31 May 2020

Future War Stories from the East: Super Dimension Century ORGUSS (1983)

























During the early days of the 2nd Wave of Anime/Manga coming to the West, it was not always a straight forward journey from the shores of Japan to the American audience. While there are titles like ROBOTECH, Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs, and VOLTRON that were more traditional importations to the American audience then there were also titles like Super Dimension Century ORGUSS that came to the western shores in various ways and methods that caused it to be a forgotten title that has famous roots and was nearly famous itself if history had played out differently. In this installment of Future War Stories from the East, we will be diving into 1983's Super Dimension Century ORGUSS.    

What the Hell is "Super Dimension Century ORGUSS"?
Before we can discuss ORGUSS, we have to breakdown the term "Super Dimension" (or Chōjikū Seiki in Japanese)within the title for ORGUSS, because among the classic anime titles, the term "Super Dimension" carries alot of weight. In terms of anime titles that stormed the beaches of the collective consciences of the world and imprinted just how cool combat mecha is, really came down to really two anime: Mobile Suit Gundam and Super Dimension Fortress Macross. Both continue to spawn new titles in their respective franchises and turn out countless plastic-fantastic model kits that are like crack to their legions of followers. Unlike Mobile Suit Gundam, Super Dimension Fortress Macross was a massive hit for Big West, Tatsunoko Production, and Studio Nue during its original run from October of 1982 to June of 1983 on the MBS network. Given the success while Macross was airing, there was already work on another series with the similar themes of love during a time of future war where mecha was the primary foot-soldier. That series, the 2nd in the Big West "Super Dimension" Trilogy, was titled "Super Dimension Century ORGUSS". ORGUSS carries the title of "Super Dimension" due to it being made by the same studio and people associated with Macross and it borrows the general theme as Macross.
Chōjikū Seiki Ōgasu was created by two Macross veterans: Ken'ichi Matsuzaki and Hiroshi Ohnogi. In terms of style, two heavyweights were involved with the look of ORGUSS: Haruhiko Mikimoto (characters) and Kazutaka Miyatake (mecha). Both worked on Macross and Miyatake would go on to design the mecha for Crusher Joe and the Mobile Suits for the Starship Troopers OVA series. That is a great deal of talent involved in ORGUSS, but ORGUSS was not a Tatsunoko Production. Instead, the animation was done by TMS due to Tatsunoko gearing up for MOSPEADA. The 2nd installment in the Super Dimension trilogy would air on MBS on July 3rd, 1983, just after Super Dimension Macross had wrapped up on June 26th of 1983. During work on Macross, the production staff inserted the ORGUSS mecha into some battle scenes as a nod to the next series.
While hopes were high at Studio Nue and MBS for a repeat of Macross, ORGUSS did not live up to those unrealistic hopes. It suffered under a bad time slot, a slow-boil storyline, organic mecha designs that were not similar to Macross design that proven so successful, and poor toy/model sales. Despite, the lower-than-expected ratings and other issues, SDC ORGUSS ran for 35 episodes, ending its broadcast run on April 8th, 1984. For a time perspective on the other two parts to ROBOTECH: Genesis Climber MOSPEADA was airing from October 2nd, 1983 to March 23rd, 1984 and Super Dimension Calvary Southern Cross aired from April 15th, 1984 to September 30th, 1984.

The Story of Super Dimension Century ORGUSS
The series would open to a war in 2063 between two governments over the important space elevator. The night before the big mission, hotshot space fighter pilot Kei Katsuragi spends the night with his girlfriend Tina and little does he know, he knocked her up. The mission for Kei and wingman Orson to protect a team of engineers as they attempt to setup the new top secret Space/Time Oscillation Bomb with their standard military aerofighter of the Freedom Space Corps, the AV-11D "Bronco II". The hope is that the space/time bomb will destroy the power source of the space elevator and end the destructive war for both sides. However, the mission is called off by HQ and Kei completes the task due to the high cost of the mission. When Space /Time Oscillation Bomb explodes, it throws both Kei and Orson forward into time by 20 years and reality for the Earth fractures and shatters.
This means that the world of this new Earth should have been like something out of Palladium Books' Rifts...but, sadly it is not that cool.  Different realities are sandwiched together on the new Earth with different races. This new Earth is always changing with new dimensional gates opening, allowing for new things to come through...like Jahby. When Kei wakes up the alien savager aero/ground vessel, the Glomar, he is in a very different world than the one he left. He had been picked up the human looking Emaan, who have tentacles...because...reasons and there is the talking intelligent dinosaur, Jahby. Jahby's race comes from alternate Earth where the comet never wiped out the dinosaurs and Jahby's race evolved and dominated their Earth. Beside the Emaan and the dinosaurs, there is the remains of the human race, the dangerous and militaristic Chiram (AKA Terram) and the Geth-like robotic Mu. Over the course of 30 episodes, the new Earth factions will purse Kei and the also transported Olson due to their relationship to the portals and mecha battles will ensue between the Emaan and the Chiram.
During Kei's time with the Glomar crew, he becomes a protector with his new Orguss mecha and also falls in love with Emaan hottie Mimsy Raas. Kei also runs into his own daughter, Athena, who is a pilot on the side of the Chiram forces. Towards the end of the show, the robotic Mu become increasingly aggressive towards the Chiram and the Emaan, causing these former rivals to combine their resources and forces to battle the Mu. To set things right and restore reality, the Earth, and themselves, Kei and Orson must battle through the heart of Mu territory to the old space elevator into the dimensional effect field.
It is discovered by Kei and Orson after the bloody battle that the time bomb is still active and they attempt to shut it down when they are confronted by another version of themselves. All four draw their pistols, in a very Quentin Tarantino scene, and then shoot one another. The end of the show has left audiences to draw their own conclusions based on flashes of different realities for the main characters and maybe the Earth. Some scenes show Kei and Mimsy with their child, Kei with Tina, Orson and Athena together, Much like what Rick is always saying about endless alternate realities in Rick & Morty, it seems that is what happened for the world and characters of Super Dimension Century ORGUSS. This ending has caused some backlash by the audience and it was sort of addressed in the 1995 six-part OVA "sequel": ORGUSS O2. 

The Historical Context of Super Dimension Century ORGUSS
When developed and aired on Japanese airwaves in 1983-1984, Super Dimension Century ORGUSS was the product of a trend in the world of manga and anime that swept the world: the Giant Robot Crazy. First starting in the 1970's with Mazinger Z and Mobile Suit Gundam, the trend of including mecha in military science fiction settings exploded after Gundam and Star Wars. Now, space and mecha centered stories were the hot product and ever studio and toy/model firm wanted a piece of the pie. With the success of Super Dimension Macross, other anime TV shows and OVAs were ordered with similar themes and style, and ORGUSS was one of those children of Macross. During this time, US and European firms were looking to import anime titles along with associated merchandise to feed the Giant Robot Crazy along with the 2nd Wave of Anime into the West.
At this point, 1983/1984, things were changing in America and there was an audience of the Japanese cartoons and the toys/models through the growing economy and what we would call the "geek culture". Thus, ORGUSS came at the wrong and right time period. Other works, like Macross, Star Musketeer Bismark, and Beast King GoLion were repackaged for western syndication TV with toys and models to follow that were supported by the show. Other works, like Fang of the Sun Dougram only had their models imported to the West. This was the unfair nature of the importation of anime titles during this time. As the 2nd Wave gave away to the 3rd, the anime market in the West shifted from the TV airwaves to the VHS/Laserdisc market with stores like Suncoast supporting it along with countless catalog stores advising in backs of magazines like Starlog. But, these were tougher sales for new titles to the western audience. If the anime title had not run in the West, nor was their press/reviews/chatter, the title (like ORGUSS) loomed on the store shelves as a bulky VHS tape. These VHS tapes of anime TV series were generally sold as "volumes" and these tapes contained two episodes per tape for the price range of $14-$24. That was alot to lay down for a anime title you did not know. Most were likely to take a chance on an OVA VHS title than buy Volume I of a TV series that if you liked could cost you hundreds of dollars to complete the series. I, for one, never bought the VHS tapes of Starblazers or ROBOTECH despite my burning love for them due to the nosebleed cost.

The Ambassador Mecha: The ORGUSS
In every mecha-based show, video game comic book, model/toy line, or even tabletop war game; there is a piece of mecha that serves as the ambassador of the entire franchise or product. ROBOTECH/Marcoss as the Valkyrie, Gundam has the RX-78-2, SST has the Maraduar APS, Voltron has the Lions, and Star Musketeer Bismark had the Bismark. This the burden laid on the Orguss mecha from ORGUSS. So iconic and cool was the design of the Orguss, that transcended the anime and became an favorite of mecha lovers even without them knowing or even liking the SDC ORGUSS TV show. When Kei Katsuragi arrived into the alternate reality, he was flying his standard military aerofighter of the Freedom Space Corps, the AV-11D "Bronco II". The "AV" stood for "Attack Variable" which meant that the Bronco II could transform from fighter to GERWALK mode. In episode 3  "Pretty Machine", Kei's fighter is wrecked along with one of the Emaan "M. Lover" fighters onboard the Glomar, the two are combined into the namesake mecha by Reeg and by episode 4 "Caravan", Kei and the audience get to finally see the Orguss mecha in all of its organic style glory.
The actually naming of the mecha is not until the next episode "Lovers", when the talking dinosaur Jabby’s thinks it should be named "Orguss" after his people's god of war and there we have it. Oddly, in the scene of the show when the main characters are brainstorming names for the new mech, they pick names that the show producers thought for the title that were not used. The Emaan Orguss mecha would out class the Terram mecha and soon the Emaan military would develop a mass produced version of Reeg's original design: the Orguss II. The original Orguss mecha piloted by Kei is like the familiar Veritechs of the Macross series in that it transform from the Flier mode, to GERWALK (Ground Effective Reinforcement of Winged Armament with Locomotive Knee-joint) mode then to a humanoid mode that is called "Orgroid" in Super Dimension Century ORGUSS instead of "Battlroid" as in Macross. While onboard the Glomar, the Orguss is stored and launched in the GERWALK mode.
 However, unlike the VF-1 Valkyrie from SDF Macross, the Orguss has one more party trick: a 4th mode called "tank". I am not sure why this mode exists for the Veritech-like Orguss and it is not common to see this in most transforming fighters in anime/manga. Mecha fans are divided on the coolness factor with the tank mode. In the TV series, the tank mode is used only once in actually combat during the battle against the robotic Mu race on episode 34 "Battlefield", just one episode away from the ending of the entire series.
The Orguss was armed with several missile launchers in the arms and a missile cannon/shield attached on its right arm that allowed for both hands to be used in combat...which is very different than the mecha seen in most anime at the time. This missile cannon was altered to a directed-energy beam cannon later on in the series. When in "flier" mode, the majority of its missile launchers are not able to be used, and wing-mounted missile racks and DEW pods are used if the models are to believed. The Orguss is a powerful machine infused with Emaan anti-gravity technology and the skillful piloting of Kei. This mecha is the symbol of the show just as much as the VF-1 Valkyrie is in ROBOTECH/Macross, but for some, the organic design by Kazutaka Miyatake was not as celebrated as those in other mecha-centered animes. In addition, mecha fans were turned off by the design of the standard Chiram mecha, the  MBG-21D-2 "Ishkick". 

That ROBOTECH/ORGUSS Connection
While ORGUSS is not well known to western audience as much as other anime, especially those associated with ROBOTECH, there are times when ORGUSS is resurrected to debate: to discuss its rumored incorporation into the ROBOTECH franchise. It has been  a long running rumor among ROBOTECH fans and sites that Carl Macek was eyeballing Super Dimension Century ORGUSS for the third installment of the landmark series instead of Genesis Climber MOSPEADA. However, according interviews with Carl Macek, ORGUSS was never under real consideration as a replacement for either Southern Cross or MOSPEADA, due to issues with the ORGUSS storyline and how easily the mecha of Southern Cross and MOSPEADA fit into Macross stylistically. Another issue was that Harmony Gold did not own the rights to ORGUSS, but did have them for Macross, Southern Cross, and MOSPEADA. 
This sealed the deal for ORGUSS not being included into the iconic ROBOTECH Saga TV series. The ORGUSS mecha does make those infamous Easter egg appearances during some space battles on the deck of the SDF-1, and there was the inclusion of ORGUSS mecha into the Revell Robotech Defender model line. In another interview, Carl Macek hinted at the possibility that ORGUSS was being considered as a far-future sequel to the original ROBOTECH TV series that was tied directly to the ROBOTECH II: The Sentients TV series, ROBOTECH: The Odyssey. There is little information out there on the subject of the aborted ROBOTECH: The Odyssey. We do know that The Odyssey would have been an 110 episode series and about 1/3rd been composed of ORGUSS and the rest would have been new animation to tie ORGUSS and the original ROBOTECH series into a complete narrative. If it had been made, ROBOTECH: The Odyssey would have concluded their story by ending where the first episode of the original series began, as the SDF-1 crashed on Macross Island in 1999 during the Global Civil War. The end of the circle and yet the beginning.    

Could have Super Dimension Century ORGUSS Have Worked in the ROBOTECH Universe?
For years, the question if SDC ORGUSS could have been incorporated into the ROBOTECH universe if Harmony Gold had secured the rights. Let me be clear here, ORGUSS could have NEVER worked within the classic ROBOTECH saga as we understand it today. ORGUSS is just too much of acid trip when compared to Macross, Southern Cross,and MOSPEADA. In addition, the-three-generations-at-war storyline would have been thrown by the strangeness of ORGUSS and its world. If ORGUSS had replaced Southern Cross or MOSPEADA, the very core of what we know as ROBOTECH today would have been lost. ORGUSS could have only worked if it had been in the post 3rd Robotech War era...maybe the adventures of the SDF-3 while lost? I personally do not think that given the look, feel, and story of Super Dimension Century ORGUSS, it could NOT have worked within the context of ROBOTECH whatsoever. 
There is an example of this with the context of the time that may show us how horribly it could have gone for ROBOTECH if Harmony Gold had selected ORGUSS. When World Events Productions attempted to unite three separate Big Robot anime series together to have something long enough for syndication under the umbra of "Voltron: Defender of the Universe", it failed horribly. Much like ROBOTECH Macross, the first installment of the Voltron saga was the most iconic and successful among American audiences and merchandising. 
It was based off the 1981 Beast King GoLion anime TV series and the other two series that WEP had picked to follow the Lion Force Voltron were much different that GoLion: Armored Fleet Dairugger XV and Lightspeed Electroid Albegas. When the 2nd series of Voltron: Defender of the Universe  was aired with the footage from Diarugger as "vehicle Voltron", the audience was confused, hurt, and Voltron suffered to the point that WEP ordered more Lion Force Voltron shows be made in Japan by Toei to save the Voltron enterprise. As a result, the 3rd Voltron series based on Albegas was never finished and certainly never aired.         

Super Dimension Century ORGUSS in the West
During the 2nd Wave of Anime into the West, many titles that were  similar to SDC ORGUSS arrived to western shores, but SDC ORGUSS did not arrive during the heyday of mecha anime and lost that momentum to capitalize on the western audience that was horny for any sweet mecha action. So, what happened to OGUSS in the west? For comparison, we will be examining ORGUSS through the lens of Voltron, Fang of the Sun Dougram and ROBOTECH. We have to remember that titles like these have two histories, one is their origins and original release in Japan and their other history is in the west. These can and often do differ greatly.
For example, the three separate anime TV series that form the Harmony Gold ROBOTECH saga were shows in Japan with some shared elements that were not ever meant to be unified and all three had different experiences and fates in the Japanese market. Then Harmony Gold imported these three series here to the States and altered them greatly in terms of story to form the ROBOTECH saga. While there was an idea by Carl Macek to possibly incorporate ORGUSS into the ROBOTECH universe, it never happened and this mecha TV series that was related to Macross, suffered a similar fate to Fang of the Sun Dougram in the West.
Much like Dougram, the element of Super Dimension Century ORGUSS that made it to the shores of America was not the TV series, but the toys and the model kits. So, there was no context for the mecha of ORGUSS to forge relationships with the American consumer of Japanese robot toys and models at the time. Many of us involved in the 2nd Wave of Anime Importation, like me, had no clue what the hell ORGUSS was or what title this cool looking transforming mecha came from. That hurt ORGUSS long-term and likely caused for the lack of success that the ORGUSS TV show had once it was released by US Renditions in 1993 on VHS tape. More on that in a minute. For the most part, many of us in the West knew ORGUSS via its brief appearance in those ROBOTECH battle scenes, the knock-off of Taiwanese toys, and the "NEBO" Robotech Changers Revell model line. This was the same fate shared by Dougram as well. The mecha of Fang of the Sun Dougram was familiar to kids of my generation via the Revell Robotech Defender model line and was not until the age of the internet that most of us figure out the true origins of these Revell model kits. In the case of  the ORGUSS models of the Revell model line did not (thankful) even get an appearance in the crappy DC Comics 2-part limited Robotech Defenders comic book series.
During the 2nd and 3rd Wave of Anime to the West, one of the key players in importing anime titles to western audiences was US Renditions. Founded in 1987, US Renditions was a special branch of Books Nippan that was tasked with bring anime titles to the West. One of those titles was Super Dimension Century ORGUSS. Betten 1992 and 1993, US Renditions would release some of the ORGUSS TV series on VHS around with two episodes per tape at a cost of $29 (or $51 in today's money) for about 55 minutes of programming. Only Volume One of the US Renditions SDC ORGUSS contains three episodes and runs fro 81 minutes. In the first issue of Animerica, on page 36, none other that Star Trek TNG's Rick Sternbach did a review for the first two VHS tapes and on the following page was an ad for US Renditions releases. For many of us, this was our introduction to the world of SDC ORGUSS or at places like Suncoast video or other specialty shops. Sadly, US Renditions was shut down during the their releasing the series when Books Nippan closed for business, leaving the only US release of SDC ORGUSS at episode 17 until the summer of 2007 when New York based ImaginAsian network got the rights and aired ORGUSS on American airwaves along with a proper DVD release. Alas, ImaginAsian folded in 2011 and the DVD of SDC ORGUSS had poor sales. Success would finally come in 2015, when Discotek Media released the full series on DVD, which can be bought today, Both of these releases used the old US Renditions English dub. For those of you curious, here is the list of the episodes released by US Renditions:


Volume 1:"Space/Time Collapse", "Lonely Wolf". "Pretty Machine"

Volume 2: "Caravan", "Lovers"

Volume 3:"Vanishing Point","I Love You"

Volume 4: "Runaway","Revolution"

Volume 5: "Barbarians","Dummy"

Volume 6:"Chiram Girl","Caspian Crator"

Volume 7:"Operation D","The Idioblast"

Volume 8: "The Factory","Seventeen"

My Experience with ORGUSS
Back during the Giant Robot Crazy of the late 1970's through the 1980's, a number of plastic-fantastic Japanese mecha/robot toys and models were imported on mass. Little attention or care sometimes paid to what these suppliers were buying and putting out onto store shelves. Even in my limited corner of northern Oklahoma, these mecha toys would arrive at comic book stores and even grocery stores in the toy section. During the original run of ROBOTECH on my local Tulsa airwaves, I saw several ORGUSS "Orgroid II" plastic mecha toy appear in the toy section of a local grocery store and I snapped up two of them and loved them. I did not until more recently that these toys, including an SDF-1 I also owned were Taiwanese knock-offs of the original Japanese 1:80 scale ORGUSS mecha toys by Takatoku. I proudly displayed these up until college in my bookcase until they were lost...pity. I knew that the ORGUSS mecha had been seen in some of Marcoss Saga and Revell had ORGUSS kits in their ROBOTECH Defender line, but it wasn't until I read an article in the first Animerica magazine on page 36 along with the US Renditions ads that I learned the truth of what "ORGUSS" was. This shows how, much like other MSF animes we've covered here on FWS, how Japanese anime arrive here on western shores. Not always are the anime or manga released, but the toys/model kits instead, leaving the western audience confused. This directly applies to me with ORGUSS. While I was knowledge about other imported mecha titles, I only knew of ORGUSS due to the knock-off toys and the Revell model kits. It would not be until the mid-1990's that I would learn of the ORGUSS anime and its connection to ROBOTECH.

Is Super Dimension Century ORGUSS Worth Watching Today?
The mecha anime from this time period is considered by many to be legendary and there are those that love ORGUSS and consider it mentioned along side the Gundams and Macrosses of this time, but I am not one of them. Some years ago, when I was preparing this piece originally and someone had uploaded Super Dimension Century ORGUSS to YouTube. Happily, I watched the entire bloody series and while I thought the Orguss mecha was an amazing design, the story is a mess, and the characters were mostly annoying, and the central story could have been something much grander. If you are a fan of this time period of anime, especially, mecha-based anime, than it could worth a watch...just don't pay for it.

What About ORGUSS 02 OVA from 1995?
I had never heard of the 1995 6-part OVA "sequel" until Bennett the Sage did a retrospective on the title for Anime Abandon. He was very vexed about if ORGUSS 02 about good or not. The setting is where two rival kingdoms battle for supremacy using mecha from 200 years in the past that are located on the seafloor. It seems that the mecha are not from their own past, but the past of another world. This is all due to the  Space/Time Oscillation Bomb from the original series. The iconic mecha from the original Super Dimension Century ORGUSS is seen in nearly Easter Eggs scenes. It is really only lightly connected to the original 1983 series up until the final sixth episode, then suddenly it is ORGUSS sequel via the character of the Mu robot Tai and the Space/Time Oscillation Bomb. In the last 3 minutes of episode 6, the female character of Nataruma is transported back to some other dimension and we see Emaan children and aerial vehicles similar to the Glomar. ORGUSS 02 has an interesting story of the mecha coming from the world of the original series and it is interesting that the failed SDC ORGUSS even got a sequel of any kind.

Super Dimension Century ORGUSS Today
Since the age of the internet allowed many of us that gained their fandom for all things anime during the 2nd Wave, to research the anime titles of our youth and to connect to those that share the common passion...Super Dimension ORGUSS has part of those discussion. For many, it was just getting to the bottom of just what the hell Super Dimension Century ORGUSS was and how it was related to ROBOTECH and/or Super Dimension Fortress Macross. For much of the online discussion and debate surrounding SDC ORGUSS, that pretty much of the bulk of it and is sad, because it seems that ORGUSS itself lives under the shadow of those two iconic mecha anime franchises and its own awesome Orguss mecha design. Much of the story, characters, and setting are either just lightly touched on in these discussions or just appear as entries on anime sites to explain the basics of the 1983 series. While there are fans of the series and its story that come to its defense and attempt to education, the odd history of the importation of ORGUSS to the West did not mint many a fan and let us be real for a second, SDC ORGUSS does not the best story and writing when compared to its brethren Macross and ROBOTECH.     

Next Time on FWS...
What is the best military sci-fi comic book series? Well, after two years, it is time to find out. Join us next time for The Masterworks of Military Science Fiction Comic Book Edition!








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  2. Hey! I had a figurine of the Orguss when I was a child but I didn't know it was from an anime. Good job, sir.

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