In three words: Dramatically Epic Mecha
Hello all, I’m a very late contributor to this project but hey, last year was pretty busy and one thing led to another… So, better late than never… At least I posted before this year’s Secret Santa results are out on the reverse thieves site! (Merry Christmas, btw!) Last year, some of us team meta members signed up for the Secret Santa project organized by Reverse Thieves. This year, there are more of us who participated and the first pick post has already been published by Highway.
My Secret Santa, Vinnie of 2012, very thoughtfully suggested three titles out of which I selected Escaflowne. Released in April 1996 with a two-cour schedule when it was originally supposed to comprise of 39 episodes. As I haven’t gone through the original source, I have nothing to compare the adaptive material to; however, I did enjoy it as a classic watch. The moment I saw it as a Sunrise creation with renowned industry names in staff (Watanabe Shinichiro, Satou Junichi, Kawamorei Shoji to name a few), with Yoko Konno behind its amazing music and one of the early roles of some of my favourite seiyuu (Maaya Sakamoto, Tomokazu Seki with some industry oldies like Nakata Jouji, Minami Takayama and Shinchiro Miki).
I won’t bore you with the summary because that would become one long-ass post, rather let me give you a taste of the series for you to decide if you want to check it out or not. Let me start with it’s killer music, one of the bests of Konno to-date.
Escaflowne begins like any other formulaic anime, with a fateful encounter. However, this is not your run-of-the-mill boy meets girl, rather somewhat similar to what Ashitaka felt when he saw San for the first time or even being saved by a cross-dressing magical boy with a chainsaw to a not so very successful recent stabbing on a rooftop. Our heroine, Hitomi Kanzaki is not your average school girl, rather dabbles in tarot reading and usually is right about the result. She was on her way to win a bet, relying on her athletic track career to best her own record for the courage to confess her love to her senpai and in return to receive her first kiss. Now, that’s called a long-winded continuous sentence but I had to do it. However, rather than reaching her mark, she is interrupted by a blaze of light, which brings our hero-kun Van Fanel, chasing after a huge dragon. Yep, a vicious creature, which he slays to rip its heart out to power his guymelef (mecha) named Escaflowne and become the rightful king of Fanelia. You would think he would go back to wherever he came from but nope, the blazing light has more plans for Hitomi and along with Van, she too is transported to his world Gaea, an adjacent planet to earth.
Once in Gaea, Hitomi comes in contact with many characters, who like or despise her. Not to mention, it’s not easy to be dressed in a school uniform all the time and walk around a medieval world where she’s an alien creature. Possessing psychic powers to see the future almost endangers her life from different factions. Being under the wing of Van, who takes responsibility of her guardianship on Gaea, she meets good, bad and neutral parties. Kingdom of Fanelia comes under attack due to politics and other fateful repercussions. Thus, they embark towards different lands and meet other major and side characters; through which we not only learn more about Van but the world he has to save from the clutches of Zaibach, the main antagonist force of this story.
The factor that kept me glued to the screen was the cast of varied characters. They are not just two dimensional puppets with standard motives, rather they give a feel of real people with the complexity of their goals, emotions and drive. By the end of the series you feel for all of them for their pain, love, loss, sacrifice and destined fate. I have to start with Allen, the Knight of this story who has some skeletons in his closet and sometimes very vain. He resembles Hitomi’s favourite senpai and is voiced by MikiShin on both counts. For me the voice was the connection; however, Hitomi becomes attracted to him the moment she meets him. But, don’t expect a happy ending for them because she also feels sliver of love for Van, who not only saves her on different occasions but a feeling much more stronger than love entangles her with him. The concept of fate is heavily used with her seeing the future, almost becoming Van’s right hand in his mission against the Zaibach empire. Hitomi not only battles her heart in between these two complex men but is faced with many paths due to her power and purpose of life. She began as a damsel in distress but the way she changes when she finally accepts her role, is something worth following. Van on the other hand is hero-embodiment with his sense of responsibility and burdens that he shares with few. He too grows from a hot-headed young man to a level-headed King, who learns to think in long-term for the greater good.
There are other complex characters like Folken (Van’s brother turned strategist for the big baddie Dornkirk of Zaibach), Dilandu (trigger-happy crazy pyromaniac with a bizarre past), Millerna (a misdirected damsel in distress), and of course Dornkirk, the ultimate baddie. All the characters I’ve made you glimpse actually change with time or are defined in a new light with their motivation and life path direction. I can’t forget Merle, the third-wheel between Van and Hitomi, who was too annoying for my taste. She is the moe catgirl of this series but mostly shouted whatever the hell she wanted while obsessing over Van. Rather than her, I developed soft spots for Balgus, Dryden and Jajuka, who had small yet memorable roles. And of course, how can I forget the actual mechs? It’s interesting to note that the good guys’ mecha are very much knight-armour like, while the Zaibach ones seem to have more tech in it. But, with dragon hearts powering the guymelefs, they are tough cookies to break and a treat to watch in a fight. For comparison, if you liked what you saw in Break Blade, you will like this too, just don’t zoom in too much.
Even with a few episodes cut, I didn’t have any complaints with the story and plot progression except for the ending. Of course, I’m not going to spoil it for you but the fate concept came too heavy and I just couldn’t help go why?! Though, this was nowhere near the one I did at the end of Kyoukai no Kanata. Even if I didn’t like the ending, with developed characters, their actions were very much justified and made sense with proper hints towards it. There were no major plot holes left for audience’s imagination and even if I didn’t like the ending personally, it didn’t take away the overall enjoyment of the series from me.
You can say, this is a must watch for mecha fans, a classic epic, if you will. However, this is not only a mecha-anime, rather a balanced mix of action, romance, drama and sci-fi. Not a lot of titles can boast so many genres and live up the hype to tell the tale. A lot of action shows get into the trap of following many love stories to the effect that action sequences lessen and human elements take the center-stage and vice versa. But, this modern/medieval mixture with multiple plot layers kept its precariously tipping balance with ease. In the end, this is what you call a wonderful classic that ages well, with its well-paced plot, large yet alive cast who develop with time rather than being limited to their type-casts. For watchers of today, this might look a bit dated but it’s nowhere around antique level. The characters are engaging enough to keep you guessing and oh, there are surprises all right. The baseline was heavily fate-oriented but well presented. Overall, I was never bored and this was a highly enjoyable watch.
Apologies to Vince for waiting almost a year for this post, but hopefully, I’ll not make my current Santa wait too long to read the 2013 post. Anyways, don’t forget to share your experience with Escaflowne and if you haven’t watched it, have I convinced you to? Till next time, ja ne~