Seeing as Robotech was my entry point into anime 20 years ago, I have to admit that I have a soft spot in my heart for old sci-fi anime with spaceships exploding in overlapping explosion circles and mecha that can blow the snot out of a major city. This isn't to say I can't be objective about them; I simply get a nostalgic feeling when I get to watch a show that reminds me of my roots. Detonator Orgun was such a show, and by golly, I had hoped it would be more. There is so much creativity going on here that I wish it wasn't such a bore in its first two episodes. Although the third episode of the series finally kicks things into gear properly for the finale, I just didn't care enough to get back into the story. Your patience will ultimately determine whether this is good or bad in your book.
Tomoru dreams of a life far different from his own. Although he will graduate from school in just a few months, his mind wanders back to the styles and stories of the late 20th century...almost 300 years ago. Although his world of high-rise Blade Runner skyscrapers is pleasant enough, he cannot make a firm decision about his future. Other than a cute girl in glasses he sees on the public air car transit, he's not excited about much except his PASFU, a video game that can be played mentally...and, possibly, even in one's sleep.
One day Tomoru wakes from a nightmare where a terrible creature attacked him, only to be stopped by a mobile suit that knows his name. Only thing is, that nightmare will be coming true. Orgun, a decorated warrior turned traitor from a race of sentient mobile suits called the Evolyuder, comes to Earth in order to warn humanity about the coming onslaught. Somehow, Orgun has a psychic link with Tomoru, and the two can merge together as one. Under the guidance of Dr. Kanzaki, who turns out to be the pretty girl from the tram, Tomoru has to delve into Orgun's mind and find out just why Earth is on the destruction list. As a prophetess speaks words of doom on the TV, Tomoru learns Orgun's dark secrets that will forever change their lives and the course of Earth's history.
Detonator Orgun is weak in a few points, and one of them is its animation. A show from the early 1990s, the OVAs just don't look that good. The character design is not terrible, but the leads are pretty non-descript. Meanwhile, the renderings themselves are often simply bad; in medium range shots, some of the cast members virtually lose their faces altogether! Although the battle sequences are reasonably done, the character artwork is unimpressive.
This isn't the kind of show that's really about artwork anyway; it's about story, and admittedly Detonator Orgun has a good one. I enjoyed the character development of Tomoru and thought the twists surrounding the race of the Evolyuder were engaging. The romantic element is pretty weak, unfortunately. I've never said this about an anime before, since it's usually a human problem, but there's no sense of chemistry between the leads. That's a backburner issue, but it leads to my central problem with Detonator Orgun: it's dull.
Detonator Orgun really doesn't get started until well over an hour and a half of the show is through. We don't get interested in the romantic relationship, and the sci-fi elements are so slow that, even in early battles, it's easy to get bored. And that's with me liking the plot; I pity the person who would watch it only for its action scenes. It plods along, and though the story is not repetitious (like the awful film version of X), it just slows to a crawl. Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence may be very slow, but the dialogue kept me alert. Here, I was just falling asleep.
It really is a missed opportunity, too, because Detonator Orgun has some really fine material. It uses the "save the universe advertising" motif long before we saw the same kind of satire in Starship Troopers. It has some intelligent plotting elements that, if you can make it through to the final half-hour of the 2:30 running time, pay off. The central mysteries of the show are intelligent and engaging. The original plot can't be blamed. The kernels of greatness are here.
The director, Masami Obari, ultimately has to be faulted for a lack of execution. The format of the show as three separate OVAs may be what killed it; there's an excellent 1:45 movie sitting in this material that was never edited together. Obari has done some excellent work in the past, particularly on episodes 5 and 6 of the original Bubblegum Crisis OVAs, but he also directed the mess that is Voltage Fighter Gowcaizer. Unfortunately, his work is inconsistent. And though the story is good, the author (Hideki Kakinuma, also creator of the whole Gall Force series) did double duty as the executive producer; one would have hoped for better oversight.
Ultimately, I have to put Detonator Orgun at the highest level of "not recommended" shows. I wish I could move it up a little, but it doesn't deserve it. I don't know the story behind Detonator Orgun's creation, but it seems that everyone was just a little too close to the project to realize its faults and fix them. For my money, I'd rather just pop in Macross again.
Detonator Orgun -- violence, non-sexual nudity -- C+