Monday, December 14, 2015

Video Backlog: “Super Dimension Century Orguss”

Publisher: Eastern Star (Discotek, USA)
Format: Region 1 DVD, NTSC, Japanese Dialogue with optional English Subtitles and English Dub (episodes 1 to 17 only).
Length: 35 episodes x 25 minutes
Production Date: 1983 - 1984
Currently in Print (as of writing): Yes

In the year 2062, the world is at war once more. This time it is mostly over the control of a space elevator which can cheaply and easily transport materials and people to and from Earth’s orbit. The night before the Freedom Space Corps plan an all-out attack on the space elevator, second lieutenant Kei Katsuragi is making out with one of his girlfriends, Tina, one last time. Sprung by her father, Kei makes a hasty retreat as Tina’s father chases him from the property with a shotgun. Waiting for Kei is a fellow officer in the Freedom Space Corps and friend Olson D. Verne. He drives him off to safety back to the barracks in his sidecar.

During the following day, the mission doesn’t go to plan. The original plan called for a Space/Time Oscillation Bomb to be set off to blast the space elevator into an alternate timeline to end the war. The plan is called off when the enemy swarms the area and the engineers fail to calibrate the bomb in time. The bomb is then set to self-destruct in order to be kept out of enemy hands. Kei feels frustrated at the failure of the operation and decides to set the bomb off himself. He manages to stop the bomb from self-destructing and attempts to reactivate it. However as there are no set coordinates for the bomb, it activates sending the space elevator off and the surrounding area into an unknown dimension. Worse yet is that both Olson and Kei are caught I the bomb’s blast before they have a chance to escape.

Kei is blown with his aircraft, the Bronco II, to what seems to be a alien world. He awakens inside an infirmary which he initially mistakes for a military one. Much to his shock he discovers that he is with an Emaan caravan on a ship called the Glomar. The Emaan are humanoid creatures, mostly female, with appearances very similar to humans, except for one major difference; they have tentacles that protrude from the neck and are used primarily for non-verbal communication. Even more of a shock is Kei’s introduction to Jabby, a sentient dinosaur-like creature. Kei soon learns that he hasn’t landed on an alien planet at all but seemingly time travelled. It is the Earth some 20 years after a dimensional disaster where parts of several alternate timelines and dimensions were funnelled into one causing mass chaos. As a result several cultures are forces to try to coexist together. The Emaan themselves are a kind of nomadic trading culture. While they do have a homeland, they will travel the world salvaging old machines, restoring them with their advanced technology and selling them for profit. While it may seem that the inhabitants of this patchwork Earth can generally coexist, the world they inhabit is incredibly unstable, with small parts of the world continually phasing in an out of other dimensions almost without warning.

Unfortunately for the Emaan on the Glomar, the war-like Chiram appear asking them to hand over the “Singularity”, by which they mean Kei. The Emaan are also aware of this and try to make a trade, much to the disgust of Kei. The Chiram refuse all negations and decide to take Kei by force. This is disastrous for the Emaan who know nothing of battle tactics and begin to be slaughtered by the Chiram battle machines. Kei is shocked by the lack of the Emaan’s fighting shills and takes off in his Bronco II to defend them. After dispatching most of them, and having to confront one of the Chiram pilots face to face, he is equally shocked by their tactics and way of life as he is by the apparent matter of fact way the Emaan deal with their dead. Frustrated with the perceived lack of answers from the Emaan and the situation he finds himself in, Kei unwisely decides to leave. In an attempt to avoid an attack from the Chiram, he flies into the dimensional barrier that covers the earth, some 500 meters above the ground. The barrier is like flying into an incredibly violent storm and is practically impenetrable. With his Bronco II severely damaged, he crashes to the ground.

Kei is saved by a young female Emaan called Mimsy who takes him back to the Glomar. Along with the chief of the Glomar, Shaia, the Emaan hatch a deal with Kei to stay and promise to rebuild his plane, which later rechristened as the Orguss, named after the god of war of Jabby’s race. Kei being a playboy considers this a good deal as there are plenty of young women and food. He soon finds himself being attracted to Mimsy which causes tensions with the Glomar with Mimsy due to be married to Slay. Add in the constant attacks from Emaan and Kei’s selfish nature, which at one point has him forcing Mimsy to purchase a child humanoid robot girl called Mome, an ancient relic from the Mu robotic civilisation. It’s too much, so the rest of the Emaan decide to vote on whether to let him stay or turf him off the ship. Kei is saved by the fact that the Emaan senate orders the Glomar to return to their homeland as Kei is key to returning the various dimensions to their original place. However the Glomar has to battle through attacks from the Chiram and an increasingly hostile Mu empire. All sides are after Kei and have the technology to reverse the effects of the original dimensional bomb. However all sides fear annihilation from the other side’s attempts to restore the dimensional timelines.

“Orguss” is probably most famous for being the show that replaced “Macross” in its timeslot when it finished its broadcast. That’s probably being a little bit too harsh on “Orguss”. The show pretty much had the same key staff that worked on “Macross” and in the same roles as well; Noboru Ishiguro as director, Haruhiko Mikimoto did the character designs, Kazutaka Miyatake did the mecha designs and the music was again handled by Kentaro Haneda. Many of the pieces sound like they come from an unheard “Macross” soundtrack. Like “Macross”, Studio Nue conceived the series. The one notable absence from the staff is mecha designer Shoji Kawamori. The mecha designs certainly aren’t as good as those in “Macross” (many fans attribute this to the fact Miyatake was working on “Aura Battler Dunbine” simultaneously), but what you can’t deny is the animation is far more consistent and arguably far better than all of the Korean outsourced “Macross” episodes. Another element of the show I quite liked was the opening and ending songs by American (though almost entirely sung in Japanese) Casey Rankin.

The other very “Macross” element of the show is the character Athena Henderson of the Chiram army. I don’t want to give away spoilers to the show, but I will say she looks and acts very much like Milia Fallyna Jenius. There are also a few nods to “Macross” along the way; Kei day dreams about the girls he’s left behind in his world including Minmay, Sammy and Vanessa, there’s also a quick topless shot of Misa Hayase on a Chiram monitor and markings on a box inside the Glomar seems to indicate it contains VF-1 Valkyrie parts. Noboru Ishiguro also makes an animated cameo appearance. Most of the early part of the story of “Orguss” involves the Glomar simultaneously setting up markets to trade and fighting off attacks from the Chiram who are hell bent on capturing Kei. A secondary plot line involves the relationship between Mimsy and Kei. Along the way the group goes through several trials such as being attacked by a group of barbarians on horseback. It’s not until episode 12 where things change up gear with the presence of Athena and another character from Kei’s past. Things become more desperate for the Glomar and the planet as it is revealed the disastrous position they’re in.

Certainly the story becomes far more interesting in the last arc where there is a three way battle to reverse the damage the Space/Time Oscillation Bomb has done. But it does take a long time to get there. I thought a number of episodes were a bit unnecessary. The battles are really well done for the time period, but animation is recycled many times during these sequences. Admittedly this was sort of standard practice of the time. A number of charters are also added to the story which I think really serve no purpose. For example the Mu empire robots Mome (just take out the second “M”…) and the Captain, a quite useless fighting robot the crew salvage. Having said that, it’s still a pretty good robot anime show. Apart from the really well thought out concept of various dimensions and timelines converging onto one planet, there’s the lead character Kei. It was a bit unusual to have a somewhat unlikable playboy type as the lead for the time. He is a bit of a dope and does chase after the ladies a bit too much, but over time he sort of becomes a bit of charmer and more dependable, even heroic.

The show has had a bit of chequered history in English. It was first released on a series of VHS tapes by US Renditions back in 1992, but only reached as far as episode 17 and the series of tapes were was cancelled by 1994. Luckily the show was released by in full by ImaginAsian in 2007, albeit on DVD-Rs. The series the company released were pulled when the DVD-R replicator they were using when bankrupt the following year. This version from Eastern Star/Discotek may still use the same old composite video masters that ImaginAsian used, but the subtitles are far more accurate, even though there are some grammatical errors. Somehow I’ve managed to buy all three versions of the series, though only three of the eight VHS tapes these were released. It was pretty hard to come by those tapes back in the 1990’s.

Like a lot of older anime, “Orguss” probably hasn’t stood the test of time. It is a really fun show, but I think a number of episodes don’t further the story in any way. A small number of characters (mainly the two robots) add very little to the plot other than comic relief. Despite all of its flaws (and there are many), it‘s still quite an enjoyable show. If you love Studio Nue stuff and robot shows of the era, it’s a no brainer. The series was followed up a decade later by the seriously underrated “Orguss 02” OVA which works as a standalone OVA but manages to link the end of the original series and give it all a proper ending (the ending of “Orguss” could be seen as a bit vague and unsatisfying). I’ll give “Orguss” a 7 out of 10.

Remaining Backlog: Seven series, 18 movies, six OVAs also waiting for second parts for two shows to be released before viewing them.

No comments:

Post a Comment