Judge Sandra Dozier just can't get enough of cross-dressing guys. No, wait, that came out wrong...
It seems like everything is changing in Orphen's gang!
Volume Four sports new opening and closing sequences and theme songs and a whole new enemy for Orphen and gang to worry about.
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. In between defending himself against monsters and fighting off Lycoris's insistent pleas for him 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:
•"The Young Woman Who Became a Cold"
•"Isn't He Lovely?"
•"Running Away by the Light of the Moon"
•"The Luxury Cruise from Hell"
The overall story arc for Season Two of Orphen is an ongoing campaign against Orphen by persons unknown. In the last volume, it was revealed that Flame Soul, brother to Flame Heart (from the original series) may have been the driving force behind repeated attacks, but when the enormous monsters continue to stalk Orphen after Flame Soul is gone, he is forced to consider that maybe someone else was in the driver's seat after all. Underneath this top layer of story are the individual episode storylines, with encapsulated stories that play out over one or two episodes. The gang is always working toward solving the larger issue of who is trying to kill Orphen (and why), but these mini-arcs keep the series fresh and don't bog it down too heavily. At heart, Orphen Season Two is a sorcerer adventurer series, and the mini-arcs help to keep it firmly grounded in that reality.
Another thing I like about this show is the humor and fun in each episode. Between the in-fighting (usually between Cleao and Orphen) and unintentionally funny situations (like Orphen and Majic being sold as nude models to make some quick cash), there's plenty of hilarity, and the two troll brothers Volkan and Dortin provide much of the comic relief. It's not all fun and games—there is a good balance here between humor and story. Things do get a little grim for Orphen when he is confronted by the people who want to do away with him, but it doesn't seem out of place when things suddenly get serious and no one is cracking a joke—the audience understands that the team may cut up on their own time, but when they need to unite against a common enemy, it's all business. Both of these elements work together to keep what would otherwise be a rather formulaic series fresh and interesting from episode to episode.
ADV has also taken a multilayered approach to the dub and sub for this series. The English dub changes the original dialogue substantially, updating it and making it more appropriate for a Western audience (an insult hurled at Orphen about the eighties wanting its clothing back is hilarious, and it gets the belly laughs that the original dialogue would get from a Japanese audience), while the subtitles preserve a great deal of the original dialogue, all of the spell names, and even some of the distinctly Japanese references that only advanced anime fans would understand. It's a good compromise, offering a faithful translation for otaku, who probably wouldn't listen to the dub anyway, and a lively dub that captures the spirit of the original nicely.
Video and audio transfer for Season Two of Orphen 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.
As for extras, the usual clean opening and closing sequences are provided, as well as some previews, and there's a full-color poster inside the box. Unlike in previous volumes, this is a genuine poster, as it folds out in fourths and features a nicely stylized painting of Cleao and Lycoris leaning on an irritated-looking (and somewhat squashed) Orphen. There's also a reel of outtakes, which are mildly racy and showcase the voice actors either flubbing lines or getting a little silly with dialogue recording. In one memorable sequence between Orphen and Hartia, the voice actor for Hartia decides to offer an alternate take and inserts a stirring confession about Hartia's love for Orphen. I was amazed at how well the dialogue fit the "lip flap," for one, but I was mostly just laughing myself silly.
This volume has some lighter adventures, after the confrontation Flame Soul in the previous volume, but a continuing storyline about locating some missing sorcerers, as well as a creepy little girl with some suspicious-looking dollies, continues to add an undercurrent of tension and weirdness that keeps viewers looking forward to future episodes.
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