Sunday, May 03, 2009

Review: Escaflowne

I found this in my archives on my hard drive, and still have fond memories of the TV series, which is now available in all sorts of special collection editions on Amazon, and decided that Escaflowne can't possibly be popular enough, so I'm resurrecting it on my blog.

Vision of Escaflowne is a science fiction adventure. Produced by Shouji Kawamori, who also produced the delectable Macross, Escaflowne is a story that combines fantasy, romance, and adventure in 26 25-minute episodes. Aired in Japan in 1996, this TV series is now available as a complete DVD collection.

The story revolves around Hitomi, who is a first year student in high school. Hitomi has a crush on one of the seniors on the school track team, Amano. When she learns that he is leaving for England, she gathers up her courage, and asks him to clock her on the track. And if she gets in under 13 seconds, would Amano-sempai please give her her first kiss?

Unfortunately, during her run, a boy from one of Hitomi's dreams show up in a flash of light, followed closely by a dragon. In the events that transpire shortly thereafter, Hitomi is transported along with the the boy to his planet, Gaea, with no apparent way back. I'll let other sites do the rest of the plot synopsis. Rest assured that the adventure never lets up, and surprise after surprise will challenge the viewer to keep the story straight.

As a world, Gaea evokes Edgar Rice Burrough's John Carter, Princess of Mars series. There are ape-men, and cat-women, boy princes and dashing swords men, flying ships which levitate using anti-gravity rocks, and powered-armored suits (called Guymelefs in the story) which transform, fly, and draw their energy from a stone called a Dragu-Energist, which can only be found in the remains of a dragon. The title of the series, Escaflowne, is the name of the Guymelef that Van Fanel pilots.

The boy whom Hitomi rescues is Van Fanel, a prince of a small country on Gaea. When Fanelia is destroyed by an invisible army of Guymelefs, Hitomi and Van spend the rest of the story trying to discover who is doing this and why.

The Characters
There are four major characters in the story, along with a large supporting cast. Hitomi is the viewpoint character, a natural choice, since the audience is far more likely to identify with her than with anyone else. Van Fanel, the King of Fanelia starts the story appropriately enough, as a King without a country, and eventually grows to become the warrior that he did not want to be at the start of the story. The third leg of Hitomi's romantic triangle (you knew there was going to be one, didn't you?) is Allen Schezar, a dashing, handsome swordsman of Asturia, the country Van and Hitomi flee to when escaping from Fanel's destroyers. Princess Millerna, who's the third daughter of Asturia, however, is in love with Allen, hence the romance turns out not to be a simple case of who does Hitomi chooses?

The interactions between characters is entertaining and perhaps classically romantic. The characters have histories that come back to haunt them, as well as unresolved pasts that they eventually have to confront. But as with most good stories, the most impressive thing about Escaflowne is that the characters do grow and mature. Hitomi does not return to Earth as the same girl who left for Gaea.


This is a fast paced series. There are at least one or two plot twists every episode,
so watching it in a collection is much better than trying to pick it up off broadcast TV. Escaflowne was first conceived as a 39 episode series, but the budget was set for 26 episodes, hence the tight pacing. In many ways this is a good thing, since there are no episodes where nothing happens, and even the character development episodes don't leave a viewer feeling cheated.

What I really like, however, is the fact that for a romance, Hitomi definitely does more than her fair share of rescuing in the series. The female leads are strong characters, and the story is compelling and full of the kind of wonder I started reading science fiction for. Of course, there are a few inconsistencies, such as Hitomi's school uniform remaining intact and immaculate despite the rough treatment she gives it, and the number of adventures she puts it through. (And except for a few episodes, she doesn't wear anything else!)

Is it worth 13 hours?

Yes! If you don't feel like buying the series, rent it, borrow it, or pool money with your friends and buy it, but by all means watch it. This is Japanese animation at its best. Unlike older series such as Macross or Gatchaman, this series is incredibly well-drawn for a TV series. The art is uniformly high quality, and consistent from episode to episode. Sure, there are the usual cases of long still shots and reused footage from episode to episode, but by and large the animation, even on a small screen is as good as anything I have seen. You won't be disappointed.

There is a movie, but as with Macross, the movie has no plot resembling that of the TV series, and in fact, will have some of the characters redrawn so dramatically that you will not recognize them except by name.

For More Information

The Big Escaflowne Website. This is a well-designed site, with lots of production information and notes on the show, as well as episode guides and a good idea of what's going to be in the movie. Spoilers are carefully marked.
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