Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Jan 23rd 2008
The Super Dimension Century Orguss
Life aboard the Glowmer has fallen into a comfortable rhythm. Kei and Mimsy flirt on and off, the crew collects and sells wares, Sley tries to keep Mimsy's affections, and occasionally the Chilum attack, forcing Kei to blow them up. It cannot last forever of course, and it doesn't. Kei learns that his best friend Olsen, who was caught in the dimensional explosion with him, is working for the Chilum, and things begin to unravel fast. It turns out that the unstable patchwork world of the Emarn and Chilum can be fixed, but that only one of the many worlds that make it up will survive, and that the instigators of the whole mess, namely Kei and Olsen, are the only ones who can do it. The Chilum complete a machine that can do the rectifying on its own, and decide that Olsen and Kei must die before the Emarn can use them to restore an Emarn-only Earth. The Emarn themselves are violently split on what to do with Kei, a split that soon has the crew of the Glowmer fleeing not only from the Chilum, but from their own kinsmen as well. In the meantime Kei learns that Chilum is his homeland (from the future) and that he has a grown daughter there who is unknowingly bent on her father's demise; Mimsy approaches the ripe old age of eighteen, after which—thanks to Emarn biology—she will be a sterile old maid; and Sley embarks on a series of increasingly dangerous ventures in an effort to prove himself to Mimsy.
War and Peace it is not, but even a minor deepening is noticeable in a show as slight as Orguss. As it digs into the meat of its run, the series' stand-alone stories are gelling into a continuous plot, its cast solidifying, and its tone darkening. It's a welcome change, even if the heavier additions succumb to careless scripting more often than they succeed.
And it comes not a minute too soon. By the time the series makes a belated entrance into continuous plot-hood, the silly one-off episodes have already subjected viewers to an alternate world with a conveniently matriarchal French culture (complete with Marie Antionette and Joan of Arc, never mind that the two lived nearly half a millennia apart) and a tribe of horseback barbarians who attack an airship with stone axes (but are scared off by Javiet's dragon-like appearance). The series' light humor was enough to make its first eight episodes enjoyable, and it persists even through its characters' darkest hours (which really aren't that dark), but by this point, pure silliness has begun to wear out its welcome. It is with great relief then that Olsen meets Kei and the stand-alone portion of the series passes into memory. The plot is some nonsense about remaking the world with the power of will, but it at least provides propulsion from one episode to the next and keeps the show away from some of its stupider flights of fancy. It also marks an intensification of the central romantic triangle, during which Sley defies all expectation by becoming a serious romantic rival, anchoring some surprisingly emotional scenes.
Unfortunately, those scenes are among the minority. The others, particularly those based around personality-deficient secondary characters like Shaia and Kei's daughter Athena, find themselves stillborn in a script too thinly written to support their dramatic ambitions. Too often they depend on inconsistent characterization or a basic lack of reasoning skills to carry out their machinations. Athena will be sweetness and light one moment (all the better for Kei to put the moves on her, despite the fact that she's a dead ringer for his lover who he knows bore him a full-grown Chilum daughter), and the next she's hell-bent on destroying him, despite Olsen's (her mentor) warning that Kei is her father. Her eyes might as well turn red, her head spinning around chanting "kill, kill, kill..."
Much the same way one might be nostalgic for the clumsy, earnest charm Orguss' honest desire to entertain lends to even its most ill-begotten dramatic failures, the series remains a strong visual draw to those nostalgic for the little human flaws of cel animation. Quality control mistakes and jittering frames are almost welcome in an age of slick visual perfection, though the dorky bow-legged swagger of the supposedly imposing Mulian robots and the mecha battles comprised entirely of repeated animation most certainly aren't. Otherwise the animation is reasonably fluid and detailed, the backgrounds pretty, and the characters (females in particular) round-limbed and realistically proportioned.
The music remains the same: pleasant and forgettable; used with prudence and moderate care save for a few ill-advised dips into ham-handedness. The opening and ending themes remain unchanged.
As does the English dub (which ends with episode 17), which has remained unchanged since the moment it was spawned for the series' 1993 VHS release. It's wildly uneven, sometimes badly recorded, and to be appreciated only by hardcore completists or fans of ripe camp. Its limitations become even clearer when throwing a damp rag over those appeals to emotion that do succeed. It's also the only extra on these four discs.
Orguss transitions to a mildly more serious brand of entertainment at exactly the right time; its standalone tales were ranging too far into left field to maintain interest for much longer. That it remains largely light entertainment and that its only real achievement may have been to increase the density of disastrously failed drama are beside the point: it kept itself from self-destructing, and that's the most it aspires to (no one producing this was likely stupid enough to believe that it would change the world). The surprisingly successful romantic triangle is merely icing on the cake.
Overall (dub) : C-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : C+
Art : B
Music : C+
+ Romantic triangle comes to life; steers its light entertainment from the doldrums with a little dramatic gravitas and a newly continuous plot.
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