Orphen: Revenge Anime Review
Majutsushi Oofen Revenge
Black Magic Warrior Orphen Revenge
US Release By
23 25-minute episodes
1999-10-02 - 2000-03-26
Orphen and his companions are back and continuing their traveling adventures... for some unexplained reason. But tension is building among the group. Orphen and Cleo and constantly at each other's throats, while Cleo has discovered a way to use her Wolf Spirit pup Leki as a weapon to be an instant argument-solver. Meanwhile, Majic has finally started questioning why Orphen hasn't taught him anything useful yet, and the answer seems to be his incompetence gives his teammates an excuse to force him to do all their dirty work, from lugging around heavy baggage, to dressing in drag in order to pull off a moneymaking scheme.
Meanwhile, the group seems to be a magnet for giant monster attacks, with one popping up seemingly everywhere they go. The problem has gotten so severe that the Tower of Fang has assigned one of their new professors to investigate. That just happens to be Orphen's old friend and classmate Hartia, who has taken a talented young student name Aeris (who has a major crush on Majic) under his wing and is determined to get to the truth, as well as use the opportunity to revive his "Black Tiger" persona and drag Aeris into the game. On top of that, the gang is trailed by a feisty young girl named Licorice, who claims to be on a mission from the Royal Public Order of Knighthood to bring Orphen to them and is adamantly determined to complete it whether he likes it or not. Somehow Orphen's gang must discover the source of the monster attacks and the truth behind Licorice's mission, assuming they can survive the attacks and each other long enough to do so.
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The first season of Orphen was horrible, mainly due to the miserable supporting characters, and there were no signs it could be turned around. Yet by turning it into a 100% comedy and making the characters act a lot more rationally, this sequel is saved from the fate of its predecessor. The key changes are that it has much more substantial character development, the character's internal logic makes more sense, and the humor is actually funny--based on legitimate jokes and the contrasting nature of the characters in the group. The music is also better, and when the show eventually gets serious in the final few episodes, the better-developed characters make even the drama work. The most significant weaknesses are a few pointless side characters, embarrassingly repetitive action scenes, and an anachronistically-written dub. The biggest problem, though, is that you'll have to put yourself through the agony of watching the first season to fully understand the plot and characters.
Still, I gotta say I was impressed with the quality of Orphen: Revenge. It took a horrible series with seemingly no potential for improvement and somehow managed to turn it into a solid and throughly entertaining show. If you had the misfortune of watching season 1, then it's all the more reason to give this one a look, as it would be a great way to ease the pain.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
I was not looking forward to watching this. The first season of Orphen was horrible, mainly due to the miserable supporting characters, and there were no signs it could be turned around. This series has only one new character for Orphen's group, which, while cute and charming, doesn't really add any new talents to the team. On top of that, there is only the slightest hint of a central plot for most of the series, with most episodes using the typical monster/problem of the week formula, and even those aren't particularly original. So how could this show possibly improve over the first series? The answer is simple: Turn it into a 100% comedy and make the characters act a lot more rationally. It may seem like a contradiction. When do characters in a comedy series ever act more rationally than they do in a serious drama? Well, so far this is the only series where I've ever seen that be the case, but that's how it is, and it's what saves season 2 from the same fate as its predecessor.
Season 1 was a poor attempt to make a fantasy drama and combine it with comedy elements. In season 2, they decided to ditch all the serious elements for the first 17 episodes and just make it a comedy, with a key distinction: The humor in this show is actually funny. Rather than just endless depictions of Orphen's "teammates" screwing up, the comedy comes from legitimate jokes and the contrasting nature of the characters in the group. Once again Orphen's companions are rather incompetent, but this time the characters actually act reasonably as a result of it. Instead of just brushing off the screwups and uselessness of the other team members as though it was a normal part of life, Orphen is now reasonably upset by it. Cleo's wasteful spending and lack of pragmatism, Majik's inability to learn useful spells, and Licorice's hardheaded determination to steer him to the Order of Knighthood no matter how much he objects are things that legitimately and reasonably piss him off.
At the same time, he's not flawless himself; on the contrary, he's somewhat responsible for their problems, being tactless, ruthlessly critical, and refusing to teach them anything useful despite all the time he's spent with them. In the case of Majic, it appears he actually wants to keep him incompetent so he can force him to do all the team's dirty work and keep mooching off his rich father (after all, if Majic becomes an accomplished wizard, then he won't need Orphen any more and a key funding source will dry up).
Some of these elements were present in the first season, but the problem was the show was still depicted as a serious fantasy drama and Orphen's group as a normal adventuring party. In season 2, these issues reasonably keep the characters constantly bickering and infighting, while preventing them from accomplishing even the simplest tasks, something that only is appealing in a comedy, which is why it's so fortunate that this is what season 2 is.
Another key improvement over the first series is character development: In this series, it actually exists! Characters change based on their experiences, learn new skills and talents, discover new goals, and do things characters should in every long TV series but failed to do in season one.
The biggest improvement is Majic, who has transformed from a useless wimp and brown-noser to a sympathetic lovable loser who I surprisingly ended up hoping would succeed. Unlike most anime nerdy underdog characters, he doesn't have truckloads of women throwing themselves at him despite his lack of conceivable appeal, but he does have one (Aeris), and the chemistry between them is excellent, especially when Aeris gets dragged into Hartia's super-hero persona routine.
The running gag of Hartia as an under-appreciated super hero was the closest thing the first season had to real humor, and in this one it works out extremely well, especially with a reluctant Aeris along for the ride. Licorice is also a nice addition to the group. I swear she came straight from the Tokyo Mew Mew universe: She's insanely cute, is named after a food, and has a cute floating robotic assistant that occasionally dispenses things for her. She really isn't that useful aside from being able to use her contacts in the Order of Knighthood as a funding source, but her single-minded determination to complete her mission at any cost and dangerously extreme cuteness increases the already high level of tension in the group and helps the comedy theme even more.
The soundtrack is another big improvement over the first season. Like the previous one, season two uses two different opening songs, but this time both of them are really good. So good that I never felt the urge to skip past them. The first song is also notable in that the footage shows Orphen's companions doing useful things. It's like the song was begging me to watch the series by demonstrating Orphen's characters would not be a total waste of space, and considering how bad they were in the first season, that was probably a good idea. The ending theme is pretty good, too, and wraps everything up nicely.
Like many fantasy comedy shows, this one eventually gets rather serious near the end, finally abandoning the comedy theme altogether. But by then it was okay to do so, since the characters were properly developed and it helped give the story a satisfactory conclusion. As a result, the abrupt change from comedy to drama really didn't hurt the show at all. Some of the characters were still a bit too ineffective for my taste (especially Cleo), but still I gotta say I liked watching the show, and the new plot points involving ancient beings, resurrection, and major twists in the story had me hooked. It's a true testament to how much improved this show is over the first season when such a huge shift in presentation--reverting back to the one the older season used--doesn't harm the series at all.
However, once I got over the amazement of how much better this was than season 1, it's clear it still leaves a lot to be desired. First of all, Volkan and Dortin are still here. Why? They had no purpose whatsoever in the first season, and they don't do any better in this one. The fact that this is now a full-on, 100% comedy doesn't help, because they still aren't funny. They are just left over dead weight from the first season: useless bums who serve no purpose other than to remind us how bad it was. And a lot of times it seems like they are forced into each episode, as if the only reason they are in it is because the creators felt the need to have them for a few seconds of screen time. Quite frankly, the notion that an episode could not be complete without them making an appearance is downright insulting.
Then there is the action scenes. They aren't bad, but are significantly crippled by three things: Repetition, repetition, and more repetition. I swear I have not seen this much use of repetitive stock footage in fight scenes since I watched Sailor Moon. For most of the episodes, nearly every fight scene ends with Orphen performing the same finishing move using the same robotic animations with the same pre-rendered background. The fight scenes in the later episodes are much better, but it doesn't make up for how lame they were before that. Furthermore, the animation in general is pretty bland. It's a leftover problem from the first season that never got solved. The backgrounds are still poorly drawn and at times completely lifeless. Fortunately, the character animation is still good, and the group actually goes to some interesting places this time, so at least the environments are a little interesting, even if badly animated.
The dub performance is somewhat of a mixed bag. It's decent, but it's riddled with anachronistic themes and things that don't make sense. Characters occasionally mention modern things that should not exist, such as movies, and in one scene Volkan says something like "How dare you talk to me like that Mr. Punk Rock? Hey, the '80s called, they want their clothing back!" Granted he didn't say 1980s, so he could have been talking about the '80s in a proper century for the series, but still it just didn't sound right. But overall, it wasn't too much of an issue, and most importantly, the humor survived the dubbing process intact for the most part.
And as much as the characters have improved over their performance in the last season, I still would have preferred better ones. They are good and likable enough to make this an enjoyable series, but there just isn't anything that stands out about any of them, especially Orphen's companions. Their lack of usefulness is still an issue that didn't completely go away, and I found it frustrating that much more practical and effective people like Hartia and Aeris had so much less time on screen. On the other hand, the series does retain the one appealing aspect of season 1: Conflicted villains whose intentions aren't entirely evil and have many positive aspects. It was still fairly predictable what their fates would be, but at least they were not shallow or cliched.
But overall the biggest problem isn't with the series itself. It's the fact that in order to fully comprehend the plot and characters, you have to watch season 1. As good as this season is, it's still hard to justify having to put yourself through the agony of watching the first season in order to enjoy it. Still, I gotta say I was impressed with the quality of Orphen: Revenge. It took a horrible series with seemingly no potential for improvement and somehow managed to turn it into a solid and throughly entertaining show. If you had the misfortune of watching season 1, then it's all the more reason to give this one a look, as it would be a great way to ease the pain.
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Has a lot in common with Slayers, as well as Louie the Rune Soldier.
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, and a pair of anime series, of which this is the second, plus and a video game released in 2000 for the PS2. The video game was also available in the US, as was the manga.
US DVD Review
The most recent DVD release is from Sentai Filmworks, an 8-disc box set that also includes the first season. It features stereo audio in both English and Japanese and an English subtitle track, and apparently includes all the extras from the earlier ADV box set release.
There were previously ADV DVD releases, initially six individual volumes and then later a 4-disc "Revenge Collection" box set of the whole second series.
Notes on the objectionable content for parents.
Violence: 1 - Some death, but mostly it's just monsters being killed.
Nudity: 0 - Specific notes on the nudity.
Sex/Mature Themes: 0 - Specific notes on the mature themes or other sexual content.
Language: 0 - Specific notes on any coarse language.
Available in North America from Section 23 on a bilingual "Complete Collection" box set that also includes the previous series. Was previously available from ADV on six bilingual DVDs or a box set of the whole series titled "Revenge Collection."
RightStuf carries the box set: Orphen DVD Complete Collection.