Escaflowne Vol. #1 -

Anime/Manga Reviews

Mania Grade: A-

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  • Audio Rating: B+
  • Video Rating: B
  • Packaging Rating: B+
  • Menus Rating: A
  • Extras Rating: B+
  • Age Rating: 12 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Bandai Entertainment
  • MSRP: 29.99
  • Running time: 100
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Escaflowne

Escaflowne Vol. #1

By Chris Beveridge     October 03, 2000
Release Date: October 03, 2000

Escaflowne Vol. #1
© Bandai Entertainment

What They Say
Hitomi Kanzaki is a typical high school girl, with typical problems, but when a vision of a young man battling a dragon becomes a reality, her life changes forever. Drawn into a strange vortex with the swordsman, Van, Hitomi is thrust into the strange world of Gaea. Van must learn to master the suit of armor, Escaflowne, before he and Hitomi are crushed by the ambitions of the Empire of Zaibach. Van and Hitomi will encounter both allies and enemies in an effort to unlock the secrets within Escaflowne, and Hitomi?s heart, stirred by love and adventure, will, at times ache with sorrow. But why was she sent to this world? Her journey has just begun!

The Review!
Vision of Escaflowne, or Escaflowne as Bandai seems to be calling it, was one of the first releases of the Anime Village label of Bandai a couple of years ago. With above average animation for a TV series, wonderful voice acting by Maaya Sakamoto and possibly one of the best soundtracks scored to date by Yoko Kanno, Escaflowne had it all. Even a great storyline.

Escaflowne's release on DVD took a bit longer than planned. It was originally set to begin its release schedule a few months after Bandai kicked off their DVD release program. But the shows broadcast pickup by Fox for the fall season had them push it back to tie into that to gain better exposure.

To allay any fears before going into the full review, this DVD contains both languages and is uncut. Bandai provided the uncut dub to Fox and Fox went and did it's thing.

A lot of people have made their comments on how the dub is for Escaflowne based off of the Fox broadcast. Having heard a few other recent dubs by Ocean Studios, I'm still no fan of theirs. Escaflowne simply reinforced that again. We skimmed through these episodes with the English track checking for a few things and didn't notice any issues with it. We listened to the Japanese track in its entirety however, and we noticed that the English track seems to be at a lower volume level. There's a decent amount of directionality during some of the action sequences, but where the soundtrack really pays off is in the music. Kanno's score simply sounds beautiful here.

The video on the other hand is not so beautiful. Well, it is for many scenes but there's a lot that's not pretty at all. It's also going to be something where your mileage is really going to vary. During the first three episodes, we saw a lot of rainbows. They're primarily focuses throughout the hair areas of most of the characters though some suffer more than others. Allen's hair was a big source of rainbows while Van had far fewer, but they ringed along him. They aren't restrained to just hair though, and they do seep into other areas such as the Guymelef's and Escaflowne. There's also some noticeable line noise in several scenes that's rather jarring. The easiest place to see it is during the title card sequence for each episode. The top of each card has the ornate drawing which shimmers up and down. Instances of things like this show up in several panning shots and in several distance views of the various cities and buildings. In the fourth episode, a good portion of this disappeared. Some very minor rainbows could still be seen, but nowhere near the level they were before.

What does look very good though is the color levels for many scenes, especially a few during the opening. Among the best looking are the ones with the Zaibach Guymelef's when they begin their attacks and movements. The digital painting and optical effects used there really shine here.

Remember when I said your mileage may vary? Well, I popped this disc into the old Apex player on the 27" uncalibrated set to see how it'll look. While the line noise is still readily apparent, the rainbows were extremely hard to find. You can still see them there if you look closely and there's a bit of an edge shimmer to characters hair, but it's much harder to really see.

One of the complaints leveled against the original subtitled VHS release of Escaflowne was the "horrid covers. My god, how could you use such ugly covers?". These were quite common and continue to this day. Of course, those were the same covers that the Japanese versions carried, which is what people always say they want. So this time around, we get new covers and of course, there's complaining about spoilers being given away on the front. I won't argue it too much, but what's on the cover can be figured out by the fifth minute of the first episode if the viewer is actually paying attention to the show and not Hitomi's legs or Allen's teeth. The back cover has a pretty good style used on it and it gets across a solid amount of information. Some of the fonts are a bit hard to read due to the size and the background coloring, but overall it's definitely a nice looking package. What really stands out and caught my eye was the insert. The interior two page spread has a great piece of artwork on one of the dragons of Gaea. Below it there's several paragraphs on the types of dragons there are and the myths that surround them, both pieces that never really made it into the series that I can recall.

The themed menus (and I believe they're anamorphic as well) look wonderful. The main menu is similar to the opening of each episode with a tarot card in the middle where you select each episode. The actual episode selection pages are very well done and very much in the mood of the series. My only one serious quibble with the menus is in regards to the music videos selection. When you have your cursor next to that selection (on a standalone player) and select it, you'll get English subtitles on the music videos themselves (the opening sequence has no subtitles). When they're playing, you can select subtitle track 2 and get the romaji subtitles so you can karaoke along.

But if you didn't know that there were romaji subtitles? Well, you have two ways of finding out. On the previously mentioned insert, there's a small one line mention of it on in the inside. The other way is when you've got your cursor next to the music video section and instead of moving up, you move left. When you do this a kanji comes up above the selection. Pressing enter here will play the videos with romaji.

Yes, I know. All this fussing for this. Romaji right now is rather important to me as I'm learning Japanese, so being able to talk/sing along really helps.

In terms of the extras themselves, which is the music videos, they look pretty solid and are very enjoyable; if you've seen the series. There are lots of spoilers in here, though many won't make sense until you actually see them. But for those who've seen the series and haven't seen the videos, you'll enjoy them. They also serve as a great reminder to how good the music in the show is. The only disappointment is the lack of romaji subtitles for the opening song. Augh!

During a retailers deep discounting sale late last year, I managed to snag the VHS box set of this series in one whack for about 40$, which is around 5$ a tape. We watched the first one on a Saturday evening and then the next day watched the remaining seven. This is a very good series that does a very good job of making sure you want to watch the next episode.

As with most series of this length (26 episodes), the opening batch of four or five set up the main cast and the setting. We get introduced to almost all of the main characters on this disc, though there's still a few surprises to come soon enough.

The story kicks off with the introduction of cute high school girl Hitomi. She's cheerful, outgoing and really good at track. She dabbles a bit in tarot cards and has a crush on an upperclassman who excels at the men's track team. She keeps her feelings secret from him, until she learns he's leaving the country. She's also having strange visions these days.

She convinces him to watch her do a semi-private run with him timing her. As she takes off and runs down the track, a crackling tunnel of light comes down and drops a young man with sword in hand in her way, causing her to bounce off of him and onto the ground. He's apparently agitated and tense and tells her to get away as fast as possible.

His source of agitation shows up a moment later in the form of a huge land dragon. The dragon ends up oddly interested in Hitomi and proceeds to chase her and her friends. The young warrior, Van, pursues and ends up tackling the dragon.

Eventually this all becomes too much for Hitomi and she starts to have a near-breakdown. What can make it worse? How about transporting her to another world where the Earth is called the Mystic Moon.

And just because they're on a new world doesn't mean things slow down. There's a lot of information that gets presented and a lot of new characters introduced. There's a conflict brewing between the empire of Zaibach and the various minor kingdoms of this world called Gaea. Zaibach brings in some interesting pieces of equipment to this fantasy world in the form of Guymelefs, sort of ancient mecha that are powered by the crystallized form of dragon hearts.

Escaflowne has its light moments and characters, but the focus is definitely on the growing up of Van and his relationship with Hitomi as they travel through Gaea while on the run from Zaibach. There's a lot of set up in these early episodes that is heavily built upon later. Repeated viewings will almost always allow more to be gleaned. Besides, it's a great show and the music is worth listening to many times, so it's easy to justify.

While the disc itself isn't perfect, the show itself nearly is. Volume 2 can't get here soon enough for most of people.

Japanese Language,English Language,English Subtitles,Music Videos

Review Equipment
Toshiba TW40X81 40" HDTV, Pioneer 414 codefree DVD player, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster gold plated component cables and Sony speakers.


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