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

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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