+ The animation is excellent for TV
+ Likeable characters
+ Nice moments of contemplation
+/ Musical score is of a European slant
The Vision of Escaflowne manages to balance the action and adventure that teenage boys crave and the romance sought out by female audiences. While the plot involving a fortune telling machine and the secrets of Atlantis might seem overly familiar, the love triangle element is intriguing in that the two rivals for Hitomi's affections are depicted as more or less equal rather than clearly right and clearly wrong. Where the series falters is in the use of details from both feudal Japan and feudal Europe that never quite gel and the attempt to mesh advanced technology with sword-n-sorcery elements. If you can overlook these minor flaws you might find The Vision of Escaflowne to be a charming and entertaining romantic fantasy adventure.
3.5 out of 5
Vision of Escaflowne Anime Review
Written by: Frank B. Chavez III on 9/4/2007
The major difference between Japanese and American
animation is this: in Japan anime is considered a medium of artistic expression
while in the United States animation is considered a genre of film. This subtle
difference has lead to anime films and TV series that are produced in a wider
variety of genres than are usually seen in the US. Besides being categorized
by content such as science fiction, fantasy, or thriller, anime series are also
categorized by intended audience such shojo (series aimed at young girls), shonen
(series aimed at young boys), seinen (series aimed at teenage boys), josei (series
aimed at women), and kodomo (series aimed at children). Anime can also be further
divided by theme such as sentai (superhero teams), mecha (giant robots), bishojo
(a blanket term covering series featuring pretty girls), bishonen (a blanket
term covering series featuring pretty or elegant boys), and even expertise (series
that deal in a specific subject in great depth such as sports, cooking, or the
arts) plus dozens of others including a variety of romance and sexual genres.
One of several popular and highly acclaimed series produced by Sunrise Inc. Vision of Escaflowne managed to cross several genres, containing elements from shonen, shojo, romance, and mecha. Originally airing on TV Tokyo in 1996, the 26 episode series focuses on Hitomi Kanzaki a high school track and field athlete who is mysteriously transported to the planet Gaea – a world parallel to our own where she can see Earth in the sky. Her latent psychic powers are enhanced on Gaea and Hitomi soon finds herself embroiled in the political conflicts of Gaea's various nations.
As Hitomi and Yukari walk home, Yukari tells Hitomi the rumors she has heard about Amano: according to his fellow upperclassmen, Amano is moving out of the country, if Hitomi ever wants to let Amano how she feels about him, she will have to do it quickly. At home Hitomi consults her tarot cards for a clue to how to proceed – drawing the Tower (a symbol of separation) and the Serpent (a symbol of courage) she formulates a plan of action. The next day she meets Amano at the track, dressed in her sprinter's outfit, she hands him her pendant and tells him that if she can break 13 seconds, she wants him to give her, her first kiss. Amano agrees and with Amano and Yukari cheering her on, Hitomi begins to run the hundred meter dash. Suddenly there is burst of light and a discharge of energy and a young warrior in armor appears on the track. Hitomi realizes, to her great astonishment, that this is the same Prince Van she had seen in her earlier vision. Van is in the middle of slaying a dragon as rite of passage and he angrily tells Hitomi and her friends to get out of the way before the dragon kills them all. A terrific battle ensues and Hitomi and friends retreat to a nearby Shinto shrine – the dragon hot on their tails.
During the course of the battle, Hitomi is plagued by a psychic vision of what she fears will be Van's untimely demise. She interferes with the battle and saves Van's life. After he manages to slay the dragon, Van tells her off for her interference. Hitomi argues that she was only trying to save his life and that he ought to be a little grateful. Before their argument can be resolved, there is another discharge of energy and Hitomi and Van are spirited away to Van's home world of Gaea.
When Van enters the city he is welcomed as a hero by the entire populace as we learn about one of their customs: in order to prove himself a worthy successor, the heir of Fanelia's throne must slay a dragon in single combat and return with the creature's organ known as an energist. Van's elder brother apparently failed to achieve this goal. When Fanelia's generals confirm that Van has brought home an authentic energist, preparations for Van's coronation move into high gear including plans for a tournament amongst the elite pilots of the giant robots known as "Guymelefs". Meanwhile, Hitomi makes the acquaintance of Merle one of Van's servants and admirers. She is a cute but jealous cat girl who warns Hitomi not to get too close to the Prince. She doesn't like foreigners getting to familiar with Van. Merle steals Hitomi's pendant and Hitomi chases after her. She is momentarily distracted from the chase when she passes a gym where Van practicing his swordsmanship with Balgus, one of his generals. She overhears Van admit that although he faithfully carried out his duty he doesn't really wish to be King. Balgus notices Hitomi's presence, thanks her for saving Van's life and promises that Fanelia will find a way to return her home.
Later as Van's coronation commences, the city comes under attack by enemy troops from the Zaibach Empire using "Guymelefs" hidden by invisibility cloaks. Vision of Escaflowne, like many other fantasy anime series and films, suffers from what film critic Roger Ebert referred to as John Carter Syndrome (JCS). Created by Tarzan author Edgar Rice Burroughs, John Carter Warlord of Mars was a Civil War era Southern gentleman transported by supernatural means to the planet Mars (Sound familiar?), John Carter would thunder across the plains of Mars on the back of his Martian steed, slaughtering hordes of evil Martian swordsmen with his Martian sword and then suddenly, halfway to rescuing the princess he would suddenly remember his trusty Martian death ray and fry the rest of the evil bastards with a laser beam. The people of the planet Gaea have the technological wherewithal to build the "Guymelefs" but still practice swordsmanship, travel on a variety of beasts of burden, and carry out productive tasks with machines no more sophisticated than a windmill. Some science fiction writers have created clever explanations for situations like this. For example, the denizens of the empire depicted in Frank Herbert's Dune novels have developed a religious bias against certain technologies such as computers and reverted to fencing and other forms of hand-to-hand combat due to the discovery that the interaction between laser beams and force fields is as deadly to the attacker with the laser as it is too the target using the force field. In the Star Wars Saga the Jedi Knights' use of light sabers in a culture dependant on blasters, developed from Jedi meditation and exercise. The appearance of the mecha-esque Guymelefs in the otherwise feudal world depicted in Vision of Escaflowne; while providing visual interest to what would otherwise be a run-of-the-mill fantasy adventure, are a distraction. If the people of Gaea can build Guymelefs; why can't they build guns, cannons, or automobiles?
As episode three begins, Hitomi and Van find themselves briefly separated in the woods some distance from the burning remains of Fanelia. Hitomi nearly falls prey to a tubby thief eyeing her with bad intent but she is saved from a fate worse than death by an elegant and gallant knight named Allen (That's right Allen…On a planet of wolf men, cat people, giant robots, and dragons, the gallant knight's name is Allen.). Allen bears more than a passing resemblance to handsome track star Amano and in her delirium; Hitomi calls him by this name. Alerted by Hitomi's screaming, Van arrives on the scene just in time to see Hitomi faint into Allen's arms and of course assumes the worst. Allen and Van fight but the skirmish is brief – Allen dodges Van's blows and knocks Van out with a blow to the stomach. As Van passes out, Allen admonishes him with the same advice Balgus had previously given – Van's technique is excellent he just isn't aggressive enough.
Meanwhile onboard some sort of flying fortress, Dilandau Albatou, the leader of the attack on Fanelia is dressing down his men because the total destruction of Fanelia wasn't carried out with total precision – some of the elite battle suits were slightly damaged in the fighting. We know Dilandau Albatou is a villain because he screams and slaps his men around like bitches. Later the incredibly pretty and androgynous Dilandau meets with Folken a handsome top tactician. Folken we learn, is a former citizen of Fanelia who has betrayed his nation, he expresses regret that the kingdom was razed. In a scene that viewers who have seen The Empire Strikes Back will find familiar Folken and Dilandau use a super advanced communications device to contact the creepy Emperor of Zaibach who outlines his creepy, overly-complicated plan for world domination which includes the use of a destiny prognostication engine (fortune telling machine) and unlocking the secrets of Atlantis. The Emperor orders Folken and Dilandau to hunt down Van and seek out the source of the recent energy bursts that have disturbed their world in recent days.
As each following episode unfolds, the story grows more complicated with enough plot twists, revelations, and interpersonal conflicts to make even the most seasoned soap opera writer blush. As with many anime series if you miss even one episode you'll be hard set to catch up as the series is tightly woven with plots and subplots. At the center of all this are the parallel stories of the love triangle consisting of Hitomi, Van, and Allen and Zaibach's Emperor Dornkirk and his search for the secrets of Atlantis. Of the two central storylines the love triangle is the more interesting. Unlike most Hollywood love triangles where one of the rivals is clearly right for the protagonist and one is clearly wrong, Allen and Van both positive and negative qualities. Van is faithful and courageous but also brash and headstrong while Allen is gallant and handsome but also has a reputation as a womanizer. Hitomi is infatuated with Allen but through course of the series comes to realize that she loves Van. In contrast Emperor Dornkirk's attempt to create an ideal future for Gaea through his quest for the secrets of Atlantis is the usual over-the-top nonsense. All of this is of course played out against the backdrop of political machinations, magical experimentation and epic battle leading to startling confrontations and a mind boggling conclusion.
Vision of Escaflowne is an entertaining if not completely original fantasy adventure. It draws from many different genres including fantasy, science fiction, and romance. In this way the producers attempt to appeal to both teenage boys and teenage girls and it is mostly if not always successful. The Allen, Hitomi, Van love triangle is especially intriguing considering that unlike movies such as Titanic where Jack is completely good and his rival Cal is completely wicked, both Van and Allen are portrayed as equally appealing with equal flaws in their personalities. Van is brash and headstrong but ultimately faithful, courageous and loyal. Allen is handsome and gallant but also a womanizer haunted by his inability to protect his female family members. Where the series falters is in the details of the world of Gaea. The feudal kingdoms depicted in the series are built up of a hodgepodge of details from both Europe and Japan. For example Fanelia's buildings are Japanese but the people dress like Europeans. Their warriors call themselves samurai, dress like knights, and carry katana style swords. Of course the most obvious inconsistency are the "Guymelefs" and airships. If the people of Gaea can build airships and mecha why do they still ride horses and oxen? And how come none of the kingdoms has figured out guns or autos?
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