Escaflowne Collection Box 2 - Mania.com



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Info:

  • Audio Rating: B
  • Video Rating: F
  • Packaging Rating: A
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: A
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 2 - Europe
  • Released By: Beez
  • MSRP: £39.99
  • Running time: 350
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:!
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Escaflowne

Escaflowne Collection Box 2

By Dani Moure     February 01, 2005
Release Date: December 13, 2004


Escaflowne Collection Box 2
© Beez


What They Say
Folken sends out Naria and Eriya after the Escaflowne as Van hovers between life and death. Meanwhile, Dryden has discovered what he thinks is the location to Atlantis. Hitomi finds that one of her ancestors has been to Gaea and Allen confronts his past. Once they reach Atlantis, however, they find they all have memories to fight and fears to overcome.

Includes Volumes 5 to 8 (Episodes 15-26).

The Review!
The original release of Escaflowne is repackaged into two box sets, this one containing the latter half of the series.

Audio:
I listened to this disc in Japanese with subtitles for my main reviewing session, and I really enjoy the performances of the Japanese actors. I noticed no dropouts or distortions during the entirety of this stereo track, and in general it sounded really quite good.

However, the English dub is certainly not one I'm a fan of. Ever since I first saw it on FOX Kids I have never been able to watch it, and though it's a little unfair since the cut dub was so hacked up, I just can't bring myself to listen to the uncut track. I did spot-check it though just to get a feel for the review, and noticed no dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
This is where the series takes a huge blow. The video quality for this release is simply poor, occasionally decent and often awful. What's the problem? Well, where do we begin. The transfer seems to have been taken from the VHS tape masters as often that's why the colours seem so wash out, and flicker one minute from overly dark to too bright for the TV. There's a little bit of aliasing, though it's surprisingly minimal. There is a lot of cross colouration that plagues almost many scenes, though it does seem less than earlier volumes, and there are some compression artefacts as well. It's a crying shame as there's just so much wrong with this transfer. Occasionally it shows promise and looks OK, but for the most part it simply doesn't.

The English subtitles are yellow, in a thin but clearly readable font, and thankfully contain very few spelling errors and conjoined words. Sometimes the song subtitles are made transparent, so are difficult to read as it's just a white outline. Also, the insert song subtitles are a dark grey colour, though they are mostly easy enough to read.

More disappointing perhaps than the poor video quality in general, is an astounding error that could quite easily hamper people's enjoyment of the series. In the final episode (about 18:30 in), the English subtitles cut out completely. So the entire last part of the last episode, which is quite a pivotal piece to wrap up the story, is missing an English translation for the Japanese track. The only option for those wanting it in some form of English is to switch to the dub. Quite honestly, for some people this could be a deal breaker and sadly, it's never been fixed. Thankfully it's never happened again on a Beez disc.

Packaging:
The packaging is the most gorgeous aspect of this release. The four original cases, which contain some great artwork and always looked really good, are now housed in a Collector's Box. The front side of the box (which is pretty sturdy) features a gorgeous piece of artwork of Van (with his wings) and Hitomi, along with the show and company logos. The spine features the Escaflowne logo, while the back cover features a summary of the show, episode and extras listing, staff listing, a few screenshots and a smaller piece of Folken artwork. It's a really nice presentation for the box.

Menu:
The menus follow the same structure on all four discs. The various selections appear in front of a looping background of tarot cards and the Earth on the main menu, with a tarot card in the centre allowing access to specific episodes' scene selection menus. A piece of background music plays to the main menu. The individual menus are all static, with various images from the series on them, and different pieces of music playing to each. I didn't notice any major problems like on the first four discs.

Extras:
One nice thing about this series is that it comes with a wealthy dose of extras taken from the original Japanese release of the show. The first three volumes here feature "Club Escaflowne", which on these discs is a series of interviews with the creative staff, that go surprisingly in-depth to what they thought of the show and how they approached it. Volume 5 features three of the designers (whose names unfortunately aren't subtitled, but I believe there's the Mechanical Designer and two Animation Directors). Volume six and seven, meanwhile, both feature Shoji Kawamori (Story, Story Editor, Supervisor) and Kazuki Akane (Director), as the one interview is split in two parts across the discs.

The eighth disc features all the animation scenes that originally appeared on the PlayStation game. These are in Japanese with subtitles, run about seven minutes long and are really nice to have, since it's not the sort of thing we usually get.

These extras really are an excellent addition to the release, and I really enjoyed watching them.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Escaflowne is a series I've really liked ever since I first saw it several years ago, and I've really enjoyed revisiting it to review these box sets. This box contains the second half of the series, and it's a really interesting break as with this latter part the series shifts focus considerably as it moves to its conclusion. With Beez releasing these collections when the UK anime market is well into its resurgence, here's hoping the show gains a bit more success on DVD in this territory.

The story in these episodes begins continuing the Atlantis thread started towards the end of the last box's episodes, with everyone out to unlock the mysteries of the ancient Draconians and some, like Zaibach and Emperor Dornkirk, trying to replicate the power of Atlantis for their own devices. The mysteries unravelled give some interesting insights into the pasts of the characters. Particularly, we see glimpses of Hitomi's grandmother, Allen's father and Van's mother, and how their histories are all intertwined.

But all the while, as the characters are searching for answers, the relentless assaults from the Zaibach Empire continue. Folken, Van's estranged brother, is working towards Emperor Dornkirk's goals, as is the insane military commander Dilandau. They begin to focus their attentions on the one who is affecting "the Dragon's" (Van's) fate, Hitomi, and they throw all their forces behind capturing her, to limited success. There is a point at which Van and Hitomi run away to face the Zaibach forces though, and come face to face with Dornkirk himself.

After a series of events unravel, Dilandau is taken out of action for much of the series, only to resurface towards the end of the show in dramatic fashion (and with dramatic consequences). Also key to the Zaibach forces are the two catgirls Naria and Eriya, who were rescued by Folken when they were young, and are transformed into "Intensified Luck Soldiers" as part of Dornkirk's plans to replicate the power of Atlantis and alter fate itself, using his Fate Alteration Engine. On several instances the pair are involved in trying to capture Hitomi, and in sprawls with Van and Escaflowne, but their fate is a cruel one, and it's one that has a profound effect on Folken.

Meanwhile amongst the good guys, Marlene ends up marrying Dryden, despite attempts at interjecting by Hitomi, and shows growth as she realises that it's the right thing to do despite Hitomi admitting that she altered a reading and essentially caused much bloodshed in Asturia because it led to a Zaibach attack. Her feelings for Allen continue to run strong, but she remains conflicted with her feelings for Van, much to Merle's dismay. Van himself is somewhat obsessed still with his goal to take down Zaibach, and more than that, to exact revenge upon his brother for turning on their country.

But as all the countries begin to unite against the threat of Zaibach and Emperor Dornkirk's plans for Gaea, things turn in unexpected directions. Hitomi decides she wants to go home, and does, but nevertheless returns to Gaea once more as the key to its future thanks to her abilities to see the future. Folken also decides that perhaps Dornkirk's plans aren't the right thing for the world either, and once Naria and Eriya's fate is sealed, he turns his back on Zaibach to try and talk Van into helping him stop Dornkirk and bring about a better future for Gaea.

Everything comes to a head as Escaflowne rushes towards its conclusion. The shift in the story towards fate and just how much one person can control their destiny is a welcome one, as it opens up so many opportunities for the different facets of the characters to be explored. The love triangle between Hitomi, Allen and Van is thrust into overdrive, but there are several interesting twists along the way. Neither Van nor Hitomi had admitted their feelings for each other, and it's only through their actions and behaviour that you could really see their feelings, while Allen's were far more obvious. But while Hitomi was always drawn to Allen, in no small part because of his resemblance to Amano, there was always the bond between Van and Hitomi that saw events draw them together, and in the end the choices the three characters make are quite fascinating.

But outside of the romance, the internal conflicts within the characters also form a key part in the series. As well as her love life, Hitomi is also conflicted with regards to what extent she wants to interfere in the fight against the Zaibach, and also how much she wants to go home. Like any teenage girl, the three become intertwined and it's part of what leads to some of her mistakes, but also her triumphs. The fact that she does more than just stand and whine (though she does that sometimes too), and actually takes matters into her own hands and does things, is part of what makes the character stronger. Van's conflict is between his feelings of revenge against towards his brother, his distain for the Zaibach forces and his wanting to create a better future for Gaea, and we get to see his full struggle in trying to juggle them all to, with the help of those around him, reach his goals. Allen is not without his own conflicts, though the focus with him tends to be more heavily the result of his current or past love life, though he often struggles with his duty as a knight and what he feels is right.

Likewise, the journey of some of the other supporting characters makes for interesting viewing. Marlene, for example, undergoes a significant transformation as the series progresses, from a somewhat closed-minded, childish Princess to someone far more mature and responsible, willing to take control of her future and stand behind her actions. Naria and Eriya on the other hand don't change a great deal, but there is a change in them that can be seen when they're separated and then later leave Hitomi behind as they return to Folken. While their devotion is almost blind, the characters never feel simply two-dimensional.

And it would be difficult to mention the transformation of the supporting characters without mentioning Dilandau. His was one of the most interesting changes, as his psychotic behaviour is rooted in his past, and that past comes out with strange results that make total sense even though it's somewhat out of the blue. It certainly explains his immediate fixation on Allen, at least. And Folken is not left without a journey to go through, as he is thrust to the forefront of the story towards the end, when he sees just what effect altering fate can have, and realises that the goals he's been working towards perhaps aren't the ones he wants after all.

It's the changes in the characters that in part makes Escaflowne so captivating. We watch them grow as they experience some horrific events but also some joyful ones, and it all helps build up an emotional connection between us and the characters on screen, so much so that we can understand their choices, right or wrong, and the outcome has a meaning (as much as a TV show can, anyway).

Though Escaflowne's story is centred around war, and the message it conveys is that war is caused by, and often craved by, people themselves, rather than just bang us over the head with it, it shows the kind of effect a world on the brink of (and in the midst of) war can have on the people that live in it. All the characters suffer in various ways, but it's not entirely hopeless and sure enough, the ending is relatively up beat. But the journey explores the themes of war nicely within the characters, and it's part of what makes the series so appealing.

The other key plot point is fate, and what happens when you try and alter it to create the perfect future. Dornkirk's goal was to create peace by giving everyone what they wanted, but in the end it all backfired and ended up with almost catastrophic results. This aspect of the story was built upon slowly, and I wasn't let down as the series drew to its close and the final outcome was decided. In some ways the outcome is unexpected, with a few twists and turns along the way, but it makes sense and is really entertaining to watch as the intensity heats up in the last batch of episodes.

Early on during its original run, the show was cut from an originally planned 39 episodes to 26, and yet you'd never really notice aside from a few aspects in the latter half of the show seeming ever so slightly rushed. The main thing is how Dilandau's return and his change comes slightly out of left-field without much foreshadowing (along with the arrival of Jajuka), but that's just picking holes in what is otherwise a fantastic story. Looking back on the series almost nine years after it aired, it's no surprise it turned out as well as it did, with some of anime's most prolific staff members working on it, including the likes of Kazuki Akane, Shinichiro Watanabe, Shoji Kawamori and Nobuteru Yuuki, all of whom have either gone on to have, or continued to have, great success.

Once again the biggest black mark against this release is its production. You can see from the technical portions above that it is massively disappointing in terms of quality, though the blow was softened a bit since we all knew about the problems plaguing this release from its initial rounds a couple of years ago. To their credit, since these releases, Beez have come a along leaps and bounds, with some fantastic releases (just witness their release of .hack//SIGN for proof). Nevertheless, these types of issues never should have happened, and it's truly a shame that they somewhat mar this release.

In Summary:
Escaflowne is one of the most enjoyable fantasy with mecha series you'll find around, and has a strong cast of diverse characters and a wholly captivating plot. With good production values and great action thrown in, it remains entertaining throughout. Unfortunately the production of the discs does leave a lot to be desired (though these discs are old and Beez have come a long way since this release), but if you can look past these issues Escaflowne is an excellent series that is very popular, and now it's at a pretty cheap price I would definitely recommend it.

Features
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Non credit Opening,Music Videos,"Club Escaflowne" Specials – Staff Interviews,PlayStation Game Footage

Review Equipment
Philips 28" Pure Flat Widescreen TV, Pioneer DV-464 code free DVD player, JVC gold-plated RGB SCART cable, standard stereo sound.

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