Vision of Escaflowne
Hey, it’s that anime that contributed the name of this blog!
Escaflowne has been on my to-watch list for a while now. I heard many things about the series — how good it still looks, how great the music is, how wonderful/terrible the romance is, how everything falls apart near the end, and so on and so forth. Most of what I heard/read tended toward the positive, though, so I was quite excited to watch the series. And, overall, I think it is pretty good, if very flawed, mainly because its ambitions extend way beyond its reach, which turns the series into a semi-trainwreck down the stretch. But what an enjoyable trainwreck it is in its own way!
The series begins with Hitomi Kanzaki, a high school girl who has a crush on her senior on the track team, Amano. But one day, a dragon comes swooping down from the heavens, bringing along with it a young, hotblooded prince, Van Fanel. Somehow Hitomi and Van are whisked away to Van’s homeland, Gaea, from which Earth — called the Mystic Moon in this world — can be seen in the distance. Van’s kingdom, Fanelia, is under attack by the Zaibach Empire, led by Emperor Dornkirk, who of course has a mysterious plot going on behind the scenes. Van swears revenge upon the Zaibach Empire, of which his estranged brother, Folken, is now a part, and he and Hitomi travel across the land, picking up allies along the way and rebelling against the empire.
Escaflowne, despite the very strange synopsis, actually has a really good beginning and holds a ton of promise in the early goings. The action is really good, the music is suitably epic and awesome, and there is always something interesting going on in the background, storywise. Plus, there are some really cool characters. I don’t really like Van in the beginning, because he’s an insufferable douche, but Hitomi is a good, strong female lead (and has a hell of a long jump!), Allen Schezar is pretty cool (and is voiced by the king of cool, Shinichiro Miki), Folken has this cool aura about him even though 90 percent of what he says is gibberish in the beginning (but I’ll definitely take Jouji Nakata spouting gibberish!) and Dornkirk isn’t bad in his role as the mysterious emperor.
And then there is Dilandau. Oh my, Dilandau. Voiced with insane zeal by the always wonderful Minami Takayama, Dilandau is the leader of an elite group of Zaibach soldiers whose basic job is to fuck things up. And Dilandau is the best of them at this. Burning, pillaging, wanton destruction, etc. — he does it all, with a great villainous sneer on his face (he generally has great facial expressions) and one of the best insane cackles I will ever have the pleasure of hearing. Plus, his worldview could not clash more with Folken, so the inherent awkwardness of all their interactions cannot possibly be more entertaining. Also, as can be expected, Dilandau is totally batcrap bonkers. He becomes more obsessed with Van as they battle, and wonderful things come from it. I am not at all ashamed to admit I had a total man crush on Dilandau throughout the series. How could I not love someone that wonderfully entertaining and evil? <3
The excitement builds constantly through Escaflowne‘s first half, as Dilandau’s Dragonslayers constantly breathe down Van and company’s neck and attempt to slaughter them all once and for all. The crew hops from kingdom to kingdom, engaging in political intrigue all the while, and they really begin to feel the pressure of the Zaibach Empire coming after them, while the empire comes ever closer to achieving its goal. This is the high point of the series, I think, because this is where the coherent story is at its best. From this point on, the story grows ever more insane (and not always in a good way), and the themes of the series are pounded ruthlessly into the viewer’s head (UNMEI KAIHEN, LOVE CONQUERS ALL~, WILLPOWER > PREDESTINATION, and so on) with each new episode. Subtlety is not something with which Escaflowne is familiar.
The stretch of episodes from about 15-21 is without a doubt the worst in the series. Only one (ep19) is truly wall-to-wall awful — its ending is an utter Wall Banger — but it’s not as if the others have that much going for them. This is the part of the series where Escaflowne develops the characters more and reveals a lot of the backstory behind Dornkirk’s plan and Gaea’s past. Some of it is cool, some of it is quite silly and some of it is mindbogglingly nuts. And the way some of these twists are brought about . . . ugh. Lots of boring ass Info Dumping (especially by Dornkirk; guy probably waited his whole friggin’ life for this massive Info Dump) and general retardery. Don’t want to dole out any spoilers, but suffice to say, this stretch of Escaflowne is absolutely horrid and is what people refer to when the say the series completely derails itself. But there are more problems.
One of the worst things about the series is the romance. It is almost all awful, and this is coming from someone who proudly labels himself as a huge fucking sap. The main love triangle concerns Hitomi, Van and Allen. It is OK for a while, but then it just gets insipid and annoying. A big part of it is because the characters are derailed so badly after the halfway point. As the series moves along, Allen loses roughly a bajillion cool points as his (fucking stupid and boring) past is slowly doled out, and he morphs into a moronic asshole throughout this stretch of the series. Thus, only insane bishie lovers would give a shit about Allen’s romantic advances on Hitomi. To make it better, the way the Hitomi x Allen romance is pushed just may be the most idiotic thing in the series, and that, my friends, is saying something, because, among all the good, there is a lot of shit in Escaflowne. Hitomi x Van ranges from very annoying to tolerable, although it never gets anywhere near as bad as Allen’s romance. The only decent romance (Millerna x Dryden) is barely focused on at all. Way to deliver, Sunrise!
What makes the romance more intolerable is that it just about ruins everyone involved. Hitomi goes from a cool, strong lead to an annoying, whiny, lovesick wench for a good portion of the show. The romance pushes Allen into the point of no return, and he’s just a freaking assmunch for the duration. Van is just . . . Van. He’s there to stumble upon stupid things that come straight out of hackneyed Harlequin romance novels crapped out by bored housewives. Die, romance, die.
The other thing that really threatens to derail Escaflowne is all the absurdly stupid plot devices that make absolutely no sense and are introduced just to be freaking bonkers. I’ll just get this out of the way now — the Zaibach Empire literally has blood they can transfuse into soldiers that will increase their luck. Fortune Blood. Fortune. Blood. WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT SHIT. Is it, like, fucking leprechaun blood, or something? Is there some magical luck hormone biologists have not discovered yet? The world must know about this! There are also some quite grand liberties taken with the concept of gravity that are just . . . I really do not know what to make of them, actually, because I still have no clue what the hell the series is going with that. But it does contribute to the plot of ep19, so it sucks and I hate it. There’s also one more plot twist I really wish I could mock here, but I lack spoiler tags, so no dice. (Hint: It has to do with Emperor Dornkirk’s true identity. And, surprise, it’s just as insane as everything else I just mentioned!)
Really, Escaflowne had my brain going everywhere at times. Mostly to confusion, but I went basically everywhere with this series. Looking back on it, it is fun to see just what depths of insanity the show will plumb with each new episode. Code Geass never got half as crazy as Escaflowne. But, man, is it ever painful to watch sometimes. If my brain had a hand, I would probably be a damned vegetable with how much brain facepalm I would have endured.
HOWEVER . . . while the ship is not completely righted (the series would have to be near perfect to make up for all of that bullshit), it does nearly get back to the excitement of the show’s beginning. The final battle between Van’s crew and Emperor Asshole Dornkirk’s cronies is pretty good, though it’s not the best battle of the series. Hitomi makes a turnaround and becomes cool again. Allen . . . uh, I guess he gets out of the way and lets the awesome people do their jobs. Dilandau gets an awesome servant (and a really weird plot twist, though it is not nearly as weird as the ones that precede it). And the ending . . . you know, surprisingly enough, I actually sort of like the ending. It’s kind of silly, and really sappy, and I would probably enjoy it more if I were warmer toward the Van x Hitomi pairing (OMG SPOILER), but taken on its own, I think it is about as good as could be expected with all the weirdness leading up to it. Not at all subtle about what it is trying to say, but I don’t think anyone expects subtlety at this point in Escaflowne.
Escaflowne is worth watching just because it has such a grand reputation (which isn’t totally deserved, but it’s not a complete piece of garbage, either), and because it is fun in that “insane ’90s anime that spirals totally out of control” kind of way. It is all over the place, and the bad in the show is really bad, but it has enough good for most anime fans to enjoy it. Plus, everyone needs a piece of Dilandau. <3