OVA Week – Day 7: Dragon’s Heaven

Welcome to the final post for OVA Week.

There will be another OVA Week, perhaps next month – but so far, I’ve still got to find a few titles to include in the seven new reviews. At present, I’m hoping to feature suggestions of Getter Robo, Vampire Princess Miyu and Darkstalkers 🙂

Hope you’ve enjoyed this feature and if you have a suggestion, I’m still keen to hear ’em.


  • An animated film or series made for release on video, rather than for broadcast/theatrical screening
  • Generally, high budgets that can mean visual qualities are better than a typical television series
  • No fixed length, nor broadcast time-constraints when it comes to storytelling
  • To some extent, created outside regulation – and so they have a reputation for ‘anything goes’ when it comes to restricted content
  • Often (but certainly not always) based on original scripts, rather than being adaptations
  • Long wait times between episodes/installments for some OVAs
  • First OVA to be described as such was 1983’s Dallos from Mamoru Oshii
  • The ONA (Original Net Animation) is an obvious more modern equivalent

Dragon’s Heaven (1988)

Two things about the Dragon’s Heaven OVA stand out most, I think – first being the live-action, scale-model opening, and the second being the Moebius-influenced style of manga artist Makoto Kobayashi, upon whose work this OVA is based.

As usual, I can’t discuss the quality of this anime as an adaptation, but the story is a straight-forward war story told very quickly, with a lot of action and attention paid to the robots.

What caught my eye most was definitely visual style, with the anime’s designs right after. That isn’t to say that the characters don’t work, but with only 20-odd minutes of animation, the time is mostly spent on scene-setting and battles. There are a few passages devoted to dialogue, ones that function beyond exposition, but for the most part I think Dragon’s Heaven excels at the visuals. (As many OVAs can).

Above, I do mention “battles” but they’re usually a little short – you could say that some are pretty much explosions because the ‘dragon’s fire’ that main characters Shaian and Ikuuru use is really mammoth stuff.

Speaking of Ikuuru, she reminded me of a more snarky Nausicaa in some ways, but like her partner, she doesn’t have a character arc or a whole lot of impact beyond the confines of the plot.

While the detail and care that has gone into the models at the beginning of the OVA is very clear, I don’t know if Dragon’s Heaven would have suffered without it. On the other hand, that’s part of what’s so fun about the era – creators seemed more able to just try stuff out.

And finally, it’s interesting to have a largely non-human cast, and both hero Shaian and villain Elmedain have designs that seem unlike a lot of other robot-focused anime, but I think you might be disappointed if you seek this OVA out hoping for a multi-faceted story.

Instead, I think it’s worth seeing at least once anyway – just for the art design and animation alone, and I definitely add this to my list of anime where I wish there had been more.

4 Stars

OVA Week – Day 1: Relic Armour Legaciam

Here we go – seven days of OVA reviews!

I thought I’d start with a brief overview on the form itself, before jumping into the actual review (and will probably follow this format for each of the seven posts).

Hope you enjoy these, and as I mentioned a while ago, I’d love to hear any suggestions you might have for future OVA-weeks 🙂


  • An animated film or series made for release on video, rather than for broadcast/theatrical screening
  • Generally, high budgets that can mean visual qualities are better than a typical television series
  • No fixed length, nor broadcast time-constraints when it comes to storytelling
  • To some extent, created outside regulation – and so they have a reputation for ‘anything goes’ when it comes to restricted content
  • Often (but certainly not always) based on original scripts, rather than being adaptations
  • Long wait times between episodes/installments for some OVAs
  • First OVA to be described as such was 1983’s Dallos from Mamoru Oshii
  • The ONA (Original Net Animation) is an obvious more modern equivalent

Relic Armour Legaciam (1987)

At the very end of this OVA I saw a message from the production company that was something like “see you again” and it made me a little sad. Because there was no ‘again’, at least not yet, and it’s been thirty-five years already.

And I absolutely would have watched another installment!

Relic Armour Legaciam actually ends on a really good story beat on the other hand. Even with only 50 minutes to tell the tale and set up the world and characters, the anime does the job. I was quickly invested in the team’s struggle to remain free, as the story soon slipped into the chase/hide portion of the plot.

At the same time, the bigger mysteries of the deadly heatwave and strange tower were set up nicely, with some back-story provided too. It was definitely enough to have me keen to learn more about the people involved with the first, seemingly disastrous expedition to the tower too.

Of course, antagonist Felmis has plans to stop the heroes, and after a pretty fun mech battle, Alcia and co are able to head for the tower… at which point the film finishes, sadly.

Before I finish, I want to add that I really liked the designs, especially of the Legaciam itself, and the Han Solo feel courtesy of Zeno was nice too. It was cool to hear voice acting that was rough and boisterous for the kids also, though I don’t know how I’d go with an entire film of them talking.

Does this stand out amongst the many, many OVAs out there?

Or even the many mecha OVAs from the 1980s? I doubt I could say, since I just haven’t seen enough of either. Probably your enjoyment (or lack of) this one will hinge upon your tolerance for unfinished stories* and classic anime.

3 Stars

*Typically one of my least favourite things… but not here, as it turns out.

A-Z Challenge: “Z” is for Roujin Z (Rōjin Zetto)

I think I’ve seen Roujin Z described a dark comedy fairly often, but one that is set within the plot boundaries (I guess) of a science fiction film. Or even of a monster movie, since there is definitely something large and dangerous threatening the city here.

Roujin Z Rōjin Zetto (1991)

But one obvious theme that gets discussed just as regularly, is the treatment and care of the elderly.

It’s obviously a topic that doesn’t get a lot of attention in any film medium, not just anime, so I was glad to see it in Roujin Z. It adds a lot of sombre moments, and painful ones too, the kind of ones that you’d hope policy-makers and bean-counters would take heed of.

Okay, so here’s the premise phrased as a question – what if a high-tech bed, one that doubled as a life-support system for the elderly, went on a rampage? (Okay, there’s a LOT more to it than that, but I don’t want to go into spoilers here. Also, I’m feeling a bit lazy).  

Despite all of my reading about the film, it took me many years to finally find and watch Roujin Z, and I went in with pretty high expectations, noting director Hiroyuki Kitakubo and writer Katsuhiro Otomo (amongst others like Satoshi Kon), behind the scenes.

I was certainly not disappointed either – as it is amazing from start to finish, from animation to story and character, setting; it’s all executed so well to my eye.

Perhaps especially the characterisation.

It’s not jam-packed with one-note characters for a start.

Instead, the themes are played out via the conflicts both between and within the leads, as much as it is via the technology.

And more disconcerting than the militarised aspect to Kijuro’s bed, is the supposed dignified, helpful aspects – such as the management of bodily functions. The well-intentioned but misguided Takashi embodies the tragic need for such a device, and it’s great to see him drift away from antagonist to take a stand against the larger threat, military stooge Yoshihiko.

Other smaller characters are nice mixes of principled and cowardly, and even the ‘horny old guy’ trope so common to anime doesn’t just lumber its way through the anime; as the elderly residents who band together to save Kijuro reveal more than one facet to their actions.

Visually, I was of course super-happy to see lots of detail and integration of character and setting/background, to see the old school ‘solid’ use of colour to evoke different lighting effects. Another stand out aspect were the flashbacks, they had a sombre tone, matched by the softer colours, and the ‘disappearing’ of the characters.

Getting back to character now, before I finish, I meant to mention her before, but Haruko is a classic anime heroine, kind, strong and moral, and determined enough to get some justice without superpowers or gadgets.

Great ending and the final shot is a nice surprise too.

5 Stars

Strait Jacket (Sutoreito Jaketto)

This was a great taste of action-science fiction from an era of anime that’s sort of long gone now. Well, if you consider 15 years a long time ago, and probably it is – in terms of trends and audience tastes, perhaps.

But that’s not what’s important here.

Instead, here’s little on the premise/plot, before I focus on other things:

Strait Jacket is set an alternate history where magic was proven to exist and spread throughout all facets of society and changed the social and technological development of the world. Rayotte Steinberg, a lone wolf ‘tactical sorcerist’, fights against monsters while wearing a ‘mold’, the straight jacket that keeps him human. (Adapted from Wiki/MAL)

All classic stuff that will usually catch my attention, since I’m pretty easy to please.

Strait Jacket (Sutoreito Jaketto) 2007

However, I will say that events in the Strait Jacket OVAs/film are clearly part of a wider story (it’s adapted from a light novel series), giving me the sense that there is much more to learn about the characters, if only viewers had been given a chance to do so – say, via a full series.

So maybe Strait Jacket was too short but that might be exactly what you’re looking for, and in addition, there are resolutions to a few of the problems the characters face, one of which is major enough to provide an actual ending.

If I was going to continue grumbling here, I guess I felt that the ending itself was a little less impactful than maybe it could have been… perhaps.

I’m more confident noting that a fair amount of the magic/technology as it was used in the film could have used extra grounding.

Actually, now that I’ve said that there is one more thing – the (lesser) antagonists were not as compelling as the heroes for me. That’s at least in part due to the running time of the anime, again I’d say it’s because there wasn’t enough space to expand things, and obviously the light novel series has the luxury of an extended narrative to fix that issue.

And so, now that it turns out that I’ve spent most of the review quibbling over minor flaws, I should finally go over what I really enjoyed – and below, you’ll see ‘4 Stars’, so I clearly liked Strait Jacket a fair bit.

For one, I did enjoy the characters (especially Inspector Simmons). Some of the conflicts faced by the supporting cast also worked as a nice contract to the more stable or at least hidden past that existed between lead Reiott and his mysterious sidekick, Kapel.

Throughout, the use of colour and lighting stood out for me – though I’ll spare you any rhapsodising and just note that some of the images throughout show some of those aspects I enjoyed.

Straight Jacket features some pretty big action sequences and ace mechanical and creature design also – as an example, the plucked/roast chicken shape, rather than being too comical, remained unnerving here:

It was interesting to see the death of a supporting character actually occur ‘off-screen’, since it really worked to drive home the ‘hero-wasn’t-there’ guilt-motivator for events in the final stages of the story.

At other times, there’s a bit more blood and gore than perhaps you’d see on a TV broadcoast anime, so take note if that’s not your thing.

I finished the OVAs pretty interested in the series, keen for more info on the heroes… but that probably won’t happen in a hurry, knowing my disinclination to follow-up on light novels/manga etc, so I’ll probably just have to be happy with what I’ve got on DVD 😀

4 Stars

And before I finish, I want to thank Anime Hanabi for the recommendation – I might not have watched this without your post 🙂

Agrento Soma (Arujento Sōma)

After a slow start that wasn’t actually slow – I was transfixed.

Agrento Soma (Arujento Sōma) 2000

Argento Soma feels like a bit of a rare story for me, where the pay-off definitely matched the mystery and tension that had built across the previous episodes. And in an industry littered by the cast-off bodies of so many unfinished shows only given a single season, it’s nice to come across a story with a conclusion.

In regard to the pacing, what was ‘slow’ for me was warming to most of the cast.

Without Commander Ines and Sue or Michael (and to a lesser extent Hattie), I wasn’t invested in anyone’s outcome precisely. At first. Actually, unless you were to count how much I came to want Ryu to fail, to receive his just desserts.

Instead, it was the central mystery of why the aliens attacked earth, why they continued to seek the mysterious Pilgrimage Point, that kept me going until I warmed to the cast.

Right off the bat I knew Ryu was a jealous loser, and even when he became tolerable later on – usually at the cost of the emotional well-being of others – I don’t think I actually wanted him to succeed. He was a fantastic character in that respect. Not quite anti-hero, not quite antagonist, and amusingly absolutely utterly unaware that he was not the hero of the story*.

*Trying to paraphrase something iniksbane brought to my attention with that last sentence – and also, thanks heaps for the recommendation 😀

So, now that I’ve got all that out of the way – what’s the anime actually about? Well, it’s about people trying to defend the earth from aliens. And:

[From MAL] In the year 2059, the earth has been plagued by aliens for several years. In an effort to learn more about these aliens, Dr. Noguchi and his assistants Maki Agata and Takuto Kaneshiro try to revive the professor’s experiment, a large Bio-Mechanical alien named Frank. During this process the alien comes to ‘life’ and the lab is subsequently destroyed, leaving Takuto the only survivor and the alien disappearing into the wilderness.

And further, there’s mecha, mystery, science-fiction and drama aspects all neatly woven together as events expand from the premise above – even a bit of mind-games, especially when it comes to Ryu and Mr X, whose scenes together often have interesting staging and lighting, really selling the duplicity.  

If you like to compare things (as I do), there are clear classic science-fiction themes, something of a War of the Worlds feel here, and for some fans no doubt you’ll find that Neon Genesis comes to mind also, especially with the escalation of alien attacks used for some of the anime’s structure, but Argento Soma still stands quite apart from the two texts I mentioned.

Some of what differentiates the show for me is because Argento Soma feels a lot like a character study before anything else, a vehicle for Ryu to become a better person – and it’s a long redemption arc too (if you’d want to go that far). And while most events and other characters often serve that purpose, Argento Soma shows a wider cast that is notable in its own right. (A shame that Sue’s past only sneaks into the OVA, however).

Another thing that I think separates Argento Soma from any cries of ‘Eva-clone’ might be the classic, big science-fiction ideas most commonly seen in 20 Century science-fiction cinema… but I won’t spoil them here.

I will say that the somewhat nose-less designs (courtesy of one of my fav directors, Shukou Murase) took me a little while to acclimatise to, but it’s definitely memorable. And also in regard to design, I definitely felt that Frank’s look was top notch. It had a less organic but more human feel compared to the other aliens, to my eye.

Bob Newhart cameo!

In addition to the above quibble, I will note that Ryu spends most of the show as a terrible person – not just ‘flawed’ but really, a bad dude. This means he abuses everyone around him, especially women, both before and after the tragedy that inspires his childish (but not surprising) drive for revenge.

But as I said before, he does (for the most part), have a redemption arc, and in the context of the whole series, his shitty behaviour is not front-and-centre. For instance, you’re not going to be confronted with an endless parade of graphic psychical or verbal abuse, but just be aware that he’s no hero.

(Also, Hattie can be a bit shrilly repetitive).

But finally, is this anime for you?

In short, if you want a twentysomething-year-old mecha show focused on adults, on revenge, with a great cast and a lead character that is far from ‘clean-cut’, then this could be for you.

It also has a deeply satisfying conclusion to its central mystery – another reason to give it a shot if you can find it.

4 Stars

Finally! My first review in over a month 🙂

Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway (Kidō Senshi Gandamu Senkō no Hasawei)

Gundum is one of the heavyweights of the anime industry that I haven’t reviewed on the blog yet (which surprises me) as I had planned to do the original series and then Gundam Wing, but when I saw that Shukou Murase was directing this one, I thought I’d switch to Hathaway instead.

I should note that this will probably be more of a ‘dot-point’ style review as I don’t have enough knowledge to contextualise the film within the franchise.

Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway (Kidō Senshi Gandamu Senkō no Hasawei) 2021

Although, I will say that I loved this – the visual aspects from design to colour and movement were all ace and story-wise, the film is a great set-up for what’s to come. I was actually surprised to find that Hathaway feels very much like an old-school spy novel at times, which was cool.

(But there are a few big action scenes + a bit of fan service to go with the intrigue and verbal sparring too).

  • Hathaway feels like triumph in lighting
  • The work done to sell the scale of the robots in this film, like showing feet of the mechs filling the screen and all those low angle POVs, loved it
  • There were a lot of standout scenes but the milkbar & taxi scenes jump out for me
  • Gigi is an interesting character – there’s a lot of ‘mysterious woman/femme fatale’ stuff going on (not that my screen shots show that), which feeds into that espionage feel. I’m left wondering what her role will be in future films.
  • It’s interesting to see Australia mentioned as an important base – I wonder if back in the 1980s (when the books were written), if my homeland was still a bit in vogue for settings to be mentioned but not used.
  • I’m not really up to speed on the (ongoing?) tension between the Evangelion/Gundam camps, but with or without any boasting to (potentially) influence you, I still think that this film was pretty spectacular.

I also wanted to ask myself whether Hathaway could function as a possible entry point into the Gundam franchise… and I’m not actually sure it would be the best one.

The same classic themes around war and loyalty etc are front and centre, and of course, giant robots! but something about Hathaway makes me wonder if it would be right.

I don’t think I have enough knowledge of the franchise to make a recommendation.

But to finish at last, I will say that it’ll be tough to wait for the next two films but I’m keen, very keen.

5 Stars

Back Arrow (Bakku Arō)

Back Arrow is bursting at the seams with exuberance and I enjoyed that a lot.

Back Arrow (Bakku Arō) 2021

For me, it’s wildly over the top and dead sincere at the same time, leaping between those two contrasting extremes. In that way I guess you could say that there’s a mix of aspects from shows like TTGL and Gun x Sword, among others.

A while back, Lita and I did a ‘first reactions‘ kinda collab and I’m happy to say my response to the show remained quite favourable indeed.

Now, in other reviews I’ve definitely criticised stuff that hops between extremes (or wildly contrasting tones) but obviously I don’t always have a problem with it. I thought Back Arrow shifted in such a way that I was expecting things to be a bit off-the-wall from the beginning, and so it didn’t bother me.

All the shounen tropes and clichés (and bizarre humour) are out in full force in Back Arrow (the choir! the wine bottles!), declarations shouted with clenched fists, escalating battles and a huge finish.

It was hard to believe in a way, but as the last few episodes unveiled new and more gigantic surprises in terms of that escalation, I was swept up in the sense of fun – all the amps go up to 11 here.

In terms of fav characters, Shu stands out for me, since he forges his own path, though I will say that his key betrayal actually seems poorly handled in respect to another character, considering the supposed importance of a certain flashback. That’s probably pretty vague if you haven’t seen Back Arrow but I was hoping to avoid spoilers.

So I’ve written a few paragraphs now without mentioning the plot but it includes some of the big stakes I’m looking for: save the world and know thyself, along with a big enough cast that a few folks get to live out different aspects of each.

I can see how this show might fail to meet the needs of some audiences – some of the key anime that Back Arrow is channelling across its 24 episodes were now released generations ago.

And to be honest, there is a strangely childish part of me that really enjoys the fact that Back Arrow seems to be almost a cult show already.

That’s actually a bad thing, though – I want Back Arrow to be more popular so that more shows like it get made.

4 Stars

Back Arrow (Bakku Arō) – Collaboration with Lita Kino

Morning all!

I’m excited to share another collaboration – this time on Back Arrow, where Lita Kino and I ask each other about the first three episodes. (Spoilers – we think you should check it out :D)

Thanks to Lita for diving in to Back Arrow with me too! If you haven’t already (or even if you have) you should visit Lita here at Anime Corner 🙂

Lita: Thank you Ash for the opportunity to collab with you. Even though our first idea went to pot. I really hope people give Back Arrow a try because I think it’s a great first time show for people who don’t watch mecha or wish to try to because it’s so less serious and more emphasis on fun with itself.


Ash’s Questions

1. What were you expecting before going in to ‘Back Arrow’?

The only expectation I had was a strong western setting terms of the background terrain, costumes etc. There was nothing I would ask for. I wanted to watch this not just because it’s mecha and I love it. Reminded me so much of Gun x Sword while the western settings are similar for me, Back Arrow is a curveball thrower. This series portrays itself as primarily fun majority of the time, this is something distinct within the first three episodes, it establishes. Introduction of the main protagonist Back Arrow arising from Rakuho, suffering amnesia with only memory of coming from beyond the wall.

Instead of this moment drawing on Back Arrow’s unfortunate circumstances with strong emotional emphasis. Back Arrow decides to go beyond the wall, without worrying about anything else. All the people from Edgar village staring at this strange man, butt naked. You feel like you are following an idiot of a protagonist and it works brilliantly for this series. It’s hysterical the first three episodes have been. I love series that serve up from what you expect like this, Back Arrow doesn’t pretend to be anything else. 

2. I was curious about how you’re responding to Shu after these first 3 episodes? Definitely feels like he’s holding the most back.

Shu is just full of mystery but he is an amusing man. Making a copy of the royal records had me laughing, but he is a man of science. That instinct and drive to do what it takes to grasp his goals. There is an underlying motive here but damn he is amusing. 

3. How are you finding the designs of the suits? (I’m getting a slight Power Rangers feel, which is fun.)

I LOVE this series concept regarding it’s mecha suits known as Briheight’s. The design of them reminds me of Gridman’s from SSS.Gridman but with a funky take. Concept of wielding these mechas based on your conviction is cool, each Briheight I’ve seen so far, really reflects the pilot as a person and personality. Mixture of conviction and becoming a pilot’s reflection, these mecha’s are definitely unique. This is another realm into the connection between man and machine. 


Lita’s Questions
 

1. We have a tradition of the main protagonist who has amnesia at the start. Normally there has been a strong emphasis and heartfelt plea at the start, also determination to discover who they are again. But we have a very lax protagonist who is just taking everything in hindsight as it comes. It’s this a refreshing approach to this protagonist tradition?

I think so, yeah. There’s sort of a refusal of the Call to Adventure – Arrow just wants to get on with own quest for the Wall and I’ve found that interesting. It feels like he’ll soften over time, but kicking off with an amnesiac who doesn’t seem to be very worried about that memory loss is interesting. Instead, he just dives into any situation with blind faith. Or conviction 😀 

2. I have yet to complete Back Arrow yet but the western centre reminds me so much of Gun x Sword. Been a long time since a western themed mecha has appeared. I think the outskirts of rocky and dune sand, the bright western costume designs look great. Do you think the western feel is there for Back Arrow?

It reminds me of Gun x Sword too, which makes me pretty happy. (In fact, the moment I saw Elsha and Atlee, I felt like two halves of Wendy had appeared onscreen :D). 

Agree! It feels like it’s been quite a while since a mecha show featured the western setting and isn’t it perfect for allowing the colours of the Briheights to pop too? I love the tropes I’ve seen so far, the village in distress, the stranger arriving to help etc. Really hoping they continue and that there’s a focus on stand-offs and duels.


3. I looked on MyAnimeList and this series has been rated 5 out of 10. I wonder if this is because people were expecting a series western here but the plot is pretty loose and so are the characters. This series is about fun 80% of the time, not what anyone was expecting. Do you like the loose fun factor here and the plot is throwing curveballs of absurdity as to where it may go? 

I wondered about that too. If I think about something similar in tone from Kazuki Nakashima, like TTGL perhaps, then that show’s already 14 years old – that’s pretty much an entire generation ago, I guess. 

And so maybe significant portions of current audiences just aren’t used to a show like Back Arrow?

Loose and fun is a pretty perfect description, yeah and maybe people did want something different? For me, I’m loving every second of how over the top it can be and I’m really looking forward to more curveballs, yes! For one, (I’m very curious about the Granedger and wonder what surprises it’ll hold in store.)


So, folks – tell us, are you watching Back Arrow? Planning to perhaps?

If you’re already watching it, how are you finding it so far? (Beyond the first three episodes the show continues to do more absurdist stuff and raise the stakes on the action too, I’m still enjoying it a lot for sure :D)

The Big O (Za Biggu Ō) [Boxing Day Review]

The Big O (Za Biggu Ō) 1999

You can no doubt predict exactly what I’ll say about episodic storytelling by now, right?

This almost sums up the palette used throughout.

I’m definitely a fan of it – but The Big O ticks a lot of boxes for me outside its mostly episodic structure too.

First, there’s the slowly unfolding mystery in an unsettling but familiar city, then there’s androids, revolving villains, a dramatic multi-genre OST and finally; retro-looking mecha placed within a very 20th Century aesthetic – the mash-up is fantastic.

Having said that, if you don’t enjoy (almost) madcap mixes of conventions and genres, you probably won’t end up liking The Big O too much.

Despite the strong Batman/James Bond feel to the series, and despite the noir detective stuff happening on the surface, I still think that there’s enough dissonance and enough of the philosophical maybe, to deter folks who prefer a focus on a single genre or tone.

But again, that’s one of my favourite aspects of The Big O – that and the stylish character designs and art deco visuals.

I’ll take a shot at exploring the premise just quickly:

Roger Smith is a negotiator/investigator living in Paradigm City, known as the city of amnesia (for reasons which I won’t spoil). There, he is eventually pulled into the mystery of whatever event wiped everyone’s memory forty years ago, aided by former client, Dorothy – an advanced android.

To hopefully evoke a sense of tone here, I want to mention one person involved in the production – Chiaki J. Konaka. As with all collaborative arts, I think it’s cruel to point to only one person, especially in a review, but I think if I mention Chiaki then that might give a few clues as to the tone and direction of this series – especially the second season.

If I step away from my rhapsodising about the series for a moment, I’ll maybe get enough distance to point out some things that I didn’t love. Firstly, Roger is kind of a jerk and essentially mistreats Dorothy for nearly the whole series. And speaking of Dorothy, if you take a look at what she can do in the first two episodes for example, she is truly under-utilised by the story.

I believe more than a few people agree that Season 1 tends to be stronger than Season 2 (actually, I only took screencaps from S1 mainly due to time).

Three or four years later and the animation quality does get a boost for the sequel season, but for me, the powerful mysteries established in those first thirteen episodes aren’t all answered as satisfyingly as I’d hoped. (I also wished that Swchartzman got a little more screentime somehow, as I tended to really enjoy him and his monologues!)

In contrast to my comparative disappointment with the second season, there were still plenty of things that I continued to think about afterward. More, the audience does get a few answers in time, along with one reveal that had nearly as much impact as the stunning ending of episode 13, for me.

Okay, so now that I’ve finally reached this point in the review, I think it’s time to wrap things up – until my next post, where I want to try a bit of visual analysis on episode 3 of The Big O.

In the meantime, I hope I’ve made you at least a little curious about this ‘old’ anime! (It’s been in my top ten for a long time and I don’t see it leaving any time soon, but it did slip down a rung on the ladder at one point.)

5 Stars

(A few images to follow)

A merry time was had by all.

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)