The first images in Sorcerous Stabber Orphen are of a map and a beautiful young man with a gold ring that looks just like the ring in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies, right down to the inscription. This manga wears its high fantasy influences on its sleeve. Given that, it’s a little surprising how urban Sorcerous Stabber Orphen is. Nobody here learns magic by cavorting with the Fairy Queen.
Orphen, the rogue sorcerer of the title, is a magic school dropout: think Harry Potter as a bad boy. Just when you think Orphen is developing into a Naruto-style “outsider saves the village” fantasy, the plot gets the first of many cases of mood whiplash and turns into a screwball comedy about taking a rich woman’s money through “marriage fraud.” That sounds like a Japanese phrase being translated too literally. “Conning her” would be a little more direct. But the rich woman turns out to be more than she seems, being both an expert swordswoman and the owner of a sword that may be the key to curing the curse on Orphen’s friend/foster sister/crush/mentor Azalie.
The nature of the Azalie’s curse is by far the most interesting plot point in the manga so far. Instead of the damsel in distress being kidnapped by a dragon, the damsel is the dragon! The visual design of Azalie’s dragon form is a perfect example of what’s right and wrong with the manga’s art. It’s well drawn, it’s scary as hell, and it’s copied from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. A lot of the visuals scream unimaginative competence. The magical combat is frenetic enough to grab the reader’s eye, but, as often happens in comics, a power that’s supposed to a mysterious fundamental force in the universe is represented mostly by boring “Zap” bolts. There’s nothing wrong with portraying magic that way, but magic that can turn a young woman into a dragon ought to do something at least as visually interesting as, say, any random character’s fighting style in One Piece.
Negatives aside, the many references to a “continent” and unexplained details like the villain who dresses as a Batman-style superhero suggest that the manga is playing a long game, setting up a story that will pay off in later volumes. At the very least, we ought to find out what a Batman LARPer is doing in this dinner-theater Tolkein setting. By the end of Volume 1, Orphen, Azalie, and the other heroes have had their first battle, and their rivals Black Tiger (or Shrimp Man, as he’s jokingly called) and Childman are introduced. There’s plenty of conflict set up for Volume 2, especially since Orphen’s allies still can’t understand why Orphen keeps insisting that a dragon is “not a monster!”
A hero being forced to fight a friend is bedrock manga plotting and the perfect lure to keep readers invested. The problem with the “I don’t want to fight my friend” plot is that the friendship has to be built very carefully lest the protagonist come off as a fool. The reader has to feel the heartbreak. If the upcoming volumes can pull the heartstrings just a little harder, Sorcerous Stabber Orphen may go from good to great.
publisher: Seven Seas Entertainment
story: Yoshinobu Akita