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Hitomi is a girl with psychic abilities who gets transported to the magical world of Gaea. She and her friends find themselves under attack from the evil Zaibach empire, and the Guymelf Escaflowne provides the key to it all. Written by
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Ah, another great anime... (Vegita attempts a review of "Visions of Escaflowne")
Well, I just finished watching Visions of Escaflowne, and I was impressed to say the least. Sure, I'm a guy who was expecting something different, but I have absolutely no complaints with what I just saw, and I felt that, coming right off of watching the final episode, now would be a great time to pen my thoughts on the series and generally wax over this series.
When it was first recommended to me, I was told that it was an anime following political strife while big robots fought. Granted, I was never really a fan of "mech" series' (Gundam, Robotech, etc), but it came highly recommended by some friends. Therefore, I thought "what they hey, it's all for entertainment, right?" and agreed to send the money (for those of you who aren't familiar, I have a few friends in Japan who enjoy sending me shows they liked in exchange for money or other requested items). For those of you familiar with Escaflowne, you'll be laughing at that description - granted, the series does have those, but the focus of the series is far different. After watching the first few episodes, I immediately realized this, and was a little unhappy at my new "purchase".
Now, for those of you who haven't seen Escaflowne yet, the premise is fairly simple: schoolgirl Hitomi is known to her friends by her track aspirations and, more importantly (to them), her rather distinct ability with Tarot Cards. Due to circumstance and a little bit of fate, she ends up being sent to the magical planet of Gaea, where fate is a powerful tool - so much so that her Tarot abilities become so acute, she is considered a psychic. ...of course, not even THAT is an accurate description. That is merely another foil for which the series plays off of. Hitomi is befriended by several inhabitants of the planet, including the young king of Fanelia, Van, and Allen, a skilled knight who has left his kingdom to stop the wars. Hitomi is quickly swept up in their plans and attempts to stop the fighting, partially by fate, partially by a genuine desire to stop the fighting, and partially because she cares for everyone.
So we have a series that's about a young prophetic schoolgirl whom aids people in their plight against the ever-present war on their planet. That doesn't sound so bad, even for the "I prefer action and comedy" kind of guys like me. However, this plot is very quickly intertwined with a much more emotional one - that of love. Hitomi loves everyone, there's no doubt about that. From her old friends (and track coach) on Earth to her new ones on Gaea, she does whatever she can to aid them and stop their suffering - whatever that pain may be. Truly, by the end the series this combined plot reaches extremely high and, in my opinion, succeeds.
Hitomi's transformation throughout the series is easily apparent, starting off as a simple schoolgirl whom wishes to make the track team while struggling with her feelings for Amano, the star athlete whom may be leaving soon. Upon reaching Gaea, she is understandably confused as to where she is and the situations she has been thrown into, reacting the way one would expect. She frequently encounters new trials and experiences strange concepts, somehow digesting it all while attempting to sort her own feelings. She is truly the anchor of the series, always providing the viewer with someone to relate to. Of course, she IS from "The Mystic Moon", our Earth (which hangs ominously above Gaea, perpetually seen but never reached), so it would make sense for us to relate to our brethren. Her feelings about her life, the life of others, and her feelings for everyone around her are easily followed while still retaining a natural feel. This sort of quality character-development is a scant find in TV nowadays, which is why I deeply enjoyed it.
Of course, Hitomi is HARDLY the only person to be developed this well. As the story progresses, we discover more and more about everyone we meet, either through flashbacks, character interaction, their reactions to their surroundings, or good ol' fashioned monologues. Even the significantly odder of characters, such as Merle, become 3-dimensional figures whom you could find believable despite their general appearance (Merle, by the way, is a humanoid Cat person). These supporting characters, whom could generally be used for comedic relief at times, also help create some of the more emotional scenes in the series - Merle once again being a prime example (but I won't spoil THAT one, kiddies!).
Now, character portrayal can often be just as important as the writing presented for each character. Once again, I felt the series shined through. Finding fault in the series' actors, in retrospect, is quite difficult...everyone did their jobs admirably, breathing life into every nook and cranny of their characters. Upon first watching it, I had some serious problems with certain voice actors - however, as the storyline progressed I found that there was a REASON these problems existed and their portrayal was the way it was; they were intentional, and actually added to the plot (once discovered). Looking back, I found that there was no fault in the quality of the voices.
Since we're talking about audio quality, this would be as good a time as any to discuss the soundtrack. I put a lot of stock in TV series and movie soundtracks, since the different between a normal scene and one that brings forth a wealth of emotion can be as simple as the wrong song. The right music, as well as the right style and/or quality of writing, can enhance every little bit of a show. Yoko Kanno and Hajime Mizoguchi have blended together some truly striking classical pieces, capturing the various emotions throughout the entire series, and I feel did their job(s) wonderfully. Their breadth of combined musical knowledge shines clearly with memorable pieces throughout the series. Not to sound like a ranting fanboy or anything (I AM quite the fan of Kanno's work), but I have scarcely heard orchestral music of this quality before. To be honest, you simply have to hear it to believe it (I suggest listening to "Dance of the Curse" for a good example). The wonderful combination of elements with traditional orchestral glory (such as Gregorian chants) are wonderful. As per my reaction to Cowboy Bebop, and I am now in earnest pursuit of the soundtracks for this series; hopefully (upon hearing this music) you'll be able to relate.
All in all, the most powerful item throughout the series is the finished product. The acting, the writing, the music - it all forms an emotional story of love and war on the foreign planet of Gaea. I found every moment enjoyable, and highly suggest watching it if you have a few hours to kill. However, be forewarned - it is one of those series' that constantly leads from one episode to the next. Unlike some series (like Cowboy Bebop or Hokuto no Ken) where most episodes will be one-shot storylines, Escaflowne does little recapping and flows right from one episode to the next. Therefore, it feels as if it's often hard to stop watching - you simply HAVE to see the next episode to find out what happens next!
Well, chummers, I enjoyed the series greatly, and would consider myself a definite fan. I don't really know why I sat and wrote this, aside from a desire to express myself on the matter...and I figured this would be the forum to do so. Sorry if I sound longwinded, that's just my nature at times. The more I say, the more information I can give; and this, in turn, helps you to understand my feelings on the matter. Now, all I have to do is wait for my tape of Escaflowne's movie to arrive... (::begins itching nervously::)
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