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Orphen: Complete Collection

ADV Films // Unrated // August 18, 2009
List Price: $49.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted August 14, 2009 | E-mail the Author
The Show:
ADV is repackaging some of its older shows and releasing them at very attractive prices.   One of the latest shows to get this treatment is Orphen, or Sorcerous Stabber Orphen as it is known in Japan.  This latest release includes both seasons of the show (labeled Orphen and Orphen Revenge,) a fun fantasy series will make a nice addition to any anime collection.

In the first season of the show we meet Orphen, a young adult who is a graduate of the famed Tower of Fangs school of magic.  He's taken on a young apprentice, Magic Lin, but being a teacher doesn't seem to be the magician's main goal in life.  He's also very interested in The Sword of Balthanders, a trophy that is in the possession of a local well to do family.  When Orphen tries to obtain the sword, he meets a girl slightly younger than he is, Cleao Everlasting.  She agrees to let him use the sword on his mysterious quest, but she's going to accompany him to make sure the sword is safe.
It turns out that the magicians from the Tower of Fangs are hunting the powerful and dangerous dragon, Bloody August.  Orphen is also on this quest, but for a different reason.  He owes a debt to his best friend, Azalie Cait Sith.  They were both orphan taken in by the Tower and educated because of their innate magical ability.  Orphen wasn't a good student however and Azalie tutored him constantly.  She's the only reason he's a magician today. 

This debt he owes her is at the heart of his problem... he needs to find Bloody August before anyone else does because he knows that that dragon is actually Azalie transformed.  So together with his apprentice and Cleao he sets off to save his friend, is she doesn't kill him first.
In the second season the show drops a notch in quality.  In the first dozen or so episodes not a lot happens and the show seems to revert to a monster-of-the-week program.  Orphen and his friends travel across the land being attacked by random evil baddies.  It's not until the season is half way finished that the background as to what's actually going on is clear and the plot starts to get moving.
This was a pretty good show, a character based drama that works pretty well.  As the series progresses Cleao starts to fall for Orphen, but he's only interesting in saving Azalie, and when he talks about her in glowing terms it causes the poor younger girl a lot of grief.  I also really liked Orphen.  He's almost an anti-hero in some ways.  He keeps his cards close to his chest and is kind of cold emotionally.  He's also very powerful, though that's not apparent at first.

The show also mixes a good amount of humor into the show, but never so much that it turns into Slayers.  It comes close at the beginning of the second season, with Cleao and Orphen fighting in (not so) comical ways in almost every episode, but the second half of the season saves it.  There are also some comic relief characters (the trolls Volkan and Dortin) that do more harm than good to the show but they are bearable.
The one main gripe I have is that the show runs a bit too long in both seasons.  If they had cut then number of shows by 1/3 the stories would have been much stronger.  As it is there are too many filler episodes that just drag the series' momentum to a halt.  These fillers aren't even entertaining as drama or comedy either, and I was really surprised that the quality of the show could fall and rise so much from one episode to another. 
The DVD:

Like ADV's recent release of Saiyuki, the eight discs that make up the two seasons of Orphen come in two inch-wide cases.  Each case contains five discs on a spindle.  That really surprised me, I was assuming they would come on pages, and putting them on spindles was a bad choice.  The discs are too easily scratched, and it's hard to get the disc you need.  The two cases have a cover, similar to the limited edition slipcovers that come on some DVDs.
The show comes with the original Japanese audio track in stereo and a 5.1 English dub.  The first season was a bit infamous in anime circles for having a really bad dub track.  Not because of the quality of the voice actors, but because the English script was not faithful to the original.  Scenes were rewritten and dialog changed that altered the meaning of the original.  (This didn't happen with the second season luckily.)  For that reason I viewed this with the Japanese track and spot checked the English dub.  While the English surround sound made the battles more exciting, both tracks sounded very good.  The dialog was clear and the sound effects were mixed well, never overpowering the rest of the audio.  This set sounds just fine.
The full frame image looks pretty good as well.  The colors are solid and the contrast is fine but the image is a little on the soft side.  There are a couple of digital defects that bring the score down a little.  There is some mosquito noise in a few scenes and aliasing is not uncommon.  Aside from those typical flaws this set looks very good.
Sprinkled across these discs are several bonus features.  The first season includes clean opening and closing animations, sketch galleries, Japanese TV spots, a hilarious gag reel, and an interview with the Japanese cast and crew.  Season two has a outtake reels on every disc, which are definitely worth watching, and a clean opening and closing.  For a budget-priced complete series set, this was a good amount of extras.
Final Thoughts:
Though flawed in some ways, Orphen is a good show overall.  I really enjoyed the first season, and just wish they had cut out some of the filler shows.  The second season starts off slowly, but it picks up at about the half way mark and manages to redeem itself.  ADV has released this double season set at a very attractive price point too, which helps a lot.  I'd gladly recommend this to any fan of fantasy anime shows. 
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