Escaflowne , as reviewed here, followed the adventures of Hitomi Kanzaki, a Japanese schoolgirl whisked away to the world of Gaea and her journey’s across Gaea with a variety of companions as they try to stop a war and find a way to get her home. It was a 26 episode series, and this is sort of the ‘Movie of the Series’, however it isn’t a movie set in the same universe, but follows the pattern of a number of anime series, by being a movie that attempts to retell the entire story line in about 90 minutes. The results of such attempts are quite variable.
Either the creators realised that retelling the whole story in 26 episodes wasn’t at all practical, or they decided to continue their patterns of telling different stories across the various media iterations of Escaflowne (it has three different mangas, one anime and a film, none of which have the same plot). Whatever the reason, although the settings of Earth and Gaea remain along with character names, everybody’s personality and motivation is different.
In this version of the story, Hitomi is a depressed, potentially suicidal high school girl, who is called to Gaea where she fulfils the role of ‘The Wing Goddess’, the one who can control the purpose of Escaflowne, which thankfully is still a giant mecha, but appears to be somewhat bio-organic. On her arrival in Gaea, she falls in with the Abahuraki, a group opposing the Black Dragon Clan, who are ravaging Gaea and tries to discover what her role really is.
As with the series, there is a lot of focus on Hitomi’s relationship with Van, who begins the film a far more violent man than he ever was in the series. Although if you know the series, you’ll recognise many names, their personalities will be completely different, often to match their radical visual redesign and some characters have been dropped altogether. If you are coming into the film having not seen the series, then the characters will all seem just fine, even if their motivations aren’t entirely clear, however it will be quite jarring for series fans to see the huge differences. Fans just need to tell themselves that this is some sort of parallel world.
There is perhaps a feeling that this story would be told just as well with an entirely different and new cast of characters, having characters from Escaflowne in it can almost feel distracting from an otherwise well-crafted film, as fans of the series will likely spend a lot of time wondering why on earth their favourite character is acting so differently, or wondering why they’re not there at all.
The film abjectly refuses to explain anything in any detail, but this isn’t of too much concern as the plot whips along at a fair pace, with what little exposition there is peppered gingerly between intense action scenes. The action is where the movie shines as it is frenetic, beautifully choreographed and looks nothing short of stunning in the exquisite stylised artwork. The first several minutes of the film are a fight between Van and the entire crew of some sort of military blimp transporting Escaflowne. I defy anyone to describe it as anything other than incredible.
The entire film looks amazing, although the character redesigns may turn off series fans, every character looks exceptional and really leaps out of the screen. There are a few exceptions though, Hitomi often looks very odd indeed, and Yukari, her friend back on Earth is rather hideous in this style. The backgrounds are also exceptional and bring a real feeling of quality to the whole presentation.
The voice actors from the series make a return and provide a high quality dub. Most of the characters retain their original voices, however some such as Dilandau are different, likely due to the character changes made. For whatever reason the script call’s for pretty much every character to swear (or perhaps cuss, if you’re American) even if it makes absolutely no sense for them to do so. It’s almost as if there was a joke going around about how often they could get every character to refer to someone else as ‘that bastard’, it adds nothing whatsoever and just sounds silly.
The music is once again provided by the legendary Yoko Kanno and Hajime Mizoguchi and is a real highlight. Yoko Kanno’s work is always extraordinary and shines here once more, with many vibrant and memorable themes and melodies (some reversioned from the series). A CD with the soundtrack was released with various American DVD releases, but not all of them, so buyer beware (Note: The film has never been released in the UK).
The extras for the Ultimate Edition are more than standard fare, but nothing mind blowing and include a music video, interviews with the staff and cast and from the theatrical premiere events. As mentioned above, there was also a CD with music from the film, which is a very nice extra.
It is a real shame that Escaflowne: The Movie has not been released yet in the UK, but if you have a DVD player capable of playing Region 1’s, then I do recommend picking this up if the price is good. It may not necessarily feel like a great Escaflowne film, but as a more general fantasy film, is very well done and both looks and sounds fantastic.