Escaflowne Movie: Ultimate Edition (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Sunday, May 19, 2002
Release Date: Tuesday, July 23, 2002



What They Say
A re-telling of the fan-favorite Escaflowne TV series available in the US for the first time ever! This LIMITED 3-disc set contains the Movie CD soundtrack and a second full DVD of bonus materials: Production Art Gallery, Staff and Cast Interviews, Escaflowne Premiere Event Interviews, Musical Performance by Maaya Sakamoto, Anime Expo Premiere Footage, and The Making of the Escaflowne Theatrical Poster Gallery!

The Escaflowne movie is based on the story by Shoji Kawamori (Macross Plus), with character designs by Nobuteru Yuki (X, Record of Lodoss Wars), directed by Kazuki Akane (Ronin Warriors), and with music by Yoko Kanno (Cowboy Bebop, Macross Plus).

Gaia – a mythical realm ruled by sword and sorcery and immersed in blood and violence. Thrust into a conflict she doesn’t quite understand, Hitomi helps aid the young Prince Van as they embark upon their journey of discovery. The battle over a legendary suit of dragon armor, Escaflowne, has begun.

The Review!
After a very successful TV series, it was pretty obvious that a movie was going to be done. Since this is a Bandai production, one of the things they do is something I really like, in that they take the same setting and characters but retell the story in a different way, one more suited to the big screen as opposed to trying to continue a completed series or make a direct adaptation.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this disc in its original language of Japanese. And in glorious DTS at that. This feature has a couple of selections for audio, but Japanese and DTS is our primary choice and this track was just fantastic. The movie’s soundtrack is very well done, with a great blend of music and sound effects. There’s a healthy selection of audio that gets sent to the rear speakers, but it’s the forward soundstage that makes great use of directionality. There’s three other audio tracks as well, with the Japanese and English Dolby Digital 5.1 and an isolated musical score track also in Dolby Digital 5.1. In sampling all four tracks in some key sequences, both my wife and I were most impressed with the DTS track, but that won’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows us.

Video:
This feature is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is enhanced for widescreen sets, which means people like myself are getting a great level of resolution here. The transfer here looks fantastic and manages to really retain its film like feel as opposed to a digital piece of animation. Colors are rich and vibrant, cross coloration is non existent as well as cross coloration. There’s the proper amount of grain one would expect from a feature like this. Overall, we simply got absorbed by the film as it went on, as it matched my recollections of the theatrical print I saw.

Packaging:
In one of those rare instances, this is a package that is truly the equal of the Japanese ones. The Ultimate Edition features a great thick box, such as on you would hold cigars in, the opens from the top like a book. Inside are three keepcases, one for the feature, one for the extras and one for the soundtrack. The box itself is a gorgeous shade of blue, my favorite color to begin with. The front has my favorite movie image of Hitomi curled asleep over the fossil of a Dragon, with the artwork of her being ever so slightly raised up. The back features a shot of Escaflowne with it’s sword just having extended from the sheath set against the backdrop of the city.

The feature keepcase has a nice animation shot of both Van and Hitomi with the image of Escaflowne from the back cover mixed underneath. The back cover gives a brief summary of the movies plot and provides some basic audio information and the production credits. The insert provides another look at the cover and folds open to reveal the chapter stops, audio options and the special features that are on this particular disc. The back gives full production credits and character to actor credit for both Japanese and English languages.

The extras disc has a good looking if bit soft image of the four “bad guys” from the feature, showing Sora, Dilandau and Jajuka along the bottom and the dark image of Folken over them. The back cover provides a breakdown of all the extras contained inside. The insert provides another shot of the front cover artwork while it opens to reveal the origins of some of the extras, such as the never before seen on video Korean/Japanese premier. The back of the insert has a great looking piece of artwork featuring the two cat sisters in their dancing outfits.

The soundtrack keepcase has a really interesting piece of artwork with the image of Hitomi raising up through the light as Van races across the ground with his sword out. The back cover provides a rundown on the 25 tracks that the disc has and who doe the vocals for the tracks that have them. The insert provides another shot of the front cover artwork while it opens to reveal lyrics for Yubiwa, You’re Not Alone and Sora. The back of the insert provides the music related credits that you normally see in CD’s.

Suffice to say, I absolutely adore this package and it’s one that I will always bring out as a sign of a great release.

Menu:
The main disc menu is really nice, with it using animation from the show where we move through the clouds until we come to the destination. The menus selections are all nicely done, with the cursor being a feather that moves from item to item. Each menu features some music from the feature and all have pretty solid access times. These are good solid menus.

Extras:
With a second disc full of extras, there’s lots of good stuff here. Before we get to that discs, there’s two extras for the main feature itself.

Of the two extras on the feature disc, the first one that we’ll tackle is the isolated audio score. This is essentially a dub your own Escaflowne since none of the dialogue is here, just the gorgeous score. It’s also presented in full 5.1 sound, so it’s definitely a great way to check out how well the music is mixed. The other feature on this disc is the inclusion of the storyboards from the movie as an alternate subtitle track, giving the viewer a chance to see how things were planned and plotted and all the little bits that people really into animation filmmaking will just love to see.

On the extras disc, there’s all kinds of treats here. One of the interesting ones is from the Anime Expo premier of the movie back in 2000, a mere six days or so after its Japanese theatrical release. The film had been hastily subtitled (and there were some amusing mistakes, having seen that print myself now) and brought to the US, a real treat to be sure. Home Video footage shows the long line from the end to the theater itself and people filling inside (sadly, I noted no AOD.com shirts in line). There’s also a segment that has one of the producers talking about the film and then a panel afterwards where they discussed things, including the filmmakers asking why there was laughing in particular scenes. This section runs about eight minutes.

The Staff & Cast interview sections, which came from the Japanese DTS release, are great, very reminiscent of the Club Escaflowne to some extent. I only wished that Seki had been given the chance to do the bartender gig again. In the voice actor roundtables, we learn a lot of interesting amusing things, from Maaya’s inability to steer a bicycle to Seki being in traffic school for the third time trying to learn to drive, to Miki not eating any BBQ prior to recording so he wouldn’t smell for Maaya.
There’s also a segment with the director, Akane Kazuki, that details some of the things that went into the film and the changes necessary from going from a TV series to a more compressed format. This section runs about 35 minutes total.

A nice section of trailers is included, from the Japanese theatrical run as well as one for the cable pay per view premier on Animax. The English teaser trailer and full length trailers also get placed here.

The new “never before seen” footage comes from the Escaflowne Event that took place in Fukuoka back in the fall of 2000. One of the Bandai Entertainment people was there with camcorder in hand and got some great footage, as this was the premier of the Korean release which had the big song, “Yubiwa”, done over by an up and coming Korean singer. She’s on hand for this and does a great duet with Maaya at the end, which is subtitled in English for everyone but is also subtitled in Korean and Japanese depending on whose singing. Add in that Yoko Kanno was there on piano and it gets even better.

The majority of this section is made up of interviews, such as an amusing piece between Kanno and Kazuki where she says the entire TV series was about Kazuki’s disastrous luck with girls. Kazuki also shows up with the English voice actress for Hitomi, Kelly Sheridan and the two discuss aspects of the show as well as the English adaptation of it. Towards the end, there’s some interesting pieces with various people on stage for the actual premier event that then shifts to an introduction from Maaya and then the performance. This is a great set of extras and one that I’m really glad found its way onto the release as it adds a lot to the experience. This section runs about 25 minutes

The production art gallery does things in a really good way. In addition to getting to see the pieces that went into the design, there are soft subtitles that translate the notes on the sheets, letting you get a feel for what was being approached in the designs. There’s a lot here, so I only managed to skim it, but there’s going to be some fans that are going to drool over these pieces. Probably my favorite piece to this section is the North American theatrical poster gallery that has a number of stunning designs and concepts to market the film. I found myself torn between most of them as to which was my favorite, as each has an interesting way of presenting the film to the audience.

As to whether you want to consider it an extra or not, you’ve got the soundtrack. Being a fan of both Kanno and Mizoguchi, this is a CD that’s gotten regular playing on all of my CD players since it originally came out in Japan, and having it here for those who hate doing the import thing is going to be a real treat.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
As much as I enjoy the TV series, from start to finish, I won’t do any comparisons between the feature and that, as it’s a pointless exercise. After my second time seeing the movie, I’m moving towards liking it better than the series, but the two are really different beasts and comparisons just get silly.

The beginning of the film has two sections that eventually come together. In the world of Gaea, we get introduced to Van as he flies through the air with his white wings extended. From on up high, he brings them back into himself and begins a fast descent towards a massive black airship that’s flying just in the clouds. With a loud crash, he hits one of the lookout posts and quickly slays the black clad soldier there. Van makes his way deep into the airship, killing quickly and efficiently as he goes. His attack goes up to the bridge, where in a very samurai like fashion, the remainder of the crew is dealt with.

On Earth, we get introduced to high school girl Hitomi. She’s laying out on the roof of the school sleeping, dreaming the same dream again where she’s a little girl and time stops at a train station and she sees a strange man standing there looking at her. Her friend Yukari finds here on the roof and the two talk a little bit about what’s going on, as we learn that she’s recently quit the track team and just feels like sleeping all the time. Things take an odd twist as Yukari discovers a suicide note Hitomi was leaving her, as she was going to jump off the roof. Hitomi couldn’t do it though, as she proclaims herself a coward.

As Hitomi and Yukari are out and about, Hitomi feels someone calling to her. She begins to fall into her selfish/depressed cycle and says things to cause Yukari to leave her, which only makes Hitomi feel worse. But the pull of this call is strong, and she ends up in the sports arena where a black-cloaked man beckons to her, to fulfill her destiny as the Wing Goddess. She’s confused as all can be, but transfixed by his words, as the sky begins to darken and the stadium feels up with water, swallowing her up into itself.

This is where the two stories meet, as Hitomi is transported to Gaea and into the belly of Escaflowne, a massive piece of near-organic armor that the black airship was transporting. It’s also the object of Van’s attack, as having Escaflowne will give him the power to defeat the enemies of the Wing Goddess, which he believes Hitomi to be when she falls out of the armors cockpit. Everything is too much for Hitomi to bear, and she eventually passes out after meeting some of the people who Van fights alongside.

The world of Gaea is under siege. The forces of the Black Dragon Clan are going out and destroying everything they can, led by Folken. Folken is a dark and imposing man with a voice that just commands attention. His goal is to eliminate everything in the world, which is why he is after Escaflowne, as the prophecies dictate that it will cleanse the world with its power. But now it’s fallen into the hands of Van as well as the catalyst he needed, Hitomi. Her sorrow and desire to die, to fade away to nothing, is critical to bringing his plan to fruition.

The film moves the plot forward with Hitomi joining Van and the group that he’s with that fights against Folken and his plans. We learn more of the history of the world and of Van, the king of a nation that no longer exists. His own sorrow is strong, and it’s something that Hitomi finds herself attuned to, and the two eventually click in a certain way that’s not the typical first-love romance, but something more basic between each other. There’s various fight sequences the occur as things move forward, as a new armor is discovered that Folken has, as well as the desire of Folken to gain Hitomi back for his own plans.

The world of Escaflowne is very richly filled, though we only get a few areas here and there for the film. The city of Toshura is an enticing one, with it’s high walls circling around it and the layers it has. The designs for the kingdom and others we see are delicious, giving plenty of new visuals that we haven’t seen before. The character designs are also a treat, using the TV series models as a basis and tweaking them. Gone are the long pointy noises (and yes, I was disappointed by that), but we get more fleshed out and richer looking designs. Van and Hitomi get tweaks and are still pretty much the same, just done in a different style. Allen’s changes are more noticeable, as his hair is quite a bit longer and his black leather fetish is revealed. The most drastic change is Millerna who sports short shorts and tight tops for her fighting outfit and sits in ways a lady shouldn’t sit.

One of the best parts of the movie is the music. And this is definitely a movie that deserves its rich music, from the action sequences to the haunting Sora lyric that comes out several times, be it the woman with Folken singing it or the two sisters in the bar. Yoko Kanno and Hajime Mizoguchi, two of my favorites, produce a get piece of music with this movie. During the Escaflowne’s second awakening, as it appears before Hitomi, the way the music plays with the wood is just gorgeous. I listened to the soundtrack to this for what seems like two years before seeing the movie, and it’s one that I just love to listen to.

The Escaflowne movie is a great piece of film that tells a simple story without retelling the entire TV series in compressed form. It takes a basic premise from it and works with one segment of it, turning it into a very workable and quite enjoyable story. The pacing is great, as it flows without slowing down too much or being too much of an amusement park ride. Prior to seeing the disc, I saw it theatrically two weeks earlier (in Japanese) and just found it to be a beautifully animated piece. Revisiting something so quickly is not something I enjoy in general, but there’s such a level of detail to this movie that taking in a second viewing so soon was a real treat, especially to be able to hear the DTS track.

The Escaflowne movie is likely to be my favorite release of 2002 and is something that is easy to recommend, even if you haven’t seen the TV series.

Features
Japanese Language DD 5.1,Japanese Language DTS 5.1,English Language DD 5.1,English Subtitles,Overlapping Realtime Storyboards,Isolated Score Audio Track,Theatrical Movie Trailers,Production Art Gallery,Staff and Cast Interviews,Escaflowne Premiere Event Interviews,EXCLUSVIE Musical Performance by Maaya Sakamoto (In Japanese & Korean,Anime Expo Premiere Footage,The Making of the Escaflowne Theatrical Poster Gallery,Original Escaflowne: The Movie CD Soundtrack

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Skyworth 1050P Progressive Scan codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Sony speakers.



Mania Grade: A+
Audio Rating: A+
Video Rating: A+
Packaging Rating: A+
Menus Rating: A+
Extras Rating: A+
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
MSRP: 54.98
Running time: 300
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: Escaflowne