By Yoshinobu Akita and Yuuya Kusaka. Released in Japan by TO Books. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Andrew Hodgson.
Most of the time, when reviewing books this old (Fujimi Fantasia Bunko put out the first volume in May 1994), I have to remind myself not to think of things that may have been newer or fresher as hopelessly cliched. I had less of an issue here, though, possibly as Orphen is such an old-school fantasy it actually feels slightly fresher these days. The tropes are taken mostly from a) fantasy BOOKS, and b) your typical comedic anime cast. This means that the usual RPG nattering is entirely absent, and no one mentions hit points at all. It’s a very direct and straightforward book. Unfortunately, there is one thing the creator does that does still resonate here in 2018: the book starts to grate when it’s being “funny”. There is overly plucky girl, put-upon nerd, and above all, obnoxious, angry and “lovable coward” guy, all of whom made my teeth grate a bit as I read the book, though the first two not nearly as much as the third. But setting that aside, this was a good, solid debut volume.
As you may imagine, Orphen is our hero, though it’s a name he took on when leaving the fancy school of magic in protest, saying he’s an orphan now. (Magic is his specialty, but spelling is apparently not.) Five years earlier, he watched in horror as his mentor turned into a horrible monster, and the magic users vowed to destroy her rather than try to return her to normal. Now he roams the land looking for her. Unfortunately, currently he’s dealing with two dwarf brothers who owe him money and are very bad about finding “schemes” to pay it back, which include things like “pretend to be a merchant and marry the local rich lady’s daughter”. This ends up being fortuitous, though, as the rich family is also the home to endless ancient artifacts, one of which is desired by both the sorcerers who are still hunting the “monster” down, and the monster herself, still presumably looking for a cure.
I’m going to get this out of the way right off the bat: Volkan, one of the two dwarfs, almost caused me to stop reading this book entirely. He is very loud, very annoying, abuses his brother in what is supposed to be a funny way, is not particularly bright, and is also a coward. Now, this is deliberate. He’s meant to be annoying, and well done! But he’s meant to be annoying in a “look at this funny annoying guy!” way, and that did not happen for me. I want him to fall in a pit. Dortin, who has comedy “manga nerd” glasses and spends most of the book whining about his brother’s abuse but not saying it out loud for fear of provoking more abuse, and Claiomh, the younger sister in the rich family and (I suspect) future love interest of Orphen, who is bright and impulsive and very much a “bratty younger sister” sort, are far more tolerable. But the reason to read the book is the main plot, which deals with Orphen’s tormented relationship with Azalie, his mentor and crush, which is both admirable and frustrating, and causes him to make some teeth-grinding decisions that turn out to pay off in a well-written ending.
I’m not sure I’m going to continue with this – Volkan was THAT annoying, my friends – but for those looking for a nice old-school fantasy light novel, Orphen would be a very nice choice.