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  Specs
  • Full Frame
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital Stereo
  • Japanese: Dolby Digital Stereo
  Subtitles
    English
  Extras
  • 5 Theatrical trailer
  • Photo gallery
  • Animated menus

Orphen 1: Spell of the Dragon

Madman Entertainment/AV Channel . R4 . COLOR . 75 mins . PG . PAL

  Feature
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Directed by Hiroshi Watanabe (Slayers: the Movie), Sorcerous Stabber Orphen, or just plain Orphen as it’s been dubbed for its western release, is an anime television series and fantasy epic set in the days when magic was real and dragons roamed the earth. It follows the adventures of Orphen, a wandering young sorcerer of the prestigious Tower of Fangs, who has been hanging around a secluded medieval town for the past 12 months and doing little but drinking ice-cream sodas. Just why he’s there is anyone’s guess, but between sodas Orphen engages in a little magical tuition to pay the rent. However, his young apprentice Majic isn’t sure he’s doing much in the way of tuition either - his lessons seem to consist solely of ‘bird watching’ outside the mansion of a notable local family. That the family has two beautiful daughters Cleao and Mirabelle may just be a coincidence, but there is definitely something hidden within the mansion that Orphen is intensely interested in...

This first volume of Orphen provides the first three episodes in this twenty four episode series, with each episode lasting just over 24 minutes (including credits) – the standard length for half hour Japanese television programs:

Episode 1: The Sword of Baltanders
As usual, Orphen and his apprentice Majic while away their time ‘bird watching’ outside their favourite haunt. But little does Majic know that inside Orphen has installed a couple of spies - two dwarfs named Volcan and Dortin – and his secret plans are finally starting to come together. However with Cleao (the younger of the two sisters) only recently returned from boarding school, she’s going to have none of this peeping tom rubbish - even if older sister Mirabelle seems to be smitten with the tall dark stranger outside in the tree. Grabbing the family sword – the ‘Sword of Baltanders’ - she rushes out to teach the intruders a lesson. But with the location of this ancient treasure now revealed to all, a huge dragon known only as ‘Bloody August’ appears to claim it – much to Orphen’s apparent delight. Now it looks like Orphen will wield the Sword of Baltanders and face battle with the dragon.

Episode 2: The Blood of August
Things are going well for Orphen in his battle against the huge dragon monster ‘Bloody August’. However, just as his spell of binding is about to render the monster immobile, a fire bolt appears from nowhere and the spell is broken. Bloody August, who Orphen mysteriously refers to as ‘Azalie’, makes good its escape. The source of the fire bolt is soon revealed to be ‘Childman’ - one of the head sorcerers from the Tower of Fang – as is a plot by the Tower to thwart Orphen’s plans to fight Bloody August. Presently, one of Orphen’s old friends, Hartia, is sent by the Tower to deal with him but no sooner have the pair begun a magical battle to the death, than Bloody August reappears and kidnaps sisters Mirabelle and Cleao, demanding the Sword of Baltanders in exchange for their safe return.

Episode 3: Battle of the Dragon
With Orphen’s plans to pursue and subdue Bloody August put temporarily on hold, he vows to rescue the two gorgeous sisters from the monster - without relinquishing the Sword of Baltanders that is. However, his two little spies Volcan and Dortin have their own ideas and set off to rescue the girls themselves to claim the reward. Soon they all arrive ready to rescue, but Bloody August has other ideas. Breaking free of Orphen’s holding spell, the dragon snatches the sword from Orphen and attempts to use its power to transform back to human form...

All in all Orphen is a fun fantasy adventure brimming with dragons, magic, dwarfs and erm, virgins. Although there’s some fighting, magic doesn’t involve slicing, poking or bludgeoning, so there is no blood spilt. Really only a scary monster and the allusion to some sexual topics (peeping toms and virginity) prevents Orphen from earning a G rating. This is definitely a title that our younger anime fans can enjoy, and provides a little something for everyone; a heavy dose of comedy and the promise of mystery, adventure and even a little romance to come. Despite a relatively small cast, these first three episodes set up interesting character arcs for the majority, and with just enough exposition to get you hooked, I for one am eagerly awaiting the next installment!

  Video
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In terms of the quality of its animation, Orphen is your typical produced-for-television anime fare. A number of cost-cutting techniques have been used throughout – primarily panning and zooming stills – and the level of detail in backgrounds and character animation is lower than you might generally expect; overall it’s comparable to, say, the Sailor Moon series. In general Orphen has a very (intentionally) soft look – possibly to invoke the feeling of a fantasy setting, and while there are splashes of vivid colour, the palette is generally muted and earthy.

The character designs themselves are strong - reportedly Orphen, the strapping young wizard, (looking as he does a mix between Ken from Street Fighter and The Fonz from Happy Days), has been making women drool for a few years now. Hmm... I can’t see it myself, but there you go. The rest of the characters employ a classic anime style, with Orphen’s apprentice Majic, plus sisters Cleao and Mirabelle displaying those large beautiful anime eyes. In contrast, the ‘cute’ dwarfs Volcan and Dortin, who provide much of the comic relief, are rendered in the so-called super-deformed style. Although the level of super-deformation may not be as high as for series' such as Ranma ˝ or Rurouni Kenshin, the capering of this diminutive duo still manages to generate some good laughs.

All in all, although the animation quality is a little reduced over other titles currently released in our region, it is average for animated television series, and certainly does quite a serviceable job.

While Madman has a reputation for their outstanding treatment of anime on DVD, the transfer of volume 1 of the Orphen series is marred by a few small problems. First up, the initial title sequence exhibits noticeable telecine wobble and the blacks display a little low-level noise. Things settle down quickly as the episode continues, and although a small number of film artefacts can be seen now and again, the sharpness of the transfer itself is fine - we’re getting all the detail that the source material has to give us. As noted above, in terms of colour Orphen is rather muted, but when the bright colours appear they are vivid and well rendered.

After the initial problems with noise, the blacks are deep and solid. However, in places where there are large areas of like colour (particularly the backgrounds) noticeable pixelation is common. Although the level of pixelation will not reduce your enjoyment of the material, it is disappointing all the same; the material looking acceptable rather than stunning.

  Audio
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Anime fans can rest easy – accompanying the obligatory English dub is the original Japanese soundtrack, and although the dub is the default audio track, the disc allows you to select Japanese dialogue with English subtitles in one easy hit.

Both the English and Japanese soundtracks are two channel Dolby Digital mixes that sound pretty reasonable through a Prologic decoder. Whilst the mix of each is predominantly forward – with dialogue emanating clearly and distinctly from the centre channel – the surround channel is utilised to carry a portion of the dramatic score; widening the soundstage nicely. Other effects are also routed to the surround channel, including gusts of wind, the ringing of swords, the whoosh and swirl of cast spells, thunder and lighting; and the results are certainly impressive for a television production. Similarly, the subwoofer is regularly called into action, with many an explosion to keep it occupied as well as helping with the score's low end.

The English language aspects of the disc are a mixed bag. The all-important subtitles are easy to read and different colours are used for separate characters if they are talking over each other. However, although I only sampled the English dub in a number of places, it does seem to deviate from the original Japanese plot and dialogue quite markedly! This type of blatant rewrite is really quite disappointing; all the more given ADR's normally great reputation in this area. At least the English voice actors do a fairly reasonable job with the material.

  Extras
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With typically three or four episodes crammed onto a single-layer disc, DVD releases of anime series’ aren’t usually over-endowed with extras, and volume 1 in the Orphen series is no exception. Madman have managed to compile a collection of 14 production sketches that formed the basis for all the major characters and five pop-art posters whose connection to the production is tenuous at best. Accompanying these are the original full-frame Japanese Trailer (1min 27sec) for Sorcerous Stabber Orphen, as well as ADV’s full-frame English Trailer (1min 39sec) for the series release. Under no circumstances watch this second trailer as it contains a collection of the most hideous plot spoilers! The Orphen trailers are accompanied by the obligatory ADV trailers (4min 9sec), this time supplying back-to-back previews of Gasaraki, Martian Successor Nadesico and Neo Genesis Evangelion.

  Overall  
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Providing a little something for everyone, Orphen is a series targeted at a broader range of viewers than your average anime release. With a little comedy, romance, and adventure, there's something here for the whole family to enjoy, and with enough questions left unanswered by these first three episodes, I am certainly looking forward to the continuation of the series.


  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=1517
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      And I quote...
    "Orphen is a fun fantasy adventure brimming with dragons, magic, dwarfs and erm, virgins..."
    - Gavin Turner
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Toshiba SD-2108
    • TV:
          Panasonic TC-68P90A TAU (80cm)
    • Receiver:
          Yamaha RX-V795
    • Amplifier:
          Yamaha RX-V795
    • Speakers:
          B&W 602
    • Centre Speaker:
          B&W CC6 S2
    • Surrounds:
          JM Lab Cobalt SR20
    • Subwoofer:
          B&W ASW-500
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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