Escaflowne Vol. #1 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Saturday, February 16, 2002
Release Date: Tuesday, October 03, 2000
Ah, Escaflowne! The first, and still only, large series that I've wanted so badly that I purchased it subtitled. Of course, that was about two years ago, when AnimeVillage.com first released it in a big box set (that gaudy thing you can sometimes find at Suncoast) with VHS cases big enough to withstand an atomic blast. Now, it's finally released on DVD and dubbed so that my frustration with reading subtitles, missing some cool animation and then having to go back can be waylaid.
Woohoo! And this even gave me an idea to rate the dubbing job and/or voice actors for a dub as well, since I tend to never watch the subtitled version until after completely watching the dub (and thus don't have any preconceptions about what people should sound like).
So, at any rate, now that one of my favorite series is out, how does it stack up? Not too badly, actually. Chris mentioned there was a lot of rainbowing in the copy that he got, but I really don't see much in mine, so I don't know if it got cleaned up or something. There's only a couple scenes where I noticed it, mainly whenever a fire is on-screen and you see the base. The base of the fires do tend to shimmer and rainbow themselves pretty well, but apart from that, I didn't see anything out of the ordinary regarding characters' hair. On the contrary, I actually have to admit I'm pleasantly surprised by the overall quality of the DVD partially because I was expecting the worst after reading Chris's advance review (so maybe that's a good thing!). While Escaflowne isn't of the caliber of Gasaraki, Dual, or Bubblegum Crisis 2040, it looks pretty clean for a four-year-old TV series. It certainly looks much better than many other series, such as Rurouni Kenshin, Outlaw Star, or Amazing Nurse Nanako, all of which released fairly recently. The only real "bad part" I noticed was in I believe episode 3 (maybe 4), where Allen is sitting by Hitomi when she's lying in bed after fainting yet again. The whole screen looked a bit fuzzy and indistinct, but maybe that was the point? Beats me. It cleans up about five minutes later when the setting changes, and all is good again... The art itself is excellent; I really enjoy the style used in Escaflowne, particularly the way the eyes are drawn, and the animation is top-quality for a four-year-old show.
You don't get much better than Escaflowne's soundtrack if you like orchestral or symphonic pieces. Escaflowne's is one of the most epic and grand-sounding soundtracks of all time, something that becomes readily apparent the first time that Van hops into Escaflowne and moves it into battle with some of Zaibach's guymelefs: the fast strings section suddenly is joined by a choral track chanting "Escaflowne" (much like Carmina Burana for people who know it...or "that song from Excalibur!") and suddenly, a TV series really, really, really begins to look and sound just like a movie or OVA. The transfer to DVD did nicely for the audio track, as at this point you can really feel the music. My only gripe is that you can really feel it...but you need to crank it up a bit. It seems to be recorded lower than most other DVDs for some reason. Hmm.
The case for Escaflowne is the only real disappointment, as well as it being a bit lean on extras. I'm one of those people who wasn't thrilled with the original covers for the VHS release, but I suppose they weren't bad. The cover of the DVD isn't too bad, as it's more dark and foreboding as it should be, but it just looks too....I don't know. For some reason, the art on it looks really sharp, which isn't so bad except that many DVD's lately seem to be blending the lines a bit to make it look more natural. For some reason, Escaflowne's cover looks like a cut-and-paste job; but then again, I only pay attention to the cover when I'm trying to find it. The DVD menus are pretty sharp, with some more music from the soundtrack in the background as an image of Gaea moves to the screen and then past, leaving behind stars and some tarot cards. Nicely done menu that fits in with the series, and is also pretty quick to respond. Basically, it's what you'd want in a menu!
Extras? Well, the Music Videos section isn't too bad. I do like the music and I also like the fact that you can turn the subtitles on or off (or at least, I seem to be able to; from some other reviews, it seems like some people can't?). The credit-less opening is there, as the first song in the Music Videos section, and since I really enjoy Escaflowne's opening sequence and song, I like this quite a bit. Other than the music videos though, there really are no extras unless you count the Tarot Deck Offer Card if you buy all eight DVDs. Some character biographies might have been nice, say for Hitomi and Van...or some artwork. I know there's got to be enough Escaflowne artwork out there. ;)
I figure one thing that doesn't get too much airtime is the job the voice acting crew does. Many people who watch subtitles will offer opinions of the dub crew based off what they originally heard in the original Japanese version. This can be good for people who watch both, but I know there's a fair share of people who watch dubs, and some of them don't care that Character A's English VA isn't the direct genetic offspring and thus doesn't sound exactly like the original Japanese seiyuu. For the people who want the voice acting rated based on its own merits, and not those of the original, I figure I may as well rate them on how they do, and also on how well they fit the part. For Escaflowne, it's not too bad of a job. As a matter of fact, I was overall pretty pleased, especially what they did for Allen: Brian Drummond, aka Zechs Marquise from Gundam Wing, provides Allen Schezar's voice, and he fits it very well. The one I'm most concerned about is Dilandau being voiced by (I think) Mona Marshall, who did Ascot in MediaBlaster's adaptation of the Rayearth TV series. Maybe I just typecast the voice, but I can't help but think of Dilandau as just some bratty kid now. :) Overall, the dub isn't too bad; it's definitely watchable, if you're into dubs in the first place, but there could have been some improvements here and there.
As for Escaflowne's story itself? As usual, there's plenty of plot summaries out there, as well as episode summaries, so I'll just offer my opinions and high points; namely, Escaflowne is one of the best anime series of all time when everything is put together, and that's that! Due to its various influences (started off planned as a shounen anime, then got blended in with some shoujo elements...) and the "all-star cast" of people who worked on it, it turns out as a top-notch series. You really don't get to see much of how amazing Escaflowne is in the first DVD unfortunately, but it will come. The first DVD sets up Hitomi's arrival in Gaea, and her introduction to some of the series' main characters, such as Van, Allen, and Merle, and also introduces Dilandau and Folken. There's enough action to keep things moving, and Van's first piloting of Escaflowne is a nice fight scene against some tricky opponents. The fourth episode ends with a bit of a cliffhanger that will surely annoy some people but will definitely reel them right back in when the second DVD is released in a few months' time. Start reserving future releases of Escaflowne now, people, because this is a must-own series which Bandai is serving up on a platter for us!
Pioneer Elite 610 HDTV, Pioneer DV-434 Prog-Scan DVD, Pioneer VSX-D509S DD/DTS Receiver, Pioneer ISO-drive speaker setup, Monster component cables
Mania Grade: A-
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: B+
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: A-
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: 12 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Bandai Entertainment
Running time: 100
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2