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ADV Films presents
Orphen #1: Spell Of The Dragon (2001)

"I've waited a year for you! No, for the five years since I left the Tower, I've SEARCHED for you. Azalie!"
- Orphen (Shotaro Morikubo)

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: June 22, 2001

Stars: Shotaro Morikubo, Mayumi Iizuka, Oumi Minami
Other Stars: Kazue Ikura, Hekiru Shina
Director: Masahiro Aizawa

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild violence, occult imagery)
Run Time: 01h:06m:00s
Release Date: March 20, 2001
UPC: 702727011924
Genre: anime

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B-AA- B-

DVD Review

Based on the Japanese manga Sorcerous Stabber Orphen, ADV's release of the Orphen anime marks a predictable turn of events. I say predictable, because the subsequent video game based on the series was among the first batch of titles released for Sony's Playstation 2 console. It would seem a very ideal time to release the anime, what with the new found press Orphen is receiving. This is also good news for the series which, until the release of the game, most people hadn't heard of. Fantasy fans should enjoy this simplistic, but well-orchestrated bit of magic and mayhem.

Set in a non-descript, medieval kingdom, young sorcerer Orphen finds himself teaching a young apprentice and taking things pretty easy. Although he's told everyone he's a member of a prestigious group of wizards from Fang Tower, his reasons for leaving that sect remain a secret. He and his apprentice often keep watch over a local manor where a young girl named Cleo now lives, having recently arrived back in this part of the landscape. When she sees Orphen, she assumes he's some sort of peeping tom, and we have no reason to assume otherwise. As it turns out, though, Orphen has been keeping an eye on this family, and he's being helped by two young friends who've gotten jobs as cooks inside the manor.

When a bizarre demon known as Bloody August makes its appearance, the reason for Orphen's activity becomes clear: this wealthy family holds in their possession a mystical sword that dark forces seek to control and Orphen has been looking after it. The sword, however, is also capable of destroying Bloody August and other evils. Unfortunately, despite his power, Orphen does not wish to kill August, but wants to 'heal' it (whatever that means). No one around Orphen quite understand his motivations, but they are invited to join him in a quest to locate this mysterious Bloody August (also known as Azalie). The other sorcerers at the Tower, however, have other goals in mind. They will seek to delay Orphen's quest and keep him from reaching Azalie.

As it may already be apparent, Orphen isn't terribly original; this isn't that bad, though, since the story is told generally pretty well. It's got moments of good humor, and moments of intensity, both evenly used to create a distinct atmosphere. It's all very entertaining, but the lack of originality is a little exasperating. The writing is fairly bland and, despite some good characters, you feel like the chassis for your average fantasy novel has just been re-painted with a new design.

Like any decent adventure story, however, it does suck you in and once you've seen these 3 episodes, you really want to experience more of the story. I know I did. For all of its faults, Orphen paces itself in a way I've never really seen an anime series do. It moves quickly enough to stay exciting, and whenever some action sequence shows up, it's handled with a level of major intensity and power. It's nice to see a show about a sorcerer where he really uses his powers a lot and is adept at combat. I'm sure some would argue that there's better fantasy anime than Orphen, but by the same token, Orphen isn't bad. It fits in well with other titles, but doesn't do much to make itself standout.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Despite having been made in 1999, Orphen looks much older. Not as the result of a bad transfer, mind you, but it uses very old-fashioned cel techniques which result in some examples of heavy grains and texturing in backgrounds. This is, of course, part of the source and the transfer itself is virtually perfect. Outstandingly sharp and clear, colors stand out brilliantly, and black level is extremely sharp. You can see brushstrokes in some backgrounds, the details are so fine. While the source technique definitely looks like something produced in the 1980s (I was reminded of Ralph Bakshi's work), the actual image quality is up to the standards I'm getting used to with ADV.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Japaneseyes

Audio Transfer Review: Both English and Japanese audio are in Dolby Pro-Logic 2.0 Surround format. The audio is generally impressive and presents a wide soundstage. Most sound effects go through all 3 front channels and really pack quite a punch. While there isn't a whole lot of directionality, most scenes use the audio as well as possible. The surround channels carry some good material, mainly ambient sound (thunder is a good example) and serve to enhance the music. The score, while a bit odd to me (jazz doesn't seem to fit in a fantasy program), comes out very well and very immersive. This one of those pleasant mixes that you can crank up and not be blown away, but rather 'dipped' into the sound mix very comfortably.

The English dub is nothing notable; it isn't horrible and it isn't terrific. However, it's quite literally unlistenable because so much of the dialogue has been heavily altered from the meaning and tone of the Japanese. I'm not really a fan of English dubs re-doing a lot of dialogue, but crucial story points are actually significantly changed in the dub, so that the motivations of the characters aren't as clear as they are in the subtitled version.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring Farscape, Shadow Raiders, Samurai X, Spriggan, Arc The Lad, Sin
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Textless opening and closing footage.
  2. Promotional art reel.
Extras Review: Presented in a separate section of the disc, are textless versions of the opening and closing credits, which seems to have become a big deal with many anime fans, so it's nice to see it being implemented. There is also a reel of artwork, both conceptual and promotional in nature. Unfortunately, the artwork runs on its own and can't really be manipulated. The usual batch of trailers is there as well.
Presentation-wise, the package gets some high marks for some really stylish artwork and menus. Of course, the cover art is vaguely similar to the cover for the Orphen video game, with the same font. I hope people don't confuse the two (given that they're both in DVD-style cases).

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

I'm beginning to think ADV really ought to start making their anime series volumes a little thicker, as the 2 or 3 episode per-disc format is getting a bit frustrating. They do a good job, certainly, but I can't imagine even hardcore anime fanatics being able to afford all the great stuff they publish. That aside, Orphen is fun and entertaining, although simplistic. I can't really recommend a purchase, but for rental, it's a sure-fire thumbs up.


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