Reviewby Mike Crandol,
DVD 4: Mystere
Orphen has wandered the land for some time now, but found no leads to transforming the dragon Azalie back into a human. Eventually he decides to return to the Tower of Fang, the school of magic from which he was outcast, in the hopes that a clue will be found in it's ancient library. Up against Orphen and his friends are the malevolent young sorcerer Flameheart, placed in charge of stopping Orphen and destroying Azalie, as well as Orphen's old master Childman. And then there's the mysterious Black Tiger....who simply has to be seen to be believed.
Distributor ADV Films generously ups the number of episodes from 3 to 5 in the latest installment of "Orphen", taking us a little over halfway into the fantasy adventure's first season. In spite of this there is remarkably little in the way of advancing the overall plot, and while there are shards of character development along the way most of "Mystere" is regrettably filler. As the story meanders the series' engaging premise begins to lose it's hold on the audience, and personally this reviewer would be tempted to abandon it were it not for the fact that things must pick up in the next volume, else "Orphen" runs out of time to finish it's tale.
The first episode sees the conclusion of the Golem arc begun in the previous volume. Orphen's old comrade Stephanie teaches Cleao some pointers on becoming a useful ally for the renegade sorcerer, which she puts to use in the episode's climatic duel but seems to have forgetten by the following installment. Her pet Leki, the supernatural wolf cub, takes center stage in an uneventful but surprisingly amusing episode entitled "Leki's Big Adventure", which seems to be inspired in part by Lassie. Later episodes begin to reveal more of the character of Childman, Orphen and Azalie's stoic former mentor, who may not be as bad as Orphen seems to think.
The real star of "Mystere", despite appearing in only one episode, is the enigmatic Black Tiger. "Orphen" is a show that seems to delight in giving us genuinely interesting guest stars, then taking them away and saddling us with the more uninteresting main characters. The previous volume teased it's audience with fleeting flashbacks of the compelling human version of Azalie, and this time around it treats us to an all-to-brief appearance by the superheroic Specter of Death and Big-Time Klutz, the menacing-looking but wimpy Black Tiger. This spoof of "serious" masked avengers will be familiar to Western viewers (think Darkwing Duck or Zorro, the Gay Blade), but the Black Tiger still manages to be hilarious because for the first part of the episode he is treated grimly serious. His face entirely masked in black, carrying a huge scythe and astride an immense, demonic bull, only his little yellow bow-tie gives any hint that this is not a deadly ruthless new threat to Orphen and his companions. Standing atop a village rooftop at midnight, he delivers an oration of doom to Majic, and one thinks the young apprentice is in serious trouble....until the roof collapses and the Black Tiger falls through it mid-speech. The "next episode" at the end of the disc hints that we may not have seen the last of the Black Tiger, which is good to know. I can't help but feel that "Orphen" would have been a better show if the main characters were Orphen and the human Azalie, and their arch-nemesis was the one and only Black Tiger.
The small bits of character development for Cleao, Childman, and the character who is revealed to be the secret identity of the Black Tiger must be weighed against some wasted opportunities for more meaningful development of Volcan and Majic. After eating poisonous mushrooms, Orphen's self-appointed pain-in-the-neck Volcan lies on the brink of death. Orphen agrees to search for the antidote as the ailing imp lapses into a state of unconscious ramblings. This would have been the perfect chance for the creators to give some depth to Volcan's selfish and greedy one-note personality. But instead of expressing any remorse for his behavior or even fear of dying, Volcan's delirious "gimme, it's mine!" rants about money are the exact same sort of thing he says when fully awake. After being cured the troll is off without so much as a word of thanks. The last episode on the disc finds Majic trying and failing to advance his skills as a sorcerer when the gang visits a town which holds magicians in high regard. When disaster strikes it is once again entirely up to Orphen to save the day. We are now into the final half of the season run, and Majic has yet to prove himself worthy of his name. Instead of continuing to show the apprentice botching his spells, it would be nice if the series developed him into a capable ally in battle with his master. It is a shame things don't seem to be headed in that direction.
"Orphen" continues to be an all-around average anime in terms of art, music, and animation. There's nothing terribly wrong with the series' artwork....there's just nothing remarkable about it either. The almost-menacing design of the Black Tiger serves the humorous nature of the character nicely, and his grandiose gestures are a fine achievement of comedic timing in animation. On the other hand, the serious character of Flameheart, who is shaping up to be the true villain of the series, is regrettably stuck with a very unmenacing design which resembles Prince Valiant. Episode 14 features new opening and closing themes, which like the originals evoke jazz and j-pop rather than a more medieval sound. While the new opening's animation is an improvement over the first one, the music is not.
Perhaps due to complaints from the fan community, the English dub remains truer to the Japanese intent than in previous "Orphen" releases. Though in true ADV fashion the occasional ad-lib or "Western" statement creeps into the script, overall the same meanings are present in both the English and original Japanese versions. This is welcome news indeed, because "Orphen's" American cast continues to be consistently above-average in the acting department, at least as far as anime dubs are concerned. Again, one must point out the Black Tiger for special mention; Randy Sparks' split-second shifts between ominous and whiny are both convincing and hilarious.
Once again "Orphen" proves just interesting enough to keep you coming back for more. ADV possibly sensed the show's flagging pace at this point in the story, deciding to increase the number of episodes per disc to 5. The high episode count and the promise of more exciting things to come makes "Mystere" a worthwhile purchase if you've been following Orphen's adventures thus far. With the first season set to round at 6 volumes, "Orphen" is a bargain these days as distributors seem intent on stretching series' out as thin as possible.
+ The Black Tiger!
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