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Orphen Complete Collection Anime DVD Review

9 min read

One of the most important parts of journeying in a fantasy series is having a good group of friends you can joke around with.

What They Say:
When the most prestigious university of magic in the land loses Orphen, their most talented student, they’ll do anything to get him back. Unfortunately for them, Orphen has bigger plans than majoring in spell casting – namely tracking down a mysterious dragon, the Bloody August. Together with his young apprentice, a spoiled heiress, and two cranky trolls, Orphen must battle both the Bloody August and his old teachers, advanced sorcerers who posses frightening power and even more dangerous secrets! Experience the magic, the adventure, and the excitement that spawned the hit video game of the same name.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release is the same as back when it was first released by ADV Films in that it was a surprise that both language tracks are in stereo encoded at 224kbps. Usually they bump the English mix up to a 5.1 if only for a selling point, even if it doesn’t do all that much in terms of directionality or added depth. This release does work well for what it is though as both the tracks are solid and generally problem free when it comes to playback. The show has a good healthy mix between dialogue and action with each of them working well. Dialogue is generally center channel based and the action has a full feel to it though there’s little in the way of depth or bass to it. The music is serviceable but generally not all that noteworthy outside of the opening and closing sequences. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally airing from 1998 to 2000, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The two seasons in the set are spread across eight volumes with six episodes to each disc with five on the last one, bringing us the forty-seven episode total. The JC Staff animated series has a good look about it when it comes to the designs and animation where it’s somewhat of a soft and earthy tone that brings out the fantasy feeling well. There’s a good bit of detail to be had in a lot of the scenes when they go all out and in the character designs. The backgrounds are pretty good looking as well as it runs through a variety of settings. Unfortunately, the show is one that has a lot of problems both in the source material and the encoding. There’s a lot of cross coloration throughout the set, though it’s at least not a constant. It is pretty regular though with all the detailed traditional artwork that the show has. That also brings in a fair bit of line noise at times as well. The other problem is that the show runs low on the bit rate quite often and there are some scenes with some significant macroblocking going on as well as general background noise.

The two season release of Orphen in one complete collection comes in a double sized keepcase where inside it holds all eight discs on hinges and the interior of the case. The fact that it’s not a stackpack alone is definitely a big plus since those are the bane of my DVD buying existence. The front cover has a very simple but spot on look as it’s an all black affair where the series name is done in red along the top and the rest of it is given over to the Tower of Fangs dragon symbol which looks quite good. The back cover is all black as well but brightens things up with a small strip of shots along the left and a good image of Orphen along the right. Considering the amount of material in the set, which is given a very good nod along the top, there’s only so much that a summary can convey. They do sell it well enough and there’s plenty of material in the set to entice. The remainder of the cover features a solid breakdown of the discs extras, production credits and the technical grid which lays everything out clearly. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

The menu design for this release is essentially the same across the two seasons here, though the second season is a bit lighter in its tone and coloring. The menus feature a standard leathery type background with splotches of light coming through it within a border. The top features the episode numbers that you can individually select while the logo runs through the middle. The bottom side features the language selection submenu, which read our players’ language presets perfectly for each volume, and the special features submenu as well. The layout is simple but effective in getting around and it was a breeze to navigate.

The release has a fair bit of extras as seen in the original releases spread across all eight volumes. The most fun for me still comes with the outtakes since the dub cast had fun with the show at times and we get several instances of them. The clean versions of the opening and closing sequences here, some production statuses and even a decent little interview with the Japanese staff.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the light novel series by Yoshinobu Akita which ran for twenty volumes from 1994 to 2003, Sorcerous Stabber Orphen is a two season series entitled with Begins and Revenge respectively that plays for the light and fun fantasy style while having plenty of serious moments along the way as well. It’s a definite cousin to Slayers in how it feels and the way it acts but with more than enough differences in characters that it doesn’t feel like one rips off the other or even influences it all that much. They both work in the same vein and have fun characters and quirky situations that invariably turn darker and bigger as it goes on and there’s plenty of magic and abuse of comrades along the way.

Having not seen the show since ADV Films released it in single disc form oh so many years ago, watching the two seasons together over the course of a few days was a lot of fun overall, even if it does show its weaknesses a bit more openly. The series is a fairly straightforward fantasy piece but one that does mix in a few different things along the way. There’s some mild technology that shows up a few times but even that feels quaint. Largely it has the European style fantasy setting with the villages and the general scenery but there are a few times where it also has a bit of an Old West feeling mixed in as well which feels a little odd. When it comes to the magic, there isn’t a ton of it because only a few people are truly capable and our lead character has a couple of go to moves that he uses pretty regularly and at least once an episode.

Where the show focuses heavily is on Orphen, a sorcerer who is roaming the world looking for a beast called Bloody August, a massive and dangerous creature that has been the goal of his for some six odd years now. Bloody August has a personal connection that comes out over the course of the first season where it’s the focus and that ties back to the Tower of Fangs, where the sorcerers all end up at one time or another as a community for education and sharing as well as power and status. Orphen’s cause is quite personal but there are threads within the Tower that’s brought into it as well, from his friend to his instructors and even an older sister figure that plays heavily into it as time goes on. Orphen’s a solid adventurer type, confident but not cocky and with a good heart to him when he lets it show. He’s simply interested in his larger goal overall of finding Bloody August.

What he does at the start of the series is to bring in a few other people with him, initially already traveling with a young man named Majic who signed on to be an apprentice and then with a young woman in the town named Cleao that he gets involved with due to Bloody August. Both of them bring different things to the table, Majic with the earnestness of an apprentice and Cleao as a young woman who brings some spunk to the show and pushes back against Orphen when he gets a bit unreasonable. While each of them have their quirks, they do avoid being over the top or excessively goofy. That’s all saved for the pairing of Dortin and Volcan, two diminutive brothers who are unfortunately indebted to Orphen and are doing their best to get out of it no matter the trouble it gets them into. They invariably have some connection with the storyline in each episode but it’s not always to the same level of importance which is welcome.

What works to the first seasons advantage is that it isn’t an episodic adventure but rather one that spends a few episodes with each smaller segment that all ties together into the larger story. The first season works well in weaving these two types of storytelling together but the second season not so much. That one brings in the additional character of Lycoris who has come to recruit Orphen for the Public Order of Knighthood. He’s not terribly interested, but there’s a no-strings attached kind of deal to it that entices him to at least go on the journey. And that’s what dominates the show as they travel about and slowly make their way towards it. But there are events that keeps it moving, such as a good bit of fallout from the previous season that’s well used and gives the first half some definition before things shift gears and a few layers of truth are revealed. While the first season had a larger and clearer storyline to it, the second one feels like it’s a bit more listless and wanders more than anything else. Which isn’t bad in a way because it’s fun to watch this group together even with the addition of Lycoris who changes the dynamic a bit. Her truths come very late in the series and there aren’t enough real hints early enough on to make it feel like a natural progression, which made her more of a one-note joke for a lot of it unfortunately.

In Summary:
While it has its flaws, both in story and in encoding, Orphen is a series that has stuck well in my mind and was really fun to get into again after all these years. The series holds up pretty well overall because the characters are definitely enjoyable and it works well off the light novel material by avoiding the usual manga to anime chapter adaptation structure. With the amount of episodes here, there’s a lot of value to the set and it’s one that definitely has a good sense of fun about it as well as good action and adventure. Fantasy series of any stripe tend to be few and far between in the anime world and this one is showing its age to be sure but it works out well and generally pleases when you view it as a whole.

Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Openings, Clean Closings, Production Sketches, TV Spots, Cape Day & Other Silliness, Outtakes, Interview with Japanese Staff & Cast

Content Grade: B
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: C-
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B-
Extras Grade: B

Readers Rating: [ratings]

Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: July 5th, 2011
MSRP: $49.99
Running Time: 1175 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Review Equipment:
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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