Escaflowne (Esukafurōne)

Wow, talk about a shift in tone!

Escaflowne (Esukafurōne) 2000

I’d always considered the Escaflowne movie as only vaguely related to the series but now that I’ve re-watched both recently, it’s even more obvious that the movie is not meant to be considered a ‘re-telling’ at all.

The shift obviously plays out visually and via a new tone to both storyline and characters, but something I hadn’t known until checking out the special features, is that director Kazuki Akane very deliberately made those changes.

He mentions that a key audience for the series, ninth-grade girls, would have grown old enough to reach college or join the workforce and “hit various roadblocks and probably have a lot of worries”. Upon reflection, he felt that due to making a film for them, that “the story couldn’t help but become more serious and dark.”

This idea that, four years later, teens who loved The Vision of Escaflowne series might be struggling with disappointments in life really does play out on the screen, not just via Hitomi’s listless, depressed temperament, but the darker, angrier more viscous action that has all but replaced the romance and intrigue from the series.

At first I’d thought that this had been a shift toward the clichéd things sometimes aimed at teenage male audiences, but the comments from Akane really put the film in a new light for me.

The changes that obviously matter the most to fans are around character, and some I really love. It’s nice to see Millerna happy, and while Allen is now under-utilised, at least Merle is no longer tediously jealous. I’m in two minds about Van, whose bloodlust can be a bit overdone, whereas folks like Jajuka have less time onscreen… but he certainly has an interesting role still.

Biggest among the adjustments, and perhaps most divisive among viewers, is Hitomi, who changes from decisive and ultimately positive, to listless and depressed. She might even take on the damsel role a little here but I feel like it mostly worked in the context of the movie – she doesn’t get a lot of time to adjust to being thrust into a terrifying new world.

Many of the character designs were changed for the film too (still by Nobuteru Yūki*) and some of them I like a lot, or at least can appreciate re: how they suit the film’s darker mood. First among them could be Jajuka, but Allen is ‘tougher’ now (same with Van) and Folken has gone from a vaguely Bowie-ish hairstyle to full on Labrythin-era locks.

I won’t go over the plot now, but it’s a classic portal fantasy with ‘save the world’ stakes – instead, I’ll mention a few other things I really enjoyed. Of course, the music by Yoko Kanno and Hajime Mizoguchi is great once more, especially everyone’s favourite piece Sora. (Okay, maybe it’s not your favourite but the constructed language is haunting and the little homage to Erik Satie’s Gymnopedie is tops too).

Masahiko Minami and co had only just left Sunrise to form Bones when they did Escaflowne and the studio really pulls out all the stops here.

I’ve read that a few sequences were also doubling as showcases for animators and so if you liked the work of Yutaka Nakamura in things like Sword of the Stranger then the you’ll enjoy the action here – most of all perhaps that opening fight sequence. It’s a real high point, especially due to the non-conventional lighting and colour. [Spoilers in the next paragraph].

Now I’ll switch to a couple of criticisms.

In an echo of the television series, I didn’t feel that Folken’s motivation was shown all that well. However, probably my biggest issue with the storyline is probably his final encounter with the heroes. On one hand it satisfies due to a certain character striking the killing blow. Their motivation is strong, even with no more than single piece of foreshadowing.

But on the other it was surprising than neither Van nor Hitomi actually play a role in that ending. In a way, the climactic action scene is actually the mech fight between Van and the cool, calm and collected Dilandu.

Of course, the finale of a film doesn’t have to include a fight (action-genre or not) for me to enjoy things. But I’m sure the trade off disappointed some people with Folken’s last scene, as that moment of surprise comes at the cost of some emotional impact, I reckon.

In the end, this might appeal most to action and fantasy fans rather than romance viewers. Perhaps treat the Escaflowne film as something quite unlike the series, and let it stand ‘as is’ – a beautifully animated, dark action film that mixes fantasy and a little mecha with only slight touches of romance.

4 Stars

*Probably one of my favourite character designers, who has also worked on things like Kids on the Slope,The Weathering Continent, X, Record of Lodoss War, Battle Angel Alita and RPGs like Chrono Cross and Seiken Densetsu 3.

(I had to share the horse laughing, even though my screencap is obviously a little ‘off’ here :D)

150th Review: The Vision of Escaflowne (Tenkū no Esukafurōne)

The Vision of Escaflowne (Tenkū no Esukafurōne) 1996

I want to quickly preface my [spoilery] review today with a link to a post from ThatRandomEditor, Where are the Shoujo Anime? which I think is a great question, because for me, I don’t think I’ve really seen an action-kinda shoujo for one, in a fair while (or maybe I missed them?)

The Vision of Escaflowne is a classic and one of my favs, which ultimately suggests to me that I should probably spend a lot more time on the review, but I think I generally ramble on long enough as it is.

Firstly, I think portal fantasy is probably still holding onto a recent ‘boom’ right now, but if you’ve already seen all the new isekai out there and still want more, then look no further! Even more so if you’re also craving shoujo, because The Vision of Escaflowne will meet both of those needs nicely.

The same goes for the bishonen character design, and while I always appreciate the 1990s and characters with visible noses, the slight Pinocchio-feel took a bit of getting used to at first. Elsewhere, there’s a focus on graceful lines, and not just due to our winged heroes or the knight-like mech, and I’d argue that none of it comes at the cost of variety either.

That diversity is also featured in the range of new lands and peoples that Hitomi must navigate, aided often by Van or Allen (who tend to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to Dornkirk and his plans for world domination). But Hitomi is no flailing damsel either, and her visions and her speed as a member of the track team save the day more than once. I enjoyed the Tarot as well, which I hadn’t realised was quite popular with girls in Japan at the time, according to my Blu-Ray’s special features.  

And perhaps the audience is firmly meant to be shoujo, but I read that there were twin manga produced, one with more shounen conventions and the other more like the anime, which does have its share of a complex love triangles. In a way things seem ‘softer’ on the surface, with plenty of glistening eyes etc but The Vision of Escaflowne doesn’t shy away from heartbreak and repressed, unfulfilled desires either.

In addition to those romantic elements there are enough battles and duels to satisfy action fans too, I reckon. It’s an at times grim world with an interesting mix of fantasy and science fiction clear in the settings and characters. Having said that, the Dilandu encounters for one, became a bit repetitive for me. I found myself keen for Van to finish him off more than a few times, but having the invisibility aspect certainly kept suspense high, which I loved.

Okay, so I can’t wrap things up here without exploring some criticism, and while there were a few things that struck me, I’ll mention two below:

Sisters Eriya and Nariya – there’s a scene that I wasn’t sure how to read, especially in the way it was shot. Was it just meant to be run of the mill fan-service? Sapphic? Incestuous? I dunno, maybe I misread the scene but it never seemed to gel with their backstory or present storyline. Was it actually a missed opportunity to explore themes around sex and trauma?

And quickly now, by the end of the series I don’t know whether Folken actually earns his redemption arc for me, even if visually, one particular scene was fantastic.

Again, that could be a judgement call and I’m being a little hard on the guy but I dunno… He certainly helps our heroes out, but that whole mass-murderer thing keeps him firmly in the camp of villain, I reckon, even if he sees the light in time.

Nevertheless, The Vision of Escaflowne is an old favourite with a whole lot of stuff I loved, and one that I really enjoyed re-watching, but I can’t decide between 4 Stars and 5 Stars

… actually, it probably should be 5, especially with that killer Yoko Kanno OST.

(And I’ve also finally finished my second A-Z title now!).  

Poor hopelessly jealous Merle.

And there it is, the 150th review for the Review Heap!

(At least, I’m fairly sure it is – I counted, but may have missed a few, as it’s the 229th post but obviously not every post here is a review :D).

 

(I forgot to add – I usually take a lot of screenshots myself but this time my discs were playing up but I found a superb resource (qtpiecaps) which you can visit right here – it has a great list of shows available too.)