By Andy Na / August 21st, 2013
Considered one of the most important animated epics made for television, The Vision of Escaflowne was a daring anime that took production scale to a whole different level. It originally aired in Japan in 1996 and made its English debut in 2000 on the Fox Kids Network in the Americas. I remember how captivated I was, as a ten-year-old, from its bolder and edgier vision, not knowing that the show was edited. The Vision of Escaflowne did not stay on the air for very long in North America, but the uncut versions were released a year later, and contributed to the series’ overall popularity that a movie adaptation was released a few years after. We will explore the film version at a later time.
At the beginning of the series, we are introduced to Hitomi Kanzaki, an ordinary high school girl who likes reading fortunes while searching for love on her own. One night, as she wagers to beat the record of her track-team captain to confess her love to him, a young swordsman named Van, who she saw in a mysterious vision, appears fighting a dragon as per his rite of ascension to become a king. Naturally, he slays the dragon and takes its heart, but not without help from Hitomi’s suddenly developed foresight, which helped him avert death. Afterwards, the two are transported to the mythical world of Gaea, where Hitomi’s adventures as “the Girl of the Mystic Moon” will take place.
But the story does not begin until Van summons the eponymous Escaflowne, a magnificent white Guymelef, to fend off the invaders of the Zaibach Empire as they attack his kingdom, Fanelia. It is during this time that we also learn who Van is — an inexperienced youth forced into battles and responsibilities due to circumstances he can’t control, like the sudden departures of his parents, and the supposed death of his older brother. As Van is forced to flee, with Hitomi’s desperate prayer saving them from sudden death, his goal to avenge his kingdom and people burn as violently as the fires that scour in his homeland. Little do Van and Hitomi know, however, is that they will be involved in a journey of fate and powers that are far beyond their understanding.
For fans and aficionados of 90’s anime, The Vision of Escaflowne is unquestionably a feast for the senses that never looked better animated than on hand-painted cels and printed film. Through the talents by Sunrise’s staff and Kazuki Akane’s direction, every moment in the series brims with stunning and top-notch action animations, including clever uses of computer generated effects that blend seamlessly with the drawn visuals. What is interesting to note is that the series has directors like Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop) and Yutaka Nakamura, a key-animator who would produce many iconic action scenes in the future and direct The Sword of the Stranger. The mecha designs, by Kimitoshi Yamane of Mobile Fighter G Gundam fame, present to us an interesting blend between giant robots and heavy suits of armor, which are then animated to be like so. Although sluggish, the frames in their animations are modulated gracefully with well-timed delays that convey their size and power whenever their blades clash.
The sound in the series plays important role as well, especially the music by Yoko Kanno and Hajime Mizoguchi. Their orchestral score accompanies the animations with a soundtrack that is as enchanting as it is haunting. Taking inspirations from Gregorian chant, Western classical music, and even Hollywood film scores to a small degree, the musicians successfully convey a phenomenal sensation that reflects the fantastical world and elements of the series, making the viewing and listening experience both cathartic and surreal. And let’s not forget about the characters that gives the show its invaluable charm, like the Van-obsessed Merle, the suggestively promiscuous but gallant knight Allen, or the bloodthirsty Dilandau — all of whom have great voice-acting in both Japanese and English dubbing. Maaya Sakamoto delivers the most believable teenaged character in her debuting role as Hitomi, with the rest of the cast emoting with strong theatrical sensibilities like that of the samurai. The English audio contains a lot of heart in which it respects itself enough to be engaging. However, it pales in comparison to the Japanese version, and it really shows its age at a time when dubbing wasn’t very good.
For a 17-year old television series, The Vision of Escaflowne contains no signs of aging terribly or becoming irrelevant in the face of the cleaner, sleeker, and more polished anime shows made today. While its production design and animation art belong to an older time, it still has enough freshness to be favored by younger audiences today. And now that FUNimation has rescued the license from the now-minimized Bandai Entertainment, perhaps The Vision of Escaflowne can get that near-20th anniversary celebration that it deserves.
The Vision of Escaflowne was released on VHS and DVD by the now-minimized Bandai Entertainment, and is getting re-issued by FUNimation Entertainment. The release featured both English and Japanese languages with English subtitles. The series is suggested 13 and up, containing violence.
anime of the pastFunimationSunriseThe Vision of Escaflowne