Called to another world, Hitomi finds herself faced with the power to end the world and her life as she's wanted.
What They Say
Hitomi Kanzaki is tired of life. Depressed and despondent, she wishes that she could just fade away, to make the pain of living stop hurting. Her pain resonates with another on the world of Gaia, and when her wish is granted, she fi nds herself in a strange land. She is greeted as the legendary Wing Goddess, with the power to summon the legendary Escaflowne. Hitomi's fate is intertwined with the brash young warrior king Van, who also feels that life has lost its meaning. Sworn to strike back at the Black Dragon Clan which destroyed his kingdom, he fights to exist, and he exists to fi ght. The arrival of the Wing Goddess marks the final turning point in Van's battle, as she holds an entire world's destiny in her heart. By summoning Escafl owne, the Wing Goddess will choose that path of Gaia's future. But will it be salvation' or destruction?
While I generally don’t have high expectations of TV series that are done in lossless form for Blu-ray, I do have some expectations when it comes to feature films. The Escaflowne movie was one that had a DTS track on DVD that was very impressive so I was really eager to hear what this sounded like. Both the English and Japanese language tracks use Dolby TrueHD (though my preference is for DTS HD-MA) and they’re excellent. There’s a lot of excellent usage of the rear channels throughout this release and the big action sequences, such as Escaflowne coming down the steps when it goes against Dilandu, is spot on and really raises the experience to another level. The quiet moments are well handled and there are several scenes where the depth of placement is really quite engaging. This is a release where the audio again in my mind really dominates what makes this a worthy upgrade.
Originally in theaters in the summer of 2000, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 at 1080p and is encoded using AVC. With this film being done during the transitional period of animation in Japan, there's a really beautiful look to the raw nature of the traditional animation that's in here. The colors are very rich, there's a texture to them that shines through and it has a very lived in feeling to it. The transfer has a fair amount of natural grain to it that doesn't cause noise in the backgrounds and the amount of line noise is minimal with no cross coloration. What's interesting about the detail that's now visible here, combined with a larger screen than during our first viewing years ago, is that some of the flaws in the cel animation are visible with the roughness of it all. It adds a certain charm to it and makes an already solid looking film look even better in a strange way.
The Escaflowne movie is presented in a standard Blu-ray keepcase that uses artwork found on one of the previous DVD editions. Unfortunately, it's not the artwork I like with the bright and clear image of a sleeping Hitomi among the feathers. Instead, we get a very dark and murky piece with the mix of reds and blues, which I do like, but it doesn't really stand out and capture your attention. The top has three headshots that disappear into the shadows while below is a very appealing raw image of Hitomi set against the planets. There is a really good layout here, but the color design of it takes it in the wrong direction. The back cover is nicely done with an image of Van on the battlefield, shadowed with clouds behind him. The summary is a bit more descriptive than it needs to be and there are a few shots from the show included as well. The discs features and extras are clearly listed while the bottom has a good rundown of production credits and a technical grid that covers what the disc is like. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reverse side cover.
The menu for this release is done really nicely and fits the show perfectly, especially with the haunting bit of instrumental music that plays along to it. The menu has a pair of blue lines crossing along the upper left corner, which is where the navigation is set and builds out from, while the background uses a number of blue themed visuals from the film. It's a bit soft and some of the gradients are a bit visible, but as a basic layout, it uses the right elements, is clear and easy to navigate and looks good. The blue bars are also used as the pop-up navigation, which takes a little getting used to as it takes up a good chunk of the screen, but still far less than some Disney movies that relegates the picture to a tiny corner. Submenus load quickly, I like the use of the feather for the navigation icon and it's all very appealing. Unfortunately, the disc doesn't read our players' language presets and defaults to English language with no subtitles.
The extras for this release are pretty minimal overall and I lament the loss of the isolated score as that would have been great to have here, though I understand the loss of the storyboard track as that would have been quite a lot of work to make happen. The two extras that did make it over is the premiere event at Anime Expo 2000 which shows the horribly long line to see it and then a bit of the after panel about it. The other extra, clocking in at twenty-four minutes, is the piece with the director as he talks about the movie, initially with Yoko Kanno and then others, which also includes some vocal performances. It's good to see this one make it over, but again, the lack of porting over more of the extras is disappointing.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I was surprised when I realized it had been over seven years since I saw the Escaflowne movie and longer than that since I saw the TV series. I can remember when Bandai first started releasing here as AnimeVillage and put out the series on eight VHS tapes with unusual cover artwork just as DVD was starting to make its inroads. The TV series eventually made quite the impact on me and I was extremely excited about the movie, even if it was a retelling of the show driven down to some of its core concepts and reworked to something a bit darker and obviously more theatrical.
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.
Coming back to this movie after seven years, and even longer since seeing the TV series, was an interesting experience. A lot of what I felt the first time rings true, and in a way more so because I'm far more disconnected from the TV show and the movie itself than I was at the time. Edges of the show still remain, but the film manages to stand more on its own this time which does highlight its flaws a bit more since there are several characters without much of an introduction or enough background to make them work. The edges of the TV incarnations help to flesh it out even after all this time, but in the end the Escaflowne movie is a fun movie in an intriguing setting that plays up a really neat angle with some of the lead characters having motivation for wanting the world to truly end in a way that many teenagers do feel. That time has long gone for me, but the echoes of those days remain and can still resonate here. This is definitely the best version of the film to have overall when it comes to the core content.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Cast and Staff Interviews
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.