Super Deformed Swan Song: ARTMIC’s Scramble Wars

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when the wheels fell off at ARTMIC, but it must have been around the time Scramble Wars hit video stores in 1992. The innovative design studio relied heavily on the artists it employed, but Kenichi Sonoda left in 1990 and Shinji Aramaki left sometime in the early ’90s. The type of OVA projects that ARTMIC primarily concerned itself with—that is, original stories with funding arranged by the studio in partnership with animation studios—couldn’t have been easy work and the Japanese economy slowing down in the early ‘90s didn’t help.

Scramble Wars, a roughly 20-minute parody film in the “super deformed” style released in late 1992, served as a testament to what ARTMIC had accomplished. While it was a silly gag video, it showcased almost all of the major anime work the studio had done up until that point, bringing the characters and/or mechanical designs of Bubblegum Crisis, Gall Force, Gaiarth, Megazone 23, and MOSPEADA together. It even kind of showed what it could still accomplish, had things gone differently.

Almost all of ARTMIC’s original work1 was connected somehow, not just by the staff that worked on it, but by the ideas and concepts that ran through their core. I’ve talked before about how ARTMIC (or specifically, studio founder Toshimichi Suzuki) would re-use ideas or draw on earlier projects—canceled or otherwise—for later inspiration, but he also viewed his work as stories that tackled similar questions in different scenarios.

Title card animation cel, via Robert Woodhead

In an interview in Animerica magazine2, Suzuki outlined his belief that much of ARTMIC’s work covered different types of conflicts that humanity would endure as technology advances. Not an intricate, Marvel Cinematic Universe style of interconnected plotlines, but similar ideas about machines, technology, and humanity explored at different times, in different situations. Of course, Suzuki was reportedly a bit of a jokester and has admitted to making things up on the spot, so perhaps he was having fun with the interviewer. We don’t know.

If nothing else, there’s a visual component to most ARTMIC work that binds it together. Kenichi Sonoda, Shinji Aramaki, Hideki Kakinuma, Ley Yumeno, and others worked on pretty much all ARTMIC productions from the beginning of the OVA era to the early 1990s, and gave those titles a consistent feel; a distant relation noticeable when comparing the mechanical designs of say, Rhea Gall Force, with Bubblegum Crisis. Maybe not of the same world, but related and illustrated with something resembling a “house” style.

That’s a very roundabout way to say that the idea behind Scramble Wars—a Wacky Racers-esque slapstick race between characters and machinery from nearly all ARTMIC work to that point—made a lot of sense. Presented in a super-deformed style, the characters and machines of these series fit together remarkably well. While Scramble Wars was packaged in the U.S. by AnimEigo as part of a double feature (The Super Deformed Double Feature) it wasn’t directly related to the parody short Ten Little Gall Force it was released alongside, as that particular video had been produced years before.

A map of the Genom Trophy Cup featuring, among other landmarks, the Tower of the Sun.

Scramble Wars focused on the studio’s most recognizable characters, namely the Knight Sabers of Bubblegum Crisis, the original Gall Force crew, and Ital and Sahari of Genesis Surviver Gaiarth. While Gaiarth may not be considered one of ARTMIC’s “tentpole” series, it was in production simultaneously with Scramble Wars, so its inclusion makes sense. Of course, other side characters were there too, including Vision from Bubblegum Crisis Vol. 7, the cast of Gall Force: Earth Chapter (who play a part in arguably the video’s best gag, wherein the characters of the original Gall Force come face to face with the very similar characters of Earth Chapter), as well as mecha from MOSPEADA and Megazone 23 (though the characters associated with those designs aren’t explicitly featured, oddly). The plot itself is minimal, and focuses on a Paris-Dakar Rally style overland motor race called the “Genom Trophy.” The aforementioned characters race across the sands in a variety of vehicles in an attempt to win the race and take home the prize money while using every trick in the book to give them an advantage, like Nene using her AD Police patrol car to hand out traffic citations.

There isn’t much to it aside from some slapstick gags and the chance to see the characters of various ARTMIC series interact, but for what it is, it’s a fun video to watch. In retrospect, it feels like a bittersweet swan song for a studio on its last legs; Genocyber, released in 1994, would be one of the studio’s last original projects and ARTMIC would close its doors sometime in 1997. The last OVA that ARTMIC worked on, Power Dolls [1996], was based on a series of PC strategy games and not an original title.

Scramble Wars wasn’t the studio’s strongest effort, but it does embody some of the studio’s strongest assets. Namely consistent, high-quality visual design, appealing characters, and perhaps most uniquely, an intentional effort to promote the ARTMIC brand and cultivate some degree of fandom surrounding the studio itself, regardless of the work it was producing. That wasn’t a new idea in 1993, but it was certainly one that ARTMIC pushed heavily when it broke into the direct-to-video space.

In 1987, ARTMIC published the ARTMIC Design Works book in partnership with Bandai. Rather than focusing on a single series or production, ARTMIC Design Works presented the work of the studio in its entirety up to that point, encompassing everything from early work on Macross and Technopolice 21C, Suzuki’s side-gig illustrating model kit box art for Imai, logo design, and commercial design projects. This no doubt stemmed from a pre-existing relationship with Bandai, wherein ARTMIC (and major sponsor partner Youmex) received regular coverage in B-Club magazine under the branding of “You-Mic Information Corner.” While B-Club coverage focused heavily on Bubblegum Crisis and newer ARTMIC OVAs, it rarely touched on Gall Force—perhaps because that series had its origins in the pages of Model Graphix. The studio even had its own event, ARTMIC Festival, on August 30, 1987. Held in Ryogoku, Tokyo, the event was co-produced by General Products and featured talks by folks like Toshio Okada and Shinji Aramaki, plus guests like Hideaki Anno and Makoto Kobayashi.

For the most part, Scramble Wars would be the last time these characters or series would be seen in animation by fans. Gall Force Revolution and Bubblegum Crisis 2040 notwithstanding. It may not have been an epic send-off, but, all things considered, it’s a decent capstone on the history of a well-regarded design studio. It’s a shame that they couldn’t have figured out the funding and staffing issues to keep it going because Scramble Wars in its brief 20-minute run time shows more vibrancy and cohesion than you’ll find in a lot of the later ARTMIC projects.

The demise of ARTMIC is a story I’ve described before and it’s not a particularly cheerful one, so I’ll leave it at this: Scramble Wars is fun. If you’re a fan of ARTMIC at its peak, it’s worth watching.

スクランブルウォーズ 突っ走れ!ゲノムトロフィーラリー
Scramble Wars: Tsuppashire! Genom Trophy Rally

Further Reading


  1. Which in this case primarily means OVAs or media mix properties like Gall Force. Early on at least, ARTMIC worked on a variety of work-for-hire projects, ranging from mechanical design for everything from Iczer-One to the Captain Power VHS lightgun games.
  2. Vol. 1, No. 3. May, 1993.