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Anime on DVD Recommends: Escaflowne
A world is dying...Torn apart by a colossal war, the planet of Gaea is in turmoil. Civilizations have been wiped out, and more are ready to fall. But a girl could change all that. An ordinary girl, Hitomi finds herself suddenly transported to the mysterious planet Gaea, where the Earth hangs in the night sky. A planet filled with magic, strange technology, and legendary armor. She doesn't know it yet, but her special abilities could be the key to saving the entire planet.
Thus goes the official introduction to Escaflowne (also known as The Vision of Escaflowne
and Tenkuu no Escaflowne
) on the back of the first North American DVD. It's not such a bad introduction, really. There's only one problem it leaves out pretty much everything that made the series truly lovable and unique.Many anime series have been based on the "girls and boys transported to another world" premise. With minimal changes, the above description could be used for Fushigi Yuugi, El Hazard, or Magic Knight Rayearth. Escaflowne certainly wasn't the first anime series to use this basic plotline. It just happens to be the best.So what makes Escaflowne so special? Ask fifty fans, and you'll receive fifty different answers. And that, in a nutshell, is what makes it great. Escaflowne has something for everyone. Action, drama, suspense, mystery, romance, historical figures, mythological references, mecha, catgirls, fortune-telling, nuclear weaponry... Just about the only thing you won't
find in the show is gratuitous fanservice. The creators had too much respect for the story and themselves to waste time with unnecessary jiggling.Escaflowne's primary strength lies in its characters. The cast is large, but almost everyone is memorable and well-developed. Even the stereotyped characters hyperactive catgirl, moody youth, tragic pretty boy, maniacal bad guy have personality quirks that make them different from the norm. Escaflowne's characters can be charming, frustrating, lovable, irritating, admirable, pathetic... But they are never
boring. Thank goodness for that, because the series focuses more on the relationships between the characters than it does the war discussed in the DVD description. Even the greatest battles are really just tools for further character development. And what development there is! The path from point A to point B is never a straight line on Gaea, and the distance traveled is far. In the end, very few characters turn out to be who you thought they were. Everyone
has secrets.Though the characters are the focus of the show, the plotline is certainly not neglected. The story of Escaflowne has more twists and turns than a convulsing snake. The basic plot, as the DVD description states, concerns Hitomi Kanzaki, a typical Japanese schoolgirl who is drawn into the war on Gaea. But there's much more to it than that. At almost every point in the series, there are multiple subplots going on at once. Unfortunately and this is probably why
that DVD description is so vague it's just not possible to go into great detail about the show's various storylines without giving away massive spoilers. Each episode builds upon the one before it, resulting in a dense and complex tapestry of questions and answers. Where did Hitomi's pendant come from? Why does Van have wings? Why is Folken working for Zaibach? What happened to Allen's father? While we're at it, what happened to Allen's sister?
Will Dilandau ever be able to achieve his dream of making a Van flambé? Escaflowne's story is difficult to describe, but rest assured that it is woven with style. Even if one plotline fails to interest you, there will be plenty of others that appeal.Somewhat easier to describe than the plot is the production quality. With a story developed by Shoji Kawamori (Macross, Macross Plus, Earth Girl Arjuna) and character designs by Nobuteru Yuuki (Record of Lodoss War, Gunnm, X), Escaflowne certainly got off to a good start. Kazuki Akane's direction didn't fail to follow through. When the originally-planned 39 episodes were cut to 26, no one seems to have skipped a beat. Rather than leaving anything out of the story, the timeline was merely condensed, resulting in a series with little to no filler material and an almost unbearable tendency to end episodes on a cliffhanger. The animation quality is consistently excellent so much so that it could easily be mistaken for an OAV rather than a television series. The CG is integrated well, especially considering that the show was made in 1996, well before many well-known CG anime disasters, such as Nazca.The Japanese voice cast is top-notch. Maaya Sakamoto, Tomokazu Seki, Shinichirou Miki, and Ikue Ohtani positively shine. The true queen of the Escaflowne seiyuu, though, is Minami Takayama, who played Dilandau with a such a devilishly maniacal tone that her voice has on more than one occasion caused household pets and small children to hide in fear. With this kind of performance to live up to, it should come as no surprise that many fans hold the English dub to be inferior. However, it is certainly nothing to sneeze at, either. Many of the English performances, particularly Paul Dobson as Folken and Kirby Morrow as Van, are quite good.Of course, no review of Escaflowne would be complete without mention of its amazing music score. Yoko Kanno and Hajime Mizoguchi, who have worked together on a number of high-profile anime series, including Cowboy Bebop and Macross Plus, are at their best here. The Escaflowne soundtrack, performed by the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra and L'Orchestra Dell'unione Musicisti Di Roma, ranges from music-box melodies to epic battle scores and back again. And let's not forget the Gregorian monks. You'll never be able to listen to Carmina Burana's "O Fortuna" again without thinking of mecha, but that's OK, because Yoko Kanno kicks Carl Orff's bum.
Bandai's eight-disc release of the series on DVD is a must-have for any serious anime collector. Though the cover designs are not the best that Bandai has ever produced, the DVD content is dead on target. There are a few rainbow and line noise problems (how severe these are depends on your setup), and the introductory credits look soft and muted due to problems with the source material. But aside from these issues, the discs are nearly perfect. The inclusion of almost all of the extras from the Japanese "Perfect Vision" box set is a definite plus. The creditless opening, music videos (with both English and romaji subtitles), staff and seiyuu interviews, and Playstation game cutscreens really give the fans some fun material to play with. Be sure to check out Shinichirou Miki's amazing breast-pants in the second Club Escaflowne interview they're a scream!
Escaflowne may not fit the standard anime mold, but that's what makes it such a worthy series. Is it fantasy? Is it action? Is it romance? How would you describe the plot to a newbie? Who cares! It's good,
and that's all that matters. Forget about definitions and descriptions. Just sit back to watch the story unfold. Few regret taking the journey through Gaea, except perhaps those who regret having waited so long.Webmistress Lizzard