Hitomi Kanzaki is just an ordinary 15-year-old schoolgirl with an interest in tarot cards and fortune telling, but one night, a boy named Van Fanel suddenly appears from the sky along with a vicious dragon. Thanks to a premonition from Hitomi, Van successfully kills the dragon, but a pillar of light appears and envelopes them both. As a result, Hitomi finds herself transported to the world of Gaea, a mysterious land where the Earth hangs in the sky.
In this new land, Hitomi soon discovers that Van is a prince of the Kingdom of Fanelia, which soon falls under attack by the evil empire of Zaibach. In an attempt to fight them off, Van boards his family's ancient guymelef Escaflowne—a mechanized battle suit—but fails to defeat them, and Fanelia ends up destroyed. Now on the run, Hitomi and Van encounter a handsome Asturian knight named Allen Schezar, whom Hitomi is shocked to find looks exactly like her crush from Earth. With some new allies on their side, Van and Hitomi fight back against the forces of Zaibach as the empire strives to revive an ancient power.
Escaflowne was originally planned to be a 34 episode series, but after cuts to its budget and an extensive reworking of the plot, the show was reduced to a 26 episode run.
Due to time constraints, certain footage in earlier episodes were cut during its broadcast and later restored on the Japanese home video releases, referred to as the Director's Cut. The North American Bandai Entertainment releases used the TV masters, so their English dub does not sync properly with the Japanese home video masters on those specific episodes. FUNimation later licensed the series and, in 2016, launched a successful Kickstarter to redub the entirety of the Director's Cut edition.
Manga, Anime: There are three different manga for this anime, and the two that were released around the same time as the anime are worlds apart. In order to understand this, you need to know a little something about the production.
Escaflowne was in development for about five years. Shoji Kawamori (famous for his work on the Macross series and Eureka Seven) came up with the initial idea for the series after a trip to Nepal, and hashed out the basics of the series with Minoru Takanashi at Bandai, with Hitomi originally as a curvy, long-haired, air-headed girl with glasses,
and a decidedly more shonen bent to the series. Sunrise (famous for their work on the Gundam series and Cowboy Bebop) was originally selected to do the series, which was then planned at 39 episodes, and Noboteru Yuki worked with Kawamori, with the director at the time being Yasuhiro Imagawa. The director stuck around long enough to coin the phrase Escaflowne, and then left before production actually started, and the project was shelved. Two years later, Sunrise picked it back up and bought on Kazuki Akane (famous for his work on Noein -To Your Other Self- and the Birdy the Mighty 2008 remake), who then gave the series a complete makeover, bringing in shoujo elements to balance out the shonen, notably, making the men a bit more into bishonen and remaking Hitomi as the girl we know in the series.
The first of the manga titles to come out shared the anime's name, and was based on the original production ideas, which gave it far more of a shonen bent. This manga was done by Katsu Aki, and ran in Kadokawa Shoten's Shonen Ace magazine from October 24th, 1994 to November 26th, 1997. It was licensed Stateside by Tokyopop, and the eighth and final volume was released on September 14th, 2004. The second manga title, titled Messaiah Knight - The Vision of Escaflowne, later retitled Hitomi - The Vision of Escaflowne, was released around the same time as the anime, and was a shoujo adaptation based more on the final version of the anime. Yuzuru Yashiro did this adaptation, and it ran in Kadokawa Shoten's Asuka Fantasy DX magazine from April 8th, 1996 to January 18th, 1997, and has yet to be licensed Stateside. The final manga title is called Energist's Memories, which is an anthology of several stories from the Escaflowne universe done by several manga authors. It was released in January of 1997, and also has yet to be licensed Stateside.
Escaflowne is a twenty-six episode series (yes, you'll notice it was cut down from the 39 episodes originally planned) that was produced by Sunrise and Bandai Visual, and directed by Kazuki Akane. It ran on Japanese TV from April 2nd, 1996 till September 24th, 1996. It was licensed Stateside by Bandai Entertainment, and the latest full boxset was released on April 11th, 2006 as part of the Anime Legends collection.
Story: High school track runner Hitomi Kanzaki has a talent for stunningly accurate tarot readings. One day, she has a vision of a young man slaying a dragon, and, later that night, the same young man is transported to her world in a pillar of light, along with the dragon, and he slays it. As soon as the young man, named Van Fanel, has harvested the energist stone that lies in the dragon, the pillar of light returns him back to his world, Gaea, where both the moon and Earth (known as the Mystic Moon) hang in the sky - only Hitomi is taken back with him. As Hitomi tries to find a way home, her latent psychic powers are awakened, which in turn awakens Farnelia's mech (known as Escaflowne), and she becomes caught up in the politics and conflict between Asturia, Farnelia, and the Zaibach Empires.
You can tell that the story was originally meant for a longer series, but the decision to trim it down to twenty-six episodes came through just when the series came in just as production was beginning, and the director didn't want to sacrifice any of the characters or plot lines. So, instead, the already elaborately planned plotlines and character development was made to fit into a twenty-six episode series. And, admittedly, while the story and development is a bit jerky, slow at first but then speeding up in others, it still manages to completely and coherently wrap things up in its length, not to mention give the fairly extensive cast of characters good development.
And speaking of characters, I have so much respect for how they developed them. The characters all start out as fairly common shoujo tropes, but are developed into real people and incredibly engaging ones at that. Hitomi especially; she could've been this horrible Mary-Sue, but instead she is developed and even grows up a little as she makes her way through Gaea and reacts pretty realistically to her situation. Relationships between all of them are slowly developed, and you aren't hit over the head with it as they are; when they are finally bought to light or out and out pointed out, you realize, "Oh, that explains it!"
For those of you who are mech fans, you'll be happy to hear that the mech fights are paid as much attention to as the the story and character development; there's at least one major fight every other episode. And especially appropriate is how they developed the mechs to match the level of technology that's found in Gaea.
Gaea is general is built extremely well as a world; just about every aspect you could think of is given thought and explained in ways that don't make you feel like you're being hit over the head with the exposition hammer all that much.
The downside of all this is that you feel like you're getting bombarded with information, and there are a few minor characters that are mostly running gags and who they seem to forget exist for a few episodes here and there and then are bought back into the story to remind the audience, "Hey! They're still here!"
So, overall, while there is quite an overload on information, and a few gag characters are forgotten here and there, Escaflowne's story is still pretty good, and all elements of it are given equal loving attention.
Art: Compared to other shows that were airing roughly around this time (Ruroni Kenshin, Martian Successor Nadesico, Ghost in the Shell), Escaflowne's art is pretty damn good, if not gorgeous. Character designs are given the perfect amount of detail, not to mention as are all the different races on Gaea, mech designs, backgrounds, just everything is absolutely beautiful in this. There are some very strong lines used in this, like what we saw in Ouran High School Host Club. And overall, the quality of the art has aged quite well.
The style of the art has not aged well, though. Facial features are extremely exaggerated, notably with a few noses that could conceivably be used as swords with how pointy they are. Also, CG use in this is fairly obvious, which is a bit understandable, but it's still a bit painful to watch at times.
Music: The music for this is absolutely spectacular. Yoko Kanno did the work on this, and it's not the typical jazz soundtrack that I've seen from her in Darker than Black and Cowboy Bebop. Instead, here, we get EPIC orchestral scores, with beautiful string work and special emphasis on the cello (used to be a cellist, so it's always great for me to hear the instrument used so well) and excellent choral arrangements.
The OP is sung by Maaya Sakamoto, Hitomi's seiyuu, and is just a lovely ballad (well, waltz, actually, it is in 3/4 time) in general. It's always a good thing when I don't skip through the OP, and it's even better when I sing along to it; I did this every episode. The ED is a more stereotypical upbeat JPop number done by a guy instead of a girl, and was very easily skippable.
Seiyuu: This series is chock full of good seiyuu. Hitomi was Maaya Sakamoto's (famous for her work as Haruhi in Ouran High School Host Club and Aeris Gainsborough in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children) debut role, and her singing of the OP was her first work singing. Besides Ms. Sakamoto, Jouji Nakata (famous for his roles as the Count in Gankutsuou and Alucard in Hellsing) appears as Folken, and Juurouta Kosugi (famous for his roles as Akio in Revolutionary Girl Utena and Fernand d'Morcerf in Gankutsuou) appears as Dryden.
As for the other seiyuu, the voices fit well, and were acted well, which is all I ask for.
Length: Twenty-six episodes makes the series feel a bit pushed for time. Having the full run of 39 episodes probably would have helped this in the long run, and especially given it some time to breathe. Any shorter, though, and it just wouldn't have worked.
Overall: Escaflowne has an excellent story and characters, a well-built and animated world, excellent seiyuu and beautiful music. It has a few flaws, mainly from the compressed schedule it was given to air in, and the occasional forgetting of characters but, nonetheless, is a very solid series. It's not a ZOMG favorite series for me, but I would definitely recommend it for anyone looking for a good series.
Oh Escaflowne, I do love thee. This is my favorite series to date and is likely to stay that way, but what makes it so appealing?
The first thing about this series that earned it a point in my favor was the wholeness and realness of the characters. Hitomi, the protagonist, in particular earned my approval because she, unlike most anime females, seems very realistic. She's not the stereotypical "cutesy" girl (God, but I do hate those), nor is she overly self-sacrificing; she's not one of those violence prone angry chicks, nor is she the tough loner, she's not a goober who's always eating, nor is
she a femme fatale; she's just a high school girl growing up in stages with a strong moral code. She's someone I can imagine meeting if I walk down the street, which, after being innundated with the above stereotypical anime females, is very refreshing. Granted, there are many people who dislike Hitomi greatly, but I feel that she's a strong character and that many of her actions, if you take the time to really imagine yourself in her situation, are reasonable, or at the least, understandable.
Aside form Hitomi, there are many other chracters involved in the story, each having their own personalities and unique stories. You've got Allen, the valiet bishounen knight, who is a bit strung up on the old ways of chivalry, Dilandau, the bloodthirsty psychopathic young general, Van, the moody and quiet crown prince, and a variety of other characters. The characters are so well done that it's easy to fall in love with even the minor ones such as Gaddes, Allen's right hand man.
The art style is very good given it's time period. It is a bit older though, so don't expect graphics like those of today found in animes such as Full Metal Alchemist and Air. The colors are a bit duller, but that only serves to enhance the overall rustic feeling of the anime.
The musical score for the series is fantastic. The emotions of a scene are captured superbly based solely on the ochestra rhythms. The openning theme is one of my favorites. The ending is a bit odd, but it grows on you. The ending also seems somewhat out of place as it has a sort of slowish techno-pop feel to it.
The main genres are romance and fantasy, but there is also a splash of the mecha realm thrown in. Unlike most mecha animes, the mechs in this are powered by the fantastical powers of dragon heart stones, hydrolics, and mechanical sytems. Their subesquent design is unique and intruiging. While seemingly low tech (the world in which Hitomi falls is not really technologically advanced and has a middle ages feel to it), the mechs are actually impressive bits of machinary. The floating fortresses and air ships, powered by magical stones, are also of interest.
There is not much humor to be found. Given that the story takes place in a world in the thros of war, this is understanable. It is not overwhelmingly, depressingly serious though. They do not make a point of expressing the darkest vices of human nature like Beserk or Elfen Lied. However, the anime does examine the destructiveness of greed, cowardess, hatred, and the problems associated with pursuing science for the sake of science. So, if you're a fan of the overly goofy or light-hearted series, this one is likely not for you. It is also not likely for you if you're an action fiend that requires an explosion or hand-to-hand fight every ten seconds. This one is mainly for fantasy/romance (but not the teenaged angst romance or the ten girls single guy romance) types.
One of the main themes of the anime is the conflict of fate versus free will. It makes some very intersting conclusions about how one's free will affects not only one's self but all of those around one.
I adored the bizarre twists presented at the end and highly recommend this. At least watch the first three or four episodes to give it a try. The only thing that will disappoint you is the fact that there's not more of it.
So I've been patiently watching the series mainly because I have nothing else to do, and tbh I quite enjoyed the first half of the series. And then they lost me. I mean it's a fantasy anime, so a fair bit of leeway has to be given to the plot. I can make my peace with the hidden power of fate that the MC uses. I can deal with the mana-mechanical transformer-bots in a medieval setting. Hell, I can even swallow the uber ridiculous goal of the antagonist to control fate, and in corollary, control the world. Classic Villain. Pretty easy to swallow.
Then it got weird.
There are a bunch of reasons I pretty much hated the series.
1. The antagonists are a fucking joke. First there's Dornkirk who is our classic villain in the shadows, pulling the strings, laughing his evil laugh, who not surprisingly at all started out helping people. His goal is to create a world without war. Now thats very ambitious. More ambitious is his chosen method of accomplishing this goal i.e. controlling fate. You would think that he would take some kind of care in choosing his generals and inner circle.
Which brings me to Folken. Seriously dude? You joined his Hitler-esque cause because you didn't want to kill a dragon? Yeah I know, thats not what happened, but take a moment to think about his actual motivation for joining up with Dornkirk. There really isn't any. I mean I get why the fortune twins fell for Folken, they were half cat so it makes sense for them to unconditionally love the person who saved them. Folken's origin story makes me believe his Draconian mother had intimate relations with a fucking cocker spaniel, because in the end he's basically a rescue.
AND WHAT THE FUCK IS UP WITH THIS DILANDAU CHARACTER? I mean seriously. His only motivation to do anything is "I have a boo boo on my cheek and I must destroy the one who did it and anyone in the way of accomplishing my boo boo revenge". Really man? Is that all there is to you considering how many fucking times you battled the MC?
2. Which brings me to my second point. I don't like to be masturbated without the pleasure of a climax. Van has a hard-on for murdering every minor baddie, but for whatever reason when it comes to Dilandau his sword needs Viagra to function. Not to mention Hitomi's nagging also starts ONLY when Dilandau's close to death. Why? Why is this barely one dimensional character still alive in the 3rd act of the series? Even the final plot twist with this character...WHY? And more importantly HOW? His condition just resolves itself because….profit? This character gave me the biggest murder boner simply because the writers wouldn't kill the little bitch off and kept teasing till the very end.
And after all that "cold as ice" acting , Folken's heart suddenly melts? Because his two pussy cats died? Why? Did I miss something? What was your motivation to join Dornkirk ? What was your motivation in leaving him? Were you sleeping while he slaughtered the first few million people, or did it really take your pussy dying for you to regain your empathy? WTF? THIS, if any of the characters from the antagonists should have been the final conflict. Instead, the writers pussy out and turn him into a good guy at the end. Its pathetic. I bet a nun could jerk me off better than this piece of shit anime.
3. Then there’s… Luck enhanced soldiers made by transfusing synthetic blood created from splicing the genes of the luckiest people…….
ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME!?!? WHY NOT A FUCKING SPELL? ITS A MAGICAL WORLD!!! A SPELL WOULD HAVE BEEN MORE BELIEVABLE!!!
Unless you’re as nit picky as me, you probably won't notice, but the mythology and the world design is in a clash in this anime. Much of it is ok, since we waste most of our time with the bland and often interchangeable characters, but for the most part...ehhh...the world isn't believable as either fantasy or science fiction.
4. The two main characters finally fall in love. This love is strong. Its history is epic. It will become a tale retold in many forms. It had the power to overcome fate. There was nothing in the way of the two lovers making a life together. Theirs was a perfect ending. “Well, I have go back to Earth for absolutely no reason at all and pine for my lover for the rest of my life” - Hitomi.
In conclusion, I’ve definitely seen animes with worse characters, story mechanics, mythology and plot. Credit where credit’s due. It isnt the worst thing out there, but make sure you don't watch this anime when you actually have the time to watch it. Watch it while you study for a test or something like that. Keep it in the background so you don't notice the flaws, and you only see the magical transformer robots and furries. At least that way you won't pull your hair out from the frustrating stupidity that is Escaflowne.
Escaflowne is renowned for its soundtrack scored by Yoko Kanno, an epic orchestral voyage to a fantasy land that remains original even today in an era overrun by music for fantasy films and anime, all vaguely familiar with their typical motifs and themes.
Escaflowne’s animation, at least for the remastered DVDs should also be praised, as well as the direction by Kazuki Akane. It’s dynamic, artistic and looks gorgeous; a vivid world brought to life by an excellent production staff.
Escaflowne’s story takes a dump on all of this, squatting on its nonexistent bent knees, its jeans wrapped around its feet awkwardly, while it looks around
without any shame whatsoever, even with an air of arrogance about it, staring at you as if to say “Yeah? So what?”
A schoolgirl, Hitomi, gets transported to another world which is on the brink of war thanks to an empire ruled by a beardy man with plans to change fate to his whim. There is a supporting cast of kings, princes and princesses, random animal-folk, jousting mecha and an obligatory secondary antagonist who is bug-eyed, sounds like a little girl when in pain and generally annoys the hell out of you, much like when you see someone taking a dump in public with no shame.
The writer, the aforementioned dump-taker, takes the concept of fate and rapes it to a bloody pulp with deus ex machina after deus ex machina. What we see is not so much the consequences of toying with fate, as the big baddie attempts to do, but the consequences of a lousy writer using fate as an excuse to take shortcuts in the screenplay because he's too lazy and incompetent to tell a tale properly.
Escaflowne has a pretty simple, and almost childish, story structure of groups of people being chased from one action scene to another, complimented by a love triangle, which all builds up into a perfect storm of plot contrivances, holes, twists and gaps of logic, all meaningless, un-earned and insulting.
The writer plays so fast and loose with Hitomi's powers that anything can happen at any time and there's nothing you can do about it, the writer just doesn’t care about any rules of screenwriting, he throws everything at the screen and the viewer has to accept it or not, no matter how baffling and unexplained it is.
People getting transported via columns of light into specific landscapes very conveniently, people having their flashbacks played for others, people getting hurt or healed conveniently, in fact it may as well have been called the Convenient Vision of Escaflowne, because Hitomi sure as hell gets many during the series, all perfectly timed to diffuse the story of any sense of mystery, suspense and development.
Every single dramatic action scene of importance is foreshadowed and foreseen by the protagonist, and thus the viewer. To have a 26 episode series constantly use this method is staggering in its ineptitude, and almost irresponsible behaviour that any writer worth his salt would balk at.
This 'character' of Hitomi feels and sees EVERYTHING that happens in the story, all to the writer's convenience. She's not so much a 'god' as she is the writer's pen masturbating over your eyeballs.
Nearly every rule, whether it be mythological or narrative-based, set up in the story is either broken, molested or outright ignored just to give maximum dramatic impact, but that impact itself is robbed of any power because it’s so insulting watching a story be so inconsistent.
Lazy writing. This, as you can guess by now, was the main problem of the series. Characters acting out of character, revelations with no meaning or coherence about them, it’s a mess. A mess strung together by an extremely competent crew, the writer notwithstanding. A brilliantly directed and animated mess with a gorgeous soundtrack.
Yoko Kanno’s 4 CD soundtrack is a classic of the anime medium. An amazingly sumptuous memorable epic filled with orchestral bombast, vocal choirs scaring the crap out of you with chants of ‘ESCAFLOWNE’, beautiful violin and piano-led melodies that indicate a winding journey of heroism and love. Basically her soundtrack doesn’t belong on such a flawed story, and as a result it elevates the anime to another level. It keeps you watching even though the story irritates you with its constant missteps, the music is too beautiful to ignore.
There are memorable moments in Escaflowne, thanks to the music, art and direction, making it worth a watch but not essential. Listening to the soundtrack is a must however. Having visuals as a context may enhance your experience with Kanno’s genius, but she is so skilled that you don’t need the images of this anime to be affected by her music.
If you want to watch a tale with the same template but done better, then watch Juuni Kokuki.
We all get in the mood for some fun, excitement and a good love story. And we all love to watch anime with our significant others...so that we can witness what our favorite characters are doing with their significant others. It's time to check out some top-notch action romance anime!
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