Written by Richard Brown
Orguss 02, surprisingly, is a sequel to a TV series called Orguss, which has only recently been released in English, and probably won’t be released in the UK. Orguss 02 has however been in the UK for ages; dating from Manga Entertainment’s videotape days .Why should you want to watch an old and obscure sequel to an even older and more obscure series? Because it’s damn good, that’s why.
The Basic Plot
In a different reality, the nations of Revillia and Zafran dominate the world, using weapons from another time. The mecha known as Decimators were discovered centuries before in mines and on the seabed, and the two nations are now close to another war. Lean is a gifted mechanic working with his employer Zante on a Decimator salvage ship, and events spiral out of control. Feeling honour bound to join the military as a result, Lean is recruited by the unconventional Lieutenant Manning. Things go badly and Lean is trapped behind enemy lines with Nataruma, a young woman fleeing the Zafran military, while the fighting happens around them.
Putting a New (or Old) Spin on Things
There are only so many ways to handle originality, especially when writing a sequel. The first is to ignore it, and just give more of the same, but you won’t gain any praise or new converts. The second is to do something very different, but in doing so you loose the audience. Orguss 02 takes the subtle third option, and that’s to shift everything slightly in a new direction, basically being a side story rather than a true sequel. The visuals march to a different beat, there’s a hodgepodge of European styles, mostly early industrial, showing steam trains co-existing with salvaged and slightly improvised mecha. However, the real thing that sets this series apart from its kin is the simply fact that while it is about a large scale war with mecha, the actual focus is on the people not really involved in fighting it.. If you were to list clichés and conventions in “real robot” animes, you’d find Orguss 02 is going against most of them. The most notable of which being that Lean is simply a nice guy trying to do the right thing, not an angst ridden teen, hot blooded youth or a professional soldier. Lean only pilots a decimator twice in the series, and instead spends most his of time a victim of circumstance.
The bulk of the anime comes from three plot threads that gradually come together, Lean and Nataruma’s escape, the intrigue in the Revillian Court, and the various Decimators at war. The sections with Lean amount to lots of one-to-one character scenes against a background of danger. Quickly betrayed, Lean has to earn the trust of Nataruma in order to survive, and the interplay between the characters is one of the series better points. These intimate moments are counter balanced by the politics and formality of the royal court, as the various power brokers backstab each other in an attempt to profit from events The intrigue nudges the plot along, and while you can see some things coming, such as the death of the king, the hows and whys aren’t so easy. The anime still manages to produce some startling action scenes even if the bulk of the series is small scale and personal. The massive Decimator Verifer advances across the landscape like a tide of molten lava, intractable and destructive, providing most of the explosions. There is a powerful scene in the snow which sees a final desperate attempt to stop this monster, and the animation has aged very well. These threads are tied together by Lieutenant Manning, a brilliant subversion of the mentor archetype. Selfish, manipulative, womanising, and completely honest about it, Manning is a good example of how this anime differs from the norm. While for the most part he’s an amoral opportunist, or at least pretends to be one, it’s difficult to dislike a character whose grand plan to infiltrate enemy territory, is to pose as underwear salesmen. The anime isn’t without a sense of humour.
For the most part the drama in the series is good and effectively paced, but there are some duff notes. The scene where Lean finally looses his temper at his situation and lashes out, honestly felt wrong, both for his actions and the responses of the other characters. The ties to the original series, while deftly handled, basically boil down to deus ex machina. (A viewer is probably best off taking the explanations the series gives you rather than looking deeply into the plot of the original.) It also gives us a notable change in the feel of the series, as the action shifts into more conventional mecha territory. Another issue is the less than brilliant UK DVD release, which has just about every sin imaginable short of a Robotech style rewrite, and this is the first time I’ve ever felt that such matters are worth mentioning in a review. However the quality of the overall anime is enough to overcome this. There’s a love triangle which could easily have felt tacked on were it not for the characterisation of those involved, and the series manages to be self-contained, unlike so many sequels. All in all, it’s good.
Orguss 02 could be used in a master class for anime OVAs; short, sharp, and self sufficient. While some elements would have benefited from an expanded episode count, virtually nothing fails. Give it a try, because if there was ever proof that there’s more the mecha genre than giant robots, and Evangelion, its here.