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.