Escaflowne - Dragons and Destiny (Vol 1) Review
A world is dying…Torn apart by a colossal war, the planet of Gaea is in turmoil. Civilizations have been wiped out, and more are ready to fall. But a girl could change all that. An ordinary girl, Hitomi finds herself suddenly transported to the mysterious planet Gaea, where the Earth hangs in the night sky. A planet filled with magic, strange technology, and legendary armor. She doesn't know it yet, but her special abilities could be the key to saving the entire planet.
It seems a safe bet to say that any number of animé series have been based on the simple premise of a boy or girl being transported to another world, and from the description above (given on the back of the first volume of this 8 volume release) it seems that Escaflowne is no exception. However, Escaflowne is seen by many animé fans as the best example of this genre to date and when you first start to watch the series it becomes clear why it is held with such high regard.
While the basic plot of Escaflowne (also known as The Vision of Escaflowne and Tenkuu no Escaflowne) is the simple ‘girl transported to another planet’ there are so many other story layers added on that it becomes almost impossible to describe the whole structure. It is these additional story layers that make Escaflowne such an intriguing series, as there are major plot developments and story arcs included in each episode which hold the viewers interest.
The show opens by following Hitomi Kanzaki who goes to the local high school, is a member of the track team and has a crush on Amano, one of her team mates. Hitomi can also read tarot cards and recently has been having disturbing visions of another world which appears to be in turmoil. When one of her visions of a young warrior prince fighting a ferocious dragon comes true before her very eyes, Hitomi is soon drawn into the fate of a planet called Gaea.
Hitomi is transported along with Van, the young warrior prince, to Gaea, a planet where cat girls, wolf men and dragons live amongst the other more ‘ordinary’ citizens. On his return Van is crowned as the new King of Fanelia, his home country, and is bequeathed Escaflowne – the legendary suit of armour (or Guymelef) that is the famed protector of Fanelia. Unfortunately for Van and Hitomi the Zaibach Empire (who wish to become the supreme rulers of Gaea) launch a devastating attack against Fanelia in order to try and capture Escaflowne. In the midst of the confusion Van and Hitomi manage to flee Fanelia with Escaflowne – but now find themselves in ever increasing danger as they try to find allies and prevent Escaflowne from falling into enemy hands.
While the fact that Gaea is in the throes of a potential world war features prominently in Escaflowne is it by no means the major feature. In fact the war aspect acts as a good way to introduce new characters and situations that are even more intriguing. At its heart Escaflowne is a character development piece – and this is done extremely well. Practically every single character is given a background and reasons for their actions; in fact Escaflowne concentrates on character development just as much as the Guymelef fights and action sequences.
As with many modern day animé series Escaflowne also utilises some CG effects to enhance the overall look and feel of the series. The majority of these effects (such as the invisible Guymelefs used in the initial attack on Fanelia) are very well executed however there is a scene in the first episode when the effects look rather patchy. This is the scene in which the dragon that Van is fighting appears before Hitomi and her friends and it is at this point that you will notice a sudden drop in production values. Overall though this does only last for a few minutes, which is not something to really complain viciously about.
The story for Escaflowne was developed by Shoji Kawamori (Macross, Macross Plus, Earth Girl Arjuna) with the character designs by Nobuteru Yuuki (Record of Lodoss War, Gundam, X). Originally planned to be a 39 episode series Escaflowne was reduced in size to only 26 episodes part way through production. Instead of just trashing 13 episodes it was decided the best course of action was to just compress the story to fit the new episode count. The only real evidence to this compression is the lack of an opening title sequence for the first episode and the fact that nearly every episode ends with a cliff hanger!
As if a well developed story and characters were not enough Escaflowne also has a fantastic music score. Once again Yoko Kanno along with Hajime Mizoguchi (who also collaborated on the soundtracks for Cowboy Bebop and Macross Plus), have created the perfect soundtrack. Kanno seems to have a knack of being able to create wonderfully mood enhancing music that is hard to pin down to a specific genre. The music score here effortlessly mixes modern melodies with orchestral battle music and then throws in the chanting of Gregorian monks just for good measure, all of it matching perfectly the action on screen.
During track practice Hitomi experiences a strange vision of another world and passes out in the middle of the race. Once recovered Hitomi finds out from her friend that the boy she has a crush on (Amano) is about to leave the country. Later that night Hitomi meets Amano at the track and asks him for her first kiss – but only if she can complete the 100 metres sprint in 13 seconds. Just as Hitomi is completing her run a young warrior prince and a dragon appear on the track…
Girl from the Mystic Moon
Hitomi finds herself transported to Gaea, a strange planet where the Earth and moon hang in the sky. Van decides to take Hitomi back to the capital of his country Fanelia, where he is crowned King after obtaining the drag energist crystal from the dragon he slew. During the crowning ceremony Fanelia is attacked by invisible Guymelefs from the Zaibach Empire. In order to survive the attack Van awakens Escaflowne, and tries to prevent the destruction of Fanelia.
The Gallant Swordsman
After being transported from the burning ruins of Fanelia Hitomi awakens in the woods separated from Van and is attacked by a strange looking man after her pendant. Hitomi’s cries for help bring her a handsome rescuer who bears more than a passing resemblance to Amano. Hitomi’s rescuer is Allen Schezzar a knight from the neighbouring country of Asturia, who takes Hitomi and Van back to his Fort. Annoyed at the attention Allen is giving Hitomi, Van tries to leave the fort with Escaflowne but Allen catches him and challenges him to a dual…
The Diabolical Adonis
Once again Hitomi is subjected to a disturbing vision – this time of Allen’s fort engulfed in flames – and once again passes out. Van is reunited with Merle the catgirl who managed to escape Fanelia’s destruction by the Zaibach, but soon after her arrival in Asturia she falls ill and is taken to the infirmary with Hitomi. Both the girls eventually recover from their mystery illness, but then Hitomi’s vision comes true as the Zaibach Empire focus their attention on Asturia.
Escaflowne is presented in the original broadcast ration of 4:3, and the picture quality overall is pretty good. The picture is nice and clear, and the colours are well represented. The CG effects are also blended into the animation extremely well especially the scenes with the invisible Guymelef’s.
The only repetitive problem that I noticed with the transfer was with the tarot card sequence at the beginning of each episode (this is the sequence that informs you of the episode title). If you look at the tarot card used the colour at the top and bottom of the card seems to ‘shimmer’. It’s not a big problem and this is the only place I noticed it happen, but it slightly marr’s an otherwise decent transfer.
As with most animé releases you can choose from either the original Japanese soundtrack with subtitles or the dubbed English soundtrack. I listened to all the episodes in both English and Japanese and would definitely recommend the Japanese soundtrack with subtitles over the dubbed version for various reasons. The main one being that the cast used for the dub do not seem to portray the same range of emotion that the Japanese voice actors manage to achieve. The dubbed version also appears to be less subtle with the nuances of the story. Far too much information is given to the viewer early on in the story and the dub also tells you things outright that are only hinted at in the subbed version.
Overall though both of the soundtracks do sound great, both the left and right speakers are used during the battle sequences with the centre speaker used for the majority of the dialogue. The musical score is also well represented (and used to great effect) and never drowns out dialogue or sound effects.
The opening menu for Escaflowne is a nice animated menu of tarot cards floating in the night sky as seen from Gaea, which is also accompanied by the chanting of the Gregorian monks. All the menus on the disk (for audio set up, trailers and credits) follow the tarot card theme, with characters from the show replacing the usual card faces.
Trailers: 4 trailers are included on the disk for other Bandai releases. The trailers are for Gundam Wing, Cowboy Bebop, Haunted Junction and Blue Submarine #6.
Music Video’s: 4 music videos can be found and these can be viewed with English or Japanese romaji subtitles or no subtitles at all. The first video is for Yakusoko wu Iranai (Promises Not Necessary) which is the opening title sequence. This is the only video out of the 4 not to have English or Japanese romaji subtitles and it seems a strange thing to leave out considering their inclusion on the other videos. However, as always it’s nice to be able to watch the opening title sequence without all the production credits scrolling across the screen.
The other 3 videos are for songs that do feature in Escaflowne, but not in the 4 episodes contained on this first disk, these are Tomadachi, Aoi Hitomi and Hikari no Naka e. These videos could be said to contain spoilers as few of the events they depict actually happen in the first 4 episodes, but this might not become apparent until you’ve seen the episodes they refer to.
Insert: The insert in the DVD case is slightly more informative than most as it also contains a bit of information on the history of Gaea. For the first disk this insert focus’s on the dragons that inhabit Gaea and tells us more about the types of dragons that can be found, where they are most likely to be found and a bit about the myths that surround them.
So after all this, what does make Escaflowne so special? For me that’s easy – a wonderful (and reasonably intelligent) story, well designed and likeable characters and a fantastic music score. OK so this DVD only contains the first 4 episodes, but this is more than enough to give the casual viewer a good taste of what’s to come as the fight to free Gaea continues.