Orphen Vol. #1 (Mania.com)

By:Roman Martel
Review Date: Saturday, February 16, 2002
Release Date: Tuesday, July 10, 2001

The Review!
Overall Rating: 3.9
(on a scale of 1-5)

-Technical Ratings-
Sound: 5
Picture: 5
Menu: 4
Presentation: 4
Goodies: 4
Overall: 4.4

-Content Ratings-
Animation: 4
Sound: 4
Plot: 3
English Acting: 4
Music: 2.5
Entertainment: 3
Overall: 3.4


It's another fantasy offering from ADV. It's another video game anime. ( ADV really seems to like grabbing those video game series). It's got a controversial dub job. It can "cast a spell on your whole family" (according to the keepcase). It's Orphen, or as we call it around here, Orphen the Arc: Legend of the Secret of the Bastard Labyrinth Episode 2- TURBO! But seriously, it's not too bad.

-Technical Review-

Picture and sound were both pretty good with this release from ADV. The menu was also good. It responded quickly, wasn't hard to figure out what you were picking and it had motion and music. The presentation was average. You're missing the channels of sound, and the volume number for this disc. The cover and the insert are pretty well done. The goodies aren't bad either. You get opening and closing animation, production sketches and other art. All in all it's not a bad list of stuff for this disc. It's a good solid ADV release.

-Content Review-

After watching Arc the Lad I was a bit nervous about Orphen. I was hoping against hope that it wasn't going to be as stereotypical and bland as the previous fantasy anime I had watched. The opening credits were done in a jazzy style that seemed to bode well for the rest of the disc. Was this going to be something different... or just more of the same?

Here's the basis run down. Orphen is in a small village, supposedly training a young boy named Majik in the ways of using super cool sorcery. Instead, he seems more interested in peeping into the window of a girl's bedroom. But all is not as it appears. Orphen is actually more interested in getting his hands on a certain artifact that is in the house. Unfortunately for him, the younger daughter of the house comes home from school and finds the peeper looking at her older sister! Well needless to say she's pissed, and Cleo decides to grab the nearest sword and start kicking peeping tom butt! Well just as Orphen and Majik are about to face down the sword wielding Cleo, a real monster shows up called Bloody August. Orphen jumps into action but seems to be trying to talk down the monster instead of slay it. Is he trying a kinder gentler 12-step program. Of course not. More is going on than you think. Meanwhile some old pals from Orphen's past come back to taunt him and to tell him that he still has a place at his old Magical Arts School. They all have a connection to Bloody August and of course many sinister deeds are hinted at. Cleo and her goofy older sister get spirited off in the final episode by Blood August and Orphen, Majik and two of the spazziest trolls you'll ever meet go after them. It's the refreshing start of a typical fantasy/comedy/adventure.... anime-style.

The animation is actually pretty good. Again it's not going for the standard fantasy look but more of a Final Fantasy or mixed era look. Some of the settings look typical medieval fantasy but Orphen runs around in a leather jacket. The characters are pretty standard looking but if they are based on a video game it's almost expected. It's pretty fluid and above average for the most part. The sound work also is above average. Most of the spells have some cool sound design and Bloody August sounds monstrous and reptilian. It's a good combo in both aspects. It's pretty familiar territory but it's not totally bland and lifeless. It does lack some of the detail of Record of Lodoss War, but the fighting is much more fluid.

The story started out really well. In fact the first episode is the best of the three. It had a great balance of humor and interesting twist into how Orphen was treating Bloody August. The characters themselves were pretty standard, the cocky hero, the apprentice, the strong willed (and spoiled) girl, and of course the comic relief in the form of two wacky trolls. Again it's the way the situations were handled that really grabbed my attention in first episode. Once the human advisories arrived (Orphen's old colleagues) things kinda went into typical story telling. I enjoyed the tone and feel of the first episode, it reminded me of Outlaw Star where the mix of comedy and adventure made it lots of fun. The next two installments seemed to go lighter on the comedy and focus more on the action.

That might explain what happened to the dub. As you've heard the dub script and the sub script differ quite a bit. The English dub seemed to be shooting more comedy into the lines. I think an effort was made to spice up the dialogue and make it snap more. Instead it feels a bit forced and out of place among the more serious animation. In fact most of the more comedic lines are done by characters off screen (so they don't have to match lip flaps). Why was this done? Maybe the tone of the first episode does not match the rest of the show, and like me, the director enjoyed that more than the actual story. Or perhaps they were going for more of a Buffy The Vampire Slayer feel and tried to get some "Joss Whedon style" in the dialogue. Or maybe they were trying for a TV audience or a younger audience (especially after reading that little "Let Orphen cast a spell on your whole family" bit on the back). Whatever the case was I find it a tad disheartening. I understand the temptation to rework a script especially if you feel it needs a bit of snap that could make it work better. The problem is that with anime, you are essentially working with a finished product. Many fans would like as pure a translation as possible. I understand when some jokes can't be translated or certain phrases won't work with the lip flaps. But when whole changes to entire dialogues are made it gets too close to writing your own script and slapping it onto images that don't work. This is a case in point. Now I know that many feel that as long as the sub is pure it doesn't matter. I can't disagree more. Dubs are just as important as subs. Dubs are also a translation of the material and should attempt to be as close as possible.

Anyway aside from the script, the acting was very good. Everyone seemed to be having fun and was in character. The two trolls did a good job of being angry and frustrated as well as befuddled and silly. Cleo also did a good job delivering some of her snappier lines and coming across as a real smart-ass. All in all it was a solid acting job. It's the script that I'm iffy about.

The jazzy opening theme and the end tune were the only reason the music got a slightly higher grade than normal. Most of the score is just plain cheesy sounding. It's as if the video game music was directly translated onto the DVD and made some scenes just not work well at all. In fact I was pulled out of several scenes wondering what kind of drugs the score writer was taking. Bad stuff. The opening theme almost makes up for it, but you're stuck listening the score more than the opening theme.

That said, I was entertained the whole time. The three episodes passed fairly quickly and aside from the tone shift in the second two and some of the forced sounding humor, it was a good series. If the pacing and tone get a bit lighter and things continue twisting in a unique direction I might stick with it. I will be giving the next disc a try. Let's see if it fares better than Angel Links or Arc. I just hope that ADV doesn't get into script problems again. It just doesn't feel right, and not true to what the original creator had in mind. I think that's what disappoints most fans when this kind of thing happens.

Roman J. Martel
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Review Equipment
General Electric Performance Plus (25 Inch), Sony Playstation 2

Mania Grade: NA
Audio Rating: N/A
Video Rating: N/A
Packaging Rating: N/A
Menus Rating: N/A
Extras Rating: N/A
Age Rating: 12 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: ADV Films
MSRP: 29.99
Running time: 75
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Orphen