With Orguss coming out today on DVD thanks to the folks at Discotek Media, here’s five reasons why it’s worth watching.
It’s Kinda Similar, But Different
While plenty of ‘80s mecha shows have remained unreleased in English, Western fans have been able to pick up Super Dimension Fortress Macross, in one form or another, in a multitude of releases. This is slightly ironic considering that its sequels have remained largely unavailable in English. There are few shows from the era that American fans have had more interaction with, and if I had to guess, plenty are probably pretty bored of it.
I dig Orguss because it’s similar to Macross, but still very different. As the second entry in Tatsunoko’s Super Dimension (bookended by Macross and Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross or either side) series, many of the staff from Macross over to Orguss, including director Noboru Ishiguro and his staff at Artland, character designer Haruhiko Mikimoto and mechanical designer Kazutaka Miyatake.
So, while we lament the fact that we won’t be getting any Macross sequels in the West for the foreseeable future, hey, at least we’ve got Orguss.
Kazutaka Miyatake’s Designs are Underrated
Sure, when it comes to Macross‘ mechanical designs, Shoji Kawamori gets accolades for designing the iconic VF-1, but the mechanical texture, background mecha and the design of the SDF-1 itself is all thanks to Miyatake. For Orguss, Miyatake was the only designer and the results, mechanically-speaking, are fantastic.
Miyatake has worked on everything from the original Space Battleship Yamato in 1974 to Space Battleship Yamato 2199 in 2013; racking up four decades of work on some of the best sci-fi anime. Crusher Joe, Dirty Pair: Project Eden, Aim for the Top!, and FLAG are a just few of the titles he worked on. He also designed the iconic Starship Trooper powersuit for the Japanese release of Robert A. Heinlein’s novel, which would later appear in both the Daicon videos and the 1988 OVA Starship Troopers from Sunrise.
As a designer, Miyatake excels at “background” mecha, the kind of designs that are supposed to add texture and realism to a series, like the destroids and space ships in Macross. With that in mind it’s easy to see why Orguss’ mechanical design seems so bizarre, because it’s effectively comprised entirely of support mecha. While I’m reluctant to call Miyatake’s designs in Orguss “realistic” or even “practical,” there’s an appealing simplicity and functionality to most of them. Even the titular Orguss itself doesn’t look like it was designed to be the “hero” robot and sell toys. There’s a long standing joke standing among fans that often the background mecha are more interesting (and that’s certainly been true of Gundam for, well, maybe forever), but if you’ve ever watched a series and lamented that the background designs and robots didn’t get enough attention, then Orguss is for you.
Aside from the lumpy and interesting but decidedly not attractive, Orguss, the rest of Miyatake’s designs seem to purposely eschew the traditional humanoid robot form. In fact, all other designs either emphasize large bipedal legs (for the Chiraam) or oversized arms (for the Emaan). The best comparison may be that it’s like a series full of GERWALK (the bipedal, half-robot, half-plane design introduced with the VF-1 in Macross) mecha.
The Music is Fantastic
Listen to the opening or ending themes of and you’d never guess they were written by an American musician who immigrated to Japan in the 1970s. Casey Rankin left Los Angeles for Tokyo and found success writing catchy commercial jingles. In addition to writing music for Orguss, Rankin was a member of the band Shogun and wrote music for the Sega CD game, Sonic the Hedgehog CD.
Rankin passed away in 2009 at the age of 62 and left behind a musical legacy in Japan that spanned four decades. For nerds like us, in a decade already well-known for fantastic anime themes, he wrote and performed one of the best with Orguss opening theme, “Sky Hurricane.”
Watch it Before Watching the Unrelated Sequel
Produced as part of a wave of interest in revisiting old franchises (a trend that also brought us the much-maligned Macross II), Orguss 02 is notable for having pretty much nothing to do with its progenitor. While Macross II tried to do some interesting things but ultimately just borrowed too much from the original Macross, Orguss 02 does interesting things while largely ignoring the original series.
Fingers crossed that Discotek Media will rescue the Orguss 02 license as well (it last showed up in English on a substandard Manga Entertainment DVD in the early ‘00s), but in the meantime why not dive into the original series so that you to can watch the sequel and think “Boy, I sure didn’t need any prior knowledge to enjoy that.”
This is the Best Release in English
The first company to release Orguss in English was U.S. Renditions, a division of Books Nippan, itself the U.S. branch of Japanese publisher Nippon Shuppan Hanbai. U.S. Renditions was part of the first wave of companies releasing anime targeted directly at fans, and achieved some success with titles like Gunbuster and Dangaioh. Their release of Orguss was different for two reasons: it was a TV series, when OVAs and movies were still the norm for unedited releases in English, and it was dubbed rather than subtitled.
Cancelled after just 17 episodes, the Orguss license remained untouched in the U.S. for years, with many fans resorting to watching the series via poorly-subtitled unofficial DVD releases from Hong Kong. Then in 2007, ImaginAsian, which owned an Asian-themed cable station (AZN TV, later iaTV) and some theaters in New York, announced that they’d be releasing Orguss alongside Cat’s Eye and Nobody’s Boy Remi. Bringing out decades-old anime TV shows can be a risky proposition, and ImaginAsian cut costs by offering DVD-Rs, rather than the mass-produced DVDs you’d expect from a professional release. While Orguss was released in its entirety by ImaginAsian, the company quickly dropped their anime licenses with minimal fanfare and as a result, their release of Orguss is uncommon and criticized for the poor quality of the DVD printing.
Because of this history, the release of Orguss by Discotek Media this week is a cause for celebration. It’s extremely unusual for a three-decade old TV anime series to get so many chances for a decent release in English, but hey, I’ll take it.