"Were you always this bull-headed, or did you have to work at it?"—Lean
Orguss 02 reminded me of why I love anime. Plot, action, characters, and drama are all well-developed. The series is tinged with that otherworldly patina that makes anime special. Orguss 02 develops quickly, ensnaring the viewers and taking them on a wild journey through war, love, adventure, and destruction. As the series rushed forward, I marveled at the creative nobility of the work.
Facts of the Case
Lean and his fatherly boss Zante are aiding the government of Revillia in the excavation of Decimators. These 200 year old robotic beasts are remenants of superior military technology from a long-forgotten war. The newfound Decimators have created an arms race with neighboring Zafran, who is conducting their own search for Decimators. A visiting commander named Manning arrives to oversee the recovery of a well-preserved Decimator. Manning's visit draws the attention of a Zafran squad, and Lean is suddenly thrust into combat.
Lean eventually gets drawn into the conflict between Zafran and Revillia, a conflict that exists because of royal inclinations rather than popular opinion. As the royal court of Revillia bickers, innocent farmers and townspeople are razed by enemy Decimators. Lean ventures into Zafran for reconnisance and encounters a young lady on the run from Zafran authorities. Nataruma is lithe and comely, with long blue hair and lightning reflexes. Eventually Lean discovers her importance, and realizes that the fate of both nations is in peril.
Occasionally an animated series pulls everything together into a parcel of animated bliss. Orguss 02 is a rare treat awaiting discovery by many anime fans. Its low profile is not surprising: Orguss 02 is a six-episode OVA based on an earlier Japanese television series that was not aired in the US. OVAs get less attention because they are often experimental or incomplete. This brief but tight story is complete; it contains as many twists as a full season of most anime shows.
The characters in Orguss 02 are like artichokes. They are inscrutable, but the show peels back a section and shows you one side of the character. The next section reveals a completely different facet. Only at the end, when all of the petals are removed, do we see the delicate heart of the character laid bare. Amazingly, the different views never actually contradict each other, which lends the characters both richness and integrity.
The characters are intertwined in a complex plot that plays off of clichès. Just when you have a handle on the direction of the series, the rug is pulled out from beneath you. The depth of these perspective shifts is staggering, extending to the very fabric of the characters' realities. Orguss 02 kept me engaged throughout, straining to anticipate the next twist.
I especially appreciate the realistic handling of both character and combat. Orguss 02 is firmly in the classic anime vein, where few of the characters are completely good or bad. Manning and Lean go through several incarnations of alliance and opposition, as do Lean and Nataruma. You cannot depend on anything for too long, which yelds highly charged interactions. Combat is depicted with the same ambivalence, where the only certainty is death. The true horror of war is never far from the surface.
Because it is realistic, the action is powerful. Many animes depict the destruction of entire cities, but this mayhem is captured on such an epic scale that viewers may find it hard to feel emotional attachment. Orguss 02 adeptly weaves emotional attatchment into the action, so that the viewer experiences true apprehension when giant mecha square off. We see heads pop and bones break, which is gruesomely satisfying and necessary to the plot. If you like action, get ready for this.
The love subplots are subtle and tinged with restraint. Because of the near self-denial of the lovers, the brief moments of banter and tenderness are more poignant.
The series concludes with one of those classic third acts, where night turns to day and everyone grows tentacles. Anime departures into the absurd are often too edgy, incongruous, or simply too weird. In this case, the third act is remarkably strange, yet does not alienate. For once, the weirdness is aptly explained and powers the tension.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Orguss 02 is nearly a decade old, rendered in the "old school" anime style. This style suits the series to a T, lending a stately air to the dignified characters. However, the colors will appear faded to those accustomed to the new look. There is no computer enhancement or nifty CGI effects, but the action does not suffer. There was barely perceptible twitter in some transitions, but in general the picture is clean and solid. The black levels are not particularly deep, yet the lack of digital artifacts is refreshing.
The series is sonically solid but unspectacular. The dub is of high quality, with convincing English counterparts to the original Japanese actors. The 5.1 mix does not add much of significance, so there isn't a compelling argument for the English track. However, the subtitles are mistimed in the last half of the series, which gets somewhat annoying.
What I call an engaging integration of plot twists, others will say "been there done that." A story is viewer-dependent. I have seen many of the subplots before, but the expected is upset often enough that I believe the clichèd moments are intentional.
The extra, a photo gallery, is hardly a blip on the extras radar. I understand that older series may not grant convinient access to promotional material, but surely there is something else to include? If not, forego the extras altogether and make a stand.
I've recently begun to question my enjoyment of anime, wondering whether it is played out for me. An occasional new title ignites my imagination, but many seem to recycle the same threads I've seen again and again. Orguss 02 has confirmed that anime still holds surprises. The whole three hours is here for your viewing pleasure, and I urge you to check it out.
Orguss 02 is guilty of the occasional misstep, but the path to greatness is rarely clear. Not guilty!
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