Vision of Escaflowne
(Tenku no Esukafurone) (1996)
Directed by Kazuki Akane and Shoji Kawamori

Artistic Value: * * *
Entertainment Value: * * * ½

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A teenaged girl, Hitomi, finds herself magically transferred to the world of Gaea, where she becomes involved in the complex struggle between a young king named Van and Emperor Dornkirk, the ruler of Zaibak, whose forces are led by the psychotic Dilandau and Van's traitorous brother Folken.

Kazuki Akane and Shoji Kawamori's twenty-six part animated television program Vision of Escaflowne is consistently enjoyable and often exhilarating, but it is also deeply flawed. The characters are always engaging and surprisingly well realized. The narrative, though melodramatic, is exciting, and the animation, though not invariably well conceived, is generally impressive and occasionally beautiful. Whatever its shortcomings, the virtues of the program are sufficient to make it both unique and genuinely entertaining. It is not a great series, but it is a distinctive and appealing one.

The narrative of Escaflowne moves along quickly. There are frequent battles, numerous romantic rivalries, endless personal complications, and the like. Admittedly, the program is ultimately reminiscent of a children's fantasy adventure intermingled with a soap opera, but, whatever its limitations, the story is, nevertheless, consistently engaging, and its protagonists are all likeable, sympathetic persons, especially since none of them are without flaws.

Sadly, Gaea, the world on which Escaflowne is set, is not particularly well realized. Several of the various countries to which the protagonists travel are, for instance, clearly inspired by some real location or another. There are "European" countries, an "Indian" country, and so on. Moreover, there are, living among the human populations of these various lands, an assortment of ill-defined semi-human entities, as cat people, lizard people, dopplegangers, and the like. None of these beings lend anything to the series other than their odd appearance and the occasional special power. Both the countries and inhabitants of Gaea feel as though they were quickly concocted and little thought had been given to their creation. Instead of crafting a detailed, complex world, the makers of Escaflowne have cobbled together a mélange of crude, slightly altered copies of earthly nations and filled them with unimaginative creatures.

Some the the technological items of the series are inventive and interesting, however. The huge airships in which the characters travel are strange, unwieldy, and delightful, and the "fate alteration machine" employed by Emperor Dornkirk is a weird, imaginative marvel. Unfortunately, the makers of the series have incorporated the giant robotic suits of armor common to countless other anime programs and, by doing so, have greatly decreased the originality of their work.

Lastly, I should add that while the animation used in Escaflowne is often detailed, attractive, and technically well done, the character and costume designs are both absolutely dreadful. The ugliness of the characters' faces and the silly tackiness of their clothing are both constant distractions.

Escaflowne is an exciting program, and the various romantic and personal conflicts with which it is filled do keep the viewer emotionally involved with its characters, but it has few exceptional qualities and a number of faults.

Review by Keith Allen

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