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.