Escaflowne is an excellent example of several good elements coming together to form a fantastic whole. To say the plot is about a girl from Earth being transported to another world where she must help defeat an evil empire is like pointing at the Sistine Chapel ceiling and saying ‘this is a painting'. There really is just much more to it than that. Several deeper ideas are explored here - including the question of whether or not we are slaves to destiny and whether we have the right to re-forge destiny's chains - which add an unexpected tone of sophistication to the story.
In terms of plot structure, this is an elegant show with an effortless intuition for pace and timing; for example, the way the story reveals the true meaning behind ‘the dragon' is perfectly timed for maximum appreciation. In addition, the series displays an uncanny ability to weave together a substantial tapestry of subplots, which not only prove interesting in themselves, but also help give a rich understanding of the milieu. Lastly, Escaflowne attains the kind of epic scope in twenty-six episodes that it takes others such as Full Metal Alchemist fifty or more to achieve, meaning there is a consistent stream of quality with no filler or blind spots.
By the time the final two episodes arrive, enough has been going on throughout the series that it is possible to see a general shape, although the actual events turn out to be both inventive and refreshing. What I enjoy time and time again about the ending is the way in which it can be interpreted emotionally in various ways and, more importantly, the way the story portrays the saving grace of love without resorting to cheesy gimmicks.
In essence, Escaflowne is a deep enough show but admirable especially for its skillfully presented scope. I just never get sick of its classic feel.
The animation is good considering the series' mid-nineties era, although not groundbreaking in any technical sense. Against newer productions, it is also hopelessly dated. During wide shots of melees and busy towns, the animation becomes static and the use of still frames and repeat frames is common. Moreover, for some reason, the dragons, in contrast to the rest of the show, are CG animated. Their glossy, metallic skin gives them an unearthly look on the one hand, but on the other hand, makes them look terribly misplaced in the frame. Luckily their role is so tiny that they appear only twice.
Still, battles are animated competently throughout, with swords clashing in silver streaks and warriors swerving in smooth motions during close-ups. My favourite scenes are those involving Van in his guymelef, when the animation really conveys the weight of the Escaflowne.
What is noteworthy about the series, though, is the sheer level of beauty and detail of the world concept; from sumptuous cities and the intricate guymelef (mecha) designs to the clear pastel colours and sketchy animation style, everything combines to make a visual feast. As well as being a pretty series, Escaflowne has no problem showing an ugly side - watch out for the splashes of blood, the contorted, shadowed faces of dying mecha pilots, and a couple of the freakier species designs
Clever, delightful, and varied, Yoko Kanno's score here is still one of the best around; every mood identifiable in the series is captured by the mix of pop, instrumentals, Gregorian chanting, and invigorating choral pieces. Undoubtedly the supreme tune is the epic ‘Dance of Curse' which is used during key Escaflowne battle scenes. Quivering strings and urgent choral punctuations give a sense of immediate peril and generally keep you on the edge of your seat. ‘Zaibach,' often played in conjunction with Dilandau's appearance, is another favourite because it matches his maniacal personality so very well. Unfortunately, there is one bad egg in the basket, namely the ending theme, ‘Mystic Eyes,' which sounds like it was concocted on a Casio keyboard and doesn't fit the series at all.
Both the English and the Japanese dub are solid. Allen gives the best English performance because, whether passionate in rage or passionate in love, his tone is always spot on. Van's voice is also surprisingly convincing as a stoic royal because it is so unlike the usual American jock voice used for teenage heroes. The Japanese voices are less distinctive - at times I find it difficult to distinguish between Allen and Van - but because they are far better paced, the dramatic scenes have a stronger impact.
Like most fantasy epics, Escaflowne has a fairly large cast, some of which are of the typical bishounen stock. For example, there is the suave knight, the stoic warrior, the beautiful psycho, and the fallen angel. Unsurprisingly, most of the characters are not complex in any outstanding sense, which is to say this is not Cowboy Bebop.
Possibly the most disappointing of the characters is Hitomi because, whilst the people around her drive the plot forward, she remains a largely passive observer. For example, she uses her fortune-telling to help develop plans but never comes up with any fresh ideas herself, and she acts proactively only on two occasions. What is interesting is that, unlike so many other teenage female protagonists who adopt Annie-style attitudes towards end-of-the-world problems, Hitomi realistically gets overwhelmed by it all. Sure, she is thus difficult to love outright but her role is nonetheless highly suited to the plot.
Importantly, though, whilst not superbly complex, the characters are also far from cardboard thin. All the important characters, including the antagonists, have interesting stories to tell, the conclusions of which are always surprising, mature and slightly open. For example, although a minor protagonist, Princess Millerna's part in the adventure is surprisingly touching - surprising because on the face of it she looks predictable. Despite being trapped between her conniving royal father, a cynical merchant who wants to marry her, and an unresponsive Allen Schezar whom she loves, she avoids becoming another annoying female victim by taking a brave step to change her lot.
With merely decent characters and a dated look, what makes Escaflowne stand out is the excellent plotting, the way it tells an exciting and meaningful story without losing attention to detail. For those in need of something exciting, well-paced and epic, this romantic fantasy action-adventure is a safe bet.
Let me start out by saying I rather liked Escaflowne, despite some of the harsh criticism I will probably give it. The characters and the adventure of it all were enough for me to overlook some of the minor flaws. Overall, I'd give it about a 8/10, for being an enjoyable and an interesting anime.
While some may protest, this is one of the weaker points of this anime. For one, the plot shakes a bit, especially towards the end. The plot twist involving someone's sister was so convoluted, I had to watch the episode twice to comprehend. The main point of the plot is that certain characters have world-altering mental strength tied to their very human emotions. One of these characters is a teenage girl. Off the bat, this is a bad idea. The land of Gaia is magical, and has an old world charm that is only broken by the use of giant mecha. Why? Because it's Sunrise, and they have to have mecha. The rest of the plot it taken up by the love triangle that really isn't a triangle because it involves most of the main cast in some way. Still, the story line was enjoyable and always kept me guessing.
Perhaps it was the streaming video player I was using, or perhaps my computer screen was a bit dimmer than I thought. In any case, several of the fight scenes were held on dark backdrops. My guess is this was done to add the horror of battle effect; it sadly failed to impress me. However, the rest of the anime was done beautifully, and is quality befitting the later half of the 1990's.
Imagine a fight scene between two mechs, and in the background, Gregorian Monks are chanting the name of the main mech. That is pretty much the entire soundtrack to Escaflowne. the only reason I am giving the sound a higher rating is because of the opening and ending songs, which were both beautifully done.
The characters were probably the best part about this anime. The cast was colorful and intriguing. I would have liked to see some of the characters get more screen time, but such is the way of life. The background stories for the main characters provides them with wide emotional ranges. And since the plot is thickly set in the power of emotions, that's obviously necessary. The characters are flawed, and they have their secrets. They appealed to my empathy.
Vision of Escaflowne has something of a name for itself in anime history for being an an attempt to appeal to both shonen and shoujo demographics at the same time. Featuring mechas, swordfights, explosions, stuff burning etc. alongside bishonen male protagonists in a love triangle with the regular everyday girl from another world seems to be a lot of its selling point, and as a result, it's often fondly remembered as a true anime classic of the 90s.
Escaflowne revolves around a teenage girl named Hitomi Kanzaki, an everyday ordinary girl who happens to like reading tarot cards. Or so that was the extent of it, until one day, she ended up being whisked away to the mysterious world of Gaia with a dragon-slaying teenage boy who was returning. As it turns out, Hitomi has ended up in the midst of a world about to break into full-blown war, as a result of the strange actions of the nation of Zaibach.
The first, and most obvious problem, as you may have already guessed from the synopsis, is our main character Hitomi. She is basically just what you would expect from what has been said... a bland, overly moral cliché, existing mainly for the female side of the audience to project themselves onto, as she is paired up with both of our handsome bishonen leads. And unfortunately, they aren't anything impressive either. Van Fanel is an angsty prince who sees his kingdom destroyed at the start of the series, and if you just noticed the clichés rack up, you're not the only one. He also happens to be the one that Hitomi will obviously get paired with by the end of the series. He is balanced out by Allen, who happens to be a charming, charismatic ladykiller who excels in basically every field he participates in. He had the most potential of the three, but by the end of it he's honestly not all that interesting. Throw into this a number of annoying supporting characters (along with one who happens to be pretty awesome), and you have a relatively poor set of protagonists.
However, this is mostly where the bad in Escaflowne ends. The plot in Escaflowne manages to be very solid, enough so to balance out the poor leading cast. The directing is even better, building some excellent scenes with solid action, mostly revolving around the mechas (referred to as Guymelefs). When talking of Escaflowne, you will probably end up hearing a fair bit about the Guymelefs, and with good reason. The steampunk design that they use makes them an excellent contribution to the mecha genre. In fact, the steampunk vibe in general is probably one of the most solid things about Escaflowne.
On top of this, while the protagonists are rather underwhelming, the antagonists certainly fare better. Dornkirk, Folken, and Dillandau are a far better trio than Hitomi, Van and Allen, with the latter being quite firmly the most memorable character in the series due to being batshit insane. Folken is Van's brother, and has more than a handful of similarities to a certain Star Wars character (I won't say who, but you can probably guess) and I mean that as a compliment. And Dornkirk, the Big Bad, does sit back for most of the series, but can be rather menacing when he is directly involved, and provides some very interesting motives.
From a production angle of things, Escaflowne was excellent for its time, and in technical terms it's still very solid, but unfortunately the art and animation have aged quite a lot. Most notably in the case of the infamous CG dragons. The character designs are clearly the thing that have aged the worst, though. Saucer-like eyes and misshapen noses are everywhere in them. The soundtrack is by Yoko Kanno, so odds are I don't really need to say anything else because it's freaking Yoko Kanno. The voice acting in the original Japanese is also excellent, with Maaya Sakamoto providing her debut role as Hitomi, and Minami Takayama gives a standout performance as Dilandau. Unfortunately, the dub does not even come close to shaping up. None of the actors involved really seem to grasp the concept of "acting", nor do any of them sound remotely convincing in their given roles.
Overall, Escaflowne is definitely an enjoyable run, but I really can't see where it gets its status as a classic from. It's far too flawed to be deserving of a 16-year legacy, nor has it really contributed anything good to anime as a medium. Nonetheless, it's still quite a solid story if you can get past the main characters.
Final words: Overrated, but still quite good.
Japanese Track: 9/10
English Track: 2/10
For Fans Of: Full Metal Panic!, Eureka Seven
I love this series. Its narrative is a jumbled mess of ideas taken from epic fantasy, romance, mystery, and sci-fi, yet the amazing presentation just makes it worthwhile. I am not blind to its problems. The script is complete chaos, jumping genres every few minutes and ending episodes in inappropriate moments. Tonal whiplashes are abounded but since the action does not take place in some boring high school but rather is a war-torn fantasy realm, it’s easier to forgive it because the stakes are high. It’s not about playing sad music and then ruining everything with slapstick comedy (Your Lie on April).
The genres are blending in with each other much better than an over the top high school dramedy that can either be too high or too low. It’s not a perfect uniformity but it works most of the time. In fact the thing that sticks out the most is the noses. Oh god, those noses, so rare to even see them on anime characters these days.
The pacing is so fast, especially for a 90s series. It’s mostly the result of having to compress the plot because of budget issues but, holy smokes, does it make you feel there is something new happening every 5 minutes. It does make it hard to appreciate every new revelation when it’s pushed to the side for the next revelation following close by, but if you are an impatient viewer seeking a thrill ride, this is the stuff of dreams.
And it needs to be made clear that Escaflowne is a rule of cool type of series. It does occasionally try to be a serious drama and somewhat metaphysical issues but those are just garnish while waiting the next mecha battle with epic chorus music to kick in. And remember, this is the 90s when horrible CGI wasn’t used yet, so everything looks gorgeous.
Having a minimum amount of fillers with every side story and secondary character somewhat being related to the main plot and cast makes it that much more enjoyable if you are a person of plot. The actual plot, not the other one. As good as the plot is, the same cannot be said about the script, which is vague in interpretation or leaves a lot of things incomplete or not properly looked into. The romantic polygon for example is easily the part they didn’t put too much thought into. They just crammed a bunch of shojo stereotypes and called it a day, leaving a multitude of love affairs going in circles and feeling pretty dumb in how they develop and are eventually resolved.
The conclusion is also weird; somehow love breaks destiny and the heroine has to return to her world for no given reason. Even so, every character gets fleshed out, many get some sort of development, and nobody is clear cut good or evil. Everyone has some sort of character flaw which affects the way he thinks and behaves instead of being just a gimmick.
Down to it, Escaflowne is one of the few cases when mixing a bit of everything worked without becoming an unfocused clusterfuck. And although you can use the same excuse for any other show (Code Geass) it still has way less issues than any other Sunrise mecha that is not Universal Century Gundam. Oh, and let’s not overlook how it’s 2 decades old and is still the best isekai anime ever made, easily stomping the garbage that are coming out today. (Re:Zero)
The Vision of Escaflowne is a 1996 shojo fantasy mecha series that continues to hold up more than 20 years later.
Escaflowne is a good adventure story. It doesn't cover the deepest or most complex themes, and at times it can get a little dopey in ways that make it clear they were trying to appeal to teenage girls, but the plot keeps you engaged as the cast jumps from one dangerous situation to another. Perhaps I just had the bad luck to re-watch this series shortly after seeing the staggering amount of worldbuilding in 12 Kingdoms, but the world of Escaflowne seems rather standard. Still, that has some advantages, as I didn't have to constantly wrack my brain to remember dozens of details and the story was able to move forward clearly.
ART & SOUND
Despite the fact that this show is 20+ years old, I never stop being impressed by the animation. Aesthetically, it looks magnificent. Lighting and coloring, backgrounds and character designs, all add up to a series that looks great in stills. But it's very rarely actually still, there is a great amount of movement in the animation- some scenes of Escaflowne in action are outright jaw dropping. This is top level TV animation.
Sound is top shelf as well. Anime music legend Yoko Kanno headlines the OST, which makes considerable use of classical music and choirs. There are two English dubs of this show, a TV dub from several years ago and a recent Funimation dub- I'm referring to the Funimation dub in this review. Caitlin Glass really hits it out of the park as Hitomi. She's able to convey her character's wide range of emotions convincingly and is backed up by a strong supporting cast- particularly Vic Mignonga as Folken, who's able to sound so different from his most famous role of Edward Elric I wouldn't have believed it was him if the credits hadn't said so.
A sign of a good character is that they can express a wide range of emotions and still feel consistent. Hitomi may seem like a basic high school girl protagonist, but she has dimensions to her character: she's as prone to crushes and emotional swings as any girl her age, but avoids going totally boy-crazy. She's has moments of fear and confusion but will still take initiative when she knows she has to. She has some abilities that keep her from being useless, but is far from being an overpowered plot-breaker.
I know that on a meta level, Allen and Van are there to play a 'pretty boy vs tough guy' dynamic for a female audience, but they have more than enough depth as characters to avoid just being shojo love interests. The villains have fairly standard personalities and motivations, but they still function well enough to drive the plot forward.
Solid characters and stellar production values make The Vision of Escaflowne a great fantasy anime for fans of the genre and well worth a look for anime fans in general.