Orphen II Vol. #1 (of 6) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, December 29, 2003
Release Date: Tuesday, December 09, 2003

What They Say
Things are never easy for Orphen and his friends. When Cleao wants to find a little relaxation at the local hot springs, the group ends up finding a lot more than warm water. Why has a young woman been trailing them for months? Who is the mystery man that wishes to destroy Orphen? And can a magic lake really make a wish come true?

The Review!
After a fun and successful first season, Orphen returns with a curiously titled “Revenge” series.

For our primary viewing session, we listened to this disc in its original language of Japanese. This continues to be a straightforward stereo mix where the majority of dialogue is through the center channel with only a few scant moments where there's some faked directionality across the soundstage. Dialogue is nice and clear though and there weren't any noticeable dropouts or other distortions.

Originally airing in 1999, the transfer for this second season of Orphen looks about on par with the first season but a touch better. There’s a significant drop in the number of dark and murky night scenes in this first volume which lets the softness that was prevalent during a lot of the first season out of the picture. Colors are much the same style with backgrounds being somewhat bland but solid while the foreground colors such as characters are much more vivid and varying. Cross coloration creeps into things in a few places and there’s some noticeable aliasing, but neither are showstoppers.

Using a new layout across this season, the cover here looks really good with a book like feel right down to the binding. The center of the front cover provides a good looking image of Orphen and Cleao as well as a few other cast members, providing something for the eye to zero in on. The back cover has a strip of images from the show itself and a very brief summary of the opening episodes. While we get volume numbering on the cover and spine, the back cover only gets episode titles and no number listings. The production credits and extras are clearly listed, but some of the features in the technical box are a bit obscured with a reddish brown color used for some of the text since they tried to blend it to the book format. The insert provides a larger shot of the front cover color image with more detail visible while the reverse side cobbles together the layout of the back cover but drops most of the bottom half. This is one of those releases where you really wonder why bother with an insert.

The main menu layout uses elements from the cover set against the book format, with two cards overlaying it. One card uses the artwork from the front cover and insert while the other provides direct episode access and the usual selections such as languages and extras, all of which plays to some of the opening song music. Access times are nice and fast, and since there isn’t much here on the top level, things load quickly without any transitional animations.

The extras are a bit slim but still enjoyable; the opening and closing sequences get their clean versions here, something we’ll see on all the remaining volumes as well. The other extra is about two minutes worth of dub outtakes which have prominent use of the word “ass” to good comical effect. The actors clearly enjoy having fun with the show and have amusing ways of making it seem in character at times even.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The first season of Orphen was a show that held some strong appeal; it was fantasy but had some different elements about it that kept it from being terribly standard. The layout of the way magic works wasn’t too different, but the history behind it and the entire Tower of Fangs was something that I liked. I even liked the “master taking on an apprentice” aspect and wasn’t annoying by Cleao’s antics. Toss in a romance story gone wrong with dark sorcery, and it won me over when at times I knew it shouldn’t. I wouldn’t call it a guilty pleasure, but close.

With the second season, there are some noticeable differences. Well, some very striking differences. Unless I’m completely misremembering the first season, a lot of the characters look very off model here, something like going from Lodoss OVA to Legend of Crystania different at times. For some of them, you’d almost swear that the character designer got flashed an image of the designs from the original series and had to figure it all out from that. The backgrounds for the show look to be about the same, which is a plus since I liked the design style of it, but the character animation looks like the budget got something of a slashing for this season.

The opening storyline also opens a touch differently than I would have expected as well, though by the end of the first volume there are hints of the larger story arc starting to flow in. Life for the trio seems to be back to normal, where Orphen continues to train Majic on his use of spells while Cleao ends up causing trouble along the way. While they’re out and about in the world, Cleao decides that it’s time for them to go visit some authentic hot springs so that they can get something of a vacation from the daily grind.

This sets up the road trip to Seiun, where the best hot springs are supposed to be located in the area. While all of this is going on, there’s a young woman trying to catch up to Orphen but ends up missing him in various ways. The road trip aspect of the show runs up to their arrival in Seiun and after, but a lot of time is spent in Seiun. The group who runs the hot spring water supply comes into the picture, where we see how they manipulate the prices and pipes that flow to the resorts below and thereby control the life of the place. One of the things we learn quickly is that they’re afraid of sorcerers but we don’t know why.

So when Orphen and friends show up, almost every place shuts them out on orders from those above and they’re unable to get any sort of hotel or hot spring access. In between the frustration of it all, the complaints from Cleao and the sudden attack by one of the strangest creatures yet, you also get Dortan and Volcan getting tangled up with the bosses and they start stalking Orphen, with Volcan continuing his rants against the evil sorcerer to anyone who will listen.

All of this eventually leads into a confrontation, but more importantly, it leads to the introduction of the young woman who has been following Orphen around. She introduces herself as Lycoris and it turns out that she’s been sent to scout Orphen for some Royal Public Order of Knights, after listing the various divisions and such that she actually works for. Orphen doesn’t care and certainly isn’t interested, but he’ll take advantage of the situation since she says that all his expenses are covered while she scouts him.

The road trip aspect then continues on with Lycoris as part of the group, which means getting to know her character. There are a couple of standalone stories that help flesh her out a bit as well as having some serious fun with Volcan by having him possessed by a dead girl, complete with dressing him up properly and changing every aspect of his speech and character. The odd feeling that I got at the beginning of the series starts to fade away during these episodes, and thought the show seems to lack something that the original series had, the less forced nature and the really bad character designs of the Seiun masters during the hot springs segment aren’t as prominent in the other characters introduced as it moves on. Some of the Seiun people looked like they were guesting from the Power Stone series.

With a series subtitle of “Revenge”, there’s obviously a bigger story here and a few snippets are included, all cast in shadows essentially, other than the obvious parts where the monsters seem to be targeting Orphen specifically. Orphen benefits from not having to really introduce its characters and setting again since it’s got a full twenty-four episodes under its belt already, but the opening episodes here don’t set the stage well for what to expect. The first two are pretty weak and feel disjointed, which makes it all the more surprising that the two standalone episodes bring back more of the feel of the original rather than doing more harm.

In Summary:
The second season of Orphen gets off to a rocky start but there’s some glimmers in the second half of this disc that capture some of the charm of the first season. As there a few rocky episodes in the original season as well, I’m keeping hope out that this season improves as it gets underway. But this one may just be for the die-hard fans depending on how it all pans out.

Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Clean opening and closing animation,Production sketches,Bloopers

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Panasonic RP-82 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

Mania Grade: C+
Audio Rating: B+
Video Rating: B
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B-
Age Rating: 15 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
MSRP: 29.98
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Orphen II