Animation movie directed by Kazuki Akane and Yoshiyuki Takei< read all 2 reviews
I realized that in my first review of Escaflowne, I could have done better with the reasoning as to why I don't like it, so now here's a better review for all of you.
Even after watching this back in June of 2012, I still don't know why people love this anime so much. It just feels like another hokey fantasy story that other than a few neat ideas, doesn't do much to break the mold of so many fantasy cliches that I'm not a fan of.
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.
Originally, I thought the tonal shifts were the main reason as to why I hate this anime, but after some deeper thought, realized they're much smaller in the equation as to why I'm not fond of Escaflowne.
While the tone of Escaflowne far, far less uneven from the likes of Elfen Lied, Fullmetal Alchemist, Trigun, High School of the Dead, and Witchblade, still had some moments that I felt were pretty unfitting.
I get that Escaflowne is supposed to be more light-hearted anime fare, so I guess the more “goofy” visuals during the humorous scenes are supposed to be more fitting, but this balance gets a little rattled during a few fight/action scenes where you see whole kingdoms getting incinerated and some people getting killed, complete with bloodshed.
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. I get that she's supposed to provide comic relief, but she's not funny at all. 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.
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. Dilandau was loathsome for all the wrong reasons. You're supposed to loathe a villain for doing awful things to innocent people, but I flat-out detested Dilandau solely for the fact that he sounds so annoying you'll be grinding your teeth to the point to where you need some major oral surgery.
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.
After thinking about it some more, I think Escaflowne's ultimate downfall is the way it tells its story.
What annoyed me so much about this anime is that the storytelling methods for it really aren't above the cliché tropes and some illogical absurdities that are among the main reasons why I tend to stay away from fantasy media.
There's plenty of deux ex machina scenes in this anime, which I think get really tiresome, and as far as I remember, don't even have a proper explanation as to why some things even happened. One example is that around the middle of the series, Van manages to slay Dilandau's Guymelef pilots, and before Van can slay Dilandau, the souls of Dilandau's fallen brethren put Van in a state of stasis. Nothing else like that happens again in the series and no explanation was given as to how that could happen.
My final example is an extremely absurd revelation about Dilandau that's so goofy and forced near the end that you'll probably laugh unintentionally when you see it.
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 sung praise to Yoko Kanno’s soundtrack for this anime as if it could heal amputees and make the blind see again. I think Kanno's soundtrack is...merely okay. The Gregorian chants and orchestral pieces were fairly nice to hear, but I ultimately found them forgettable. The intro music is fairly decent for a pop tune, since it feels quite mellow and its atmosphere fits pretty well with the context of the show. The outro's techno backbone feels a bit off compared to the rest of the music in this anime.
If you're a big fan of fantasy fiction and many of its typical storytelling methods while also being an anime fan, you'll probably love Escaflowne. However, if you're like me and find many of the typical storytelling tropes in the fantasy genre irritating, then you probably should avoid this.
What did you think of this review?