Adventures in Obscure 90s OAV Parody Videos: Scramble Wars

In the 1980s, some of the best designers working in the Japanese animation industry worked at ARTMIC. The Kichijoji-based design studio wasn’t a traditional animation studio; instead, they’d work up plans and designs for an OAV, film or TV series and shop the idea around to sponsors and animation studios. Operating from 1978 to 1997, ARTMIC was home to artists like Kenichi Sonada and Shinji Aramaki and had a hand in some of the most definitive OAV titles of the 1980s. Bubblegum Crisis, Riding Bean, Megazone 23, and non-OAV titles like Genesis Climber MOSPEADA, the American TV series Photon and VHS laser game products for Captain Power were but a few of the titles ARTMIC staff worked on. In 1992, they made 25-minute parody OAV titled Scramble Wars.


Once upon a time, AnimEigo released Scramble Wars as a double feature along with another ARTMIC parody video, Ten Little Gall Force. As a result, plenty of old timers fans have probably seen — or at least heard of — Scramble Wars, but AnimEigo never released it on DVD and it’s become even more obscure than it ever already was. To give you an idea of just how obscure it is, Anime News Network doesn’t list it in their anime encyclopedia and there is no Japanese Wikipedia page for it.

But is it worth forgetting? Probably. As a parody video based strictly on ARTMIC titles, it’s about as niche as you can get, and if you haven’t seen Genesis Surviver Gaiarth, Bubblegum Crisis or Gall Force, most of the jokes are going to be completely lost on you. Think SD Gundam, the major difference being that most people at least have some inkling of the plot or characters of Gundam, but there are probably less than a dozen people left on the planet who remember what the fuck Gaiarth was about.

Plenty of other ARTMIC titles make cameos; MADOX-01, MOSPEADA, Megazone 23, but they’re largely in the background and have very little impact on the plot. The plot, what little of it there is, concerns a rally held by Genom in Gaiarth’s post-apocalyptic desert. The participants of the race are SD forms of assorted characters and their mecha; Priss rides her Motoslave, Sylia and Mackie ride in the Silky Doll wagon, the cast of Gall Force ride in the Star Leaf, and so on. The characters employ a range of tricks and weapons to get an upper hand in the race, and the whole ordeal is clearly inspired by the anime classic Wacky Races.

The problem is that it’s never particular funny, and I say this as a guy who’s familiar with all of the titles parodied in Scramble Wars. It never rises above that bottom-level Japanese comedic style of stupid people doing stupid things and slapstick. Even the references to events of the various OAVs are only amusing in that “heh, I remember that” sort of way. It’s all in SD form, so of course there’s plenty of googly eyes and characters breaking the 4th wall, but it’s never actually clever.

Watching it, I tried to imagine the kind of early-90s otaku who would actually get excited about this video. They probably looked like someone out of the live action segments of Otaku no Video, and I’d like to believe that they got totally excited that it featured characters from Bubblegum Crisis AND Gall Force. They probably paid 10,000 yen for it and watched it on a top of the line SVHS tape deck. Maybe their parents really liked them and they were able to score it on Laserdisc.

That’s ultimately the most enjoyable part of Scramble Wars: trying to come to terms with why such a bizarre, niche product exists. As a historical relic, it’s a complete oddity. In 1992 it must have been obscure, in 2010 it’s entirely forgotten. The people who watched it and loved it have grown up and had kids, and now they spend their days wearing ill-fitted suits pretending to do work in Excel, then get drunk every night with coworkers before coming home to ignore their families. Despite being an obscure fragment of an extinct lineage of otaku, Scramble Wars fails to be entertaining in and of itself.

12 Comments

  1. I didn’t see that, but I’ll claim innocence and blame that on ANN’s fuckup, not mine.

    Ten Little Gall Force and Scramble Wars look to have been released separately in Japan (judging from this), so there’s no reason they should be counted as one singular title.

  2. Understood, but it is still accounted for, albeit the AnimEigo version only.

    Checked out the availability of this, and holy crap, is it rare. One used VHS copy on Amazon for nearly a thousand bucks (Pshaw) and one PAL copy for sale on Ebay, that’s it.

  3. And don’t forget the crying. That drunken, sobbing self pity kind, shouting “what HAPPENED?! What happened to us? to ME? WHY GOD WHY?” just before the puking starts…

    And in the morning looking at your collection of Gal Force mascot resin garage kits made by General Products, the ones that were meant to be hung on a keychain off your landsel or book bag. The ones you never took out of the packaging because they had become rare, and collectible so they exist unfulfilled in their purpose…JUST LIKE YOU.

  4. here are probably less than a dozen people left on the planet who remember what the fuck Gaiarth was about.

    Come on, be fair. There’s got to be at least three-four hundred. Admittedly I’m not one of them – I have a vague memory of it being something like Kamandi: the Last Boy does Grey: Digital Target – but somebody was tape-trading those suckers, even before AnimEigo licensed it. I think somebody at ARTMIC got somebody at AnimEigo drunk enough to get Woodhead to sign for the licen- oh, my god! They actually bothered to dub Gaiarth!

  5. I remember the hell out of Gaiarth, finding it to be a reasonably diverting OAV series. And I remember seeing Scramble Wars an age ago, at a time (the mid 90s) when it was likely to be recommended by American fans who would think any parody of titles they recognized was funny simply because “anime!” By which I mean, those are the sort of people who recommended it to me, the sort of overly enthusiastic American anime fan who never got over their initial newbie phase of thinking all the anime they saw was awesome.

  6. We liked it in Britain, at least partly because the British version of super Deformed Double Feature was released by a company with its headquarters in Bangor, North Wales – and the rally in Scramble Wars ends in – Bangor!!! (Probably not the one in North Wales, unless the research team had been drinking A LOT. There are no deserts in North Wales.)

    Wales made it into another 80s anime, of course – a rather more famous one, Hayao Miyazaki’s Tenku no Shiro Laputa.

  7. I remember Scramble Wars getting the cover of AnimeV when it was released, so it wasn’t THAT obscure if you were a fan at the time.

    I like your perspective on it being representative of an “extinct lineage of otaku”, because it really is; it came out just as the long-format OVA was dying and being replaced by the 30-minute episodic format, and I think it serves as a nice bit of closure to that era.

  8. >Helen McCarthy

    I love that you qualify yourself by making clear that “There are no deserts in North Wales”. South Wales, on the other hand…

    Is that a subtle dig at the evil queen Thatcher and her razing of Miyazaki’s beloved Valleys?

    Back in the UK I think there’s still a PAL copy of the Super Deformed Double Feature in a box somewhere at my parents’ place in Bristol. I remember loving it at the time, despite not getting any of the Gall Force references (although I suppose it wasn’t that hard to piece together the original retroactively from the parodies of melodramatic death scenarios), and yes, the fact that Scramble Wars ended in the quiet Welsh university town of Bangor was a source of joy to me.

    Also, hearing that it’s now officially obscure makes me feel dreadfully old. Truly my generation has passed across the Menai Suspension Bridge, into the mists of Avalon.

  9. South Wales IS a desert in many ways. As for Evil Queen Margaret, I’ve always admired her “come on, take me down if you’re hard enough” attitude.

    The main reason she is so hated is nothing to do with her philosophy (not so different from many right wing politicians, Blair included) or even her personality (ditto.) She was a woman who rejected the traditional ways women get their own way, took on the system, and beat it to a bloody pulp. She had the courage of her convictions, a quality lacking in almost everyone in politics. Some of the results were good, some bad, but the methods were breathtaking – arrogance bordering on idiocy and an absolute refusal to back down.

    Of course, the anime business is a mirror of the rest of the world so we can apply this metaphor there. Is Haruhi the avatar of Evil Queen Mag, bending the world to her will regardless of the shape it ends up in? Or is that fakir supreme Hideaki Anno, spinning his career or a magically sustained bit of old rope? Or (insert name of your favourite anime megalomaniac here)?

    Good metaphors never die, they just get over-extended.

  10. >South Wales IS a desert in many ways.

    Yes, it’s because there’s some truth in that that it made me laugh a bit. And your mention of Miyazaki and Laputa made me think of EQM and the Miners’ Strike, because of course he witnessed all that in real time when he was there for research in the mid-80s.

    I think Haruhi is a bit more Sarah Palin than Thatcher though. They’re both fictional characters designed to be an unthreatening caricature of a “strong woman” who nevertheless conform to a number of character attributes pandering to the fetishes of a certain male cultural demographic (and that’s before you even get me onto my theory about the parallels between the American loony right wing and the 3G otaku).

    As for Anno, maybe Castro suits him. Once a revolutionary, but now a powerless, doddering, senile figurehead for a dogmatic, incestuous establishment, presiding over the crumbling edifice of the world he made, but which has now consumed him. Actually, that works for Thatcher just as well.

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