(aka Vision Of Escaflowne)
Young Hitomi Kanzaki is just your average 15 year old girl, an athlete in the track and field club she also likes to read fortunes with her Tarot deck. One day when she is running on the track, she sees a vision of a young boy in archaic armor, and faints. Later that day, as she is about to confess her feelings to her fellow student Amano, she sees the boy again, only itís NOT a vision! Suddenly, a Dragon appears and a fierce battle ensues. When the beast is finally slain, the boy (Van Fanel) takes Hitomiís hand and they are both taken to Vanís homeland of Fanelia, on the lush planet of Gaea. Hitomi looks up in the sky and sees not only the moon, but the earth as well. Though beautiful, Gaea is dying as horrible wars ravage the land. Soon Van and Hitomi are drawn into a conflict that will decide the fate of planet. A fate that centers around them and one other...the guardian battle armor, Escaflowne.
From the same people who brought us Macross Plus, this is the most incredible animated TV series Iíve ever seen. Intense action with cool medieval mecha, pulse pounding and haunting soundtrack by Yoko Kanno, stunning visuals that would be amazing even in an OVA, and excellent characters. The story is long and complex, and does not ever disappoint. Youíd be hard pressed to find an otaku who DOESNíT love this wonderful series, so go out and grab it up RIGHT NOW! Put down the mouse and go buy it, what are you waiting for?
Available subtitled or dubbed through Animevillage.com. Has been added to the 2000-01 lineup for the Fox Kids Channel.
The story is set in a world called GAEA, a planet where Earth can be seen in the night sky. On GAEA, the Tribe of the Black Dragon begins invading other territories, seeking to conquer and rule the planet.
Young Prince Van's country is one of those destroyed by the Black Dragon. Enraged by the invasion, this descendant of the white-winged Dragon fights against the Black Dragon and attempts to save GAEA. Van comes under the protection of Abaharaki, the ruler of a neighboring country that also opposes the Black Dragon. But Van is a maverick and a loner, and never opens up to anyone around him.
Now, the Black Dragon has discovered a terrible weapon. They have found a Dragon armor that, during the ancient wars, is believed to have burned all of GAEA. The Black Dragon plans to excavate and resurrect this powerful weapon. In order to prevent the Black Dragon from obtaining such extraordinary power, Abaharaki attacks.
Meanwhile, on Earth, there is a girl who wants to disappear. Hitomi has been hurt, and seems to have lost her will to live. When her attitude ends up hurting her best friend, Hitomi becomes completely disgusted with herself. 'Agh..I wish I could just vanish...'
As if in answer to her prayer, she hears a voice. A mysterious power takes Hitomi away from the Earth and leads her to GAEA. What will Hitomi see in this strange world? Total destruction or rebirth? Hitomi has no clue that she is the key to shape the destiny of this world.
And now, another key to GAEA, the legendary Dragon Armor, resurrects in front of Van.
The legendary white armor...Its name is Escaflowne.
In a word, superb. After three years of waiting since the announcement of the film's production, we at last get to see the final product. Was it worth the wait? Unquestionably, yes. While it does have its flaws (as I'll detail later) the entire package is arguably the best feature-length anime film since Mononoke Hime (at least).
High praise...possibly a little too high? While the reception at Anime Expo just a month ago was that of a gift from God, the reception at the Fanboys gathering we viewed it at was akin to the feeling of satisfaction gained from watching the kind of well executed flight of fancy we see far too rarely. I remembered the feeling I got when I watched the very first Star Wars film in the theater as a kid, even then I knew I had just seen something special.
So what was it the made Escaflowne: A Girl in Gaea so magical? While pinning it down on one thing is simply absurd, arguably the biggest part of it is the new story; the writers chose to only borrow some of the characters from the TV series, and then create the rest of the tale from the ground up. While this obviously has a somewhat negative effect on the fans of the series, the pros far outweigh the cons in this case. People worried how they could fit the kind of complicated story of the series into a 90 minute film...simple, really. They didn't. Instead they chose to tell a tale of a prince so consumed by hate he is willing to burn the world away, of a girl who has lost all care for the world around her, and who finds salvation in a world of magic and mystery. But ultimately, it's a tale about how no matter how alone we may feel, as cliched as it may sound, there is always hope.
And it works. In fact, it couldn't really have worked in any other form but a feature film; the structure of the story, the characters and the pacing really lend themselves to the environment of a short and intense visual experience far better than something drawn out like the TV series. And intense it is: right from the beginning, the film stuns the viewer with simply breathtaking visuals as we watch a barbarically violent Van tear his way into the Black Dragon airship holding the now very organic-looking Escaflowne. Unlike shows such as Blue Submarine no. 6, the art style doesn't try to blind you with its fancy designs and flashy style. Instead, like Ghost in the Shell before it, you sometimes forget you're watching an animated film and can do nothing but sit back in awe of the visual splendor.
Now on to the really big changes...firstly, the absence of any Guymelefs. Aside from Escaflowne, and the Dark Dragon armor, there are none in this movie at all. Those two, however, are used in such a spectacular way that unless you are obsessive about those giant knights, you really won't miss them. Second, there is some sort of tie-in with Dragon's blood giving people magical powers. Van and Folken, being direct descendants of the Dragon clan, are exceptionally powerful, as is Dilandau, who apparently has somewhat impure dragon blood running through his veins. These magical powers are akin to the psychokenesis of Nakago, or the Force powers of a very dangerous Jedi Knight...and believe me when I say that this made for some truly intense fights.
Thirdly, there are the characters themselves. While all of the original secondary players are back, only a few of them get any real attention at all. While this is mildly annoying to fans of the show, it's been proven many times that when you try to put too many characters onscreen the story suffers. Despite this, many fans will have problems with this film...with the exception of Merle, the characters are NOTHING like their TV counterparts; Van is bloodthirsty and totally introverted, Millerna a battle-toughened princess, Dilandau is nowhere near as psychotic (but still incredibly volatile), Allen is no longer the indecisive bastard he used to be, and Folken is far more dark and menacing than ever before (not to mention looking suspiciously like David Bowie as the Goblin King from Labyrinth). Several scenes with him and Van or Dilandau make him into the kind of singleminded and ruthless villain that would have Darth Vader tossing in his helmet in a heartbeat. Definitely a worthy adversary for Van and Hitomi. Some people will be annoyed by the new looks for the characters (those fangirls who drooled over Allen's old face may find his new one icky), but I think the removal of the killer noses was an improvement.
There were only a few things about this film that I thought could have been improved. One element that struck me as a little weak was Hitomi's character. We get very little in the way of background on why she is so depressed and suicidal. It's hardly unusual for Japanese students to feel isolated and stressed, but it would have been nice to see some sort of specific reason for her malaise. Another thing was that the relationship between Van and Hitomi seemed somewhat rushed; while it was believable, that was really only because of the pace of the story, and even then it still seems a little weak. I don't feel there was enough buildup to make it feel as real as it did in the series. Likewise, with the two of them, an opportunity was dropped in and subsequently wasted with the vision Hitomi had of Van as a child. Why did she see him? Is there some other connection between her and the world of Gaea other than the Mole Man's prophecy of the "Goddess of Wings"? It would have been nice if they'd expanded on this, but it is really little more than a tiny nagging annoyance, and is easily forgotten.
As I detailed above, there are a number of differences that may irritate fans of the TV series, but anyone using this film as a platform for entering the world of Gaea will find no problem with them at all. And really, that is the tone set by the writing; this is more for the new fans than the old. Those who have never been exposed to Escaflowne's rich world will likely be more astonished and drawn in than anyone who saw the TV series. As such, it's best that you leave all expectations at the door, forget the things you know (or think you know) about this world, and simply enjoy 90 minutes of pure fantasy entertainment. Do that, and I guarantee you will come away from A Girl in Gaea with the same sense of wonder that the fanboys did. It's not a gift from God, just the premiere fantasy anime film of today. And honestly, that is more than enough.
Currently only available fansubbed, but I doubt that will last long.
Mattís Tenkuu no Escaflowne A great page that also has sections on other anime, including studio Ghibli works.