Sorcerous Stabber Orphen – Anime Preview
Synopsis: From Studio DEEN (Fate/stay night) comes a remake celebrating the 25th anniversary of the series! Orphen is a powerful sorcerer who is notoriously lazy. Everything changes when he finds a way to save his sis, who was turned into a dragon during their days at magic academy. Betrayed by friends who refused to help, Orphen will stop at nothing to track her down, even if he has to go it alone. (Official Funimation Synopsis)
1st Episode Review (Warning: Minor Spoilers to Follow):
Tom: Sorcerous Stabber Orphen isn’t a new property. It’s a franchise that’s existed since the mid 90s. It began as a series of Light Novels, spanning twenty volumes in its main run alone, plus several spin offs. In the late 90s Orphen got an anime adaptation that significantly adjusted various events and characters. Personally I loved the Orphen anime as a kid. But once I learned this new adaptation was something potentially more faithful to the original novels, Orphen 2020 quickly became my most anticipated Winter anime. Unfortunately no matter how faithful Orphen 2020 might be, this adaptation is a downright mess.
Linny: As someone completely new to the franchise, this new iteration does a poor job of introducing and warming up the cast and characters to the audience. Character introductions are often limited to flashing, blink and you’ll miss it, name plates above their heads. The series opens with the tragic scene of Orphen watching his sister transformed into a dragon, but by tossing viewers right into the middle of the scene, the emotional weight of this tragedy fails to hit its mark. Heck, if it weren’t for the synopsis, I wouldn’t have realized Azalie, the girl transformed into a dragon, was even his sister, as Orphen keeps addressing her by name instead of a sibling honorific. The episode itself offers nothing to cement or explain them as being related to each other. We then rush ahead, jumping five years into the future, offering up introductory scenes meant to suck us into the story, but suffering from dialogue that contains little characterization or personality. Orphen himself feels bare bones, with our knowledge of the type of person he is limited to the tragedy with Azalie and that he is now a broke, no good, low life struggling to pay off his tab at the local inn. He’s otherwise the series’ ‘straight man’ left to overreact to the comedic characters and their crazy shenanigans. The only other characters who stand out so far, such as the two dwarf brothers who owe Orphen money, exist primarily as comic relief, struggling to leave a more worthwhile impression.
Tom: That lack of characterization likely stems from Orphen 2020’s efforts to cram in as many of the Light Novels as possible. Crucial, character building scenes have been skipped over, or reworked, in order to cover as much narrative ground as possible, leaving Orphen 2020 this roller-coaster ride of drama, comedy, drama, comedy without an opportunity to set the overall tone of the story, and allow its characters to breath. It’s to the point where the material borders on nonsensical to the uninitiated.
Linny: It doesn’t help that the comedy offered feels dated and cliche. There’s nothing unique about the delivery or execution. In this era where there are a million and one stories fantasy light novel series that offer up similar mixes of comedy and drama, it makes Orphen’s humour feel all the more unoriginal. I would be willing to defend or excuse Orphen’s tired jokes as the curse of remaking older properties but it’s not just that. The lack of characterization and flavour is what really compounds the issue, as without likeable or charismatic cast members, most jokes are bound to fall flat.
Tom: Orphen 2020 also forces in action where it wasn’t. We open the first episode much as the Light Novel did, watching alongside Orphen as his beloved sister, Azalie, is turned into a horrific dragon. Not content to let us wallow in the horror, Orphen 2020 throws in some magic-based combat as Tower of Fang mages attack the transformed Azalie, allowing Orphen to interrupt their attack with his own, superior, magic abilities. It’s tonally damaging to the opening sequence, putting Orphen’s badassery before the trauma of the event. It’s in line with modern anime’s obsession with power fantasy over drama. It’s then further compounded by the end of the episode, where this scene is copied near exact, as a present day Orphen saves Azalie’s dragon self from another attack by fellow mages. It’s likely a directorial choice meant to bookend the episode, but events play out exactly the same, making it instead feel lazy and repetitive. Maybe it would mean something if we’d spent enough time with Orphen to get a sense of how much Azalie means to him, but as Linny pointed out the connection between Orphen and his sister is so poorly realized that the audience is completely disconnected from the events on screen. Another compounding element is the choice of background music throughout the episode. Certain sequences suffer from musical queues that pop up out of the blue, or fail to sell the dramatic action on screen. Background music is immensely important to any series, helping to carry emotion across to the audience, making poignant scenes hit home or allowing comedy to land a solid punch to the funny bone. But the music here fails to compliment, instead actively pulling you out of the anime simply due to how ill-suited any of it is.
Linny: It doesn’t help that Orphen 2020’s animation isn’t of a consistent quality. Visuals suffer with character movement looking stilted and awkward at times, making for unintentionally comedic moments, such as when a character is shown riding a horse in what’s supposed to be a moment of urgency but all I could notice instead was how uncomfortable he looked on the horse. These aren’t show ruining but seeing as how there’s so many other factors already working against this new adaptation, it does not help matters. Unless you’re someone who prefers fast paced action and dialogue that is more focused on plot advancement that putting any effort into character and tone establishment, this latest adaptation is likely to leave you uninterested and unimpressed. If you’re a newcomer to Scorcerous Stabber Orphen like me, I might even recommend checking out the original 1998 anime instead. What little I saw it of it I much preferred.
Tom: Despite how many changes the original 1998 anime made, it still feels like the better series. Even just rewatching the first five minutes we found it managed to establish tone, character and ease the audience into things in a much more natural and engaging way. We actively wanted to watch more, because we were getting sucked in. Orphen 2020 may, theoretically be more faithful, but in its desire to rush and cram as many of these Light Novels as it can in, it’s done a huge disservice to the material and actively made it far less interesting to watch. If you’re curious about the franchise I’d say either return to the 1998 anime (available via HIDIVE) or give the Light Novels a go, they’re on Amazon. But otherwise Orphen 2020 is shaping itself as the worst way possible to experience the franchise.
Sorcerous Stabber Orphen is available for streaming via Funimation.