© 2001 Sunrise / Bandai Visual
Escaflowne: The Movie
The Vision of Escaflowne still ranks as my all-time favorite anime, combining epic storytelling, engaging characters, a beautiful musical score, and some solid visuals into an all-around stellar package. So, when I first heard a movie based on the series was being produced I had my hopes set high. The TV series, while ending on a firm note, still left an opportunity for a sequel, or perhaps even a prequel. But when I learned that movie was instead to be a re-telling of the television series, my hopes fell. Why try to improve on a good thing? And now having watched the Escaflowne movie, all my fears of a watered-down imitation of the original series have come to pass.
Escaflowne opens with arguably the most tense, exiting sequence in the whole film. A group of soldiers (members of the Black Dragon Clan, an imperial army bent on conquest) are transporting the Dragon Armor, Escaflowne, to the Clan's commander, Folken. Their airship transport is rudely interrupted when a single, half-dressed young man (Van) plummets from the sky and onto their vessel. His intentions are quickly noted as he begins dismembering the airship's crew to achieve his own goal of recovering the Escaflowne armor.
Events shifts to Earth where we meet our heroine, the sullen Hitomi Kanzaki. Hitomi suffers from near morbid depression, including writing a mock suicide note (for which her best friend chides her over Hitomi's lack of writing style). We never really understand why Hitomi feels the way she does; only that she feels alone and wishes she could fade away. As fate would have it, her wish is granted when she is whisked away from the planet by a mysterious cloaked figure.
We quickly learn Hitomi's fate. She has been summoned to Gaia and arrives inside the very Escaflowne armor that Van is attempting to secure. After freeing herself from the armor, she meets Van, who proclaims her the "Wing Goddess" (there is a prophecy on Gaia about the Wing Goddess arriving from the "Mystic Moon"). It doesn't take long before Hitomi is swept up into the events taking place on Gaia, involving a bitter war between the Black Dragon Clan and the Abaharaki (a group consisting of surviving members of kingdoms vanquished by the Black Dragon clan).
Fans of the original television series may be initially put off by the darker nature of this movie and its characters. Hitomi has gone from being a shy yet spirited girl to a deeply troubled one. Van is much more aggressive than his TV counterpart, aptly demonstrated in the opening sequence. Even the cute little Merle has a harsher edge to her manner and appearance.
The differences between the television series and the film highlight Escaflowne's biggest flaw: that it is a re-telling of the already excellent television series. With the pedigree set by the series and the inevitable comparisons that will be drawn between the two, anything less than spectacular is disappointing. And this is exactly how this movie feels. For starters, the character development is severely lacking. The characters presented in this film are mere caricatures of their television counterpoints, two dimensional and devoid of any real emotion or feeling. This is especially true of Hitomi, the central figure in the film. Her early depression at the beginning of the film is never given any explanation, making her eventual rise from it seem hollow. Even her very presence on Gaia seems superfluous, other than to become the object of desire between the two warring sides.
Another disappointment is the Escaflowne armor, or rather, the lack of Escaflowne armor. Early in the story, foreshadowing alludes to the fact that the one who wields the Escaflowne armor will destroy all of Gaia. Yet, given the armor's brief, but timely appearance, this issue is not really addressed. In fact, there is but a single battle involving Escaflowne armor in the whole film and it is over much too soon.
The isn't to say that Escaflowne is all bad. In fact, there are a number of positives, starting with the production values. The art and animation are definitely a step above the television series. Characters are well detailed, with bold contrast and a rich color palette. The animation, while sparse in places, is fluid when it counts, particular during the battle scenes. And Yoko Kanno again provides the musical score, blending themes from the original with some excellent new compositions.
There are some exciting, memorable, and even poignant moments in the film, as well. As mentioned, the opening sequence is probably the best in the film, action-wise. Later battle scenes, while brief, are tense and exciting. In fact, aside from the film's lackluster climax, I can't think of any battle scenes I didn't enjoy. Likewise, there are some sedated but meaningful scenes, such as Hitomi and Van's brief soiree in a peaceful village, and a touching moment between Van and Merle.
Although a well crafted production, the overall impact of Escaflowne: The Movie is less than satisfying. Resisting comparison to the television series proved difficult, making the film seem like an unnecessary novelty obscured by the shadow of its predecessor. While this film may be intended for fans of the television series, it is probably best suited for those who aren't.
The Verdict: * * * (average)
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