, that lack of concern for what is effectively someone's 'child' is what hurts most.

I am not about to get too much deeper into the argument about what 'sentience' is, only state that if to all external observers something appears to have sentience, it might as well have it. At some level, we're just analogue chemical computers, anyway. Whether we were designed or not is irrelevant here.

I also don't want to get too much into the "playing God" aspect of this, primarily because I'm an atheist and would therefore would feel sort of awkward trying to push my opinions about something I don't really hold much stock in. But I hope that almost everyone, both those who think doing stuff like trying to create machines that can act like people are "playing God" and those who see it as an exciting prospect, should be able to agree that loving our children is important. Someone out there in the world of Bubblegum Crisis had to design these machines in full knowledge of their intended use.

Chobits had a similar thing going on, but where the inventor of all the robots wanted them to be able to be happy, too. (spoiler alert) He devised a test to try to determine if humans could accept robots and help them find happiness, too. He likewise made a mechanism to "pull the plug" if the test was a failure, rather than let them all suffer.

It's also worth pointing out that truly, no matter how much they look like us, robots can't be 100% identical to us. Things like Sylvie's "hypnosis" (I don't know what else to call it - when her eyes flashed red) or her ability to survive that motorcycle jump/ship crash are clear indicators that she can do things humans can't. But does that mean that she wouldn't deserve the same amount of respect or care as regular people, if she was living peacefully as one? I don't think it's fair to make them in our image to the extent that they behave like us socially and desire happiness, and then denigrate them as sub-human or not deserving happiness.

The "Sunset Scene": Alienation, Mortality, and the Importance of Belonging

Besides the opening and ending, I think the most impactful moment in this episode was what I will dub "The Sunset scene." It is also by far the hardest part for me to describe what I think about it with words. But I will make an attempt to communicate whatever I can.

Sylvie knows she's not like everyone around her. She seems lonely, even when she's with others on Earth. She sees something beautiful, shares a happy moment with someone, and then something inevitably reminds her of who she is and her dire situation.

Despite their closeness, there's a rift between Sylvie and
                    the rest of the world. (Priss handing food to a cat)
Despite her desire to belong, Sylvie can never interact with the world in all of the ways conventional humans can.

I guess this invisible rift between Sylvie and everyone around her is what I find the most wrenching about this scene. And even though I saw what was coming a mile away when the cat showed up, it still managed to have an impact for me.

In a densely packed episode, this is the only time where we see Sylvie be able to really relax for a moment, but even this is shattered repeatedly. First by the Genom building reminding her of what she has to do – and Priss offhandedly talking to her about the "boomer trouble" that they have been causing – and then by the cat.

This is Sylvie's sense of "alienation." The cat can tell (probably by scent?) that Sylvie is something different from what it has experienced before, and it won't trust her as a result. Sylvie has this deeply sad look on her face as this happens. She's just trying to be nice to the cat, but her artificial circumstances of "birth" stop her from being able to enjoy the experience. It must feel like the whole world is hostile to her very existance, like she can't be a part of it. Cursed with a "half-life." I at least would be riddled with self-doubt over something like that.

Come to think of it, this reminds me of Frankenstein's monster's story with the blind man, where he was treated kindly, but only because the blind man couldn't see that he wasn't a regular human.

In some ways, Sylvie is arguably worse off than the monster, despite not being physically repulsive/fear inspiring. Depending on how much weight you give the "quality of life" factor. Whereas Frankenstein's monster apparently has a somewhat long lifespan, Flint says that even though the model is supposed to be "maintenance free," it's an old model... implying that their expected lifespans are much shorter than peoples'. Sylvie does what she does to "free" herself and Anri from their apparent mortality-by-design... I'd expect the disk contains technical information about them, so that they can either fix themselves or get spare parts made. When your body (presumably) can't heal itself, this becomes critical.

This short lifespan also implies, based on their intended role as "sex robots," that they are expected to be treated as disposable products. This further begs the question of why they'd be designed to apparently be so easy to form a real attachment to.

She tries so hard to escape from the dependence on the benevolence of someone with parts (like Kaufman), to become self-sufficient. There are so many things people (and cats) can take for granted, but Sylvie and Anri cannot. Without that disk, in other words, they are living on borrowed time (in Anri's case, literally, due to the blood transfusions), in perpetual fear of breaking down - knowing no one will help them (whether out of inability, ignorance, or malice). They had no control over their lives, but in exchange for that they lost any ability they had to guarantee their survival.

I wonder if, had this episode ended differently, Sylvie could have found true happiness and made peace with her existance. She and Anri (and her companions) all display the will to live. I think that what Sylvie really needed was to be able to tell someone who she was, without having to be afraid of what they would think, or worrying that they'd treat her differently because of it. She presumably didn't know at this point that Priss was one of the Knight Sabers, but even if she weren't one I think Priss would have helped her to steal the disk anyway. It seems in-character for her - she has shown herself to be outgoing and strongly protective of her friends. Although, if Sylvie had known about the Knight Sabers already, she would probably have every reason to be afraid of them as a robot causing trouble in the city.

Obviously this is all purely hypothetical, since it didn't happen. But I want to believe that there are people who could accept someone like Sylvie for who she is. She was designed so a way that she needs social connections like people do, so she must be profoundly lonely.

I'll end this by letting a picture speak for itself.

Sylvie waving good-bye. The last happy (or bittersweet)
                  meeting Priss and Sylvie have.

This is the end of my primary analysis. Thank you for reading so far. What follows is mostly ruminations that aren't directly and completely relevant to Bubblegum Crisis, but which helped shape my philosophy on things like this episode's subject matter. It also contains plenty of spoilers for other media, so beware!

Cross Comparisons with Other Media

Here are some comparisons to other media that might be of interest to you, especially if you also enjoyed this episode.

Machines Don't Know Evil; Humans Make Them That Way

A line I've long remembered from Chrono Trigger (I think it was from the Ted Woolsey SNES translation, specifically) came from Lucca.

Lucca repairing "Robo".
"Machines aren't capable of evil... Humans make them that way."

Lucca pities robots that were made to attack people. For every war machine people build, there could have been an attempt at making humanity better with technology. Instead, we use it to express our own cruelty and hatred.

The opening scenes show both sides of this coin, contrasting the staggeringly human 33-S's with the monstrous, muder-machine "Dobermans." Humanity's ability to make something good, and to make something that actively and intentionally destroys that goodness.

Comparisons with Phantasy Star II (1989)

Phantasy Star II was released the same year as this episode, as an early title for the Sega Mega Drive. While I don't think it's a fun game to play in stock form, the story skeleton is fantastic and it succeeds in cultivating a moody, somewhat depressing atmosphere of tension mixed with resignation. The game deserves far more attention than it gets. It also has a surprising amount in common with "Moonlight Rambler," in my opinion.

This section contains MAJOR SPOILERS for Phantasy Star II, an RPG for the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis.

I kind of had a bad feeling about what was going to happen to Sylvie, starting pretty early on in the episode. She was a new character, and in previous episodes I had noticed that that isn't a good sign in this show. I think most of them have died, so far - with the exception of the old man – Sorry, Hasage, J.B. Gibson, and his girlfriend, from the previous episode.

I hoped I was wrong, of course. But, I mean, I played Phantasy Star II. That game has a very similar moody and dark feel to it, like this episode (that was released in the same year).

Now, in my opinion, the game itself isn't very fun, but I love the story and character designs. So if you actually want to torture yourself playing it like I did, you should probably skip to the "end-of-spoiler" header below.

"The Human Who Was Not a Human:" Sylvie & Nei

Sylvie has an analogous tragic character in Phantasy Star II, named Nei. Nei is a half-human, half-monster that was created in a laboratory and escaped. She was the size of a small child when she met the protagonist, Rolf ('Eusis'/'Yushis' in the Japanese version), but due to her genetically engineered nature she grew to adult size in a period of about six months after meeting him.

Nei, as drawn by Toru Yoshida in 2019.
My favorite illustration of Nei, by original character designer Toru Yoshida.
Nei has a fairly similar alienation to Sylvie, but unlike Sylvie she cannot hide her physically 'inhuman' nature. So her loneliness is differently expressed.
Source: @yoshibon_club on Twitter.

Nei's case is different in three primary ways that I can figure: firstly, she cannot hide that she is not a conventional human, due to her ears. Secondly, she is genetically engineered, and contains human genes mixed with those of monsters.

Because of this, most people are afraid of her, and she is shunned. There's a very short text-based adventure game Sega made in the early 90's that follows this early, pre-main-game story. It's a very sad little adventure, but it gives a good feel for what Nei's early life must have been like. Fortunately – and this is the third point that differs– she meets a wonderful person who lets her live with him and who raises her like a younger sister. This is of course Rolf/Eusis. I'll probably just say 'Rolf' if or when I mention him again for simplicity.

Usually I don't care for things like prequels, but this one actually does a very clean job of tying things into the main game's story. It's also much easier than the main game, so if you have an hour or two (at most) to kill, that text based adventure might be worth a play.

The main thing the text game succeeds in doing is showing what strikes me as relatively true-to-life depictions of how real people treat those who are different from themselves.

Anyway, the one good thing is that, for six months or so (half her life, up to that point) Nei had a home and someone who cared about her. She was probably happy for the most part during that time. But then, as things start to go wrong across the planet, things start to go wrong for Nei, too. In fact, she gets killed by what appears to be her twin.

Her twin, "neifirst," never got that human compassion. Her only experiences with humanity have been pain and grief. Because of this, she has come to hate humans. She has been sabotaging the climate control system on the planet that keeps it from reverting into the desert world it was during the first game. Rolf and Nei and company discover Neifirst, and Nei begs her to stop. But Neifirst's hatred is too strong, and the only way to stop her is to attack her, which Nei realizes she must do.

She is mortally wounded by Neifirst. In a rage, Rolf and the others step forward and beat Neifirst down, but it's too late to save Nei.

Nei, dying. 'Please don't let them repeat the mistake they
                    made when they made me.'
Sega beat FF7 to the punch by nine years (Phantasy Star II was released in Japan in 1989).
It's too bad this game will never get a (good) remake or update.

I played this game a year or three before watching Bubblegum Crisis, and it took me a while to make that connection, but once I did it was hard to forget. I feel that both characters are filling the same sort of role of an "alien" who wants to be accepted and loved, and who is more human than most people recognize.

Anri Bleeding
Where does a robot end and a human begin?

Miscellaneous Thoughts About the Episode

This is all stuff that I thought about while writing this article that I think is interesting, but probably not relevant to the exact angle I was going for in the main post. Some of it is questions for things future episodes might resolve. We'll see.