Orphen Revenge

June 26, 2005 on 1:29 am | In Orphen, Revenge | Comments Off on Orphen Revenge

Orphen Revenge should come with a warning: do not judge based on first two episodes. These two first episodes are so under-animated and under-thought that it is hard to believe that they made their way in. With only 23 episodes at its disposal, Orphen Revenge can barely afford that, yet it picks up steam and becomes the sort of thing I love in anime.

Sometime after the first series, Orphen, Majic and Cleao are travelling the countryside. A young girl, Lycoris, is also following them; after the bizarre hot springs conspiracy of the first two episodes, Lycoris reveals that she is scouting for the Royal Public Order of Knighthood. Or something: that’s not important. What is important is that monsters are attacking Orphen all over the place and a mysterious red haired woman is following the group on the road.

Giving Orphen Revenge a few episodes to find its feet is a good idea. J.C. Staff has a tendency of making their final run of episodes super ultra great. Cases in point are Excel Saga (the last five episodes, wherein there is actually a plot, were vastly more watchable than the rest) and Trigun. The revelations on hand aren’t exactly surprises: watching the OP and ED give good clues to connections, which makes for a fun miniature mystery.

The thing that it takes some time to realise is that this series is not really about Orphen. The first series, with its primary Azalie storyline, was completely about the rebel sorcerer in leather; Revenge is (eventually) about Lycoris and Cleao, and then about Majic’s attitude towards his craft. In the meantime, Orphen acts like a bit of a bastard (no longer burdened by his tortured past) and needlessly violent towards Volcan and Dortin.

The trick is that I love Volcan and Dortin; a good many people hate them. Volcan and Dortin play a tiny part in the series; nothing like in the first wherein they saved the day. Their little segments of joy are bright patches across the episodes, with only one of the early ones devoted to them in any way. What sells them to me is Kazue Ikura. After spending a lot of this last year falling in love with City Hunter, coming back and hearing Kaori in the guise of a troll (or whatever the hell Volcan and Dortin are supposed to be) is some sort of divine. Volcan’s insane death threats were always my favourite part of Orphen and they are back in full force. Likewise, Hekiru Shiina remains the perfect foil.

The rest of the cast returned, with Koyasu Takehito even taking up the reins of Flame Soul, the least imaginatively designed younger brother in anime history. Iizuka Mayumi sounds a bit stretched as Cleao until she gets back into the role after about four episodes; Minami Omi as Majic still sounds like a girl and just manages to get away with it (Minami suffers from having been absolutely definitive as Hoshino Ruri in Nadesico, which hurts her other work). Kawakami Tomoko provides her normal impossibly squeaky young girl voice as Lycoris, no real complaint there.

Yet there is another: Hayashibara Megumi as Esperanza. Esperanza is never going to be one of Hayashibara’s signature roles, as few people are likely to even remember Orphen Revenge, let alone her red haired mystery woman. Yet this is some of her finest work that I have seen. Soft spoken in the earlier episodes that she is in, her understatement of the character is beautifully enigmatic. Then, in the late teens she just starts kicking it out and I damn near cried at the power of her performance. Esperanza is Revenge’s greatest triumph, and I recommend her on the strength of that.

The production values are not that much different to those of the first series, with the obvious and inevitable exception of the first two damnable episodes. The only long term aesthetic change is the fact that the Deep Dragon Leki (actually a wolf cub god thing) has been downgraded to a little blue wolf shaped blob.
The upgrade of the series is undoubtedly in the music. The OP and ED of Orphen were marvellous bits of rock and balladic pop, but the BGM was almost invariably god-awful MIDI synth junk. The eyecatch? Don’t even get me started on the eyecatch! This time around, the BGM is inoffensive and there is one marvellous haunting theme, that of Esperanza (generally accompanying her playing piano on clifftop).

Orphen Revenge is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination; one of my friends gave it up after the first two episodes. Yet I stuck through to the end and was more than pleasantly rewarded. For fans of the first season, this is not a no-brainer; I can make no guarantees. Yet, at heart, this is a quintessential JC Staff production worthy of my time, at least.

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