Just a fair warning, this review contains spoilers, and I put them in there because I want to save you from wasting your time and/or money on Escaflowne.
Here we go again, folks. Here's another anime series that's loved by many yet I hate it. Yet again, I feel duped by the giant heaps of praise thrown upon this anime. I wish I never sank any money into this unbelievably overrated and underwhelming series.
The story to Escaflowne is that a schoolgirl in Japan named Hitomi Kanzaki is on her highschool track field one night and sees a vision of a young man named Van Fanel fighting a dragon. She’s soon taken to the world of Gaia and shortly after her arrival to this planet, she sees Van’s kingdom fall after being attacked by the Zaibach Empire. Soon, Van and Hitomi escape in a giant stone mecha called Escaflowne and go through Gaia to find a way to stop the Zaibach Empire from destroying the other kingdoms on the planet.
Here’s yet another anime that’s plagued with this unbearable flaw. While this tonal inconsistency isn’t quite as obnoxious and abrasive as what you’d see in the likes of Trigun, Fullmetal Alchemist, Elfen Lied, and Naruto, there’s well enough to totally kill whatever efforts there are to take it seriously. An example of this would be the frequent fights in this anime, as there’s a good deal of bloody violence (though still safe in the confines of a 13+ rating), then you’ll see some scenes following with where characters act goofy with the dumb-looking, over exaggerated “funny faces” that I have practically no tolerance for (catgirl Merle is mostly guilty of this). Now if these inconsistencies were confined to one or two episodes and if they weren’t that frequent, I’d be more forgiving (though I’d still dock off points), but the fact that this keeps going throughout nearly the whole series’ run is what severely damages this anime. Also, there’s some potentially great dilemmas in this anime, such as Van’s hatred for his own brother, but the tonal shifts damage the potential in these.
Seriously, if I wanted humor, I’ll go watch some Angry Grandpa videos on YouTube. Keep the humor out of a “high-caliber” anime.
Now as you read the other categories, you may be wondering “Geez, aren’t you being too harsh on this anime for focusing so much on this particular flaw?” I think this is justified because with what I think makes a good anime, tonal and artistic consistency come before practically everything else, even story and character development. Just think of an anime with potent amounts of story and character development as a nicely-grilled steak. Now imagine frequent tonal and artistic inconsistency as a barfly chewing on tobacco and spitting all over your steak. Would you still want to eat it? I sure wouldn’t.
Honestly, the characters are a bit of a mixed bag. I’ll be frank here and say that I hate the catgirl Merle, who’s Van’s companion. She’s such an obnoxious little twerp and it doesn’t help that she’s the main source of the tonal inconsistency that damages this anime. As someone who loves cats, even I wanted to tie a concrete block to Merle and drop her into Lake Michigan. Protagonists like Van Fanel, Allen Schezar, Princess Millerna Aston, and even Hitomi have some pretty interesting profiles and I found the agony in Van and Allen’s pasts pretty engaging, which is further solidified by the characters’ penchant for tonal consistency.
While I appreciate the efforts of the creators to come up with some villains containing depth, I won’t give them points for this because the execution was poorly done, and in some cases, felt pretty forced. One of the main antagonists is a Zaibach teenage warmonger named Dilandau. I absolutely loathed this character not because he was one of the villains, but because he’s such an annoying, obnoxious brat with a homicidal streak. Even worse, towards the end, it’s revealed that Dilandau was originally Allen’s long-lost sister, Celena, who underwent brainwashing and mutation under Zaibach’s black magic sorcerers as a child. So if you want to see this annoying twerp get his comeuppance in this anime, prepare to be extremely disappointed. This twist feels so goofy and forced that I actually laughed a little during the revelation. Folken Fanel is the other main antagonist and is actually Van’s older brother. While a more interesting villain that Dilandau, Folken suffers from bad writing as well since like Dilandau, so much of the series paints him as a loathsome creature and it’s not until around the last 5-6 episodes is he seen with any moral depth to him. Because this takes place so late in the series, the inclusion of moral depth doesn’t feel like it’s meshing with Folken’s character.
The animation and artwork for Escaflowne is actually very well done. So much of the animation feels smooth, and the art direction for the world of Gaia looks like what a fantasy world should look like, in that there’s influences from a fairly wide array of ancient cultures instead of just relying on Medieval Europe and possibly Nordic paganism as sources of inspiration in the world’s architecture and people (this is a problem that I see plagues most fantasy media). Some places, like Van’s kingdom of Fanelia, manage to mesh visuals from both ancient Europe and Japan, which I thought was pretty neat.
However, the creature designs are mixed. There’s a good deal of anthropomorphic creatures in Escaflowne, and while some look like something you’d see in a more serious fantasy tale (such as antagonistic catgirls Naria and Eriya), some others look like bad scribbles from the character designer’s sketchpad. Examples of this would be some chameleon men and the Mole Man featured in this anime, as their goofy looks don’t fit at all with the way the other characters look. I’ll say that the designs for the Draconians were a bit interesting, if not too inventive.
There’s stone mechas called Guymelefs, and the designs for these are actually pretty impressive. I was especially impressed with the Escaflowne’s transformations from an upright machine into a mechanical dragon. However, the Guymelef designs for Naria and Eriya gave me some bad flashbacks of those obnoxious puma sisters from Dominion Tank Police (an “anime classic” that I find much less tolerable than this, but that’s another kettle of fish).
Many have gushed over Yoko Kanno’s music for this anime. While I didn’t hear any tracks that were downright bad, I didn’t hear any that were very impressive, either. Also, I couldn’t help but notice the stylistic inconsistencies of the music in this anime. While most of the background music consists of Gregorian chants and symphonic epics, I couldn’t help but notice that the opening and ending themes totally break out of character, since they feel more like pop music.
Escaflowne is NOT the anime classic so many people say it is. What’s ultimately sad is that this series, unlike so many that are on my “ultimate hate list” such as Elfen Lied, Naruto etc., Escaflowne could have been the great anime series so many say it is had the tonal shifts and forced character depth been totally erased.
Now I can’t wait to take my Escaflowne DVD set to the nearest used media retail shop.
Escaflowne Complete Collection is an eight-disc DVD set that contains all twenty-six episodes of The Vision of Escaflowne. The first two discs each contain four episodes and bonus features. The remaining six discs each contain three episodes and bonus features. The bonus feature on the first disc is four music videos for The Vision of Escaflowne (a textless version of the opening theme, "Friend," "Blue Eyes," and "Into the Light"). This feature runs for about thirteen minutes. … more
Although it didnt fare well on Fox Kids,Escaflowne has a large, loyal following, perhaps because this sprawling fantasy offers the ingredients of classicmecha, sword-and-sorcery and magical girl adventures. After psychic teen-ager Hitomi has a vision of a man battling a dragon, Prince Van of Fanelia and a dragon materialize. He slays the monster and transports Hitomi to the mysterious world of Gaea. An odd mixture of advanced technology and medieval culture, Gaea has links to ancient Atlantis. A typical romantic triangle develops, involving Hitomi, diamond-in-the-rough Van and ideal knight Allen Schezar. The saga attains a Byzantine complexity when the trio is captured by Zaibach Emperor Dornkirk--who is actually Sir Isaac Newton. He's at work on a machine that will enable him to create alternate destinies for Gaea. At times, the story by Hajime Yatate and Shoji Kawamori seems to be careening out of control, as Hitomi whines and the supporting characters appear, disappear and undergo radical personality changes. The most serious flaw is the failure of any of the heroes to defeat the evil Dornkirk, who has dispatched murderous doppelgangers, conducted sadistic experiments on kidnapped children and attempted to subjugate an entire planet. But the combination ofteen-age romance, fantastic robot-suits ("guymelefs"), elaborate battles, hystroinic villains and a world-threatening challenge has madeEscaflownea favorite amongotaku. The feature, released theatrically in the...