Orphen Vol. #1 (of 6) (Mania.com)
Review Date: Tuesday, July 10, 2001
Release Date: Tuesday, July 10, 2001
What They Say
Based on the popular series of Japanese fantasy novels that spawned the hit video game!
When the most prestigious university of magic in the land loses Orphen, their most talented student, they'll do anything to get him back. Unfortunately for them, Orphen has bigger plans than majoring in spell casting - namely tracking down a mysterious dragon, the Bloody August.
Together with his young apprentice, a spoiled heiress, and two cranky trolls, Orphen must battle both the Bloody August and his old teachers, advanced sorcerers who posses frightening power and even more dangerous secrets! Experience the magic, the adventure, and the excitement that spawned the hit video game of the same name.
It's been over two years since I first caught a glimpse of Orphen, or better known as Sorcerous Stabber Orphen. At the time, my wife and I were rather enthralled in the show, seeing the first two episodes at Otakon. In the time between, there's been a fair amount of buzz about Orphen, especially if you listen to a good number of the women who simply drool over the character...
For the primary review, we watched the show in Japanese and then did some spot checks of the English track. Both tracks are your standard TV stereo track, with the majority of the audio dialogue coming through the center channel while effects and music use the left/right channels. There's not a lot of directionality overall though.
As the disc progresses, the quality improves. Or at least, the quality of the source materials, which is where the problems lay on this disc. The first episode is very grainy, causing numerous moments of artifacting in the night blue skies. A lot of the show, which is done in the medieval setting, is soft and likely intentionally. The color scheme used is filled with earth tones and very few moments of vibrant colors. There's hardly any rainbows at all and line noise is very minimal. The source material itself does show an occasional nick and there's a hair or two in the later episodes. Towards the last episode on the disc there's a definite level of reduced grain compared to the first and the overall image looks much better, but still soft. There's also a noticeable shift in color brightness during a number of scenes throughout the disc, where a dark mountainside will suddenly get a bit lighter in the animation itself, not in the encoding.
The front cover is done in a great looking pencil style drawing as opposed to cel imagery. The cast of main characters all look good in their various action poses and the general feel you get from the cover is simply "Fantasy". The reverse side has a nicely laid out style to it, with some images from the show, a menu shot and a good summary of things. The episode titles are listed, but no numbers. This is disappointing since there's no volume number on the package. I wish ADV would be more consistent with their packaging style. The insert provides another shot of the cover on one side and the chapter listings on the reverse side. The disc itself is nicely silkscreened with a close-up image of Orphen.
The menu sytems is set up fairly similar to Gasaraki, with a small portion of animation playing as the menu builds and then the menu is free to manipulate. It's not a terribly long load, but once that's done the access times between the menus is pretty solid. The menus are laid out nicely with episodes selectable from the main menu and everything else easy to get to. The design style is very much in the style of the show itself with the runes as the cursor and overall it looks quite good.
Starting things off right we get both a textless opening and ending, which is great to see again. The opening really needed one with all the interesting things hinted at in it. There's also a two minute video gallery, showing a variety of artwork and "pop art" for the show. I'm still not positive whether I like the video image galleries or not.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Let me preface by saying that Orphen looks to be a title that will fulfill my needs for a great action adventure fantasy show. While I can no longer read fantasy novels, fantasy anime done in a mostly serious manner is a lot of fun and is something I look forward to.
Orphen's filled with a lot of style. The show opens with a young blonde girl in a lake, her clothing wet and tight on her, looking up into the dark blue night sky. The brilliant moon takes up a large amount of the sky, which lets us see Orphen standing atop a crumbling tower, his cloak floating in the wind. The sequence is fairly brief, but the imagery is just gorgeous to look at, especially when it pulls back so you can see all of the elements.
Orphen's been hanging around in this particular town for the past year, apparently doing no real kind of work and now a couple months behind on his rent. He is teaching the inn managers son to use magic, but seems to just idle away the time for no apparent cause. The inn managers son, Majic, is your basic goody goody character and looks the part. He's young, earnest and trusting of Orphen. Though Orphen does amusingly insist that he be called Master by Majic.
On the day that we start the show, the young girl named Cleao has returned from boarding school to the mansion she lives in with her sister and her mother. It's a huge mansion, and one that Orphen is apparently interested in. We see Orphen taking in the mansion from a tree, looking for something. Cleao, while undressing, notices Orphen and believes she's being peeped and goes out after him with a vengeance. Even though her sister has told her that Orphen's been watching the mansion for the past year.
Cleao's challenge of Orphen with the sword her father has left for her comes at a bad time, or rather, a somewhat ordained time. The creature known as Bloody August arrives in search of said sword. The creature is huge and singleminded. And yet Orphen calls it by a girls name and tries reasoning with it, to the shock of those around him.
Orphen's cast is pretty small so far, but there's a number of interesting people. Cleao herself is the typical strong willed girl who wants to see the world and figures Orphen can be her ticket. Majic's the bright eyed kid willing to learn, and the two miniguys who are indebted to Orphen provide the comedic moments. The villains fall under the nicely styled category as well, though we don't know a lot about them and the Tower of Fangs where the black sorcerers all reside.
The character designs are quite nice as well, with some good looking characters. Orphen himself has been making women drool over him for a few years now, so that's likely only to continue. Cleao has a nice design as well, especially with the eyes. The animation also is nice, with the earth tones of the characters blending well with the world setting. There's a couple of very fluid sequences in these early episodes that come off very nice as well, but for the most part the character animation and the background animation mesh very well.
One warning, skip the dub. Or watch the dub with the subtitles on. The acting is quite good, especially for Cleao and Orphen, but man, the number of script changes are just massive throughout it. Meanings and intents are changed in a number of places, some of them radically changed. There's a segment where the two small guys are trying to find the missing girls, and they keep talking about the reward money they're going to get from the girls mother when they return them. This is nowhere in the original script! Argh! At times I honestly try to like dubs, but it's the rewrites that just turn me off more than anything else. But at least the acting here is quite good.
Orphen's shaping up to be a really great title just based on these opening three episodes. Fantasy action fans are going to be happy here.
Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Textless Opening/Ending,Character Art & Pop Art Video Gallery
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Pioneer 414 codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.
Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B-
Packaging Rating: A-
Menus Rating: B+
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: 12 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
Running time: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2