ANIME & MANGA - Review
09:40 - 6th March 2013, by David West

Escaflowne: Complete Collection

Hitomi is transported away to Gaea where Fanelia and the other smaller kingdoms face the invading forces of the unstoppable Zaibach Empire. The ruler of Zaibach, Emperor Dornkirk, is conducting strange experiments in an attempt to control fate itself using technology from the lost civilisation of Atlantis. When Hitomi arrives in Gaea, Dornkirk seeks to exploit her gift for prognostication in his schemes. Luckily for Hitomi, she finds allies in the ranks of those opposed to Zaibach's dreams of conquest, including the dashing Allen Schezar, a knight of Asturia and pilot of one of the imposing Guymelef mecha.

Escaflowne first aired in Japan in 1996, but time has done nothing to dull its charm. The series may not have the latest in computer graphics, but it has a great story to tell and a beautiful score to accompany it. The script has some parallels with The Wizard Of Oz as the heroine is thrown into a strange land but longs to return home. On top of that Escaflowne features a beast-man, the tin-men of the Guymelefs and a powerful figure who is not what he seems, like Oz's titular wizard.

Hitomi is a great heroine, but in many ways she is not your typical shoujo anime girl. She has short, almost boyish hair, and while she is surrounded by guys who all want to woo her, Hitomi never fits the swooning damsel in distress model of many lesser series. Van is a hero with a mysterious past, which is an anime staple, but the unfolding of the connection between the two leads is handled slowly and without resorting to heavy-handed melodrama.

The supporting characters features a line-up that could have stepped straight from Anime Central Casting, with the cat-girl Merle, the tough but caring sword-master Balgus, the beautiful princess Millerna and Allen's band of rough-edged but loveable rogues. What makes the show work so well is that each of the characters has their own history, hopes and destiny to fulfil. Relationships are not fixed or set into simple categories of friend or enemy and allegiances change over the course of the adventure.

Escaflowne is that rare anime that manages to straddle genres. The story has giant mecha engaging in battles, dragons and swords, all of which it manages to marry to a shoujo romance tale. The music by Hajime Mizoguchi and Yoko Kanno is another highlight, as they provide a sweeping score that is emotive without being obtrusive. There are one or two odd design choices - the Guymelef mecha all wearing capes being the most notable, but the battles are well-paced and never get bogged down by pointless exposition or characters telling each other what they are doing (Bleach, we're looking at you, young man). Collected under the Anime Legends imprint, Escaflowne is ridiculously cheap for this amount of entertainment. Pack your bags for a trip to Gaea post-haste.

DVD Extras
The image presentation is in the 1.33:1 full screen format and the soundtrack, in both English and Japanese, is recorded in Dolby Digital. The extra features includes the text-free opening credit sequence, music videos featuring footage from the series along with trailers for other Beez titles. Finally Club Escaflowne provides a light-hearted interview with the filmmakers and Japanese voice cast.

Magic, mecha and romance make this a welcome re-issue of a classic.
SCORE: 5/5
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