Vision of Escaflowne, The
Perhaps one of the best examples of high fantasy anime...This is a very impressive anime that simply gets better every time I watch it. The story begins with Hitomi Kanzaki, an athletic, but somewhat plain, schoolgirl who believes the only thing unusual about herself is a slight talent for fortune telling. The story takes a turn for the weird when, while trying to beat her 100 meter sprint time (and incidentally announce her love for another athlete), a young man with his sword drawn materialises in front of her. Things get more dangerous when the dragon he is hunting materialises nearby, while at the same time Hitomi's visions seem to be becoming incredibly vivid and accurate. And, when the young man is drawn back to his own world, she finds herself dragged along. This land, Gaea, is both more primitive and more advanced than earth, for both magic and science exist in this world. In addition our earth, called the phantom moon, is plainly visible in the sky. It is also a land in crisis, with war threatening to spill over the land. It seems that the Zaibach empire has a desire for conquest, and sadly they seem to have the power and brutality (as well as twisted science) to acheive it. However it seems that Hitomi's power to sense the future is also enhanced in this world. Through fate and circumstance she is drawn into the lives of others in this land, as they face the confusion and danger of war and violence. As the story develops it seems that the actual ambition of the Zaibach empire is greater and more terrible than is at first apparent. Likewise the importance, and linked past, of many she meets and befriends (and even comes to love) is much deeper and more complex than anyone suspects. Indeed the very nature of Gaea itself, and even aspects of reality, are centrally involved in this rich and complex story.
It's simply impossible to give a real feel for the delightful and intricate story presented here. And over the top of this are rich and complex characters, excellent interaction and dialogue and a delightful and well realised fantasy world. There's also a rich sensitivity to character and event, and a certain element of romantic fantasy, which many attribute to a strong shoujo influence. This is a land with dashing hero's, flowing cloaks but at the same time dark, dangerous and impressively believable. There's also a large cast, and even a pleasant confusion as to who's the hero. This is partly due to the fact that while we follow the world through Hitomi she does not dominate the story. She's vitally important, more important than she knows, but her power is passive and works with others. This is not a power that lets her strike down evil, it can't even answer the doubts, fears and confusion within her heart. And as a result the various characters are the dominant forces in pushing the story forward. Indeed even the `bad guys' have a sizable dramatic role, with some of the villains being amongst the most intriguing characters. And then the comes the sweeping story to tie it all together with events and discoveries meshing wonderfully to drag you in and keep you interested. The depth, intricacy, imagination and originality of this creation almost demands a viewing.
And while some might be put off by the shoujo'ish fascination with character and romanticism there's much more than that to be had here. The first example comes when you realise that the primary weapon of war in Gaea is the Guymelef, basically a huge mecha. While these still tend to use hand to hand weapons and be strangely primitive (although the Zaibach mecha are rather more sophisticated) they move the action up another notch. Indeed the title refers to a mecha, albeit a far from standard one, that plays a major role in the story. And, before you begin to doubt, I will assert that the action is excellent. Indeed the world design, the intricacy and originality of everything we see, and the strong sense of character is downright astounding. This includes the different factions and forces all having their own distinctive style and flavor. Even the weird science, albeit largely under Zaibach's control, is intriguing. And, despite this being a TV series, the detail and quality of the animation is astounding. Indeed, while the style is perhaps a touch dated (compared to the modern hyper-bright style) and has a strange tendency to pointy noses (you will notice) this is extremely impressive animation. In its time it was considered the epitome of TV animation, and it's still very fine to watch. The voices are also good (I watched sub) for the quite large cast. And, finally, the music (courtesy of Yoko Kanno) is original and way too good. Sweeping choral works and strange arabic(?) sounds accentuate and enhance the majesty of both story and action.
The urge behind the most recent re-watch was this show getting heavily edited for American TV and then getting pulled due to bad ratings. This has nothing to do with this anime and more to do with it being bought (presumably unseen) and edited for the 6-10 year-old male demographic. That this complex and deep, character driven, story did not fit this age group suprised absolutely no one apart from the TV network moron's who bought it. On the plus side this does mean it will be commercially available, but all efforts should be taken to avoid the edited version. Actually, while i'm here, i'll throw a brick in the direction of the fansubber's (Hecto). While I love being able to see this material the translation was loaded with grammatical and spelling flaws of the most obvious kind. As soon as I can get a DVD of this, be certain it will be mine.
Clearly the fine folks at THEM wanted to share their pleasure in this very positive, and perceptive, review. All I can say is, "what they said". The Anime Critic begins his review with a single word, "Wow". He states that, barring a complete aversion to fantasy, this is not one to miss. In a similar vein Lord Carnage has a short but very positive review. Indeed he feels authorised to make it official stating, "You'd be hard pressed to find an otaku who DOESN'T love this wonderful series...". No argument from me.