ESCALFOWNE/VISIONS OF ESCAFLOWNE (1996)

 

Format: 26 23-minute episodes on 8 DVDs

 

Rating: PG-13 (GV)

 

Type: Fantasy (Action/Romance/mecha)

 

American Production: Bandai Entertainment

 

Japanese Production: Sunrise

 

Grading

 

Premise:

C+

Story:

B

Writing:

B+

Character Design:

C

Mecha Design:

B-

Animation:

C+

Artistic Merits:

C

English Dub:

B

Musical Score:

A-

Songs:

B

Opener:

B+

Closer:

C

 

 

Humor Content:

C

Action Content:

B

Drama Content:

B

 

 

DVD Presentation:

C+

DVD Extras:

 

 

OVERALL:

B

 

Synopsis

      Hitomi is an ordinary Japanese high school track athlete, except for the fact that she uses Tarot cards to read people’s fortunes on the side and occasionally experiences strange visions. On fateful night she (literally) runs into Van Fannel, a prince undergoing a Rite of Dragon-Slaying in order to prove himself worthy to be king, who is transported to Hitomi’s world along with the dragon he was hunting. When Van returns to his home world – a world called Gaia where the Earth is referred to as the Mystic Moon and the Earth and Moon both loom large in the sky – Hitomi is drawn along as well. On Gaia Hitomi’s talent for fortune-telling blossoms into the abilities of a very powerful seer, which proves enormously useful in a world on the brink of war. She must ultimately dodge many dangers while trying to sort out her growing attraction to two dashing men: the gallant knight Allen (who is a dead ringer for the boy she has a crush on in her world) and the dark and brooding Van. Meanwhile, the men do (nearly) all of the fighting around her as the Zaibach Empire acts to eliminate potential threats to its Emperor’s fate-controlling efforts, including Hitomi herself and Escaflowne, a special “Guymelef” (read: mecha) bonded to Van which can transform into a mechanical dragon. And oh, yes, Van is also an angel, after a fashion.

 

Quotes

      “Was it all a dream? No, it was real.” (Hitomi, opener for many early episodes)

 

The Long View

      Visions of Escaflowne is the full and proper title for this popular anime series, though it was released on DVD in the States only under the name Escaflowne. (Notably, it also saw an ill-fated release on network TV in the U.S. in the late ‘90s – a rarity for teen-oriented anime.) It adapts the tried-and-true fantasy story premise of transplanting a person from the modern-day world into a fantasy setting where they become Someone Special and mixes it with the unique Japanese notion that mecha can appear anywhere regardless of predominant genre. Throw in substantial romantic entanglements and a fairly complicated theme about manipulating fate and you have a series made to appeal to audiences of both genders; for guys there’s lots of action, for girls there’s the bishonen male leads, various romantic complications, and an underlying message that violence isn’t the only way to solve things. It’s a series which has proved to be quite popular and fairly influential over the past few years; the most direct descendant of it is Maze: The Mega-Burst Space, but I’m sure there are other examples out there.

      Escaflowne is never dull, but it does take a while to hit its full dramatic stride. It reaches its peak when it starts delving more deeply into its characters’ backgrounds in the latter half of the series. This ratchets up both the dramatic and romantic tension quite a bit and more fully fleshes out many characters that had, to that point, been fairly shallow. This is particularly true with the key villains; the mad Dilandau is revealed as having respectable qualities and being driven by forces that would make him pitiable if he weren’t so bloodthirsty, and the more even-tempered Folken shows that he has a soft side and isn’t beyond redemption. At the center of it all is Hitomi, who never really takes any direct action but often has a distinct influence on how events unfold. Serving as her foil is Merle, the feline humanoid friend of Van who seems to have little purpose in the series except to be very possessive of Van against what she sees as Hitomi’s intrusive interest.

      Although the technical merits of Escaflowne are decent, they are nothing exciting and look dated compared to more recent CG-enhanced series. The one good point worth noting specifically is the way Hitomi is shown running in the series; she does it as one would expect of a trained track athlete, rather than in the awkward fashion too often seen of female characters in anime. The musical score is a real winner, though, and the opening theme is among the better ones out there. Overall the English voice work is just pretty good, but Kelly Sheridan (perhaps better-known to newer anime fans as the voice of Sango in Inuyasha) delivers a terrific performance as Hitomi and Andrew Francis shines as Dilandau.

      The graphic violence in Escaflowne, though not pervasive, is strong enough in places to warrant a PG-13 rating overall. The series otherwise has no objectionable content.

      In the minds of many anime fans, Visions of Escaflowne is one of the highlight series of the ‘90s. I wouldn’t go that far, but I do agree that it is a solid and entertaining fantasy series that’s well worth a look.

 

DVD Extras

      Distribution of extras is sparse – only one significant one per volume - but over the course of the series include music videos, clean opener/closer, and cast and staff interviews. A limited edition box set is supposedly available, but it had only a small print run and is not easy to find. Be forewarned that very professional bootleg sets of the entire series are circulating; if you see any offering for Escaflowne that has the entire series condensed onto just three DVDs, or includes the movie, too, be suspicious.

  

Principle English Voice Actors

Role

Voice Actor

Hitomi

Kelly Sheridan

Van

Kirby Morrow

Folken

Paul Dobson

Allen Schezar, Amano,  Shesta(?)

Brian Drummond

Dilandau, young Van

Andrew Francis

Princess Millerna

Venus Terzo

Merle

Jocelyn Loewen

Duke Freid

Dale Wilson

Emperor Dornkirk

William Newman

Valgas

Don Brown

Jajuka

Scott McNeil

Gaddes

Ward Perry

Mole Man

Terry Klassen

Uchida Yukari

Willow Johnson

Dryden

Michael Dobson

King Aston

King Aston

Celena, Eriya, Naria

Saffron Henderson

 

 

 

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