Review for Escaflowne Complete TV Series
My heart really was set on the Escaflowne Ultimate Edition. It’s a gorgeous package, the TV series on Blu-ray, the movie on Blu-ray and DVD, the soundtrack on 3CDs (which had a fair amount of input from the acclaimed Yoko Kanno), and a 144 page art book. I wanted it, I wanted it, I wanted it. But these Ultimate Editions aren’t cheap, and I can really only justify buying at the most one a year. And of course, Full Metal Alchemist was always going to win that battle. Even more of an issue is the lack of storage. That actually became an issue ten years ago. I’m getting to the point where I’m going to have to sleep in the shed. So when it comes down to a choice between a hernia inducing Ultimate box, and 4 discs in a standard Blu-ray Amaray, I’ll keep it small and simple. Sometimes the mind and the wallet just have to override the heart. So now I have just the Escaflowne TV series on Blu-ray.
That in itself is a big deal, as Escaflowne comes from a time when anime was still being made with cel and paint, shot on film, so any Blu-ray is going to be in proper HD, not an upscale. And the Escaflowne DVDs are equally old, one of the first anime on that format, released side by side with VHS tapes. I have the US discs and they are ugly indeed, soft, prone to artefacting, and wholly unrepresentative of the original artwork. The subsequent UK release compounded the issue with an NTSC-PAL conversion. It’s long overdue a re-mastered release. And this Blu-ray adds something new, six director’s cut episodes never before seen in the West. To accommodate the new versions of the episodes for which no dub previously existed, Funimation in the US actually crowd-funded a whole new dub for Escaflowne, and you get the option of both on these discs.
Hitomi Kanzaki is a lively schoolgirl with very few problems. One of them is being late to her athletics training, and the other is the crush she has on the team captain Amano. She does have a talent for prognostication though, and her tarot card readings are much in demand. When she does a reading for herself and gets a worrying future of a distant separation, and hears that Amano will be leaving the country to study abroad, that spurs her to act, to confess her love before he leaves. But her talent is more than just a card game, and during practice, she sees a vision of a swordsman battling giant robots and dragons in a fantasy world. That evening when she tries to confess to Amano, she’s struck with the vision again, only this time it’s no vision. A portal opens between worlds, and she runs head first into the swordsman from her dreams. It isn’t long before the dragon that he’s fighting follows him into this world, and battle commences. During the battle, Hitomi again sees a vision of the immediate future, of the swordsman being killed by the dragon. She manages to warn him in time, only for the two of them to be pulled back into his world.
She and the swordsman, Van Fanel arrive on Gaea, a mystical world where the Earth and the Moon hang full in the sky. Van takes Hitomi back to his home of Fanelia, where he is the prince, and has just completed the rite of Dragon-Slaying, and retrieved the Drag-Energist which will allow him to be crowned king. It’s a techno-feudal world, replete with kingdoms and knights and chivalry, but where knights go into battle piloting giant robots called Guymelefs. As king, Van will be heir to the ultimate guymelef, Escaflowne, which will be powered by the Drag-Energist that he has won. It’s a time of celebration, and Van promises that after his coronation, he and his people will do all that is possible to return Hitomi to the Mystic Moon, or Earth. But that celebration is cruelly foreshortened, when invisible melefs from the Zaibach Empire attack, destroying Fanelia, wiping out its army, killing its bravest knights, and scattering its people. Van has to take Hitomi and Escaflowne and flee. And so begins his battle to defeat the Zaibach Empire and restore his kingdom, and all he has are a powerful mecha, and an alien girl who can foretell the future. Will Hitomi ever get home again?
All the Anime present 26 episodes of Escaflowne across 4 Blu-ray discs as follows. Disc 1 contains the first eight episodes in their TV Broadcast Versions, Disc 2 has them again, with the six Director’s Cut episodes instead, while discs 3 and 4 contain the rest of the series. All discs have the original Japanese audio, Disc 1 has the original English dub, Disc 2 has the new Funimation dub, and discs 3 & 4 have both dubs.
1. Fateful Confession
2. The Girl From The Mystic Moon
3. The Gallant Swordsman
4. The Diabolical Adonis
5. The Seal of the Brothers
6. City of Intrigue
7. Unexpected Partings
8. The Day the Angel Flew
1. Fateful Confession *
2. The Girl From The Mystic Moon *
3. The Gallant Swordsman *
4. The Diabolical Adonis *
5. The Seal of the Brothers
6. City of Intrigue *
7. Unexpected Partings *
8. The Day the Angel Flew
* Director’s Cut episodes
9. Memories of a Feather
10. The Blue-eyed Prince
11. Prophecy of Death
12. The Secret Door
13. Red Destiny
14. Dangerous Wounds
15. Lost Paradise
16. The Guided Ones
17. The Edge of the World
18. The Gravity of Destiny
19. Operation Golden Rule of Love
20. False Vows
21. Reaction of Fortune
22. The Black-Winged Angel
23. Storm Premonition
24. Fateful Decisions
25. Zone of Absolute Fortune
26. Eternal Love
Escaflowne gets a 4:3 pillarboxed 1080p transfer on these Blu-rays, respecting the original aspect ratio with black bars either side. I’ve been spoiled by having recently watched the Berserk Blu-rays. Escaflowne isn’t quite that good, but it is still a spectacular improvement over the original Bandai DVDs, and even more of an improvement over the discs that Beez released in the UK. The reason why Escaflowne isn’t quite as impressive as the Berserk discs is that back in 1996, it was a cutting edge anime which featured some digital animation, for effects, and for a couple of animated sequences too. Those were animated natively in SD NTSC, and quite understandably, the digital animation is scaled up on these discs, whereas the traditional cel animation gets the full HD treatment. What’s impressive here is that where there is a blend of digital and cel animation, effects shot overlaid on background, it appears that they have re-composited the animation, so only the digital elements are scaled up, the backgrounds remain in native HD.
Escaflowne is an extravagant and rich piece, with a lot of detail and thought in each episode, wonderful, and unique character designs, and a world design that is inventive and engrossing. That all looks fantastic in HD, crisp lines, exquisite detail, and rich, lush and consistent colours. One thing that comes through now, which was less apparent on the DVDs, is just how fluid and detailed the animation actually is. When it comes to frames per second, conveying character emotion and degrees of motion, Escaflowne at its best approaches theatrical levels of detail. This is a fantastic show to have on Blu-ray.
You have the choice between Funimation’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English dub, the original Bandai dub in DD 2.0 Stereo (apparently exactly the same as on the DVDs), and the original Japanese audio in PCM 2.0 Stereo form, although the blurb on the back of the case mistakenly lists Funimation’s Dolby TrueHD offerings. You also have the option of translated subtitles and a signs only track, or no subtitles at all. The reason behind the Funimation re-dub is the director’s cut episodes, which Bandai never had, and once they had dubbed those, it only made sense to dub it all for the sake of continuity. I was happy enough with the original Japanese audio, which comes across just fine in its uncompressed form. The subtitles are accurately timed and free of typos, and they seem to be identical to those on the Bandai DVDs, even down to the colours.
Of interest to many fans will be the music, which comes courtesy of Yoko Kanno, who has had such stunning impact with music for shows like Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Cowboy Bebop and Wolf’s Rain. Escaflowne is one of the earlier anime shows that she worked on, but already you can hear that the music sets the show apart. As befitting the fantasy setting, there’s a fair bit of mediaeval style music, lots of choral pieces, especially for the Escaflowne mecha, but there is also a smattering of eclectic world music, which is a rather fitting way to reflect Gaea’s multi-culture. It’s also the one reason I wanted the Ultimate Edition, with its soundtrack CDs.
There are a couple of minor flaws though. There is a missing subtitle at 38:42 on disc 2 (it is there on disc 1 at 35:52), and there is a minor Japanese audio drop at 8:39 on disc 3, in episode 9. That’s the corrected disc that replaced the one with faulty subtitles in the Ultimate Edition.
You get four discs in a Blu-ray Amaray, one either side of two central hinged panels. The sleeve is reversible, with the inner sleeve offering character art.
The discs present their content with animated menus. The end of each disc offers the translated credit sequences for each episode on that disc, in one big chunk.
All of the extra features are on disc 1.
You get the textless opening and two textless closings in HD.
The music videos are in SD, and run to a total runtime of 13:05, with optional English lyric subtitles. The DVDs also offered romanji subtitles for the music videos, but that’s not an option here. There are spoilers in the AMVs, so best leave this till after watching the series.
There are 7:36 of Videogame Cutscenes which are presented in 1080p taken from a Playstation game, and offer an intriguing alternate arc to the story.
The 2000 Concert Video features some ropy footage of Yoko Kanno and Maaya Sakamoto. It almost looks like it was bootlegged.
One of the big draws of the DVD extras was the Club Escaflowne segments. You get all four here (there were six on the DVDs, but two were split across four discs). They feature interviews with the voice cast, and the creators of the show, and really are worth watching, an excellent addition to this set. The total run-time is 85:15 SD.
Compared to the DVDs, the only things we are missing out on are the trailer for the Escaflowne movie, the textless ending for the final episode, and the romanji lyrics for the music videos and the concert footage.
I think I dodged a bullet there. If I had bought the Ultimate Edition, I would be suffering from buyer’s remorse right now, as watching the show brought it all back to me, just how much I enjoy the show, love the characters, get drawn into the story, and just how much I dislike the direction the story takes. In fact my opinion hasn’t much changed from when I watched it on DVD, so I’ll just link to that review to save on my typing fingers. Earlier this year, I revisited another classic on Blu-ray, Berserk, which I categorised as my least favourite, favourite show, in that I loathed the idea of watching it, especially on the original poor DVDs, as it’s a genre of anime that I’m not fond of, yet once I start watching it, I can’t put it down. Escaflowne is the exact opposite. It’s my favourite, least favourite show. I so dislike the way the story unfolds that it has me gnashing my teeth in frustration, but it does pretty much everything else right. And with this Blu-ray release, it becomes a ‘bad’ show that I simply have to own, have to have on my shelf.
It’s not just because of its place in anime history, just what a momentous achievement it was, just how groundbreaking a show it became. I could be the anime snob who has Escaflowne on his shelf, chats pompously on anime forums about the show, its themes, and its meanings, all the while choosing Love Hina to watch, but Escaflowne is genuinely an excellent show (up to that point where I endanger my teeth enamel). This Blu-ray release really does bring out the best in the show as well, offering a wholly different experience from those really dismal DVDs of old. I certainly never appreciated just how good, how detailed the animation is in this show up until now, all the more impressive given that it was a cel and paint show produced on a weekly schedule. It certainly makes me wonder why Berserk couldn’t manage the same level of production values.
I also appreciate more just how well written it is, how intricate and complex this fantasy world is, how rich and vivid the characters are, how they are developed, how they interact, just how complex their internal lives are. That’s one opinion of mine that has changed. There is an adult level to the writing, dimension to the characters that you just don’t see any more in anime. Today characters are more likely to conform to established tropes, lack in dimension, and fail to develop in their stories. Even the ‘mascot’ character in Escaflowne, the cat-girl Merle, exhibits more depth than most main characters in modern anime shows. I certainly appreciate the characters now, more than I did when I first watched the show, which is indicative of a show with great re-watch value.
Add to that, the director’s cut version of the opening episodes are a nice addition to the set, adding more than a few character beats that enrich the story, especially early on when we see what the effects of Hitomi’s disappearance are on her friends back on Earth. Escaflowne is still that flawed classic, but it’s shifting into guilty pleasure territory for me, and I’m beginning to hold it in the same regard I hold David Lynch’s Dune. This Blu-ray release is fantastic, and other than a couple of minuscule niggles, presents the show with a degree of clarity that you’ll have never seen before, and really highlights the quality work done in creating this animation. You simply must double-dip if you are an Escaflowne fan, and if you are yet to experience the show, this standard Blu-ray edition is generously priced.