The initial draw of Super Dimension Century Orguss is its gentle introduction into the world at a pace led by the characters; the process of discovering the mysteries of the societies Kei encounters and trying to understand what is happening is made into the main narrative driving-force. As the series develops, and the viewer learns more about the setting (and how it ties into the main narrative), some of the finer setting details develop into miniature plot arcs that contribute to a further development of the world being depicted; such digressions are interesting, and presented in a way which is not simply expository. The act of “in-character” worldbuilding suits a story like Orguss well, in which a character unfamiliar with a new world must live within it – but the risk is ever-present of an overreliance on explanation to benefit the viewer. Too much exposition in too short a time breaks the illusion of it being in-character and makes it too plainly artificial.
Note: This article will contain specific plot details for Super Dimension Century Orguss
Orguss is an ambitious series in its attempt to create a developed and credible science-fiction world, and then add to this a story about time-travel and alternate futures. A story about a traveller stranded in a bizarre and hostile future would itself be an interesting story to tell, with the potential to depict interesting alien races and societies – yet this is one of a number of story-threads in Orguss which complement each other. The core plot is not so much about Kei’s exploration of the new world and his interactions with the warring nations of Chiram and Emarn, but instead about how the cultures exist within a world which is fundamentally wrong; one where parallel universes collide and interact awkwardly and destructively. The wrongness of the world has shaped the behaviours of the cultures depicted and the story – and the war it its centre – is effectively one of a fight for the right to exist.
Yet alongside this grand-scale story run personal ones such as Kei’s friendship with Olson and his realisation that Athena is his daughter – the reminders are there that even in a world out of joint there is the capacity for individual lives to matter. Indeed, a theme of much of the series is on trying to keep what “matters” – ordinary life, humanity and adherence to a kind of code – alive in the face of disruption and the unknown. This is made most clear in what becomes a major sub-plot of the first half of the series; the love-triangle between interloper Kei and the apparently happy couple of Sley and Mimsy. Kei’s feelings for the Emarn girl end up making her doubt her choice of fiance and putting off her impending marriage, while he questions whether it is right for him to pursue someone who is ultimately not human. His being of a different species while still trying to pursue a romantic attachment is an interesting spin on the questions of inter-species relationships raised in SDF Macross (Macross, alongside Super Dimensional Cavalry Southern Cross, forms a loosely-linked franchise with Orguss) with its characters of Max and Miria (incidentally, Kei’s voice actor also played the role of Max). Seeing the development of this – from his initial insensitivity to Emarn customs to his eventual arguments with Sley – provides a focus for in-depth worldbuilding while avoiding exposition. Kei learns of Emarn customs via his attempts at maintaining a laddish, oversexed personality in a culture with very different attitudes to gender and at first this simply contributes to the “alien-ness” of the new world. When the Gloma’s captain, Shaia, invites him to share a communal bath with her he cannot understand the apparent lack of taboo over nudity – which seems inconsistent with his continued rebuffing by the younger women for flirtation.
This presents an implicit contextual cue for the viewer; the society being depicted has firmly differentiated non-sexual contact (simply seeing a woman naked) from sexual contact and so Kei is an antique and transgressor. As the love-triangle plot progresses, and Mimsy proves unable to decide between Kei’s attentions and her loyalty to Sley, she appears to be being pressured into marrying young – providing another clue to a somewhat intimate setting detail that may normally be ignored. Kei’s integration into this new world is providing a background for explanation of the Emarns’ sexualities and marriage-traditions and the love-interest character (a genre staple) is thus somewhat more significant that perhaps would be expected if the story were a more traditional militaristic one.
What this steady building up of clues about what seem to be strange societal traditions ultimately leads to – and with it a new development of the love-story – is the explanation of one of the idiosyncrasies of the Emarns as a species. Their women are only fertile for a short period of their lives, and so the social pressure to marry young is a result of the need to procreate and further the species. Kei’s interfering in Mimsy’s relationship results in her almost missing her chance to marry and have a child, and his response to realising this – attempting to reconcile himself with Sley – provides a major turning-point in the personal story. From this revelation, the apparent oddities previously seen (the lack of concern about Shaia’s nudity from male crewmembers) are thus contextualised – as Shaia is no longer fertile (and thus no longer marriageable), she is seen differently to a younger woman like Mimsy (who, being capable of having children, is desirable for marriage). With this, the entire love-story plot – and with it the Emarn culture depicted so far in the series – almost takes on a social commentary role, showing the endpoint of society’s obsession with parenthood, marriage and youth. Social pressures fetishise fertility, youth and beauty and marginalise women who do not conform; in Orguss this is made literal with women who do not marry young ostracised by society and seen as completely non-sexual.
Thus Orguss shows its ambition as a piece of science-fiction; for all its oddities, robot combat and amusing escapades, its apparently sympathetic species at the centre of the plot – the Emarn – can be seen as subtle commentary on the flaws of human society. The Emarn culture with its biologically-necessitated social pressures is an extreme extension of more real pressures to conform to a family ideal and the idea that an unmarried woman past her “prime” is a failure. Kei enters this culture with a different set of social attitudes and a different form of conduct, and rather than the cultural clash being a gesture of peace (as Max’s progress in Macross is) it risks turning Mimsy into a social pariah.