Orphen is a young, powerful (well, at least from an ego standpoint) magic-user who has seemingly been idling for a year in a small town, taking on an even younger apprentice, Majic, and setting his binoculars on the local mansion where the rich girls live. But he's no voyeur, as he has his eyes set on something else ensconced within that household - a magic sword that can grant him untold power. Of course, he's got competition, namely the misfit brothers Bolkan and Dorchin, and the tomboyish younger daughter of that particular household, Cleao, who is thoroughly convinced he's seen much more of her than he cares to admit. But all the nonsense fades quickly as the dread beast Bloody August comes knocking at their door - a dragon whose mere presence could easily destroy their whole town, if not the world. What ties does the headstrong mage have what this seemingly inhuman creature who he calls out to by name? And what secrets does the seemingly nonchalant Orphen hold within himself?
The first time I saw this, I thought, whoa, fluffy. Here's this, well, for lack of a better term, stud, posing and looking too cool for himself while he casts these major spells that look like Overkill-in-a-Box. Can we say Bastard?
Well, yes and no. There aren't any heavy metal references to be found here, and no hot dark-elven babes, and certainly no Dark Schneider. However, this is about as close a late '90s equivalent to that other swords-and-sorcery title as you can get. You've got the badass hero, Orphen (who's all style, but he's got the substance to back it up, too), the "pure, innocent girl" he's got to lug around, fourteen-year-old Cleao (who is there specifically for the purpose of fan service), and the demonic nasties (well, Bloody August and various others sure count here).
But there the similarities end rather abruptly. There's way more slapstick to be found, in the form of those hapless (and generally pointless) brothers. Bolkan is easily the most annoying lil' snot in all fantasy anime - he needs either Ritalin, or a guillotine! (Dorchin just needs a brother transplant.) Of course, Cleo has bath scenes, serendipitous camera angle scenes, whoops I'm suddenly naked scenes… which would be a riot if she weren't so ditzy. The addition of the Cute Anime Mascot ™ certainly helps her character, though, and Reki's really cute (and certainly not a normal species for a mascot).
You really can't take Orphen too seriously when Reki gets an entire episode to frolic in the fields.
But behind all the nuttiness, there is a serious plot (reminiscent of Slayers, and maybe a couple of shades darker, at that) which kicks in just in time for the series not to lose too much steam. The characters, once you actually follow the series a ways, actually develop quite well, and bonus points for actually taking the time to flesh out the lead character, instead of letting him be one-dimensional. There's lots of flashback, but it's used effectively and appropriately.
The secret to Bloody August, too, and Orphen himself, for that matter, is clever, and it's a trick not as often used in fantasy anime as I'd like. Points for that, too. (No, I'm not spoiling it for you, watch it for yourself!) The animation itself is a mixed bag, with some really neat lighting effects and solid design contrasting with some badly done coloring jobs in darker episodes. Definitely a television-budget animation, though the opening sequence (and theme) is another of my new favorites. Also, the setting, which is a weird cross between medieval, modern, and post-apocalyptic, is definitely atypical. To give you an example of the visual anachronism in the show, the first scene show Orphen practicing his magic spells on a Lamune bottle (complete with marble) in a dusty setting straight out of Trigun, then in the next scene, he's in a small town, with 19th century cobblestone streets and quaint storefronts, with a Roman aqueduct as a backdrop. And of course, drinking fountain soda at the local general store. (Consistency? Bah!)
Orphen is certainly about being stylish (certainly, Orphen's got better fashion sense than Final Fantasy 8's Squall!), but don't let that blind you from the storyline, which, despite a few episodic installments, does actually get quite important, and is certainly worth the time of serious fantasy fans.
Besides, as it says on all the Japanese merchandise for this show: "Orphen is cool!"
Above average fantasy show that takes a while to get rolling, but rewards the patient viewer with a solid plot and surprisingly good characterization. I'll decide whether or not to add another star depending on how it ends. — Carlos Ross
Recommended Audience: Teens and up. Younger audiences would find Bloody August creepy, and the dragon's transformation sequences are pretty gory. Characters get kidnapped, and Orphen gets involved in some rather involved battle scenes, though the actual violence level isn't as much as you'd expect. For the fanboy audience, Cleo loses her clothes several times (never in fight scenes), but apart from some questionable camera angles, nothing explicit or tremendously tacky. It's more innuendo than anything else, and it's really not that important. Orphen might have some rough language from time to time, though I'm sure ADV's played that up a bit.
Version(s) Viewed: Prerelease fansub
Review Status: Partial (16/24)
Orphen © 1999 Akita Yoshinobu / Kusaka Yuuya / Kadokawa Shoten / TBS
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