The Spring 2019 Manga Guide
Sorcerous Stabber Orphen
What's It About?Five years ago, a young man watched in horror as his friend Azalie tried to use ancient sorcery and accidentally transformed into a hideous monster. When the school decided to simply bury an empty coffin and write her off as dead so as not to bring shame upon themselves, the boy changed his name to Orphan and set out into the world to find her – and hopefully a way to change her back.
Now a sorcerer for hire (and occasional money-lender), Orphan has his first clue as to Azalie's whereabouts, and if that means that he has to fight his old teacher and team up with a couple of annoying dwarves and a rich girl who may not be as useless as he assumes, then that's what he's going to do!
Sorcerous Stabber Orphen: Heed My Call, Beast is based on a light novel by Yoshinobu Akita and is illustrated by Muraji. The original light novel is available in English from J-Novel Club and there are other anime and manga series based on it as well, with the most recent due to premier this year. This manga was released in May by Seven Seas, and it sells for $12.99 print or $9.99 digital.
Is It Worth Reading?
Despite Sorcerous Stabber Orphan having been around for a long while, this is my first time actually experiencing the franchise. It does feel a little old-fashioned, but not to the degree that you'd sit back and actually think the words out loud – rather it's upon finishing the volume that you realize that it's a style of storytelling and fantasy that isn't quite in vogue anymore. In the current isekai-saturated fantasy market, that may be a point in the series' favor, simply because it hearkens back to a sword-and-sorcery style that is largely devoid of RPG trappings.
Not that that's all that the book has going for it. The central plot point, that Orphan threw away everything in the pursuit of an impossible quest to save his childhood friend Azalie, is a compelling one, all the more so as the book goes on and we have to wonder if maybe Azalie's “blunder” wasn't something facilitated by the school itself, if not Azalie's mentor. Was Azalie thrown under the bus in pursuit of some dangerous research that none of the teachers/leaders wanted to risk themselves on? By the time they show up demanding a sword from a wealthy family, that's not feeling like a far-fetched theory.
The characters and magic systems used are fairly straightforward. The most obnoxious players in the game are by far the two dwarf brothers, who I honestly thought were just annoying kids at first, probably because they don't have any of the traditional “fantasy dwarf” trappings, like beards and a taste for ale. The main female character, Claionh, is interesting in that she's definitely not who she appears to be on almost any level. She could easily have been a damsel in distress figure or an overpowered too-overt attempt at writing a “strong female character,” but instead she seems like someone who has different skills, personality traits, and thoughts than any one person might assume. (You know, like a regular character.) At this point we don't know a whole lot about anyone, Orphan included, but there are enough seeds sown that this further development feels very plausible.
Basically Sorcerous Stabber Orphan: Beast, Heed My Call's first volume feels like the start of a good old-fashioned fantasy adventure. It has a decent mix of characters, plot elements, and a sense of humor, so if that's what you look for in a manga, this seems like a safe bet.
Sorcerous Stabber Orphen is kind of baffling. Perhaps due to the laziness of the overall writing, what should be trite instead reads as oddly parodical. If nothing else, it's extremely inconsistent.
Orphen at least has a surprising amount of personality. The problem is that personality is channeled into constant jokes about, like hitting people and a general snarky, above-it-all attitude that really grates. It also constantly jumps between plot elements without it ever feeling narratively earned (sometimes it's a manga about conspiracy and secret, evil magics, at others it's about futzing around to scam rich people, and none of this feels organic). In other words, it's severely tonally dissonant. Though the premise is serious and based in the pain of our lead (with him trying to turn his friend back into a human after she turns into herself into some kind of monster using forbidden magic), this is constantly undercut by jokes that don't emerge naturally from the situations, but instead actively work to undermine the drama (jokes that mostly boil down to our characters screaming at each other, calling each other names). This is best evidenced at the end of the volume with two masked thieves—one of whom is a severe, intense antagonistic force who exists in opposition to our lead (the most powerful wizard in the world who Orphen has a sort-of rivalry with), and the other who is just a joke, calling himself the ‘Black Tiger’ for no apparent reason. I don't know if this manga wants me to care about these characters or this world, or if it wants me to view it as an absurd riff on fantasy tropes.
Orphen is also just bad at establishing its core worldbuilding and character details. The fact that our main character is a loan shark is a potentially fun idea that isn't depicted in any depth. The state, the order and systems of the world are barely clarified at all, which is a little surprising for this kind of fantasy manga, where it's typically, like, half the appeal. As such, the story comes off as half-formed; though the premise is clear, the execution makes the writing feel almost unfinished.
Sorcerous Stabber Orphan is an messy grab-bag of contradictory things that don't work. At least the localization is really good, because without that I'm not sure how I would have made it through.
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