Toshimichi Suzuki and the Making of Bubblegum Crisis

February 25 is the 30th anniversary of the release of Tinsel City, the first episode of Bubblegum Crisis. Produced by ARTMIC, AIC, and Youmex, the sci-fi OVA series ran for eight episodes. Despite being cancelled short of its intended 13-episode run, it inspired a slew of spin-offs and sequels. Today, we’re talking about how it came to be made.

IARTMIC Design Works, studio founder and series co-creator Toshimichi Suzuki declared, “Bubblegum Crisis has the type of things I like.” That’s not surprising; Crisis was one of the most successful iterations of the ARTMIC archetype and the studio itself was created in Suzuki’s own multitalented image.

Despite his prior experience as a producer at Tatsunoko Productions, Suzuki didn’t consider ARTMIC to be an “animation production house” intended to tackle the day-by-day production of a series or film. He said as much in an interview with Animerica magazine in 1993, “Artmic is more a place where we can utilize our designs and stories. We’re not interested in production work.” That might seem odd coming from a former producer, but then, Suzuki wasn’t just a producer. Throughout his tenure at ARTMIC, Suzuki helped plan and co-write anime, authored novels and audio dramas, and even had a side gig painting box art for model kit manufacturer Imai.

An early version of the Knight Sabers, by Kenichi Sonoda.

Suzuki’s experience working from creation through production to merchandising served ARTMIC well. Not only was the studio capable of overseeing the entire lifecycle of a film or OVA (with help from a production company for the actual animation, of course), but ARTMIC also helped design everything from logos to advertising campaigns. That eye for design was apparent in the studio’s animated work and at times seemingly came at the cost of everything else. 

It was ARTMIC’s first major project, Technopolice 21C, that inadvertently set the studio and Suzuki on a path towards Crisis. Collaborating with Studio Nue, Suzuki intended Technopolice to be a groundbreaking sci-fi cop show set in a plausible future, but production difficulties meant that it never reached TV screens. Instead, animation from the first few episodes was patched together and released by Toho Productions as a movie in 1982. It’s easy to imagine that spending four years on the troubled series only to see it released as a salvaged film must have been incredibly frustrating for Suzuki. Three years after the theatrical release of Technopolice, he was already planning to remake it with new talent.

In December of 1985, Suzuki met music exec Junji Fujita at the Fight! Iczer-1 wrap party and they hit it off. Soon enough, Suzuki’s planned Technopolice reboot was something else entirely thanks to creative brainstorming with Fujita — it was turning into Bubblegum Crisis. There were other factors at work, too. Between the release of Technopolice in ’82 and the meeting with Fujita in ’85, three notable films had been released: Blade Runner (1982), The Terminator (1984), and Streets of Fire (1984). The influence of those films on Crisis should be readily apparent.

To hear Suzuki tell it, many of ARTMIC’s anime projects were linked — not chronologically, but thematically. Gall Force, Megazone 23, and Genesis Surviver Gaiarth all dealt with conflict between humanity and machines, albeit in different ways and at different stages of that conflict. For example, Gall Force dealt with humanity barely holding out against a superior robotic foe, while Gaiarth took place after a cataclysmic war between humans and machines. The meeting between Suzuki and Fujita had steered the Technopolice reboot project towards stories focused on “the fear the that rapid technological innovations will make people apathetic as to how these new innovations could be used.” In short: much of ARTMIC’s work was a generation-spanning tapestry of humanity’s conflict with technology, and Bubblegum Crisis was the opening act.

Earlier that year, Fujita had founded Youmex, a subsidiary of the music company Toshiba EMI. The support of Fujita and Youmex meant that Crisis not only had easy access to musical talent, but it also had money. The OVA industry during the 1980s was closely tied to major electronics manufacturers like Toshiba and Matsushita. Manufacturers used record label subsidiaries like Toshiba EMI and Victor to funnel money towards OVA production; it was vertical integration supporting the strategy of selling hardware by providing software. Sales of OVAs were relatively small compared to a hit music album, but the breakout hit Megazone 23 (also an ARTMIC co-production) had really put the format on the map. Comparatively limited sales or not, the premium cost and hardcore nature of anime fans meant that they were a worthwhile targets of hardware manufacturers. For companies like ARTMIC that created their own stories, these type of connections were incredibly important. A studio producing an OVA based on a popular manga title would have the support of its publisher and an existing fanbase to tap into, whereas ARTMIC had to put together the funding themselves to get their animation to production.

Crisis was by no means the only anime series that Youmex helped produce (other notable shows included Kimagure Orange Road, Otaku no Video, and another ARTMIC favorite, Dragon’s Heaven), but the sheer amount of music included in Crisis certainly suggested a music exec was deeply involved. Every episode had its own soundtrack album, which was an anomaly for OVAs of the era. Crisis also featured a singer with no voice acting experience as one of its main characters, as singer Oomori Kinuko played lead Priss Asagiri. Kinuko stopped singing solo vocal tracks for Crisis after the third episode, but the eighth episode featured the song Chase the Dream off the debut album of her newly band, Silk. The label releasing that album? Youmex, of course.

Chase the Dream wasn’t the first time Crisis had used a pre-existing song. Mr. Dandy, the iconic ending theme for Tinsel City was off Bluew’s self-titled debut album. That album and Tinsel City were both released on the same day: February 25, 1987.

In a bit of cruel irony, Crisis, like Technopolice, was never finished as intended. Originally envisioned to be thirteen episodes, production was cut short after only eight because of legal issues between ARTMIC and Youmex. A three episode sequel called Bubblegum Crash attempted to cover the material of the remaining five planned episodes, but stumbled without the same charm of the original (or Kinuko’s voice). Suzuki mentioned another sequel in his Animerica interview, but as of 2017, it is still unreleased.

As for ARTMIC and Youmex? Changes in the Japanese economy and the OVA market made the ’90s a difficult time for ARTMIC. When the studio went bankrupt in 1997, they defaulted on loans cosigned years prior by Youmex. Forced to take on debt they couldn’t repay, Youmex was absorbed back into Toshiba EMI in 1998. The rights to Bubblegum Crisis, along with other ARTMIC intellectual property, ended up in the hands of long-time production collaborator, AIC. But by then it didn’t really matter — the anime industry was changing, satellite TV was about to take even more market share from OVAs, and the writing was on the wall.