To celebrate 20 Years of Escaflowne, I’ll be following the original schedule of the Japanese run and doing weekly write-ups for its episodes. If you’ve been following my Cross Ange and Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans reviews you know what to expect. Also though, expect with each episode an extra section where I cover a memorable piece of music from the series by the legendary Yoko Kanno. Hope you enjoy.
Is it okay to wax panegyric on a show’s first episode, right from the get go? In Escaflowne’s case it’s definitely okay, because it is one of those shows that make an immediate, positive, first impression. To quote bishounen pretty boy Amano: it focused everything it has got, and launched itself forward. To its great fortune, it didn’t have something to get in its way of being a success, like say… a traveler from another world.
Even after a decade or so since my last viewing, the first episode remains a feast. Colours remain dynamic and vibrant, Nobuteru Yuuki’s character designs remain ever so memorable (pointy noses and all) and Yoko Kanno’s music still engages. However, the most important part of what makes this first episode great remains: establishing Hitomi Kanzaki as an acceptable lead. Released in a decade where shoujo protagonists are reluctant power princesses, eager love warriors, or ditzy gourmands, Escaflowne takes quite a stand by making a female protagonist as subversive as Hitomi. You might be wondering how someone so… average and normal (for the most part) is ‘subversive’. My answer is: Exactly.
Hitomi isn’t out of her element in a new school, or is a failing ne’er do well who could be destined for great things. Instead, she’s well-adjusted and well-liked, providing the perfect frame of reference when what is to come finally arrives. The entire opening bit before the first revelation tells you everything you need to know about how blissfully normal she is. It might sound a trite boring, but in actuality it isn’t, as the show has her run the gamut of things teenagers undergo (and you, the viewer, would understand): Running late for practice because she had to finish an essay, jocular camaraderie with her friend cum manager for the track team, and even fawning over the objet d’drool who just so happens to be on the track team too. Then, when the height of her problems comes to light, that of Amano leaving without ever having known how much she digs him, it gets a bit inspirational. High school is a time of uncertainty in everything, but Hitomi digs deep and instead of lamenting a potential loss, decides to be brave and ask for a first kiss from Amano if she can run 100 meters under 13 seconds. Kinda have to give kudos to a girl who would go through with such even after having rather peculiar visions about slaying dragons to giant non-Gundams.
Yet it is not just her normalcy or her bravery that makes Hitomi endearing: it’s also her decency. The show doesn’t go out of its way to establish that Hitomi is a nice person through various acts of kindness, but the way characters react around her. It’s those friendly requests for tarot readings, it’s her friend Yukari’s crestfallen embrace of concern after breaking the news about Amano, and it’s even Hitomi’s mother calling her that the bath is ready without any hint of familial stress. Everything gels together, and thus reveals itself in her reaction to Van after he kills the dragon. Van, being an inhabitant of a medieval world, immediately assumes Hitomi’s assistance in battle is for a reward than out of genuine concern for his fate. Frustrated, stressed, and taken aback by this brusque dismissal, the only reaction Hitomi can muster is to slap him.
And there my lovelies is the erection of the fourth pillar of why Hitomi’s so great: she is an active participant. Due to her normalcy she is content with the life she has and thus has no qualms in not only taking up hobbies but also being a part of extracurricular school activities. She is the one who chooses to take that step and proposition Amano for a kiss. She is the one who in the face of sheer terror, still ran out to tell Van to watch out for a fatal attack. This act is important in finalizing Hitomi’s character: for it promises that after she is whisked into Gaea, the various traits established in her normal life will not be lost. In this series of dragons, robots, and hot-blooded young men who are implied to have a bit of hang-ups given past family history, Hitomi being grounded as a character is integral to making the show work.
Then you add the way the show foreshadows the rest of the series in a vague but intriguing manner, the performances of Maaya Sakamoto and Seki Tomakazu when they interact, and that impacting final shot before end credits. After such a sight, I can only muster two statements to say of it. The first one is for newcomers in how this is quite the way to make a great first impression. It hooks you in, shows enough, but tells very little, leaving you with a desire to see what happens next. The second one, meant for those who have already watched the show?
It’s time to fall in love all over again.
I’m well aware this only appears NEXT WEEK, but I’m impatient and people need to see one of the most exceptional anime OPs of all time. The whimsical score of Yoko Kanno, the voice of Maaya Sakamoto, set to characters gazing longingly over well-animated blades of grass swaying in the wind has always been a magisterial affair. What I love about it is also the way it establishes tone. While Gaea is a different world from ours, it is a world of beauty and magic, and not just a world of peril. Only a small portion of the OP is dedicated to peril, with the inclusion two primary antagonists and Escaflowne when it is three fourths of the way done. The song takes a harsher turn there, highlighting it to great effect. Yet when the last sword swipe from Escaflowne in that long shot is taken, the music then resumes it uplift with the amazing shot of Escaflowne’s Dragon Mode flying skywards.
Always exceptional. Shame it’s only my second favourite anime OP of all time.
Notes of Escaflowne:
- A damned shame FUNi decided to opt for in-house studios for their redubbing of Escaflowne. Kelly Sheridan and Kirby Morrow were terrific fits for Hitomi and Van. I just wish they had a better script to work with what with all the mistakes it had. I guess Bandai’s Escaflowne movie dub will be the only time they redeemed themselves.
- Caitlin Glass as Hitomi is inspired casting though. Second instance where she voiced a short-haired heroine voiced by Maaya Sakamoto. Can’t say much for Aaron Dismuke though as Van, my only experience with him is still his Alphonse from the original Fullmetal Alchemist.
- So what’s my favourite anime OP of all time then after all the adulation for Escaflowne’s? This.