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Buried Treasure
Orguss 02

by Justin Sevakis,

It's pretty rare that a sequel manages to outshine the original, but Orguss 02 does so in spades. Many fans didn't even know it was a sequel; many more Americans saw it than the original series (which wasn't even finished until the short-lived Anime Classics release last year). As it was one of Manga Entertainment's low-priced entries in to the North American market, it was quite popular in its VHS incarnation. Unfortunately, it's been nearly forgotten today.

Now, the original Orguss was a fun, entertaining sci-fi piece, but it had some pretty major flaws in both its setup (wherein a dimensional bomb has failed, leaving the world in a state of constant trans-dimensional flux) and its characters (who were uniformly shallow and flaky). Luckily, Orguss 02 avoids all of these problems by simply ignoring the original: it takes place 200 years after the finale of the original series, featuring an entirely different civilization, let alone a new cast.

Humanity has more or less rebuilt itself to mid-20th Century technology levels by this point, though politically the world seems stuck in the middle ages, and nobody seems to remember the calamities of a few centuries ago that brought them to this point. Instead, everyone is thoroughly invested in the ongoing war between the two superpowers of the world, Zafran and Revillia. The mecha of the past are buried deep within the earth, but lately they've been finding new life in the war effort, and so large teams are dispatched to excavate them and fix them up. Since they pack so much destructive power, the locals have taken to calling them Decimators.

It's on one such recovery ship in Revillia where we meet the young mechanic Lean and his boss Zante. They've just hauled up a big decimator, and a military supervisor Lt. Manning arrives in short order to check it out. He's in a hurry to get this new unit into action, so he takes the two into his airship and they head back to the capital. Unfortunately he's been tailed, and soon they're under attack from an invading Zafran army, and like so many unwitting mecha pilots before him, Lean is ordered to pilot a mecha for the first time in order to fend off the invaders. Predictably, he succeeds. Unfortunately, Zante is killed.

Lean ends up enlisting in the army, mostly in order to help Zante's family, who he's become very close to (particularly his daughter). Manning immediately recruits him into helping out with his reconnaissance mission. Manning discovers that the enemy has uncovered a Decimator twenty times the size of the ones they've found, while Lean is taken hostage by a strange girl on pursuit from the Zafran military.

The high points of Orguss 02 are many, the most obvious of which is the gorgeous character designs by none other than Haruhiko Mikimoto, revised by Toshihiro Kawamoto. Intricately detailed and very shiny, their combined design work has the mature look that separates them from those Mikimoto did in the early 80s. The story and direction by Fumihiko Takayama (Gundam 0080, Bubblegum Crisis episode 7: Double Vision, Patlabor WXIII) is smart in both its politics and its characters. The story swings effortlessly from political intrigue (there are revoltin' developments afoot in the Revellia royal court) to hard-core sci-fi action, and the result is truly suspenseful.

But beyond all the action and suspense, there's an inherent sadness to Orguss 02, a maturity that was missing in the original. Where the old TV series seemed almost gleeful in its depiction of war, Orguss 02 has a sense of inevitability and regret. Lean really has no desire to be in a war, and it's hard to think of any of the participants in the battles -- even Lt. Manning -- as anything other than the pawns of an abusive political structure. Though Zafran has echoes of Germany, there is little to suggest that there is any more significant wrongdoing on their side than there is on the Revillia side. By the midway point of the series, Lean has lost interest in fighting, if he had any to begin with. He must simply get back home.

If there's any significant flaw in Orguss 02, it's the music, a bizarre, shrill and discordant soundtrack by Torsten Rasch. It's annoying to the point of distracting in parts. Luckily, the dub improves things a bit by recutting the background music with some of the better tracks. The awful opening and ending themes from the first four episodes are also replaced with the cool, yet still inventive Hiroe Ueda vocal tracks from the last two episodes. It's such a gigantic improvement that if you listen to the English audio first, you're in for a terrible shock when you switch to the Japanese.

The English dub, produced by Animaze.., is not one of their better dubs of the era, and early episodes are quite stiff. By episode 3, however, the cast has settled into their roles and one relax and watch the dub without being taken out of the story by bad line reads. Nonetheless, nobody in the cast really sticks out as being particularly good. Few of the actors in the dub are still working in anime today. It's unfortunate that one must listen to the English dub to get the improved audio score. (The subtitles in the American DVD are unusable anyway. More on that below.)

Orguss 02 is one of those sci-fi shows from the mid-90s with a healthy budget that knows exactly how far to reach and does so with style. It's one of the most accessible giant robot shows: a character and politics driven story that follows just enough genre clichés to lull the viewer into a false sense of routine, then pulls the rug out from under them. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time.

A Abundant. Available anywhere that carries anime.
C Common. In print, and always available online.
R1 US release out of print, still in stock most places.
R2 US release out of print, not easy to find.
R3 Import only, but it has English on it.
R4 Import only. Fansubs commonly available.
R5 Import only, and out of print. Fansubs might be out there.
R6 Import long out of print. No fansubs are known to exist.
R7 Very rare. Limited import release or aired on TV with no video release. No fansubs known to exist.
R8 Never been on the market. Almost impossible to obtain.
Adapted from Soviet-Awards.com.

Where to get it:
Manga Entertainment released a DVD of Orguss 02 back in 2003, but it was only in print for about a year and a half before going out of print. It's hastily produced -- the copyright line is wrong, and the subtitles... well, these are some of the strangest subtitles of any DVD in my collection. They don't appear to be dubtitles, but anyone that knows Japanese can tell you that they're incredibly inaccurate, and have more to do with the dub rewrite than what's being said in the show's original dialogue. To take a wild guess as to what happened, it's as if Manga didn't have the original translation anymore, and rather than retranslate from scratch, they had an intern transcribe and rewrite the dub script to make it SEEM like a real translation. It's the only explanation I can think of. For the last two episodes, they're horribly mistimed as well. Some enterprising fansubber needs to release scripts for those of us who bought this DVD.

Despite all that, the DVD looks pretty good for having all six episodes on a single disc (the transfer is of amazing quality for its era), and for the English speaking anime fan, it's the only choice. But don't even bother with the subtitle track. It's worthless. (There's lots of hard-subtitles as well, as all the Zafrans speak another language.)

A Japanese DVD was released years ago and is now out of print and going for an absurd amount of money (over ¥30,000, around $300, give or take) on Amazon Marketplace and Yahoo! Auctions.

Screenshots ©1993 BIG WEST, ORGUSS 02 PROJECT.

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