Hitomi Kanzaki is in a very depressed mood. She only wants to sleep and fade away. Her misery summons Lord Folken who sends her to Gaea. The people of Gaea think she is the Wing Goddess, who can call upon the legendary Dragon Armor called Escaflowne. On Gaea, King Van, the sole survior of the White Dragon Clan, is also in a depressed state. Swearing an oath to get his revenge on the Black Dragon Clan that obliterated Van's kingdom, he lives by the sword. Now that the Wing Goddess has finally appeared, she posseses Gaea's world fate in her heart. Escaflowne will either lead Gaea to peace or total ruin.
Take Vision of Escaflowne, remove all the character development, writing, humor, romance, and action that made the series the classic 90s anime people treat it as, and throw it out the window. Then replace all that with angst and blood. That's the Escaflowne movie.
While I have to admire Sunrise to attempt to condense the series for those unfamiliar with it, as well as breathe new life into old characters, this isn't the way to do it. Hitomi, instead of being a shy, but head-strong girl, is now a whiny brat who contemplates suicide. Van, instead of being a bickering but brave and powerful warrior, is
now Tarzan with a sword. Allen is now a clone of Sephiroth, and so forth; every character you knew from Escaflowne is ruined, and these character would still suck even to those not very familiar with the franchise (such as myself). The only improved character is Merle, who's a good deal less annoying than she was in the TV series. In fact, she's the best character in the whole movie! Unfortunately, that's not a compliment.
Remember those great mecha battle scenes with Van on the Escaflowne? They're gone now, as Van spends most of the movie slashing at things and watching them bleed. There IS a robot battle, but only one worth mention, and it doesn't come until pretty far in to be of much notice.
Then there's the writing. I suspect Sunrise hired Escaflowne fans in middle school to write this, as the plot and its constant mention of the same things over and over again makes Doraemon look like it was written by Charles Dickens. Not to mention how boring of a formula the movie follows: if you've watched anime for a few years now, you can guess what will happen before it happens.
So is there anything I liked about this movie? Well, it's pretty, with slightly improved character designs and a good sounstrack by the great Yoko Kanno. Annnnnd that's about it. Escaflowne: A Girl in Gaea is a pointless retread of something that was good enough the first time around, and it won't win over any new fans in its wake. And Escaflowne fans themselves should stay as far away from this turkey as possible.
Escaflowne: A Girl in Gaea was produced by Sunrise and Bandai Visual, and was directed by Kazuki Amane, same as in the series. It was released in theatres in Japan on June 24th, 2000, was licensed Stateside by Bandai Entertainment and had a limited run in theatres Stateside starting on January 25th, 2002.
Hitomi Kanzaki is depressed and considering killing herself. One day, a man appears before her and calls her the Wing Goddess, summoning her to Gaea, a world at war, where she is the ultimate arbiter of the God of the Heavens and War, Escaflowne, and, accordingly, Gaea's destiny.
As you can probably
tell, this is a complete retelling of the original series. There are far darker takes on all the characters than you saw in the series, and a completely different plot and world that they're in, which in and of itself has its effects on them. And honestly, even though it's worlds away from the series, it's just as good of a story as the series told, especially in a more limited timeframe to work in. Every character from the series shows up, though some have their involvement changed around somewhat.
For most major characters, there is enough basic similarities between their design (though not necessarily their clothing) in the series and in the movie that you can tell who's who easily. There are some characters that got a complete facelift for this, though, most notably Folken and Millerna, and the overall effect is not all that bad, really. In fact, RAWR.
The art for this is richer and draws some amazing contrasts, especially with color in some of the earlier scenes and a notable scene that goes from watercolors to full cel animation; however, the same basic style from the series is kept and exaggerated in some cases, which, at times, does not produce the greatest effects. CG is also used far more in here, and it's kind of just as obvious as when they used it in the series.
Every character's seiyuu was able to return for this, which adds that more of a sense of familiarity and continuity, especially if you can't recognize them at first glance. Yoko Kanno returned to work on the soundtrack for this, and it's just as beautiful as the series was.
So, overall, while the movie does have a more limited timeframe to work in and lots of info to convey, the new storyline and character designs are more than welcome, especially with the seiyuu returning to provide continuity, and with Yoko Kanno on the soundtrack, and a richer environment to play around in, this adaptation is just as good as the series.
This movie is everything the TV series wasn’t. It’s everything the TV show should have been. You don’t have to watch the TV show before watching this, though you might want to if you're interested in seeing how a story can be dragged from the depths of writers hell into the light of storytelling purgatory.
The main character of Hitomi is changed from a generic plucky cipher into an actual human being, a typical teenager with suicidal tendencies, who actually has a character arc. Her plight is introduced and compressed into about five minutes very efficiently through adept usage of editing, direction, art
and music, with a montage of scenes between her and her best friend, who she pushes away due to self-loathing.
Five minutes is definitely enough of watching a mopey girl and sure enough before we know it she's teleported into Gaea for a life-changing adventure with plenty of thrills and drama. The movie is paced so well that it knows how each segment could drag the story if played out too long, but it’s also paced too fast in that the story rolls along without giving the viewer, or characters, time to breathe. It’s one of the main reasons the overall score isn’t higher than it would have been if the story were more simple or the running time longer.
Another fatal flaw is the antagonist of the story, although much better than the beardy old man of the TV series, the motivation and methodology is again woefully lacking. Just what exactly is the point of the bad guy in this story? What does he want? To destroy the world? Eh? Is that it? Why do we not even care? The writer learns his lesson from the TV series by using a better character as the main bad guy and keeping him bad, but again he doesn’t give the viewer an insight into the thought-process of the character, what he wants and why; or why other people would even follow him and do his bidding.
The movie's not perfect and these flaws do irk, but they do not make the movie unwatchable, they simply prevent it from getting a high score. Escaflowne remains a memorable experience and worth a watch because it’s not long enough to overstay its welcome.
The TV series is, or bloody well should be, notorious for its completely out of control plot holes, twists and meaningless revelations. The movie veers away from this childish nonsense for the most part and opts for more streamlined and concise storytelling, however cliché it may appear, it’s at least solid in narrative and consistent in theme.
Now, whenever inexplicable stuff does happen, it’s dressed in abstract tones so it feels more cohesive and natural, it’s more like dreamy art that doesn’t have to make conventional sense, but relies more on mood to convey information or feeling to the viewer. Maybe I’m going too easy on the anime, but you can’t deny the powerful imagery and composition in this movie, its effective. It feels like Mamoru Oshii versus David Lynch.
Escaflowne concerns itself with fate, space and time, so its skilful editing in the movie can be understood as part of the theme, whereas in the TV series the editing was conventional yet the story made no sense. This is the key difference between TV series and movie. One is dressed up in conventional tones yet is weak narratively, while the other is an abstract enigma that makes somewhat logical sense underneath the mystery.
People who give this movie undue flak either have suspect taste or are too literal in their criticism of this reimagining of the TV show. And it is a reimagining, not a condensed version of a 26 episode show, because that would be futile and foolish.
This is the writer doing what he should have done the first time round, this is taking the core premise of Escaflowne and fulfilling its potential by working with the rest of the cast rather than doodling random crap together by himself and worming his way out with deus ex machinas every five minutes. This is a near-perfect melding of all departments of the production team gelling together to bring to the viewer a unique vision of another world and its impact on a teenager at the end of her tether.
Character designs are more 'realistic' than the TV series as expected, but what stands out the most is the world design which feels mystical and dreamlike, very memorable and unique, it feels like Escaflowne and not a random generic fantasy-land. The music by Yoko Kanno recycles some motifs from the TV series but includes a few new compositions and songs, all of the standard you'd expect from the master composer.
Escaflowne itself is one of the best mecha designs I've seen in anime, truly a beast of a 'machine', literally taking the flesh and blood of whoever the poor user of it is, a real tool of war, one that is a double-edged sword, quite literally. And when Kanno's amazing music is playing it’s a sight to behold.
The last 10 minutes of the movie revert back to TV levels of idiocy with childish plot devices and character behaviour, but if you're forgiving enough you'll overlook these flaws and just revel in the imagery coupled with Yoko Kanno, the likes of which you'll not see anywhere else.
Warning there will be some spoiles for both the movie and the show Escaflowne in the brief review that follows. Before I get to that, I'll give a capsule review: this is a very nice movie that takes the characters and basic plot structure of the TV show and crafts them in a way to talk about an entirely different set of themes. To get the most out of the movie some familiarity with the characters will be helpful, however being too tied to characters behaving and doing the same things as they did in the show will invariably lead to disappointment.
SPOILERS AHEAD (I can
only talk about the themes of the show and movie with the aid of spoilers, I'll minimize plot spoilers as best as possible)
This is an interesting movie as the overall primary relationships between the characters from the show and those in the movie are largely the same. Of course, anyone outside of Hitomi and Van get considerably less to do, but such are the time constraints of a 90 minute movie compared to a twelve hour show. However thematically the story of the movie is used to talk about something very different than did the show.
The TV show seemed to show us that man's attempt to change and control fate and destiny, even when its done for pure reasons, has unintended destructive side effects. It isn't so much a free will versus determinism argument as much as it is a warning against trying to get too tangled in controlling fate, lest you get bit.
The movie however, doesn't go there at all and instead is a story about suicide and loneliness. There's a sort of fictional logic to the idea that a young girl on earth's desire to kill herself would hold the fate of an entire fantasy world in thrall. Here Hitomi is a very sad and lonely girl who lives life and yet is untouched by it. Her yearning for extinction is what draws her to Gaea, and through the process of meeting Von and realizing that she doesn't want him to want to die, she sees the value of life. The message here is very much about the power of choosing to live even through times of pain and how even though we are alone, within love we are also united.
I think both themes and stories are valid and I love how the same director returned to the well and brought up very different results. I'm curious to see if the manga offers a similarly diverse look at the same root material.