ADV Films // 1998 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Sandra Dozier (Retired) // December 2nd, 2004
Two's company, three's a crowd...but what's four?!
I've never seen Season One of Orphen, and I also missed the first volume of Season Two, so I went in expecting to feel completely lost. Instead, I was able to get into the story right away, and character relationships filled themselves in naturally. By the end of this volume of episodes, I knew who everyone was, and I was hooked.
Orphen is a sorcerer of some skill, but he isn't the very best and doesn't bill himself that way. He travels the land along with his companions: Cleao, a feisty girl who comes from a privileged background and packs a sword she isn't afraid to use; sweet-natured Majic, Orphen's teenaged apprentice (and de facto servant); and newest member Lycoris, an innocent and bookish girl who has been trying to convince Orphen to join the Royal Public Order of Knighthood organization that she represents. Although they get into all sorts of situations and adventures, the arc of the series is a plague of enormous monsters that are trying to kill Orphen. He doesn't know why this is happening, but the audience knows that a wizard named Flame Soul is siccing these creatures on Orphen, though we do not yet know why. Perhaps the subtitle of this series ("Revenge") holds some clue?
In between defending himself against monsters and fighting off Lycoris's insistent pleas to join up with the Knights, Orphen seeks peace and an end to the conflict in his life. However, it doesn't look like his past is going to leave him be any time soon.
There are four episodes in this volume:
*"Awaken, Beloved One"
The gang confronts a sorcerer who is using forbidden magic to prolong the life of his beloved daughter, and become embroiled in a bittersweet family conflict.
*"Shrimp Man, Crab Woman"
Orphen temporarily loses his voice, making it difficult to fight the newest monster on the scene, and an old friend calling himself Black Tiger (Shrimp Man) and his sidekick White Club (whom everyone mishears as "White Crab") show up to help.
*"The Sweet Trap of an Errand"
Cleao is asked to do some shopping, and she can't wait to spend money. Lycoris agrees to go with her and keep an eye on her spending, running herself ragged as Cleao buys up all the useless trinkets she can find. When the two stumble across a bank-robbing trio who also take their legitimate purchases, they have to chase them down in order to get them back, and end up bonding in the process.
*"Is That a Bird?"
The money has run out, and delicate Lycoris sees it as her responsibility to find a job as a manual laborer in order to earn some quick cash. Cleao feels guilty, so she sells an unwitting Orphen and Majic into a pervy modeling job and goes to find Lycoris, who accidentally unleashes a giant bird on the populace.
I enjoyed these episodes immensely. The action was tight but not frantic, and the humor was perfectly balanced -- funny, fun, but not too self-conscious, and not so absurd that the viewer is blown out of the reality of their universe. I really connected with the characters, too, especially kindhearted Majic, who cares very much for his friends and wants to be a good wizard but lacks the discipline required to pick it up as quickly as he would like. However, he is determined, and he is willing to work hard, and this has earned him Orphen's respect. I also like Lycoris, who balances the impulsiveness of the other team members (especially Cleao) and manages to be the stereotypical "innocent, soft-spoken girl with glasses" type without being annoying or a total cliché.
Speaking of stereotypes, Orphen Season Two somehow manages to be extremely derivative, yet fresh at the same time. When I am watching, I'm reminded of a handful of different anime series (probably most strongly of Slayers), but I just don't care -- with gorgeous animation, compelling characters, and a well-written story, I'm entertained and left wanting more at the end of each episode. Orphen Season Two proves that you don't have to have a completely new, bleeding-edge concept in order to entertain the audience; sometimes, all it takes is a nonformula way of telling a formula story.
Video and audio transfer for Orphen Season Two is excellent, with a crisp image that shows off the glossy animation well. Sound is clear and robust, with a stereo mix that is not particularly active as far as channel separation, but (for the mostly open-air settings, especially) has a good balance on environmental sound that helps to set mood. I found myself paying special attention to the animation for this series. It's nothing special or innovative, but it has a kinetic quality that I like, and light and dark balancing is done well -- sun glints and shadows look like a painting in each scene. Also, the body language of each character, right down to Lycoris's and Cleao's supernatural pets Pam and Leki, is natural and unforced. Expressions are sometimes exaggerated, but never to the point where it becomes gratuitous -- extreme body language is used sparingly, and it usually accompanies extreme changes in emotion for the character.
As for extras, the usual clean opening and closing sequences are provided, as well as some previews, and there's a full-color insert with a box-sized poster with the front cover image. I did have a good laugh over a short (under ten minutes) outtakes reel, though -- as suggested by the "15 and up" age recommendation on the box, this outtakes reel is not for children. There are a couple of dialogue flubs, but most are actors having fun with characters, as in one scene where Lycoris is told by a zookeeper that a giant bird she is supposed to be tending is carnivorous, and then later on the zookeeper says she was just joking. Still in the little-girl character voice, the voice actress says, "That's not nice, bitch!" Other comments get racier from there, including one flubbed line where Orphen wonders about the state of his...um...you'll just have to watch.
All in all, one can expect a good time while watching Orphen Season Two. An interesting development in Volume Two is a mysterious woman with shocking red hair who seems to be following the team at a distance. We see her at the tail end of Episode Five, and she actually talks to Lycoris at the end of Episode Six. On top of the mystery of Flame Soul's behavior, it's up to the viewer to follow the cookie crumbs to future volumes.
Review content copyright © 2004 Sandra Dozier; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Japanese)
* English (signs only)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Not Rated