I've reviewed plenty of hard-to-find and rare material before at The Anime Review, but one of the most frustrating of these titles is Orguss. The show was the 1983 follow-up from Studio Nue to the smash success Macross, and it took over that show's timeslot when it completed its 37-episode run. The show never gained quite the popularity of its cousin, but it still did quite well, enough to justify a six-episode sequel. Back in the early days of the anime industry in America, L.A. Hero dubbed the first half of the show. When mother corporation US Renditions went under, other companies picked up many of their licenses for American distribution, but Orguss was left to rot. As such, only half the series is available in English, and that half is so deplorable in terms of voice acting that it tarnishes the program. However, Orguss is unique in an arena filled with copycats, made back when originality was prized. Though not a classic by any stretch, Orguss will intrigue even the jaded mecha fan.
Orguss starts in a futuristic Earth where factions are fighting over control of a giant space elevator system that launches satellites at a tiny fraction of the cost of outdated rockets. Kei, a brash playboy and hotshot pilot, is caught in an explosion that disrupts the time-space continuum, throwing him twenty years into the future. But the world he lands in is nothing like what he expects; the bomb he attempted to defuse has also pulled together several parallel universes, all now co-existing on one Earth. He finds himself in the middle of a conflict between the Emaan, a nomadic trader race, and the warlike society of the Chiram. Kei is befriended by a band of Emaan and quickly develops a love/hate relationship with a young woman named Mimsy. Kei soon realizes that he is a "differentiated idioblast", one of a very few who might be able to put right this catastrophic melding of worlds. To succeed at this mission, however, may forever separate him from this strange group of travelers and the woman he comes to love.
Orguss is not a show that captures you immediately. The artwork is dated by modern standards, but it is more faithful to Haruhiko Mikimoto's original character designs than the Macross TV show ever was. The music is 20 years old and shows it, with a few too many themes just a little too cheesy (though I admit a certain attachment to the opening theme in spite of myself.)
I was able to obtain the first three volumes of the show for this review, and in those first seven episodes, I didn't fully connect with the story. Although there were some interesting ideas, not everything coalesced during that time. A huge part of the problem is the dub, which is simply atrocious. Even the worst modern dubs are no comparison to this travesty, where some actors sound like they've been recorded in an underground cavern. The dialogue is just this side of awful, with some straight lines becoming hysterical by their delivery or double entendre that was never intended.
It may come a surprise, then, that I'd love to see more of Orguss. Why? Simply, most shows don't come into their own until they're well underway. Macross doesn't truly hit its stride until after the 14th episode, which is nothing more than a clip show. Even the highly touted Neon Genesis Evangelion is a wisp of a concept in its first four or five episodes. After seeing the opening of Orguss and reading some more information on the Internet, it's clear that this show definitely gets more dramatic and compelling as it goes. There's also an immense amount of creativity at work in Orguss from the very beginning. Parallel universes are virtually cliché, but the idea of them converging together is novel, as are many of the creatures we see. The mecha design is at turns bizarre, inventive, and brilliant. I would recommend it for anyone who has an interest in the physical mechs themselves. Finally, the show has a nice amount of humor, including some in-jokes usually only found in parodies.
I'm not sure I can recommend Orguss to the casual American anime viewer, though it doesn't reflect in my rating. There's obviously some great material here, but this is a show that cannot be fulfilling watched only in part. From the start, we know that there has to be a particular point of resolution; that resolution is unavailable to English-speaking audiences. If you can find the entire series available somewhere in a language you understand, I would propose you see it, especially if you are a fan of old-school anime. It's not up to the level of a Space Cruiser Yamato, Captain Harlock, or Macross, but as a second-tier title, it does very well.
Orguss Vol. 1-3 -- violence, profanity, very brief nudity -- B