When high school girl Hoshino Hitomi dabbles with tarot cards she suddenly finds herself on a strange world called Gaea. With her new found friend, Van Fanel, the young prince of the devastated kingdom of Fanelia, Hitomi becomes involved in the battle against the Zaibach forces, an evil empire bent on conquering the planet.
For those of you expecting a manga version of the anime series, I'd suggest you throw that idea out right now. Other than a shared setting and some similar elements (the Escaflowne, the main character's names), this is an entirely different story.
While the TV series of Escaflowne combined both shonen and shojo elements, this manga is decidedly shonen. The mecha are bigger (Escaflowne itself is about 10 stories tall), female fanservice is everywhere (Hitomi ends up naked no less than three times in the first volume alone) and the story and protagonists are more like the characters in InuYasha than the TV series, and
Hitomi in particular resembles Kagome with glasses. Dilandau is almost unrecognizable in this incarnation, and it's best to think of this story as an alternate universe not unlike the Escaflowne movie. Van also manages to top the TV series Van in terms of rudeness and can be downright stupid from time to time. Being a shonen manga, the character interactions also lack any sort of subtlety and usually end in yelling.
My main complaint is that the pacing seems odd, with certain scenes taking far too long and relatively little focus on the characters and their development. The fanservice can also be distracting, in particular when Hitomi has to power the Escaflowne and turns into a blond bombshell. This fact can also rub people the wrong way if you're used to the strong, independent girl from the TV series. It's best to remember the intended audience when stuff like this happens, but even knowing that it still seems gratuitous and a bit cheap.
Nonetheless, if you had no foreknowledge of the TV series this is a perfectly fine manga, though at times the art seems slapdash and character designs fluctuate in terms of detail and proportions. It has the mecha battles, blood, and growing relationship between Van and Hitomi from the TV series, but this is an entirely different creature that lacks the gradual buildup and real emotional depth, and at times seems like a slap to the face in terms of developing that they'll be together.
Nonetheless, as far as enjoyment goes, it still manages to deliver at least something of the original. If people want the distilled Escaflowne in the sense of the battles and bloodshed, then by all means check out this series, but if it was the deeper, quieter parts that won your heart, this series is likely to be a disappointment.
Before I say anything, let me make it clear that this manga series started about two years before the anime came out. The last volume has comments/interviews from both Katsu Aki and the creators, Hajime Yatate and Shoji Kawamori of Studio Nue, which of course proves the creators were involved with this, and talked to Katsu often. It is also confirmed from the beginning of each volume that the manga is based off of the original concept of Escaflowne, which is why it is vastly different from the anime series. So yes, this is a different Escaflowne, and you are prompted to leave the anime's
world at the door and look at the manga's world for a different perspective.
And that's not bad. Was the manga used to promote the series' coming? Perhaps. Did it work? Apparently the anime bombed in Japan, so it's hard to say for sure. It obviously ended two years after the series ended in Japan, so perhaps it was still popular enough to continue going—or money was put into it to keep it going. Again, hard to say, but this version may be more well-known compared to the two-volume manga adaptation, which apparently was never released State-side.
I was thirteen before I ever heard of Escaflowne. On my thirteenth birthday, my late-grandfather gave me the Escaflowne movie, and I fell in love with it. I never knew a series existed until friends brought it up years later. It wasn't until rather recently that I got to watch it and compare it to the movie. Now, roughly about two to three years ago, I was at a Half-Price Books for the first time with my father. I was wandering around when I found the manga section. I looked at the titles for a little bit until the title of “Escaflowne” caught my eye, and it happened to be the first volume. It said it was Escaflowne, but I noticed Hitomi didn't look like she did in the movie. I was still interested, however, and bought it.
I was blown away at how different it was from the movie (which is odd of me to say that, but remember, I didn't see the TV series until just about a month ago as of this writing).
Now what's the story? A sixteen-year-old girl named Hitomi Hoshino has dreams of a world of a glittering energist and can hear music from far away. She is at school telling a fortune to her friends Yukiko and Amano when suddenly she is called away in a quake, and is transported to Gaea through an Energist crystal, where she meets the prince in her dreams, Prince Van Slanzar de Fanelia. Much to her disbelief, he is a jerk and hot-blooded. Before long, Fanelia is attacked by Zaibach, led by Dilandau who has kidnapped Van's mother in the commotion, and slaughters Van's people. Hitomi is led to the control room of Escaflowne where when she touches the control panel, she suddenly changes appearances and channels the Energist inside her. Along the way, they meet many enemies and allies as they discover the mysteries of Gaea, Escaflowne, and the Energist sleeping inside Hitomi.
Needless to say, while the anime and manga are rather somewhat similar at first, as time goes on, it quickly becomes apparent this is a different retelling, or at least a different universe—similar to how the movie was. A bit of a problem is that... like the anime, it's complex. You have to be paying attention while reading it to understand what's going on. You will get lost if you overlook details (this includes skimming) or skip volumes. And they typically don't talk about what happened except briefly every once in a while, which I guess was a way to show it treats its audience with maturity, but it wouldn't have hurt to have a small callback here and there without pointing out the obvious. Still, the series has a nice book ends (in Trope terms) which does leave a small fuzzy feeling inside.
ART – Katsu Aki has a distinct art style, I could see it from a mile away (Hitomi actually looks like Yura from Futari Ecchi a little, even though he didn't start that series for a few years). But his attention to detail is about half of the art. Backgrounds are vast and full of atmospheric depth, characters have distinct appearances to tell them apart, the visuals flow nicely, and there is usage of emotions through lighting/shading. There were some genuinely creepy moments that made me cringe because of how he portrayed them in shadows or detail. There is also art evolution and the art looks clean by the end.
However, I had a hard time telling Guymelefs apart at times, they all looked alike to me. Of course, looking at them closely, they are distinctly different from each other, but when they're in the middle of a fight scene (and there are a lot of them, it's a shounen after all), they tended to blend in together. Dialogue bubbles were the only way for me to determine who was who about half of the time.
CHARACTER – It's apparent there is character development, as Van becomes less of a hot-blooded jerk (though he still swears up a storm), and Hitomi becomes less whiny, frightened, and becomes more accepting of Gaea, and able to come to terms with her powers; she does grow up. However, because they're the main characters, they and a couple of other characters of plot-importance get the most development. That doesn't mean each character doesn't have a distinct personality, most of them notably had thought put into them, however, they start to fall a little flat once they reach a certain level where they just are suddenly stuck on, and stay like that up until the climax—and some of them still don't get any improvement. There were too many characters to introduce (yes, there are manga-exclusive characters and some characters don't exist in this world), and they get too little or even too much screen time. Zongi, much like in the anime, is still fairly memorable (considering his name's brought up here and there), but he's vastly different in the manga and perhaps slightly more sympathetic. Though to be fair, some characters have moments of sympathy courtesy of Hitomi's visions.
ENJOYMENT – Call me crazy, but I actually found enjoyment in how vastly different the story is compared to its (admittedly more superior) anime counterpart. Yes, it's very shounen. Yes, Hitomi is curvacious has moments of nudity (but not too detailed, and it's not exactly for titillation). Yes, characters have been drawn differently, and even changed drastically. But that still didn't take away from the fact a story was being told. And as long as you keep that in mind, it works, and I enjoyed exploring the world and these characters. I enjoyed the different ideology and how much the series evolved overtime. I personally rated it a “9” (I tend to like a lot of the manga I read anyway, so...), but overall, it's a “7” because the flaws are easy to see, and then there are the nitpicks individuals will have. But it's still a pretty good story for what it is.
I can't say the same for everyone, though, so it mostly just depends on how open-minded you are to alternative universes, adaptations, or whatever you want to call this. I don't regret picking up the series, I'm happy to have gotten an expansion on the Escaflowne universe and how it works. I had fun pointing out the differences and similarities, and I'm sure that list will continue to grow. So I suggest trying it out if you're at least a bit interested in how it differs from the anime. It was released here in the States by Tokyopop in 2003, but it's pretty much out-of-print and hasn't been rescued by any other distributor. So copies are a bit difficult to come by, but you can easily find used ones online, if not scans itself. Do try it for yourself and get your own opinion. Love it or hate it, only way to know is to read it for yourself.
Let's make one thing clear right now: I absolutely ADORE the "Escaflowne" anime. I rated it a 10/10. This will influence my review. Not that it matters anyway; as a stand-alone this manga is boring and useless, and in the context of the original TV series, it's even worse. It's a monstrosity. It's not even the same story anymore. It's some generic crap with "Escaflowne" slapped on the cover. It's a bad joke.
That being said, what the HELL IS THIS?
I was excited when I heard that the "Escaflowne" manga was going to be brought to the United States. Hey, the anime was good, and I
had read some awesome manga that came post-anime ("Evangelion" comes to mind), and you can't have too much of a good thing, right?
That's a moot question anyway. This manga isn't a good thing. It just... sucks.
In the first place, the characters lost their... character. They've gone from beautifully-nuanced individuals to walking stereotypes of shounen-genre robot anime. And the character designs themselves have gone to hell. They're bad. They're boring. They're stereotypical. The story is now some stock lost-prince-reclaims-his-throne garbage, and Escaflowne is just another Most Powerful Mecha(R). The manga does not play up stereotypes for fun and parody as some series do. The manga just has them... and kills them. That's it.
If you enjoyed the "Escaflowne" manga, stay the hell away from this. It will just make your blood boil. If you enjoy robot manga, read something else instead. If you enjoy fantasy manga, read something else instead. If you enjoy shounen manga... you get the point. This isn't worth your time.