Vision of Escaflowne
Reviewed by Daniel Huddleston:
If I were to name one series in recent memory that sums up everything I love about anime, it would probably be Tenkuu no Escaflowne. It has the beautiful design work, the quality animation, the excellent characters, the imaginative settings, and the long, involved relationships and plots that, to me, make Japanese animation so enjoyable.
Hitomi Kanzaki is on the high school track team, and has a crush on its captain, an upperclassman named Amano. She tells fortunes with tarot cards as a hobby--and sometimes she actually sees visions that come true. One day on the track, she collapses as she sees a vision of a young, dark-haired man from another world. That man-- Van Fanel-- later appears in a flash of light, on the very day that Hitomi had talked Amano into giving her her first kiss, if she can beat her best time on the track.
Van is hunting a dragon, which has travelled from his world to Earth. Hitomi's precognition anticipates the dragon's attacks and allows Van to defeat it. He takes the dragon's heart (a glowing crystal called an "energist") just before he's taken back to his world, Hitomi -- accidentally -- in tow.
Van Fanel, we learn, is the new king of Fanelia, a nation on the planet Gaia, which can't be seen from Earth, yet is so close that the Earth and Moon can be seen in its evening sky. Gaia is a world of knights, dragons, feudal kingdoms, and...oddly enough, giant mecha. The dragon hunt was Van Fanel's rite of passage, the energist and his blood the keys to awakening Fanelia's guardian, the giant, robotic armor known as Escaflowne.
Just then, Fanelia is invaded by the technologically-advanced Zaibach Empire, whose own squad of mecha (called "guymelefs") burns everything to the ground, and sends Hitomi, Van, and Van's cat-girl servant Merle fleeing for their lives.
In the nearby nation of Asturia, they are taken in by Allen Schezzar, golden-haired leader of Astoria's elite corps of knights. Allen, a courteous, handsome warrior, bears a startling resemblence to Hitomi's would-be boyfriend Amano, and much romantic angst ensues.
As the series progresses, the Zaibach pursue our heroes across Gaia. Hitomi and her friends visit many strange kingdoms, and make friends and enemies along the way. Hitomi's powers of precognition grow, as do the relationships and characterizations of all the main characters.
One of the most striking features of Escaflowne is its terrific music, composed by Yoko Kanno (Macross Plus, Please Save My Earth) and Hajime Mizuguchi (Please Save My Earth), and performed by the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra.
Animation quality is way above average for a TV show, and a couple notches better than a lot of OAVs I've seen. The attention to detail is evident throughout the series, from the mechanical design of alien technology, to little touches, like a character licking an upper lip during battle, or Allen glancing back and forth in his armor's cockpit as he tries to pay attention to two things at once. Also, there aren't many "faceless" foot soldiers in Escaflowne. The enemy guymelef pilots and Allen's knights are all carefully designed, and even those who are merely background characters with no real parts in the story are still instantly recognizable.
Of the series overall, I will say that the final episode seemed rushed and not entirely satisfying; however, the twenty-five episodes that preceded the ending were terrific, making for a trip that was definitely worth taking.
Parent's Guide Rating:
yellow (parental guidance advised)
The only nudity in the series occurs roughly midway through, in a brief, darkened shot of a man from behind.
As near as I remember, the subtitles contain anime-standard cursing (basically at the PG-level).
The violence ranges from nonexistent in some episodes, to horrific in others. Some examples of this include a man getting crushed to death in episode 11, where we see (from a very far distance), a cloud of red blood exploding outward. In episode 14, we see a horribly injured Van wrapped in blood-soaked bandages, screaming in agony for an extended period of time. This is in part a war story, and battlefield violence is not shied away from.
Adult themes: one plot point involves a secret, illegitimate child. This is only described by the regretful father admitting that long ago, "we surrendered ourselves to a forbidden love." Also, two cat-women late in the series fight each other, and one pins the other down in such a way as to suggest lesbianism, although intimidation is the actual point of the scene.
For these reasons, I'd approach the series with caution, though older children and even adults will likely fall in love with this show.
A dubbed, edited-for-television version of Escaflowne will begin broadcasting on Fox Kids on Saturday, August 19. According to early reports, this version will be available on videotape, though the subtitled version and the DVD edition will be uncut.
Additional comments by Kris Wolfe:
At the very end of the series there is a MASSIVE war. Gaia's equivalent to a nuclear bomb is dropped, killing enemies and allies; many people are killed in their guymelefs, with a spurt of blood and a cry of pain. In general, at some points there is a LOT of blood. It is a war.
The character Dilandau might also cause problems. Asides from basic gender problems, Dilandau is stark raving insane. This might frighten or confuse children. But he's also one of my favourite characters. I love how he's presented at first as just plain evil; when you learn his tragic and tortured past, you see him in a different light. In addition, every single one of his protectors and friends dies in the course of the series (there's a LOT of death; what makes it worse is that Van is the one who killed them) and that just makes him more insane. At any rate I love Dilandau because he is an incredibly tragic, pathetic figure. I'm not sure children would be able to grasp the full horror of his situation or the pity it invokes; and if they did I'm not sure they could handle it. He's a very complicated character. In addition **SPOILER** some parents might be offended by him switching back and forth from male to female.
In the end I also find the villain a pathetic figure; you see that he thought he was giving humanity what it wanted, something that would help it, but ultimately he finds that the nature of humanity is often to be cruel, to be greedy, to be selfish. That's really the whole point of the series, and I'm simply not sure if children would grasp it at all. There is a point during the war at the end in which people turn on each other; there is a frenzy of battle and death, betrayal and greed. This is because people had their wishes granted. Though it might be a lesson to children in why they can't always have their way, I feel that they might just be confused as to why people were doing the things they were doing to people who were, moments ago, their friends.
Also, a certain number of likeable, sympathetic characters die, sometimes in pools of blood, with death speeches, or in other artistic and sad ways. This might disturb children, who often in America are brought up to think that good guys don't die.
All in all, this series has a number of funny scenes you can count on the fingers of one hand, and at the end it becomes extremely philosophical (and rather violent as well). There is a happy ending, but after all that other stuff I don't think that's good enough. Other than the extremely disturbing scenes inciting nightmares, I would be most worried about kids simply not really understanding some of the characters or ideas presented in this series fully.
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