What’s it about? Five years ago, a young sorcerer-in-training watched his sister transform into a dragon. This once-promising student dropped out of his training and now goes by the name Orphen. He lives a dishonest life, making money with his magic here and there when he can and scamming others out of their cash when he can’t. While trying to track down his sister, he finds a surprising lead during, of all things, a marriage fraud grift.
I really, really want to support these ‘90s revival shows because it gives me hope that some of my favorite manga series of the era will get adaptations, either for the first time or improving on a subpar one. But this one? I’m not sure it’s for me.
Sorcerous Stabber Orphen definitely has a distinct ‘90s charm. It retains a lot of the art style, updated in small ways (remember when megane/glasses characters had opaque lenses?) with smoother, more fluid animation and, for the most part, brighter colors, though it still has some of the dusty grey-browns associated with the era.
It’s not just the look, though. There’s something about the pacing and writing that’s much more reminiscent of a bygone era of cel animation and 26-episode runs. It’s hard to pin down exactly what it is that makes things that way.
Perhaps it’s in the setting—a semi-modern, semi-medieval fantasy world that has nary a trace of video game abstractions, since MMORPGs barely existed back then. Maybe it’s Orphen’s penchant for red headbands and fingerless gloves. Maybe’s it’s the naming conventions, which often resemble keyboard smashes with some vowels tossed in to make them into words.
The thing is, I never watched Orphen back in the ‘90s, so my nostalgia extends pretty much entirely to its aesthetic and abstract elements. Nostalgia is great and all, but if I’m going to commit my ever-shrinking free time to a full season, it has to pull me in way more than this has.
I don’t particularly like Orphen, who as a brusque, semi-goofy semi-jerk with a heart of gold, has a positive army of clones among his contemporaries. He reminds me a lot of a less lecherous version of Outlaw Star’s Gene Starwind, a character I am much more familiar with.
But while Orphen himself is kind of bland, I gotta say I love those girls. I miss ‘90’s anime girls, the kind that drew me to the medium before the moe boom smoothed out all their rough edges. Claiomh (pronounced Cleo—I wasn’t kidding about that keyboard smash thing, though it does seem to be based on a Gaelic term) particularly attracted my attention with an appealing mix of cheerfulness, intelligence, and calculation. She casually reveals to Orphen that her family has seen through his attempt at marriage fraud, so he better hightail it out of there before things go bad at the end of the episode.
If she were the protagonist, I’d be so far in you wouldn’t even be able to see the top of my head. But Orphen himself is just… shrug.
The part that remains most to-be-seen is how the show handles Azalie, Orphen’s draconian older sister. Her transformation isn’t just physical; she is immediately monstrous, raining destruction and chaos down on everything and everyone that comes into contact with her.
She isn’t a classic damsel-in-distress for her brother to rescue because she sure as heck isn’t helpless. I feel like there could be something of real substance there, rich fodder for literary critical analysis about the symbolism and semiotics of transfigured women.
Or it could just be a fetish thing. Who knows.
It’s hard at this point to suss out whether Sorcerous Stabber Orphen is mostly inoffensive, aggressively ‘90s light novel trash, or whether the narrative stands to do something genuinely interesting. The fact that the original series is largely forgotten doesn’t inspire much faith in the latter, so I’m probably going to spend my time elsewhere. But if you’re into the former, well, have fun.