The Rolling Girls Review

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There are great anime, there are bad anime, and then there are okay anime. A show like Guilty Crown edges more toward the negative side, while a show like Karneval edges more toward the okay side. One great – no, fantastic anime, is Attack on Titan. The studio behind that show is Wit Studio. In fact, it was because of the Attack on Titan anime adaption that made the Attack on Titan name one of the biggest of the modern era. Wit Studio should be commended for such incredible work. Today’s anime review is on The Rolling Girls. As you can probably guess, Wit Studio is the producer behind the show. Unlike Attack on Titan, The Rolling Girls is an original piece. (In fact, it was the studio’s first anime not based on a manga.) The plot is certainly interesting. A “Great Tokyo War” has divided the country of Japan, with different groups throughout the region. Each of the main groups are led by a “Best,” a being with special power seemingly thanks to a heart-shaped object called a Moonlight Stone.

The main, heroic Best we’re introduced to is Maccha Green. The more villainous Kuniko Shigyou is her rival. As the two duke it out over the course of two episodes, the battle eventually culminates in the two being seriously injured and sent to the hospital. Maccha Green’s apprentice, Nozomi, decides to travel around Japan with her friends on motorcycles in Maccha’s Green’s place. Hence the title, “The Rolling Girls.”

There are elements of greatness in The Rolling Girls. Indeed, there are often times of genuine emotion where we want to see the girls succeed in their endeavor. But, the show doesn’t rise to true greatness, settling at being more of an okay anime missing the title of great.

The Good

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The first two episodes are the best of the show. The story backdrop is interesting, as we’re introduced to two factions, the one led by Maccha Green (real name Masami Utoku) and the other group led by Kuniko. In such a short amount of time, these two characters are established as very likable and engaging. Kuniko comes off as charming – and unhinged, such as when she’s threatening to drop all of Masami’s friends from a roller coaster. Meanwhile, Masami is heroic, whose Maccha Green suit appears to homage tokusatsu characters like Kamen Rider. However, Masami is portrayed not as perfect like the original Ultraman. Rather, she deals with internal human conflict. This is evidenced when she monologues about the difficulty of being put in a position to reveal her secret identity, in order to save her friends from the roller coaster.

By the end of the second episode, both Masami and Kuniko are hospitalized. Nozomi becomes the main character, alongside Yukina, Ai, and Chiaya. Nozomi is a likable focus, because the writing shows her genuine wanting to be like her mentor and help people. Ai is probably the most interesting of the Rolling Girls, having a spunky personality. Although the running gag of her running into conflict only to be blasted away was annoying, one has to like her determined persona. She and Nozomi get into an argument late in the story, which leads to Ai breaking from the group. This was handled well and hit the viewer emotionally because of how close the group had become by that point.

Chiaya takes more of a center focus toward the climax of the show. Her character is very similar to Nai from Karneval. Unlike Nai, who came off at times as annoyingly naive, Chiaya comes off as sweet, having a genuine longing for friends. Her relationship dynamic with her mother was interesting. Perhaps the most emotionally well done part of the show was when Chiaya tells Nozomi in the final episode, “You were my Maccha Green.” Some of the visuals in this show are unique. I was taken aback by how beautiful and surreal the backgrounds of Always Comima were. The soundtrack is solid. I particularly liked the song that played during Maccha Green’s fight with Kuniko in episode two; it gave the battle an even more stylistic flare. Speaking of the action, when fight scenes do occur, they are a lot of fun. Besides Maccha’s encounters with Kuniko, one of the biggest highlights in the action department was the battle between Haru Fujiwara and Ura Kukino later in the story.

The Bad

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Nozomi’s group is a likable focus. Nozomi is engaging, Ai is fun, and Chiaya is sweet. Notice how I left Yukina out of that sentence? She wasn’t bad, but lacked personality. She came off as shy, and that’s it. Unlike the other characters, it was hard to gauge the type of person she is, aside from being more on the shy side. She isn’t the major problem here, however.

The problem is that Maccha Green and Kuniko are too great to sit on the sidelines.

Nozomi is fine, but there’s a reason why the show never got as good as its first two episodes. The relationship between Maccha Green and Kuniko is fascinating. Near the end of episode two, there is rushed exposition that the two actually knew each other. This didn’t have to be rushed if the show had chosen to focus on these two. Instead, the writing benches the two most interesting characters until near the end of the show. When they do come back, they’re teaming up and it’s good stuff. Nozomi’s group just weren’t capable of being as engaging in comparison.

Another big problem is the under-utilization of quality antagonists. There is no real main antagonist until near the end. She, Shima Ishizukuri, was great, but terribly under-utilized. Why did she give up in the end? The whole resolution came off as rushed. Another great character was Shutendōji, whose “Life is about killing time” shtick was interesting. But, in the end, it appeared as if he was helping the characters, thus making his character supremely confusing.

There is often too much of a comedic tone coming from the episodes. The writing could have used the fascinating background of the Great Tokyo War to deliver an engaging story in the modern day. What we do get is still okay, but it rarely rises to excellence past its first two episodes.

The Verdict

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If the show had opted to keep Maccha Green and Kuniko as the primary focus, we could have had something truly great. If the writing really wanted Nozomi’s group to be a center focus, all it had to do was have Maccha and Kuniko fail a mission late in the show, and have Nozomi’s group continue where the two characters left off. It would be serious, but could still offer comedy in the form of the character interactions. Make no mistake though: The Rolling Girls isn’t bad. There are some notable characters that appear, like Ura. But, The Rolling Girls is also a missed opportunity for something special.

7/10

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Karneval Review

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Released in 2013, the Karneval anime is an adaption of the manga by the same name. The story follows a creature named Nai. Nai is apparently half “niji” and half human. Nai is looking for his caretaker, a man named Karoku. A crook named Gareki runs into Nai, and the two of them end up meeting up with a government organization named Circus. Circus’ goal is to protect citizens from monsters called Varuga and a sinister organization called Kafka. Based on the summary, Karenval sounds like a fun story. It is a fun 13 episodes, but lacks in key areas.

The Good

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The action in this anime is slick. From the opening fight with Gareki against a Varuga, viewers know they’re in for a treat. A few of the characters are notable. Though Gareki was annoying sometimes, he did have a good character arc. By the end of the show he emerged with a more heroic mindset, and a willingness to open himself up to the idea of belonging to a group. One of the stronger aspects of the show was the parts that focused on Gareki’s past, and how it relates to the present.

The Captain of the Second Ship, Hirato, was perhaps the most compelling character. He takes his role as a high ranking official seriously, but does care sincerely for his subordinates. He also has a subtle inspiring persona that the writing smartly utilizes, especially in the final episode when he’s talking to Gareki about the latter’s future. Tsukumo had little personality other than just being the super serious character for a good chunk of the show. That changed a bit in the latter part, when she realized that it might be her last night alive. Her monologue, saying how she wished she would have talked to everyone more, was genuinely emotional. Though she is good to have around, it would have been effective to see her actually die. It would have left an impact on the cast and viewer.

Nai’s character arc is a bit mixed. He works best as a character counter to Gareki. It is primarily because of Nai that Gareki starts to have a different mindset. The writing does a good job building and establishing the friendship between the two. Finally, the soundtrack is very good.

The Bad

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Characters are perhaps the most important part of any movie or show. Karneval does not have a bad cast, but not a particularly strong one either. Each of the characters have their personality trait, which is good of course. But, it seems like some of these characters are known by just their personality type rather than actual character. Gareki is a hotshot, Tsukumo is super serious, and Nai is naive but caring. These characters do get good moments, but they can’t be called “great” characters.

The biggest crime Karneval commits is the pacing. The story in concept is good, but it takes awhile for it to get rolling. 13 episode animes should not have filler, but you will find filler scenes in Karneval. The lack of an ongoing primary antagonist is also a huge negative. Well, I should say that there is a main villain, Palnedo, but he barely appears. (Where was he in the final episode?) One could argue Karoku is the main villain, but it is confusing of what exactly happened to him or what his ultimate goal was. The two most interesting villains were Uro and Meiga. If the writing was going to regulate Palnedo to background status with no conclusion, he should have been removed from the cast in favor of one of those two getting a bigger role.

Karneval ends at Episode 13 with an unsatisfying conclusion. Karoku is found, but Palnedo is still out there. If Karneval had a second season, this would be fine. But there isn’t a second season, making the “ending” lackluster.

The Verdict

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Karneval has a lot of potential that is squandered on filler scenes. Character interactions mix from great to mediocre. (Yogi’s befriending of Gareki and Nai was too sudden to be realistic.) Still, to call the show bad would be a disservice. The story is unique enough to keep the viewer engaged, and the action scenes have a nice style. The characters are interesting enough (but not superb) thanks to key developments. Karneval is fine, but there are better animes in the genre to watch.

7/10

Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters Review

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Ever since Godzilla made a triumphant return to the big screen in 2014 thanks to Legendary Pictures, the King of the Monsters has enjoyed a resurgence. TOHO released Shin Godzilla in 2016, crushing the Japanese box office. In 2019, Godzilla will once again return to American theaters, and in 2020, he will do battle with King Kong. In short, it’s a great time to be a fan. The latest film, Planet of the Monsters, marks a special achievement for the series: it is the first animated Godzilla film. Yes, there have been animated shows starring the king – namely the Hanna-Barbera show from the ’70s and the Animated Series two decades later – but this picture is the first film. Released January 17th on Netflix worldwide, Planet of the Monsters – Part 1 gives viewers new characters, new continuity, and most importantly, a new Godzilla. It’s a well made film, though suffers in some areas.

It begins in space where we meet our main character, Haruo Sakaki. He believes the elderly are getting sent off so there are fewer people to feed. It’s an effective sequence demonstrating the type of character Haruo is: passionate. After he’s arrested, we’re shown the title screen and then the most tension-filled part of the movie, the flashback. Here Haruo tells the viewer what happened at the end of the 20th century on Earth. Monsters rose up (including some familiar faces such as Orga and Kamacurus), and eventually Godzilla came. Two aliens species, the Exif and the Bilusaludo, also arrived. This was the prefect setup; it’s a shame it was told in this format instead of showing in detail the world getting taken over. Part 1 isn’t that long, so there was enough time in the beginning to further detail the flashback sequence. But, what we do get is still effective. Godzilla blows up a rocket that is trying to escape, which also kills Haruo’s parents. Soon, we’re back in the modern day.

This storyline of a human wanting to get revenge on Godzilla is nothing new. We’ve seen that in Godzilla vs. SpaceGodzilla, Godzilla vs. Megaguirus, and Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla. For the many going into Planet of the Monsters having never seen those films, this plot point will seem original. But for longtime Godzilla fans, the thought, “Here we go again…” may cross. But, the plot point is handled well for the most part. This is thanks to the passionate nature of Haruo’s character. Everyone on the spaceship seems to be content with looking for a habitable planet to colonize. Not Haruo. He’s passionate about Earth and taking it back from Godzilla. One of the best scenes is him arguing with Leland over retreating. Leland is not wrong when he says retreat is realistically the only option. The flying monsters were unexpected, and lives were lost. One can’t help but admire the dedication from Haruo as he argues with Leland, whether or not Haruo is in the right for talking against retreat.

This being a shorter film (only 88 minutes), there is not a lot of time for character development. The heroine of the story is Yuko Tani. Her only real development is the line, “I want to get stronger!” Beyond that, she isn’t given much to do. She has the potential to be an interesting character (voiced by Cristina Vee of Shantae fame), so hopefully she does more in the sequel. The most interesting character aside from the protagonist is Metphies, an Exif. His smart and sometimes ominous dialogue is interesting, and by the end, the viewer does not know what to expect from this guy in Part 2.

It takes a bit before the characters return to Earth. Some of the scenes in the spaceship border on the boring side, but there’s nothing too dull. The exchange between Metphies and Mulu-Elu Galu-Gu was particularly interesting. There’s some exposition as Haruo explains his plan to get past Godzilla’s defenses and destroy the monster from within. It’s told in a sciencey, but understandable way. When the characters finally arrive on Earth, things start to get interesting. Before we talk about Godzilla himself, let us discuss the film’s original monster. Though not named in the film, the flying monsters mentioned earlier in the review are called Servum. Their first sequence was well executed; it went down like something out of a horror movie. But, after that, these vicious creatures aren’t given much to do. Honestly, it felt like they were just there to satisfy the “Planet of the Monsters” title. (Other than Godzilla and the Servum, no other monsters appear in the present day.)

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Godzilla. The name is one of the most iconic in popular culture. This version of the king has a unique new look, but you can still tell it’s him. Though standard animation would have been preferable (imagine if Production I.G did the animation), one can’t deny how magnificent Godzilla looks thanks to the CGI. From the closeups to the distance shots of him firing his atomic ray, Godzilla looks great. Sadly, he isn’t given too much to do. He remains typically in an almost static position firing atomic blasts. He does get one nice scene of using his tail. But, there are no buildings to crush and no monsters to fight. This leads to a rather dull climax. The final battle features a bunch of air vehicles shooting Godzilla, and the latter retaliates with an atomic blast. Rinse and repeat.

The soundtrack is solid. The soldiers’ theme evokes the classic TOHO military march.  Godzilla himself gets an epic theme, similar to what was heard in Shin Godzilla. There is an after-credits scene. Haruo wakes up, apparently rescued by the mysterious girl we saw briefly running around in the bushes earlier in the film. She makes a sound of surprise…and that’s it. We know nothing about this character, so the cliffhanger does little to build anticipation for Part 2. (How about showcasing a monster reveal in a film called Planet of the Monsters?)

Like with a lot of Godzilla movies, there is a running theme. In Ghidorah, it was about putting aside differences and utilizing teamwork against a larger threat. In Hedorah, it was about fighting pollution. In this movie, it’s about human pride. The pride to fight, to not give up when things look bleak, and to press on knowing you might not make it. The speech Haruo makes when he’s put in charge exemplifies this: “If we stand our ground, we don’t show fear and if we put our lives on the line, we’ve already won.” It’s still hard to root against Godzilla, but one can’t help but want to see the human characters succeed in their endeavor. It’s an interesting conundrum. Godzilla is Godzilla, it’s hard to root against him. But thanks to Haruo’s unwillingness to relent, the viewer can’t help but root for him as well.

Overall, Planet of the Monsters gives viewers an intriguing status quo, but a bit of an underwhelming film. It’s not bad by any stretch. The story is good. The idea of Godzilla driving away humanity and somehow living on Earth for 20,000 years is epically interesting. There are some exciting moments (make sure you have your surround sound speakers ready for Godzilla’s roar near the end), and an engaging main character. The problem is that it doesn’t feel much like an actual “planet of monsters.” The battle scenes against Godzilla are fun for a bit, but during the climax the thought, “I wish he were fighting another monster” will probably occur. The Servum sadly don’t contribute much. It’s understandable that Part 1 would focus as setup. It’s a good enough story to make the viewer anticipate the next part in Godzilla’s anime saga.

7/10

Barakamon Review

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There are slice-of-life shows like Spongebob Squarepants where episode order doesn’t really matter most of the time. The opposite of that is a show like Young Justice – a show that features an ongoing storyline. Combining these two ideas, ‘slice-of-life’ and ‘plot driven,’ can be tricky. The rewards are high however, as this kind of show can deliver a unique, down-to-earth experience while also showing quality character development. That perfectly defines Barakamon, a great anime with memorable characters.

Barakmon follows Seishū Handa, a calligrapher whom is sent to an island after punching an exhibition curator for criticizing Handa’s work. On this island Handa looks to improve his calligraphy, and unexpectedly develops genuine friendships.

From the onset, Handa is a unique character. We’re shown his anger in that first episode when he punches the curator for insulting his “textbook” work. By the end of that episode, Handa begins to develop his own unique style for calligraphy by not sticking to the rigid ruleset he had been using. A lot is accomplished in that first episode, and things get even more interesting in Episode 2, which introduces more characters. Hiroshi is inspired by Handa to do better in school, which shows great development on Handa’s part. And that’s just Episode 2.

One more note about the second episode – the entire sequence with the senior patient (ghost?) talking to Handa was excellent. So, moving on to the main focus of the show other than Handa: a little girl by the name of Naru. She quickly befriends Handa, and Handa grows to care about her. Her character is one of great, genuine cheerfulness. Her child-like wonder, but having a special wisdom, is well done and serves as one of the catalysts to Handa’s changing as a calligrapher, and a person.

The characters all bring something to the table. Miwa and Tamako are fun to have around. Miwa’s outgoing personality and Tamako’s love of manga never gets old. Naru’s friendship with Hina is sweet, and Takao’s interactions with Handa are always fantastic. Characters in a slice-of-life-like story are very important, and Barakamon doesn’t fail there. It’s truly amazing what is accomplished throughout the 12 episodes. By the final episode, the viewer has grown attached to Handa’s inner journey and the people on the island. The phone call near the end was well done, and the viewer understands Handa’s wanting to go back to the island – because that’s where he met so many genuine friends and began his true work as a calligrapher.

This review is a bit shorter than usual, but I think I got the message across: Barakamon is a great anime with an inspirational message. Sure, some of the comedic scenes might go on a little too long, but that’s really just a minor thing in the long run. Handa’s journey from disgruntled calligrapher to a changed individual with his own style of work is amazingly done. The characters, especially Naru, are well developed and a lot of fun to have around. Oh, and the opening theme is one of the best.

9/10

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Yatterman Night Review

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Who doesn’t love a good tokusatsu? From Ultraman to Super Sentai, the genre remains a fixture in Japanese pop culture. It unfortunately isn’t too popular in the United States. Outside of Power Rangers, tokusatsu is relatively unknown. There have been many shows throughout the years in Japan, one of which is Yatterman. The original anime aired in the ’70s, and though it’s not as popular as Ultraman, the main characters nonetheless did make it into the video game Tatsunoko vs. Capcom. Yatterman would go on to appear in a remake show and even a live action movie. Most recently, Yatterman got an anime cerebrating its 40th anniversary titled Yatterman Night. FUNimation released it in North America not too long ago, which is great because the show is quite engaging.

The opening scene sets up the story with the attack and now iconic quote, “It’s punishment time!” It’s amazing how this sequence connects when everything comes together in the final episode. Back to Episode One, it does a fantastic job setting up most of the main characters. We’re introduced to Leopard and her relationship to her mother Dorothy. Anime deserves a lot of credit, because in just one episode it can establish how genuine a relationship is and make us care for the characters. Here we see the mother-daughter love these two have. We’re also introduced to Voltkatze and Elephantus, where we see they are servants for Dorothy.

The story really kicks off when Leopard finds out that she, Dorothy, Voltkatze and Elephantus are descendants of the Doronbow Gang. This is fascinating because all this time Dorothy had been reading to her daughter the story of how Yatterman defeated the Doronbow Gang. Leopard is dismayed at her heritage, and she also learns that many years ago Yatterman banished the Doronbow Gang, and her descendants continue in that banishment on the island they were exiled to.

Soon Dorothy grows ill. Leopard decides to take a boat to Yatter Kingdom and ask Yatterman for help. After all, he’s a hero, right? So when Yatterman and Lady Yatterman are in sight, Leopard understandably rejoices…until her boat is blasted and the two “heroes” shout that intruders are not welcome. This moment changed everything. The show’s main plot point is the mystery of what’s happening in Yatter Kingdom. Why is Yatterman not acting like the hero of legend? It’s an engaging concept, and one the writing uses mostly perfectly. At the end of Episode One, Leopard dons a Doronjo costume, likewise Volkatze as Boyacky and Elephantus as Tonzra.

So, we have a reversal of roles. Doronjo’s gang are the good guys while Yatterman has seemingly turned into a dictator. There’s a great sense of tension among the episodes. Who can forget the Yatter soldiers chanting “Yatter!” in Episode 2? The most powerful scene showing the extent of the living hardship in Yatter Kingdom is found in Episode 4. A pregnant wife’s husband is drafted into serving Yatterman for 35 years where he’ll never be able to see her. He’s told it’s an honor to serve Yatterman. The viewer can see the terror and sadness on his wife’s face as she does the Yatter salute. This scene further cements Doronjo’s mission to “give Yatterman a forehead flicking.” It’s at the end of this episode where she says that Yatter Kingdom is a hell.

The show is mostly fantastic, but there are scenes that take away a star. Chief among the negatives is Episode 7, which was mostly filler and just not engaging. This is thanks to Ryu, a character the heroes run into. I’m all for the heroes running into people affected by Yatterman’s rule…but only if they’re actually likable. Ryu’s gimmick is that he loves fish, to a disturbing extent. He talks about being wrapped around in octopus’ tentacles. It’s a little fishy, excuse the pun. I don’t care about this guy “achieving his dream,” as the episode wants viewers to. There’s also Takeshi in Episode 5. His arc was engaging, but his gimmick of relieving himself got annoying quickly. Yatterman Night is unfortunately sometimes hit with childish and strange humor.

Thankfully, the negative things don’t usually take center stage for too long. The show also gives us two more characters, Galina and Alouette. These two would become vital and epically engaging in the final episode. In the meantime before that, they aren’t bad. Galina attempting to spy on Alouette though at a hot springs was unneeded and hurt the character. Besides that, he’s given solid development throughout the show. Oh, one more heroic character whom can’t be forgotten is Honorable Oda. This pig made for a fun animal mascot without going overboard.

One subplot that wasn’t needed was Doronjo having feelings for Galina. By the end of the show, it didn’t go anywhere. Why was it added? Back to overall characters, General Goro is the antagonist whom goes after the heroes throughout the episodes. He’s a fun villain to have around. The plot twist with him later on is brilliant and adds a sense of tragedy to his character. The music that usually plays when he’s around is awesome as well. The anime’s soundtrack is strong all around, complete with a great opening theme song.

There aren’t many one-on-one fights unfortunately. Still, when the action is there, it’s fast paced. The last two episodes did an incredible job bringing everything together. The writing is great as it explains the big plot twist. The final showdown is epic and inspirational, bringing the show to a memorable close.

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Overall, Yatterman Night is an excellent take on the Yatterman franchise. Instead of being a remake, it’s set many years into the future of the original show, making it an interesting sequel. The ongoing mystery of why Yatterman has seemingly become a tyrant is engaging. Doronjo is a great protagonist, fighting as a promise to her mother and to save the people of Yatter Kingdom. Viewers get a sense of how genuinely Doronjo cares for others. The cast is good as well, all having diverse personalities. Sadly, questionable humor and the disturbing fish lover removes a star. But, the show is still a very good addition to the tokusatsu library and a must see for Yatterman fans. Even if you’re not familiar with the character, definitely give this show a watch.

8/10

Escaflowne: The Movie Review

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The Vision of Escaflowne was an influential anime back in the 90s. It was jam packed with content, from mechas fighting it out to philosophical themes such as the “alteration of fate.” Perhaps the best aspect of the show is how developed the characters are. Great care was put into the diverse personalities each of them had. There’s a fantastic sense of nobility to the story. Though sometimes the grand scheme was a bit vague, Escaflowne remains one of the great anime fantasy epics. In the year 2000, Sunrise released a film simply titled Escaflowne. Instead of a sequel, it was a retelling of the 26 episode series. That’s ambitious and of course liberties would have to be taken if a 95 minute film was to adapt a whole show. Sadly, too many liberties were taken. The film is still decent whether you’ve seen the show or not, but one is better off taking the time to watch the 26 episodes.

The film opens up with Van slashing his way through various enemies to get to the Escaflowne armor. It’s a typical action film opening, but it’s still exciting. The first act then takes place on Earth, similar to The Vision of Escaflowne’s first episode. Hitomi is introduced, along with her friend Yukari. It’s here where the dire changes from the show start to become evident. The writing reveals this version of Hitomi to be depressed and suicidal. It’s a sour note to introduce her character. Hitomi had inner monologues in the the show, but she wasn’t depressed.

What the writing does is give her a character arc that is similar to Folken in the film. (We’ll get to him soon.) Hitomi in the show is known for her kindness and ability to see the good in others. She becomes that person later in the film as she interacts with Van and sees how Folken is. It’s not a bad character arc in concept, but it doesn’t work as well as it could thanks to the rather short runtime. Because of the rushed pacing, major plot points like the romance between Hitomi and Van feels extremely forced. Escaflowne just wasn’t meant to be told in 95 minutes.

The world of Gaea is vast, which is why 26 episodes was needed to fully explore it. There’s too little backstory in the film. Going back to the first act, I don’t want to compare the film again, but the buildup to Hitomi entering Gaea in the show was epic. Van’s confrontation with the dragon should have been remade. Instead, we get this cheesy dream-like sequence and then Hitomi magically appears inside Escaflowne. The pacing is a bit slow from here until Dilandau and his men arrive.

Unfortunately, most of the characters are a step down from their original appearances. Allen was given great prominence in the show, but in the film he’s reduced to a supporting character. He could have actually been cut out and it wouldn’t have made a difference. I was also distracted by how much his redesign resembled Sephiroth. (Seriously, they look like twins.) Princess Millerna is given a big makeover, having a more warrior-like persona. That’s fine, but what does she actually do in the film? She doesn’t really fight at all despite the redesign. That’s the problem; aside from a few characters, most are just there because of their names. Worse is that Naria and Eriya, two interesting characters from the show, are reduced to fleeting cameos.

Arguably the biggest change was completely removing Emperor Dornkirk. Dornkirk was the main antagonist in the show. Though he was mostly in the same place the entire time, he was the person behind the entire conflict. Dornkirk’s fascination with the “alteration of fate” was an engaging plot point, and gave the show a grand philosophical conflict. Once you remove Dornkirk, you remove a vital part of what made Escaflowne so great. Instead, the film uses Folken as the villain. This could have been interesting, since Folken was one of the show’s best characters. He retains his engaging demeanor, though his goal is to ultimately die. He also hates Van because the latter was chosen to be king. This wasn’t a bad plot point, but it needed more backstory and flashbacks.

All of this is not to say Escaflowne is unwatchable. The story picks up nicely when Dilandau arrives. The buildup to Dilandau against Van was epic. Though, Van and Dilandau possessing magical abilities was unneeded, and actually made the fight anti-climatic. On the positive side, there’s a cinematic quality to the battle of the mechas in the latter part of the film. The writing in the scene with Van and Ruukusu was particularly strong and gave viewers a peak of the grand backstory the film doesn’t show. There’s some excitement in the climax as Folken confronts Van. Hitomi get some good dialogue. Sadly, the “showdown” is lackluster, thanks to the silly magic visuals. The resolution is good in concept, but like mostly everything else in the film, it was rushed. Back to the positive side of things, the soundtrack is fantastic. It uses the iconic themes from the show while also adding in fantastic original music.

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Overall, Escaflowne: The movie is a disappointing retelling of the classic show. On its own it’s a decent fantasy movie with an interesting story, good (but severely underutilized) characters and some solid fights. But it fails to revamp what made the original anime a near masterpiece. The philosophical conflict is removed in favor of something more simple. A lot of the main characters are given nothing important to do. At the very least, it removes the unnecessary love triangle between Hitomi, Van, and Allen. It’s a decent enough movie, but to really appreciate Escaflowne, one should invest time into the anime.

6/10

The Vision of Escaflowne Review

escaflowne

One of the best things about The Vision of Escaflowne is how it merges different genres. Mechas play a substantial part, but even more so the fantastical and philosophical themes. Romance also plays an important part throughout the 26 episodes. Though it’s not 100% perfect, Escaflowne succeeds in many different areas. The writing is almost always on point and the characters are nicely fleshed out. For those that appreciate grand action scenes, the anime delivers. The aspect this reviewer most appreciates is that the show has an atmosphere of nobility, much like Kenshin.

The Vision of Escaflowne follows a teenage girl named Hitomi. The core of the story is focused on another planet named Gaea, where Hitomi is mysteriously transported. It’s here where we learn that an empire called Zaibach is set on taking over. The first episode does an excellent job setting the stage for what’s to come. Hitomi is introduced as a normal, kind character who likes to run in the track races at school. The episode’s tone shifts drastically when a guy by the name of Van appears through a blinding light. The next part however is where viewers get a sense of the tension the story is going to have moving forward: the arrival of a dragon. There’s a great sense of danger as Hitomi and her friends try to adapt to this situation. The battle between the dragon and Van is exciting. The dragons in this show aren’t canon fodder, which is refreshing.

Episode One could be called a prelude, because it’s in Episode Two where the main story begins to take focus. Gaea is an interesting, fantastical setting, having a Medieval look. Van is introduced as a bit of a hot shot prince, which makes for an interesting dynamic with Allen Schezar later on. Allen’s introduction is handled marvelously, and he remains a great character as the show continues. Escaflowne does a good job giving its characters importance, from Princess Millerna’s medical training to Drydan being able to help rebuild Escaflowne.

Allen is a great character, but in the second half the writing doesn’t use him as well. This is primarily because of the forced romance triangle between him, Van, and Hitomi. Allen professing his love for Hitomi didn’t seem earned at that point. The show didn’t need to have this romance angle. It’s not the worst written triangle, but it can be a detractor in the show’s second half.

As for Hitomi herself, though she doesn’t participate in the fights, the writing is careful not to make her just a weak bystander. Her kindness and ability to see the good in others is prevalent throughout. One of the most powerful scenes was Hitomi offering Naria grace, despite being kidnapped by the latter. The themes of kindness, love, and redemption are there throughout the show and it’s usually thanks to Hitomi. This makes her an engaging protagonist, despite never really being in the heat of battle.

Zaibach is an intriguing antagonist. Folken is their military captain and one of the show’s best characters. He is also Van’s brother, providing a very personal conflict for throughout show’s first half. Dilandau makes for an interesting foil to the rather serious Folken, being more of a crazed fighter. Later there’s a huge plot twist with Dilandau, though it’s bizarrely explained. Zaibach’s leader, Emperor Dornkirk, is interesting. Much of his dialogue is a bit on the meta side, dealing with “controlling and altering fate.” This provides a grand, philosophical (though sometimes vague) conflict throughout the show. The final episode with most of the armies going at each other because Dornkirk says this is truly what humanity wants was intriguing. Also as intriguing was how true love can put an end to violence. It’s a great message, though Dornnkirk fading away was a bit anti-climatic.

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Overall, The Vision of Escaflowne is a quality anime. From its fantastic soundtrack to epic battle scenes, the anime is worth watching. The characters are great. From the main characters to secondary characters to characters who only appear for a few episodes, they are all handled well. The subplots and backstories enhance the story, an example being how Dornkirk was connected with Allen’s father. Though the romance triangle aspect wasn’t needed, it doesn’t take away from how much quality Escaflowne has. It’s one of the great anime fantasy epics.

9/10