Escaflowne: The Movie Anime Review
US Release By
What's In It
- Creepy Bio-Mecha
- Gleeful Raging Lunatics
- Angsty High-Schoolers
- Violence: 4 (heavy)
- Nudity: 1 (mild)
- Sex: 2 (moderate)
- Language: 1 (mild)
Hitomi, a seemingly normal high school student, finds herself sucked into the world of Gaia--a fantastic place embroiled in a bloody war and hanging on the brink of destruction. Though she doesn't understand the conflict, her fate seems tied to a group of outlaws and a young prince, Van, seeking the mythical--and deadly--dragon armor, Escaflowne. Escaflowne may be the key to saving Gaia... or destroying it.
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Escaflowne: The Movie is simultaneously spectacular and spectacularly bad. The parts that work are grand-slam home runs--absolutely gorgeous visuals, a marvelously creative world, and a spectacular, grand, lyrical, score by Yoko Kanno--while the rest are botched on a grand scale--the plot is AWOL, the characterization and backstory shallow at best, and the character development embarrassingly forced. How so much time and money could be spent on the technical aspects while ignoring the meaning behind it is a mystery.
Highly recommended for fans of gorgeous animation, but a likely waste of time if you demand a decent story. Fans of the TV series will benefit from some carryover empathy for the (very different) characters and a guess at the backstory, but will probably be annoyed by the fact that it's a completely different retelling.
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Put simply, Vision of Escaflowne: The Movie is a terrible movie. However, as much as I'd like to, I can't honestly say it was a complete waste of time, because although it has a barely-there plot and some of the most awkwardly forced character development I've ever seen, it's also gorgeous, features a wonderful score by Yoko Kanno, and has "incredibly expensive" written all over it. It's just a shame some of that budget didn't go toward a decent screenplay.
First off, an important note: The highly popular TV version of Escaflowne and this movie are not the same Escaflowne. They both tell roughly the same story, but with no connection other than the same basic concepts and characters.
For those interested in comparisons, the movie version is much darker--both the story and characters have a notably harder edge. Mecha fans will note that the Escaflowne, now much more mysterious and one of only two apocalyptically powerful mecha in the world, has a creepy organic look--complete with spurting blood--that seems to be something of a nod to Evangelion (amusing since some of the weird robot relationships in the TV version predate that series).
Almost every character from the TV series is in the movie (about half are just walk-ons), but there are some major differences. Hitomi is initially detached and bordering on suicidal, not just indecisive (and she also has no fortune-telling abilities or backstory connecting her with Gaia). Van is harsher and brooding, Millerna is almost the opposite of the TV version, and Folken is just as icy but has been reduced to a pointlessly nihilistic psycho. The love triangle aspect is completely gone, and Allen has almost no part in the story; the rest of the cast are just there to show their faces.
But enough comparisons. What if you haven't seen the TV version, or don't care? First and most fortunately, since the stories aren't at all connected, you're not missing anything, and you won't find yourself comparing the drastic changes. Second and most unfortunately, every character other than Hitomi (and Van a while later) is so poorly established that you also won't get any of the carry-over empathy, which was about the only thing that kept me even mildly interested in them.
Hitomi, our hero, is a prime example of everything that's wrong with this movie. Although her personality is laid out clearly (and relatively brutally) in the opening scene, she's never really explained as a character--we know she seems to hate the world, but there is nothing at all that tells us why past random adolescent angst or some completely unexplained connection with nihilists in another dimension.
Speaking of nihilists in other dimensions, Folken is a miserably shallow villain; he rules a massive military empire from a floating castle, and the sum total of his backstory is he's cheesed off because he didn't get picked to be king. Therefore he's decided to destroy the entire world, including himself, because that way nobody will be unhappy. Right.
The foundation for the world of Gaia and its history are equally poorly explained; having seen the TV series, I could guess that the history of this Gaia was similar, but nothing was ever stated to back that assumption up. Among the unanswered questions: Why is there a parallel world from which the Earth is visible in the sky like a second moon, why are there creepy bio-mechs with the power to destroy the world floating around, and why does an apparently random girl from Earth have any business being there? Even the country that Van and Folken came from is only spoken about briefly, leaving it (and their tumultuous backstory, theoretically the sole cause of all the tragedy in the plot) so loosely explained that its existence felt like an afterthought.
Again, if you've seen the TV series, you can sort of infer that the history of this place is similar to that of the TV Gaia, which gives you at least a little bit of a connection with Van's country, past tragedies, and the people of the world in general. But, if you're going to completely re-tell a story with significantly altered characters, you're under some obligation to fill us in on who they are and why we care, which this movie fails to do on a grand scale.
The world is ill-explained and the characters are shallow, but what really annoyed me about this movie was the character development. It's clear from Hitomi's introspective monologue at the beginning that this, like the TV version, is supposed to be a character-driven story. It is inexcusable, then, that the characters feel like mindless automatons whose moods are entirely determined by what the plot requires them to be feeling at any given moment. They don't feel like real people, or angst-laden melodramatic characters, or even cheesy and shallow action movie characters.
A prime example of the forced character development comes in a pivotal scene where Hitomi cracks Van's shell and encourages him to give life another shot, not to mention pledges her love to him. Not only is there no scene before that point that gives the viewer any reason to believe that Hitomi had recovered from her borderline-suicidal state to the point she'd be empathizing with people who used to be like she was, but there isn't even anything to imply she'd have more than a passing romantic interest in Van. I suppose if you really try, you can guess that somewhere along the line she had a change of heart offscreen, but that's a lame excuse for entirely omitting a complete reversal of the main character's personality. The whole scene left me scratching my head wondering how it's even possible to botch a plot that badly. There are plenty of other spots almost as bad if one isn't enough for you.
The end result of all this is quite simple: I just didn't care what happened. The world and its history border on abstract, the characters are shallow, and what little personality they have seems to change wildly at the whim of the scene. Fortunately, watching the film wasn't a complete waste of time, because man, does it look good.
From the first scene you can tell that Escaflowne: The Movie is going to be something special. The opening sequence features an absolutely gorgeous flight through the clouds, and the introduction has a little of everything: A spectacular, surprisingly bloody swordfight on an airship, a beautiful series of exquisitely-drawn city and school backgrounds bathed in evening light, and a truly impressive dreamlike sequence of surreal images as Hitomi is pulled into the world of Gaia. Once there, things look equally spectacular--from the fluid character animation, to the creative and beautifully-painted landscapes of Gaia, to the dark halls of Folken's castle. Even the computer work is integrated so well into the hand-drawn parts that there is no functional difference between the two.
The visual design deserves a nod as well. Although we get to see very little of the world of Gaia, there are a few impressive glimpses of its scenery and inhabitants that are just alien enough to make you realize that it's another world, yet familiar enough to believe that it's a real place. On the mechanical front the movie features some spiffy retro-tech airships and the gooey, organic, disturbingly bloody Escaflowne mecha (you have to watch to see exactly what I mean, but piloting these death machines does not look like fun).
I'm using a lot of adjectives to describe the visuals here, and Escaflowne: The Movie deserves every one of them. It is simply one of the best looking animated movies I've ever seen, from start to finish.
The only complaint I can think of is that, though the character designs are mostly the same as the TV version, the female characters feature very prominent lips, which I personally found somewhat distracting. The odd noses from the TV series have been changed slightly, but are still either distinctive or odd-looking, depending on your taste.
The visuals are striking and beautiful, and thanks to Yoko Kanno, the same can be said of the music. Most of the score is done in a classical vein, effectively evoking the wonder of the fantastic vistas of Gaia. The range goes all the way from playful pieces to grand choral themes, one of which pays homage to Orff's "O Fortuna." Anyone familiar with Kanno knows she can produce quality music in any genre, but my favorites would have to be her lyrical works of fantasy, of which there are plenty in this soundtrack. All around, it is a beautiful score, well worth listening to.
The voice acting is last to cover, but there's not really much to say since there's no way the acting could save the characterization. The quality of the Japanese acting is high, and every character sports the same distinctive voice as the TV version except (understandably) Millerna, who has a suitable replacement in Aki Takeda. The English version is somewhat weaker, but works well enough; the most noteworthy roles are Folken, backed by a very good performance, and Allen, who is cast well but comes across as cheesy and, like Van's dubbed voice, a bit stiff.
In the end, Vision of Escaflowne: The Movie is definitely worth watching, and definitely worth listening to--they clearly spent a huge amount of money on the production, and got every yen worth. Unfortunately, it's not at all worth paying attention to, so as beautiful as it is I find it hard to recommend. If you're a big fan of gorgeous animation, you can't possibly go wrong; if you're a big fan of the TV series, you'll almost certainly be annoyed by the different take on the plot, but might want to watch it anyway, just for the experience; if you're the sort who demands a decent story, though, don't waste your time.
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Obviously the Escaflowne TV series, though ironically not as similar as you'd think--the movie is much darker. Last Exile is similar in a number of ways, but is closer to the TV series in mood except in the darker parts. Other closer matches, mood-wise, are somewhat darker fantasy yarns like Nazca (also features a nihilistic villain) and maybe Arjuna or Please Save My Earth. X: The Motion Picture shares the distinction of being a TV remake with a severely truncated plot but outstanding visuals.
Notes and Trivia
This telling of the Escaflowne story actually qualifies as the third independent incarnation of the same concept; the TV series and manga were produced from the same basic idea simultaneously, rather than one based on the other, and so, despite sharing the same basic framework and characters, are completely unrelated stories. This movie follows neither, for yet another interpretation of an ordinary girl sucked into the world of Gaia.
US DVD Review
The original DVD features a variety of audio: an isolated soundtrack-only score in Dolby Digital, an English Dolby 5.1 soundtrack, and Japanese soundtracks in Dolby 5.1 or DTS 5.1. Aside from an anamorphic widescreen video transfer and trailers, however, that's about it. The newer "Anime Legends" re-release adds not only the whole soundtrack on a CD but an entire 2nd DVD full of extras, including side-by-side storyboards, production art, interviews, a musical performance by Maaya Sakamoto, making of, and more.
Both emotionally and physically violent, putting it in the 16-up range.
Violence: 4 - The battles are surprisingly gory and fairly brutal--even the mecha are bloody and disturbing.
Nudity: 1 - Essentially none.
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - Some relatively strong mature themes, but nothing more.
Language: 1 - Nothing of particular note.
Staff & Cast
Original Japanese Cast
Hitomi: Maaya Sakamoto
Van: Tomokazu Seki
Folken (Dune): Joji Nakata
Yukari/Sora: Mayumi Iizuka
Dilandau: Minami Takayama
Jajuka: Koji Tsujitani
Allen: Shin'ichiro Miki
Merle: Ikue Otani
Mole Man: Chafurin
Millerna: Aki Takeda
Gaddes: Toru Okawa
Reeden: Yuji Ueda
Kio/Ruhm: Ginzo Matsuo
Ort: Masayuki Hiyama
Teo: Akihiko Nakajima
Pyle: Takehiro Murasono
Shesta: Shohei Yamaguchi
Ryuan: Takehiro Kawano
Nukushi: Takashi Matsuyama
Young Van: Yoshiko Kamei
Young Hitomi: Kurumi Mamiya
Strategist: Hiroki Takahashi
Surveillance Chief: Toshihide Tsuchiya
Helmsman: Kou Yamagishi
Katz: Masahiro Ogata
Soldier 1: Kenji Numura
Solider 2: Masashi Kimura
Child 1: Jun Tanaka
Child 2: Sayuri Otsuka
Old Woman 1: Eiji Maruyama
Old Woman 2: Naoko Kyoda
Dryden: Jurota Kosugi
General: Katsumi Cho
King: Satoaki Kuroda
Crowd: Ezaki Production
English Dub Cast
Hitomi: Kelly Sheridan
Van: Kirby Morrow
Folken: Paul Dobson
Dilandau: Andrew Francis
Allen: Brian Drummond
Millerna: Venus Terzo
Merle: Joceln Loewen
Sola: Sylvia Zaradic
Jajuka: Scott McNeil
Gaddess: Ward Pery
Yukari: Willow Johnson
Mole Man: Terry Klassen
Dryden: Michael Dobson
Shesta: Trevor Devall
Nukushi: Brian Dobson
Created by: Hajime Yadate (Yatate?), Shoji Kawamori
Director: Kazuki Akane (Sekine?)
Screenplay: Ryota Yamaguchi, Kazuki Sekine(Akane?)
Script Consultant: Aya Yoshinaga
Co-Director: Yoshhiyuki Takei
Assistant Unit Director: Hirokazu Yamada
Character Designer: Nobuteru Yuki
Animation Director: Nobuteru Yuki
Mechanical Designs: Kimitoshi Yamane
Armor Design Consultant: Yutaka Izubuchi
Art Director: Junichi Higashi
Director of Photography: Kazunori Okeda
Producers: Masuo Ueda, Minoru Takanashi, Masahiko Minami, Toyoyuki Yokohama
Music: Yoko Kanno, Hajime Mizoguchi
Produced by Sunrise, Bandai Visual
Dubbing: The Ocean Group
Theme Song: "Yubiwa" ("Ring")
Lyrics: Yuho Iwasato
Composer/Arrangement: Yoko Kanno
Performance: Maaya Sakamoto
Insert Song: "SORA"
Lyrics: Gabriela Robin
Composer/Arrangement: Yoko Kanno
Performance: Shanti Snider
Insert Song: "SORA -- at the bar"
Lyrics: Gabriela Robin
Composer/Arrangement: Yoko Kanno