Does anyone else remember when a fantasy anime did not also have the tag isakai? Back in the day when must watch fantasy anime were series like Berserk, Slayers, Twelve Kingdoms and there was only the occasional isakai show with shows like Fushigi Yuugi and Escaflowne. There is one fantasy anime from the early 2000s that has everything a good fantasy story needs, swords, sorcery and of course dragons. That series is Sorcerous Stabber Orphan. Now I must confess I was really surprised when I found out not many people remember this anime, especially here in Australia because back when we first got the Adult Swim anime block it was one of the shows on there alongside Cowboy Bebop and Initial D.
From Studio J.C. Staff and released in Japan in the late 90s with the English dub airing on Adult Swim in the early 2000s for western audiences Sorcerous Stabber Orphen is a 24 episode fantasy series that had a follow-up season titled Sorcerous Stabber Orphen Revenge which even though it has the darker title is a lot more light-hearted than the first season which is the subject of this review. A lot of fans such of myself of the first season really do not enjoy the second season because of how silly it can get compared to the first.
The first season tells the story of Orphen a former student of the most powerful and prestigious school of dark magic in the land, the Tower of Fang who is on a journey to find the mysterious dragon known as The Bloody August. Alongside his traveling companions Cleao and Majic they search for the dragon who it turns out used to be a beautiful woman that was the only family Orphen has ever known. Orphen wants to save his friend, but the Tower of Fang wants the beast destroyed as it is a blemish on their record. Will Orphen find a way to save his friend or is this journey too much for even him to handle.
The first season’s story draws you in right from the start with the mystery surrounding the Bloody August and though after the opening two episodes the next few episodes are there for world building and to help the audience get acquainted with the cast of characters it is the second half of the series where the story of this series really shines. I want to keep this as spoiler free as possible but if you are a fan of tragic love stories you are really going to enjoy the second half of the series when the drama reaching a heart-wrenching pinnacle that will have you on the edge of your seat with a conclusion to the main story that is a happy ending of sorts that is tragic and beautiful all wrapped into one.
One of the biggest draws of this series is the amazing world building throughout. Yes, the main characters are on a journey in search for the Bloody August but along the way, they meet some pretty cool and scary characters and monsters. All the main cast are pretty cool. Orphen at first comes across as the cliche brooding hero type but as the story moves forward you see growth in him as he learns to let others help him. Majic comes across as such a sweet and almost innocent teenage boy, but then certain incidents happen that make you remember ‘he is a teenage boy’ and the sweet boy turns out to be quite the ladies man throughout the series. Cleao was my least favorite character at the beginning of the series. She starts out as a brash and loud tsundere type character but even she gets some really awesome growth throughout the series. There is also a pair of short brothers who serve as comedic relief for the series named Volkan and Dortin. Volkan’s ego is his own worst enemy and throughout the series, I could not help but feel sorry for his brother Dortin having to put up with his brother’s antics.
While on the subject of characters within the series there is a side character I think is really worth mentioning. Stephanie is an old traveling buddy of Orphen’s who helps the heroes near the beginning of their journey. She is a very intelligent and beautiful woman and this will count as a small spoiler but at the end of the arc she is introduced in it is revealed by Orphen to his traveling companions that Stephanie used to be a sorcerer named Stephan when they were traveling together. Stephan used their magic to become Stephanie and as such was the first transgender character I ever saw in an anime and I love how nonchalant Orphen treats this fact about his friend, whether they are Stephan or Stephanie they are still his friend. I do not know about you guys but if this does not count as a positive representation of an LGBTQ+ character in a 90s anime I do not know what does.
For a 90s anime, I think this series has aged well… as long as you do not watch the sequel. That series did not age as well as the first. I know I am harping on the sequel series a lot in this review but there is a very obvious drop in quality between the first and second series it just really felt very phoned in and the truth is even though I am a fan of the series I have never finished the second season. I find myself wondering if the second season is the reason why people don’t remember how good the first season is, but if I was to go by that logic then that would mean all those Disney sequels destroy the legacy that came before them and that is just not true. It just seems Orphen has become an anime lost to time for a lot of people which is really sad because those who give the first season at least a chance are not usually disappointed.
The series came back on my radar just a couple of months ago due to the announcement of a new adaptation of the light novel that the series this series is based upon. I try really hard not to get overhyped for new shows, especially when they are a new adaptation or long-awaited sequel to an old show, but with this one well. I’m just hoping it won’t be as bad as Orphen Revenge, I mean it can’t be right? (please do not let these be my famous last words for this series I really want the new anime to be good)