It's time to delve into the back catalogue once more, and look at a show that as a self-respecting anime-geek, I really should have seen years ago when I first got bitten by the anime bug. Believe it or not, I do actually discriminate in the anime that I choose to watch, and if there is one genre I avoid more than most, it's mecha anime. If there is one thing that will put me right off a show, it's the concept of a giant walking robot that can only be piloted by a whiny teenager, fighting other giant walking robots. Of course there are exceptions to the rule, Evangelion being one of them, but by and large they feel too much like Power Rangers to me. But for ages now, I've been hearing that if you are going to watch one mecha show, make it Orguss 02, and one convenient DVD sale later, I now hold a copy in my hand.
You may be wondering about Orguss 01, and there was indeed a 35-episode series called Super Dimension Century Orguss made in 1983, about a space-time bomb that scrambled, well, time and space, leaving a hero to search for a way to repair the damage. It wasn't very well received. Orguss 02 is the direct OVA sequel made in 1993, telling its story in a far more concise 6 episodes, and in essence divorcing itself completely from the earlier series by moving the story some 200 years into the future. Obviously it has completely different characters, and it's set in a world that's been rebuilt after the previous devastating war, and that has only just reached the equivalent of 20th Century technology, albeit with societies that more resemble mediaeval fiefdoms. You may be wondering why bother calling it a sequel, but it's the legacy of the war in the earlier series, abandoned mecha named Decimators, that informs the story in this show. After 200 years and a series of feudal wars, two superpowers have arisen, Rivilia and Zafrin, and they maintain the balance of power by recovering hi-tech abandoned Decimators, restoring them for use in their own armed forces.
Manga Entertainment present the series in its entirety on one disc.
1. Fool's Choice
Zante and Lean are salvage operators and mechanics, working on restoring Decimators for the Rivilian military, and they're currently lifting a squad of such machines from the seabed. When Zafrin forces attack, Lt Manning of the Rivilian Imperial Guard arrives to help speed things up, but it's too late. Zante and Lean manage to get one of their Decimators operational, and Lean manages to pilot one into battle, but he can't save his friend and mentor. Back in the city of Geran, Zante's funeral is interrupted by a bank official looking to foreclose on his business, putting his grieving widow and daughter out on the street. Lean wants to help, but it's only when Manning suggests joining the army that there is a glimmer of hope. The Imperial Guard is the cushy life says Manning; you can take years worth of salary in advance, and get rich off the mayhem that wars generate. They don't know that the Rivilian leaders are preparing for the final war against their traditional foes.
2. Where Angels Fear to Tread
Lean and Manning get ordered to undertake a spy mission into Zafrin territory, a small mining town called Kosmar. It says mining town on the map, but it's actually a major source of the Zafrin's Decimator forces, and Manning would like to liberate a few. While they sneak in, major upheavals occur in Rivilia when the old, moderate king Mendez dies. His youngest son Siplay dons the crown and the moderate faction in the court is ruthlessly silenced. War seems inevitable, but Zafrin has already learned of this and have ordered a mobilisation of their forces. When Manning and Lean arrive in Kosmar, they find a heavily militarised town with the army searching frantically for a mysterious girl. Manning orders Lean to stay in their hotel room, while he goes to take a look around. While Manning investigates the Zafrin's new city sized Decimator, Verifer, Lean gets a knock on the door. It's the fugitive girl, looking for a place to hide, and she's just found a Rivilian spy she can blackmail.
The girl's name is Nataruma, although Lean has to work to get that much information from her. It's an alliance made at the point of a gun, as the two have no choice but to work together to make their escape. It isn't made easy by her frosty attitude, but as they travel, events in the outside world outpace them. Diplomacy between Zafrin and Rivilia breaks down, in no small part due to the belligerency of the regent Kerachi, who foresees an easy victory over Zafrin. War is declared, even though Manning has returned with news of the Zafrin's Decimator. When Lean and Nataruma get to the border, they're caught up in the fighting, but suddenly a Decimator appears which is like nothing ever seen before. It also appears that Nataruma has powers beyond those even of the most powerful Seekers
They've made it back to Rivilia and the city of Geran, and Lean finds Nataruma a safe haven with Zante's widow and daughter, although Toria doesn't take too kindly to the foreign girl in their midst. Lean's regretting ever having joined the Guard, and he has a couple of choice words for Manning when he gets back to barracks. Meanwhile, the giant Zafrin Decimator is on the march, destroying all in its path in its inexorable surge towards Geran. 3 weeks and it will be knocking at the gates of the city, and all will be lost. The only clue that the Rivilians have is the strange girl that the Zafrin army was so desperately searching for, and seeing as the Zafrin search continues, it's possible that she has crossed the border. When wanted posters of Nataruma go up in the city, Toria makes a regrettable decision. Lean realises that he can't be a soldier anymore, and embarks on a suicide mission to rescue Nataruma.
There is a new king in Rivilia, and with the support of Manning, Perion has consolidated his power, and reversed Kerachi's idiotic decisions. Unfortunately, it turns out that Perion is a whole different brand of idiot. Leon and Nataruma have been rescued, although they have difficulties coming to terms with what it is that has helped them. Cornel is a robot, one that has been watching and waiting for 200 years. The Decimators, the wars, the destruction, all stem from a Space Time Bomb that detonated centuries previously, and Cornel feels that he is responsible for repairing the damage. To that extent, he has constructed another Space Time Bomb that will undo what the first did, and restore all the dimensions to their rightful order. He needs help though; he needs Nataruma and her unique abilities.
6. Those Who Wait For Tomorrow
Nataruma is the one being that can fathom the universe, and guide Cornel into making the correct repairs. The trouble is that all of a sudden Nataruma's powers are being interfered with. Perion has discovered a Decimator of his own, a gargantuan device that dwarfs even the Zafrin Verifer. Liboh was the ultimate weapon created in the original war, and it can literally destroy the world. The problem is that before long it drives its pilot insane, and the combination is unstoppable.
Orguss 02 gets a very pleasant 4:3 transfer, with a clear and sharp image bringing out the best in an animation that is over 15 years old. The OVA budget really tells with this show, the animation is of the old cel type, hand drawn and intricately painted, but the character designs are very strong, the world design is excellent with the attention to detail particularly telling, and the movement is fluid and expressive. It's a quality animation that stands up well even today. There is also a touch of the alternate history to it, an imaginative design ethic that puts me in mind of Wings of Honneamise. The mecha designs are a little generic though, with the giant robots looking much like giant robots from any other show. However, detail levels remain high throughout, and the mecha animation is as good as you can probably get without the benefit of CGI.
You get a choice between DD 5.1 and 2.0 English, along with DD 2.0 Japanese, with optional English subtitles. The English surround track offers some ambience and meat to the sound, although little in the way of separation. The dub is one from yesteryear though, and is better off forgotten. There may be reason not to forget it in this case though, as there are one or two points that need to be taken into account. Orguss' music is atrocious; it has some of the most awful theme songs, and painful incidental music I have heard in quite a while. It probably highlights how good the show is that you can still watch it even with that music. The English dub makes some concession for this by re-recording the soundtrack in its entirety, ditching some of the more obnoxious themes, and reusing less awful music from elsewhere in the show.
You get the full effect of the music in the Japanese dub (the hardsubbed lyrics in the themes refer to the English dub, not the Japanese version. You also have to put up with the sound dropping out, four times in all, for about a second each time. Fortunately this doesn't happen in the dialogue (or in the English tracks), but it is annoying nevertheless. The subtitles are occasionally a bit loose. They're certainly not dubtitles, but there are moments where I wondered if what was said was even vaguely close to what the subtitles translated. There were a few too many colloquialisms in the subtitles to account for an accurate translation. Some of the Zafrin dialogue is hard-subbed, as they speak a foreign language in both English and Japanese versions.
Orguss 02 is presented in its entirety on a single disc, placed in an Amaray case, held in a card slipcase. Inside the case you'll find one of those mini-posters with a large version of the cover art, along with some series and disc specifications on the reverse.
On the disc you'll find a photo gallery with 29 images, along with two Manga trailer reels.
Orguss 02 is another one of those shows that I missed out on originally, and am now only getting to long after the buzz has vanished from forums, or whatever it is they had for forums back in the mid-nineties. It's a shame I missed out on shows like this. It was bad experiences with Angel Cop, Urotsukidoji and Junk Boy that led to a six-year gap in my anime viewing, and had I watched stuff like Orguss 02 instead, maybe that wouldn't have happened. As I mentioned at the start of this review, mecha shows just aren't my particular slice of bread. There's something vaguely ridiculous about giant man shaped robots being piloted by children who should still be in school, it just gnaws at my suspension of disbelief. But Orguss 02 really isn't about the mecha at all, it's an effective anti-war polemic, the sort that the Japanese do so well, three hours of cynicism and thinly veiled allegory that remind you that anime can inform and educate, as well as entertain.
Lean is our window into this oddly blended future-retro world. He's the simple everyman who winds up in the wrong place at the wrong time, and gets a window into the hypocrisy of his leaders as a result. Much like the Cold War era, this world is divided into two superpowers, whose energies are spent on confrontation and one-upmanship. Decimators maintain the balance of power in this world (Armour in the Japanese dub), the equivalent of atomic weapons in ours. But it's obvious that these are societies that have been prematurely gifted this ultimate power, they are still feudal in nature, and rapid advancement hasn't been applied to the systems of governance. These people may have planes, trains and automobiles, but they are still ruled by kings and queens, and the whim of a madman can and does send thousands to their deaths.
And there are madmen at the top of the tree. The seemingly moderate King Mendez has a court of warmongers for advisers, and when he isn't shown to be willing enough, his puppet of a son Siplay replaces him. War is a game for the aristocracy, and they take pleasure in playing it. There's little recourse for the common man, especially when the nation's entire economy is geared around war. Lean starts off as a mechanic working on recovered Decimators, and when he urgently needs some money, the only thing he can do is join the military. He's recruited by Manning, a mercenary to all intents and purposes, whose sole purpose in life is to make as much money as possible, and he's learned that it's war that provided the juiciest opportunities. Of course it turns out that this single-minded opportunist does have a sense of right or wrong, as per lovable rogue convention. But when they are sent into Zafrin, they find a mirror of Rivilia, another war geared society that cares little for its citizens. Meeting the fugitive Nataruma shows that the Zafrin command sees nothing wrong with destroying their own town in an effort to find her, as she represents a major strategic advantage.
Time and again, we see examples of the futility of war, and the arrogance of leaders who spend human lives like loose change. Of course because it's a fantasy show, it can come up with an easy answer, getting rid of all the weapons will get rid of the problem, although it pointedly doesn't happen before the leaders on both sides get their just rewards. It's not so juvenile a concept as that in Superman IV, as the weapons here are not supposed to be in this society anyway, and it's because of a technological quirk that they are here at all. It's seems fitting then, that the same technological quirk will solve the problem. You can't get away from that cynicism though, and in the end, Manning has found a new mercenary endeavour to invest his life in, the new found wonders of capitalism, while we see that lunatic royal leaders have been replaced only with a new brand of lunacy, democracy.
Against this background, the problems of two star-crossed characters don't amount to the proverbial hill of beans, but the story does manage to evoke empathy for Lean and Nataruma, and ensures our emotional involvement isn't snowed under by the allegory. They are likeable characters, and watching their antagonistic relationship turn to affection carries the heart of the story. Orguss 02 isn't perfect though. The 'convenient' discovery of a second super-Decimator just smacks of contrivance, while the relatively short runtime meant that Manning in particular was developed little beyond the stereotype of money-grubbing mercenary with a heart of gold. He did what the story required of him, not always what was true to the character. But Orguss 02 is an old title with a surprising amount of depth to it. The story is well written and there's quite a bit crammed into its 6 short episodes. The animation is top quality as well, certainly holding up today when compared to higher budget, and computer enhanced anime. Even if the music makes my gums bleed, I'll still recommend Orguss 02.