Cinematic Flashback: Escaflowne: The Movie (2000) Review
Let this sad world…. let everything fade away. Come, my kindred spirit. Come to this land from the world beyond. Come join me, my chosen one. You are the Wing Goddess, who will fulfill the prophecy of our world. Our world…Gaea….welcome, Wing Goddess as “cinematic flashback reviews the 2000 anime movie Escaflowne: The Movie.
ESCAFLOWNE: THE MOVIE
“One will wake it. One will destroy it”
Director: Kazuki Akane
Writer: Ryōta Yamaguchi
Starring: Kirby Morrow, Kelly Sheridan, Paul Dobson, Andrew Francis
Run Time: 98 minutes
Release Date: June 24th, 2000 (Japan), January 19th, 2001 (US)
Hitomi Kanzaki is in crisis. Her life has lost its meaning, and she is plagued by unusual dreams. She is depressed and wants nothing more than to disappear. After falling out with her only friend, she is mysteriously summoned to another world, Gaea, where she finds herself inside Escaflowne, a doomsday weapon destined to come to life at the appearance of a prophesied “wing goddess”. The world of Gaea is facing its own crisis: relentless conquest by the Black Dragon Clan, the rebels against which become convinced that Hitomi is the prophesied goddess who will revive Escaflowne. Never certain of her identity in Gaea, Hitomi finds her destiny as she becomes closer to the rebel leader, Lord Van, and helps to bring about the fall of his vengeful brother Lord Folken, the master of the Black Dragon Clan.
Back during my teenage years, I started to get into anime. Of course, before that time, I did watch several anime shows (i.e. Dragonball Z, Sailor Moon, Ronin Warriors, etc.), but I started to get into more of the different variety of Japanese anime TV series such as Outlaw Star, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Slayers, Record of Lodoss War, and many others. One of those titles had a trailer preview for a show called The Vision of Escaflowne (or rather Escaflowne for short), which showcased large Japanese mechs with a mixture of fantasy action. It definitely looked interesting, so I decided to buy the DVD collection of it and I quite enjoyed it. Sure, some things were a bit odd in the latter half (i.e. fate / destiny manipulation and one male character is really a female), but that’s something I would expect from an anime series. On the end of the last DVD (on the extra features), there was a trailer preview for Escaflowne: The Movie, which would be coming out (released in the US) in a few months. So, of course, I bought that DVD when it came out and I do have some mixed feelings about it. It’s good, but could’ve been better. Here is why….
Escaflowne: The Movie (or rather Escaflowne: A Girl in Gaea) is directed by Kazuki Akane, who previously worked on several other anime projects as well as handling the directorial duties for The Vision of Escaflowne anime TV series. Thus, with his prior knowledge of Escaflowne (the story, the characters, and everything in-between), Akane seems like a perfect choice in helming this anime motion picture endeavor. Akane does succeed in making the movie feels both familiar and somewhat different by making Escaflowne: The Movie have a vaguely familiar storyline premise of that of the show as a somewhat abbreviated iteration of the anime series story. Naturally, some of the plot points are identical to the show, but the movie’s depicts certain things differently by having more of darker and action-oriented structure throughout the movie. Some names, places, and backstories are a bit reworked and reimagined from this movie and some of them being a bit better than in the show…such as Hitomi’s initial depression premise, Van’s loneliness / lone wolf persona, Allen and his group as rebels, etc.). So, it’s not exactly a “carbon copy” from the TV series to the movie, but a lot of the major beats (i.e. Hitomi, Van, and the mysterious Escaflowne) are represented in the movie (just in a different light) are still the same. Plus, I did like the opening sequence as well as the big reveal for when Van takes control of Escaflowne.
Additionally, the different style of animation played a big part of the movie’s likeability (at least to me), with the quality level of animation being upgraded in comparison to the original anime series. Also, I like how the background setting are quite different (in terms of style and topography), with the movie depicting the world of Gaea with a more Asian influences (albeit a fantasy steampunk motifs and nuances) rather than more of pseudo-European influences (like the anime series did). This is even further realized with many of the renderings / depictions of the various character throughout the story; finding some to look better than the series and other looking completely different (but in a goody way). So, despite the problem areas in the movie, the film’s animation is beautiful! Plus, the musical scoring composition for the movie, which was composed by Yoko Kanno and Hajime Mizoguchi (both of you did the music for the TV series) is quite good and definitely delivers the background music throughout the feature, including some recognizable cues from the anime series.
Perhaps a large criticism with this movie would have to “condensed” narrative structure. What do I mean? Well, for better or worse, Escaflowne (the show) told a very compelling story, weaving elements of magic, science, fantasy, and metaphysical ideals throughout its narrative of its 26 episodes as well as expanding upon its various characters (both major and minor) throughout the course of the adventure. Escaflowne: The Movie, however, just seems like an abridged iteration of the story and crams a lot of substances within its 98-minute runtime. Like I said…. it’s not a complete “beat for beat” reimaging of the TV show’s story, but a lot of similar things happen and everything just seems rushed, with not a whole lot of time to be devoted to such plot point concept or character builds. In truth, the movie kind feels like it wants to showcases some different aspect that the TV series didn’t get to, but such ideas are never fully materialized. Additionally, several characters from the show (i.e. Millerna, Dryden, and Jajewca) are there for one or two scenes and are simply there for a continuity factor rather than being fully fleshed out (or presented in a different way) from the anime TV series counterpart. Even the character of Folkien, who was a great dynamic character in the anime series, is just simply footnote baddie in the movie (as well as the character of Dilandau). However, my biggest gripe would have to be the ending. I understand what Akane wanted to achieve with it, but the end result is rather abrupt, disappointing, and unsatisfying; leaving us (the viewers) scratching our heads….as if the true ending for the movie was left on the cutting room floor.
Of course, since I viewed this movie in the English dub version, I really can’t say anything about the original Japanese voice talents in the film. That being said, the English voice actors / actresses (those who did it under the Bandai Entertainment release) are actually pretty good, with many of them returning from doing the voiceover English dubbing work from the TV series. Thus, the voice talents of Kirby Morrow (Van), Kelly Sheridan (Hitomi), Paul Dobson (Folkien), Andrew Francis (Dilandau), Brian Drummond (Allen), and several others are well-represented and are solid (as goes for English anime voices) in the respective roles. As a side-note, both the TV series and movie for Escaflowne were re-released in 2016 (on Blu-Ray) with a whole new English voice cast. I did this Blu-ray release for the TV series and, while I did enjoy the quality of it, I didn’t care for the new English voice talents. I prefer the original one.
All in all, Escaflowne: The Movie is fun / frustrating reimaging of the familiar core story from the popular anime TV series that it takes cues from. Its visual style is impressive, music is great, voice acting is good (depending on your preference of Japanese or English), and its common plot story elements are solid, but it struggles to find its own footing within its feature film runtime; wanting to “do more, see more” than what is allotted. Personally, it’s a good watch, but I prefer the series over the movie. Still, at the end of the day, if you’re fan of The Vision of the Ecsaflowne or wanting to watch a anime fantasy action motion picture…. you might want to check out this movie.
Cinematic Flashback Score: 3.5 Out of 5
Fun Fact: The stadium where Hitomi first meets Folken and is drawn into the world of Gaia is modeled on the historic and famous Kasumigaoka National Olympic Stadium (Kokuritsu Kasumigaoka Rikujo Kyogijo) in the Shinjuku ward of Tokyo, where the 1964 Summer Olympics were held. Some of the most distinctive elements in the stadium, such as the colored rows of seats, large scoreboard, lights, and field track are directly visible in the film. The stadium was demolished in 2015 to make way for a new stadium constructed for the 2020 Olympics. Another visible Shinjuku landmark in the film is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, which Hitomi sees from the train while she is out shopping with her friend Yukari.