Interview with Bubblegum Crisis Creator Toshimichi Suzuki

There’s been no shortage of explorations into Bubblegum Crisis‘ Hollywood influences (in fact, Grant touched on that earlier this year), but it shouldn’t be surprising that there were plenty of Japanese influences, too. I wrote about the origins of Crisis in the failure of Technopolice 21C, but the following interview sees yet another influence revealed: the 1973 jidaigeki TV show Hissatsu Shigotonin. It’s not difficult to see the influence of a show about vigilante assassins leading double lives in the Knight Sabers, but it’s always fascinating to see where Crisis took some of its more esoteric inspiration. According to Shinji Aramaki, by way of an old forum post from 2008, ARTMIC head Toshimichi Suzuki was a big fan of Shiokinin.

Interviews with Suzuki often include frank statements on the difficulties of OVA economics, but it’s worth nothing in this one he specifically mentions making use of a “media mix” – using different types of media to tell a single story – to alleviate the need to cram everything into a short OVA. The interviewer’s negative response to that idea is particularly amusing, not just because that exact strategy took off in the ’90s and ’00s, but because interviews published in supplementary books like this are rarely confrontational.

Bubblegum Crisis Completed File No. 5
February 29, 1988

Translation by Matt
Special thanks to Laika

How did Bubblegum Crisis come together?

Where do you want me to start? [laughs] I guess it was about two years ago at the [wrap] party for Iczer One when I was making idle chitchat with someone from Youmex, who had handled the soundtrack. This person was saying that Toshiba EMI had done a lot of original videos and Youmex wanted to do the same, but they didn’t have any interesting ideas and was asking me if I had any. The thing I made up there on the spot became Bubblegum Crisis [laughs]. Well, I came up with the skeleton of the idea and added a kind of futuristic version of Hissatsu Shiokinin1. I asked “how about something like this?” and was told, “I want an outline of that right away.”

Had you been thinking about a futuristic take on Hissatsu Shiokinin before that?

Not at all. [laughs] My original idea was centered around the AD Police. I thought it would be interesting to do a project based on near-future police, like Technopolice 21C. Then we added the Hissatsu Shiokinin idea and set it in a city with all the mechanisms a city of the future would need and it became a plan where a futuristic Tokyo played a big role. With an emphasis on the concept of a “city,” and within that very planned city, the special police, a giant corporation and the Hissatsu Shiokinin-like figures involved behind the scenes. The relationships between those groups would be the basis of the story. I thought with that setting, we could make a video series with a lot of different stories, not just one.

Technopolice 21C was ARTMIC’s first shot at an animated series, and it didn’t turn out so well. Despite collaborating with Toho and Studio Nue, production on the show stalled and only saw release years later as a cobbled-together film with notoriously bad production values. You can read about its influence on Bubblegum Crisis here.

Out of that concept, the Knight Sabers eventually became the main focus.

That’s right. Working on Iczer-One, Gall Force and lots of other things, I realized female characters are an essential element of anime. [Kenichi] Sonoda’s female character designs from Gall Force, in particular, were extremely popular.

Did the idea of doing a long video series come around at that time as well?

Videos are made, advertised and go out to market one at a time, right? Of course, it’s always been our intention to keep product sales going by making a video series, but up until now, we haven’t had an anime that could concretely become a series. So we developed Crisis from the beginning as something that could. But unlike television series, videos are media bought for ¥10,000, so we need to put out a product with higher quality than TV, something with quality worth spending ¥10,000 on. So unlike a TV series, where you’re constantly making about five episodes on a sliding schedule, in order to protect the quality, you have to diligently make one episode at a time. Those are the limits of video production.

And, because this is a series, to make it easier to buy, we took a gamble and made the price ¥6,800. Having only that amount for production costs does hurt. I don’t mean that spending a lot of money on something necessarily makes it good, but it does have an effect math-wise on the number of frames. It’s not something that’s shown on TV, so when it comes to that stuff, it’s not as if I can say, “give us a break!” It’s not easy maintaining a level of quality worth shelling out money for. As the producer, it’d be a problem if I was doing things in a way where we just barely somehow finished an episode after so much effort. [laughs]  And, ultimately, as an original video there’s the problem of lack of information, but you can present the hard-to-understand parts in books or other materials.

Inside the ARTMIC offices.

A media mix?

Right. I really want to go that way in the future. I think you can do a lot with a combination of video and printed materials.

If you do that, consumers have to make a huge investment in one brand. I really think it’s better to release the video as a complete work.

Hmm, I don’t know… [laughs]

Next, I’d like to ask about the content. Once again, you’re working in action and mecha battle, which Artmic is famous for.

It’s the style we’ve used at ARTMIC for our works until now. If you really make things dramatic, it makes it fun to watch the video over and over again. If you think of it that way, I think with action, the more times you rewatch it, the more you get out of it. For example, now with laserdisc, you can easily go back and forth and just watch the shots you like. I think that’s one difference between home video and theatrical film.

Video’s specialty is that you can watch the parts you want when you want. It’s a medium where the makers can make things to the viewers’ convenience.

Yes, after all, it’s us who’ve chosen to make products for such fickle viewers. [laughs]

In my opinion, this is another work that uses western film influences really well.

Maybe. [laughs] I think it’s nice when all of us [at ARTMIC] can take influences we thought were interesting and put them together in the same way. I don’t think we’ll be making any huge changes to what we’ve made up until now, but I would like to change things like mechanical and character designs to be more our own thing little by little.

What methods does Artmic use to create works like that?

When we’re making an anime, there are no reference materials existing in the real world, so we spend an extraordinary amount of time working out own ideas. For example, for a 30-minute anime, we really closely scrutinize all the material that won’t fit in the allotted time. That’s why we often hear that our works feel both very simple and complex at the same time.

Artmic has a lot of people with interesting ideas, meaning you can create really interesting works, but at the same time, there’s a danger of making something that lacks focus.

Until now we’ve employed good teamwork, so that’s not a real concern. We all have discussions together and keep each other from geeking out too much.

Who at Artmic is responsible for putting designs together?

For this project, it’s [Shinji] Aramaki and [Hideki] Kakinuma. But by and large, we all work together to decide on the feeling and details of the designs.

Could you say that rather a unified “Artmic design” style it’s more of a combination of individual styles?

Yeah, we don’t want to become too insular. [laughs]

Thank you very much.


  1. A jidaigeki TV show from the late ’70s about do-good assassins for hire that lead double lives.