Orphen Anime Review
Sorcerous Stabber Orphen
/ TV Series / Adventure / 13-up
Simple, but generally fun and engaging fantasy anime.
...Slayers and Berserk got together and had a well-adjusted, good-natured child.
Black Magic Warrior Orphen
US Release By
Fantasy Action / Adventure Comedy
24 25-minute episodes
1998-10-03 - 1999-03-27
What's In It
- Swords 'n Sorcery
- Peeping Toms
- Shrimp Men
- Violence: 2 (moderate)
- Nudity: 2 (moderate)
- Sex: 2 (moderate)
- Language: 1 (mild)
The story takes place in a rural world with a few bits of technology laced throughout. Our hero, known only as Orphen, is a sorcerer who has been staying in a small town for the past year. He's been living with the owner of a little pub/inn. He's behind on his rent, but has been teaching the owner's son, Majic, well... magic. As it turns out, he has a motive for staying in this town: The Sword of Baltanders, which is being housed in a mansion along with a mother and her two daughters, the youngest being a spunky, quick-to-judge girl named Cleao. One day when Orphen is keeping an eye on the sword, Cleao spots him and automatically assumes he's a Peeping Tom. That turns out to be the least of everyone's worries as the infamous monster, Bloody August, suddenly appears. But Orphen somehow knows the beast and keeps referring to it as Azalie. Who is Azalie? What is Bloody August's connection with the sword? And why does that annoying Dortin always seem to keep popping up with his sister Volcan to cause more trouble? Majic and Cleao will have to journey with Orphen in order to find out!
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Orphen is nothing earth-shattering but generally well-made, entertaining and fun to watch. Fans of both serious and comedic fantasy anime will likely find a happy middle-ground with this series. While Slayers is mostly off the wall and goofy, Orphen is more down-to-earth. While Berserk is dark, gritty and violent, Orphen never takes itself too seriously. The visuals, save a few minor oddities late in the series, are attractive, with particularly nice backgrounds, and the acting in both languages is fine (though ADVs translation leaves something to be desired in both cases).
If you're looking for a good fantasy anime with some nice characters and an engaging plot, Orphen should satisfy those needs. It's not perfect, but I found it pretty worthwhile in the end.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
Orphen is a nice representation of the kind of anime North America has been seeing over the past few years; nothing earth-shattering but generally well-made, entertaining and fun to watch. Fans of both serious and comedic fantasy anime will likely find a happy middle-ground with this series. While Slayers is mostly off the wall and goofy, Orphen is more down-to-earth. While Berserk is dark, gritty and violent, Orphen never takes itself too seriously.
For those tired of complicated anime plots which may or may not answer everything in the end, Orphen should be a welcomed change. Orphen is pretty straightforward in its storytelling, but throws in a few twists at the right times in order to keep the viewer's interest. The show, thankfully, does a pretty good job of wrapping things up by the end, while leaving things open for more adventures.
While the pacing of the main plot is pretty engaging, the pace of the overall series is where Orphen stumbles a little. The first three episodes set the story up well and bring forth lots of questions for the viewer. The next three episodes are fillers which are decent enough in their own right, then another plot oriented episode, followed by three or four more fillers. That's how the story goes for awhile, but a little past the show's halfway point, the main plot comes to the forefront and stays there. The filler episodes aren't bad, like I said, but those with less patience than I may get annoyed at the somewhat slow pace of the main plot.
I imagine the reason the filler episodes didn't bother me so much is because of the likable characters. The characters are a big part of what made this series appealing to me, which I'll touch on in a second. Naturally one of the most interesting and likable character is Orphen. He's neither a magician guru, nor an annoying novice. He's determined to reach his goals and, while he often gets frustrated, he never gives up. On the other hand, he's a little too head-strong. He gets an idea in his head and is too stubborn to look at the other side of the coin. I didn't find Orphen's company, Majic and Cleao, as interesting, though. It's not that they're bad characters or anything, just a little basic. Majic's timid, but logical, and has a lot of desire to be like Orphen. What's amusing is he has lots of potential but sometimes when he displays his potential, Orphen yells at him and afterwards thinks, "it takes most people five years to do that kind of magic. At this rate, he won't need me in a couple years!" (Majic's father is footing the bill for their journey, after all.) He has heart, but all in all his character boils down to an underdog apprentice. I didn't find Cleao all that likable at first. For the first twelve or so episodes she accuses people of being Peeping Toms, or perverts, and promptly tries to teach them a lesson. In the latter half of the series she thankfully becomes nicer, but doesn't evolve much beyond a standard supporting female anime character.
The alleged "bad guys" are a big part of what make the show's story interesting. Fantasy's basic premise generally involve a group of varied characters who must battle a big, powerful, evil overlord for the good of the world. That basic premise is what we generally see in modern fantasy of any incarnation, be it animated in Japan or a written novel from the U.S. Orphen seems to follow the same trend at first, but then mucks around with it a bit. "He/she isn't the evil person you think they are" or "is he/she really worth all this? It's all their fault, after all..." are some non-spoiler examples. There are clearly defined bad guys right from the start, of course, but the writers liked to keep you guessing as long as they could and I'm glad they did. I ate the last two DVDs right up because I really wanted to know how everything turned out, not just for Orphen, but also for characters on "the other side."
Then we have a couple oddballs in the form of Dortin and Volcan, two child-looking, midget characters. Dortin's pompous stubbornness and refusal to take any responsibility for his predicaments is amusing on its own, but gets downright funny at times because his poor sister Volcan has to endure his rants, and abuse, plus the abuse from Orphen whenever he casts a spell to blast them far away. They're definitely a good comedy relief duo.
The series is also kind of interesting to look at. The art and design is soft and earthy, which matches the world's rural setting quite well. The backgrounds look like they were lifted from various sketches one might see when looking for additional background information on a big fantasy series like Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, only with more detail and color. They may still be too low-detail for some, but they made a small impression on me when I saw a random fansubbed episode many years ago. The character designs are fine; they don't shine but they don't stink, and the animation is above average for a TV series of its time. All of the above comments remain consistent for about 75% of the series. There are about three episodes which have a noticeable drop in animation and art quality and there are two episodes which do just the opposite. 22 of the 24 episodes are done traditionally (on cels) while two episodes are digitally animated. Perhaps the budget was wearing a little thin during production and since digital animation is cheaper to produce, the creators choose that route instead of having more episodes look cheaper than the rest of the animation. I'm fine with that since, on their own, those two episodes look pretty nice. The only drawback is my eyes had to adjust both times. The digital episodes look especially bright compared to the others.
Rounding out Orphen's generally solid production is the audio. For the vocal part of it, the Japanese version is quite good. As Orphen, Shoutarou Morikubo is very good. He's funny when Orphen's lighter side shows through and effective for his angsty and dramatic moments. Orphen is a pretty sarcastic guy, and Morikubo's voice is just dripping with it. I wasn't overly fond of Majic's voice. He sounded too young and feminine for my tastes, but he's acted well enough. Cleao sounds exactly as one would expect her too. She hits the right marks, but doesn't have that extra bit of "oomph" to make the performance really memorable. However, the Tower of Fangs Elders are appropriately commanding and evil-sounding, and the actors behind the important characters from the Tower of Fangs perform well. Extra, minor and episodic characters are good enough, making for a reasonably balanced listening experience.
Unfortunately, the Japanese version is hampered a bit by ADV's subtitle translation. The name of the translator for this show is Beni Hiriyama. I don't want to sound rude, but when I see his name in the credits, or hear prior to a show's release he's doing the subtitles, I just can't get all that excited. His translations are too literal and stilted. There are a lot of lines in Orphen which he could've made clearer and some which don't make any sense no matter how you look at them. I wish ADV would pair him with another translator, or have the subtitle editor work with him closer, or something. I know translating Japanese isn't an exact art and subtitles almost never sound 100% natural when read aloud, but his translation for Orphen is a bit of a chore to read. I could basically understand the point the subtitles were trying got get across, but I've been watching subtitled anime for a long time. I could see someone who isn't as familiar with the format having a difficult time.
Then there's the dub. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear... I'll start with the positive, which is the acting. It's good stuff for the most part. Orphen is definitely sarcastic and funny enough, and believable during the show's serious moments. Cleao's performance was too modern-sounding and airheaded for my tastes. The same can be said for the Japanese version, but I found the dub took it way too far at times. I preferred Spike Spencer's take on Majic (mostly because he doesn't give the character a girly voice) and the rest of the cast, populated my many familiar ADV talents, sound good. But the script, by infamous ADV ADR director and scriptwriter Steven Foster, leaves much to be desired.
His work on Orphen is what made many anime fans sit up and take notice of his alterations for a few reasons. He had done several dubs for ADV before Orphen and they had similar alternations, but when Orphen first came out people found his changes to be extreme and especially noticeable (not to mention it was one of his first dubs to be released on DVD, so the original translation was readily available). Orphen's dub dialogue is too modern, first off. It's peppered with re-writes such as Dortin yelling "Go Dragon! Go Dragon! It's your birthday!" in the first or second episode, while he says something along the lines of "Go monster! Kill him, kill him!" in the original. The re-writes also affect the story and characters. In the sixth episode, Cleao adopts a "Deep Dragon" named Leki in the subtitles but a "Wolfen" of the same name in the dub. In the original, Orphen has commands for his spells, while in English, Foster just made up things for him to say.
To be fair, what I said above applies more to the first six episodes than the latter 18. From the third DVD on, ADV and Foster partially listened to the outcry from fans (and what an outcry it was, believe me) and the dub script sticks quite a bit closer to the original. It's still pretty loose on its own, a little too much for my tastes, but it was a small victory for the fans. Unfortunately, the dubs he has done since are still altered way too much. Once again, I don't want to sound rude. Like I said, the acting in this show is good and the same can be said for any of Foster's dubs. The man has talent as an ADR director. Many of ADV's actors say he's a joy to work with. If ADV would keep him on a tighter leash when he writes his scripts, or have someone else write an accurate script and leave the directing to him, I'd be happy. But Foster's been in this business for several years and shows no signs of changing his ways. He believes a dub should be judged on its own merits and not compared to the original. When it comes to casting and acting, I'd tend to think that's a fair statement, but I don't just like anime for the pretty pictures, I like it for the unique storytelling. That storytelling is either severely altered or completely lost in Foster's scripts. With the anime situation being what it is in North America now, the people who help bring it to the English speaking public should no longer feel the need to alter it the way it was in the '70s and '80s. It's a real shame. Anyway, I digress. The point is I cannot in good conscience recommend the dub for Orphen.
As for the music, it's a mixed bag. There are lots of bits with loud electric guitars and whatnot which sound good enough on their own, but clash with the fantasy setting. The best example are the riffs played during the eyecatches. When I showed a few episodes of this series to a friend, she kept remarking how that bit sounded like it was lifted from Mortal Kombat and I agreed. However, there are some rather nice musical pieces which fit well with the setting and are a pleasure to listen to. There are two different opening and ending sequences to this show. They all sounded okay to me but I liked the second OP and first ED the best (to be fair, I'm not a big fan of anime and J-Pop music, so take that with a grain of salt).
If you shop around online, you can find Orphen for a darn good price. If you're looking for a good fantasy anime with some nice characters and an engaging plot, Orphen should satisfy those needs. It's not perfect, but I found it pretty worthwhile in the end. Now, ADV, hurry up with the sequel series!
Chainclaw, however, has a rather different opinion of the first season.
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There's a sequel series called Orphen's Revenge, or something, which is coming sometime from ADV. Otherwise, El Hazard may be a good bet if you liked Orphen (though it's sillier). Arc the Lad is a bit more serious, but Orphen fans may enjoy it.
Notes and Trivia
Orphen started out in 1994 as a lengthy series of light novels by Yoshinobu Akita with illustrations by Yuuya Kusaka. A second series of novels joined that one a couple of years later, and in 1998 the story was spun into a larger franchise including a medium-length manga series, this anime series, and the sequel anime series, "Sorcerous Stabber Orphen: Revenge," and a video game released in 2000 for the PS2. The video game was available in the US, as was the manga.
In an unusual crossover, there is also a single-light-novel match-up with the big one in anime fantasy, Slayers.
The original title, Sorcerous Stabber Orphen, was shortened by ADV to Orphen at the request of the Japanese licensors, supposedly so it would help build a stronger bond to the PlayStation 2 video game. Probably not the greatest strategy on the part of the Japanese, as the PS2 game was rather poorly-received over here.
US DVD Review
Available as 6 separate DVDs for a full retail of $29.99 each or collected together as a "brick" (multi-disc keepcase, in this case six) for a mere $89.98, these DVDs are decent, standard ADV productions. The video transfer is only decent at first (some noticeable grain and ghosting can be seen) but things get cleaner and sharper as the show progresses and the two digitally animated episodes look great. The Japanese and English audio are decent and come the appropriate subtitle tracks: full dialogue, songs and signs for the Japanese audio and a stream for songs and signs for the dub. As far extras go they're pretty repetitive. All volumes have creditless opening and closing sequences, production portfolios and ADV previews, but the fifth volume has a Japanese commercial and the sixth one has a roughly five minute Japanese featurette. There's also a funny Easter Egg concerning the dub on the third volume. Both language casts are well credited.
It has since been re-released by Sentai Filmworks as a box set that also includes the second season; the content is apparently the same as the ADV box set version.
About 13-up for some violence and mild mature content.
Violence: 2 - A few deaths and some violence, but nothing overly graphic.
Nudity: 2 - Some skin, but the really naughty bits are either covered or are not detailed.
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - Cleao frequently freaks out. Everyone's a pervert in her mind (she's right only once, I think).
Language: 1 - Pretty light on the Japanese side.
Available in North America from Section 23 on a bilingual "Complete Collection" box set that also includes the sequel series, Orphen II. Was previously available from ADV on six bilingual DVDs or a "Perfect Collection" box set of the whole series, and prior to that on six dubbed VHS volumes.
RightStuf carries the box set: Orphen DVD Complete Collection.
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