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Vision of Escaflowne Part 1 Blu-ray Anime Review

11 min read

Escaflowne Part 1Thrust into a new world, Hitomi must find her path home amid many dangers – and potential loves!

What They Say:
Hitomi Kanzaki is a typical girl who runs on the track team and has an affinity for tarot reading. When a young man suddenly appears bringing a dragon along with him, Hitomi’s fate is forever altered. She is swept away in a beam of light and taken to a new world known as Gaea.

Gaea is a strange world; here humanoid animals can walk and talk, and soldiers fight in giant mecha suits known as Guymelefs. Hitomi finds herself in the country of Fanelia where a strange young man, named Van Fanel is soon to be king. But misfortune befalls Fanelia when invisible enemies attack, burning the kingdom to the ground. Hitomi is now in a world on the brink of war. And she may have the power to stop it. Using the magnificent Guymelef Escaflowne, Van and Hitomi must find a way to stop the evil Zaibach Empire and get Hitomi back home. But she’ll have to hone her powers and learn how delicate fate and destiny truly are.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release definitely works well as we get the original Japanese language track, the dub from the Bandai Entertainment run with the show, and a new English language dub from Funimation. The first two are stereo mixes while the latest gets a 5.1 bump, all of which is encoded using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. There are certainly plenty of things for dub fans to get into when it comes to the new cast and how it comes across, but the technical side is more straightforward. The new dub definitely has a bit more impact and presence, as well as a touch louder thanks to the 5.1 aspect of it, and there’s simply a greater richness that’s produced with today’s technology. But the encoding for the stereo mixes are pretty great overall as they’re very clean and clear with some good placement from time to time and even a bit more impact than one might expect. The music in particular soars really well and that helps to elevate the work as a whole.

Originally airing in 1996, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio in 1080p using the AVC codec. The uncut version is done with the thirteen episodes across two discs in a seven/six format while the first seven broadcast episodes get their own single disc. Animated by Sunrise, the series looks better than it ever has here with really great colors, a lot of detail to be had throughout in the character designs and backgrounds, and a lot to love with the flow and movement of the busier sequences itself with the smoothness of it all. The series holds up well with what it does here and that comes through with clean colors, a minimum of grain from the source, and some very solid detail that doesn’t give in to breakup or line noise. I’ve always loved the look of this show but the transfer here just brings it to life in a new and more vibrant way, even with its earthier tones.

The packaging for this standard edition comes in a regular sides Blu-ray case with an o-card that replicates the artwork. The front piece works with a framing that puts a lot of brown around with with mild gold and that just makes it feel kind of old and stuffy in a way that doesn’t work, especially as it obscures part of the artwork and makes it all feel cramped. I do like that this volume focuses on Van, Merle, and Hitomi – along with Escaflowne – but I could have done without the framing, particularly since it reduces the logo to almost hard to see levels. The back cover works the same broan as the main background while easing into some character artwork along the right and it gives it all a decent bit of weight. THe premise is well covered without giving away too much and we get a good breakdown of the numerous extras included with the set. The shots along the bottom feel better than some other shows in what they represent and we get a clean and accurate technical grid that covers how both formats are set up. While there are no show related inserts, we do get a better piece of artwork on the reverse side. This features Van and Hitomi against the Escaflowne which is in front of an empty white background. Without the framing from the main cover here, it looks more vibrant and engaging as well as eye-catching. The back panel is kept simple with a breakdown of the episodes, the extras, and how the discs are broken out with the uncut and broadcast versions.

The menus are my biggest disappointment here as they go for a very minimal approach to try and create a mood but it just feels too simple for a show that’s as highly regarded as this. The menus are essentially an all-white background with some gray to it where the center has a floating single feather just behind the series logo. And that’s it. With as much artwork as is out there and covers and other pieces, it feels like a real missed opportunity here. The navigation goes with a red/brown block along the bottom that keeps ti a simple line of text in white that’s easy to access and move around in, but again goes back to that just being simple aspect. The menu is solid and functions perfectly as both a main menu and as a pop-up menu.

The extras for this release are definitely appealing overall as we get a good mix of things. The familiar are certainly here with the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences as well as the previously created music videos. Also ported over from the original release are the first three of the Club Escaflowne behind the scenes pieces, which clocks in at a bit under an hour. These are fun works that connect you with the cast and crew in a really fun and informal-ish way. On the new side, we get a thank you from Funimation for those that backed the Kickstarter project for the new dub, but it’s the Conversation about Escaflowne that works the best. Coming in at about twenty-two minutes, it talks with cast and staff, and social media as well as art production, about what was involved in bringing this particular set to life. It’s a more well-rounded view than we usually get and worth engaging with.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
An original series from the legendary Shoji Kawamori and directed by Kazuki Akane, The Vision of Escaflowne landed in 1996 and made some pretty big waves. It was four years later that it generated an alternate universe feature film and there’s been a few drama CDs, but it’s that core property that made the biggest splash and is still a surprise that it was never revisited in some form. That’s part of the appeal and frustration of the anime/manga world in that things that you think would be exploited in a big way end up not, while the throwaway projects get exploited across the board. The series made a convoluted debut in North America as it was one of the first shows launched by Bandai Entertainment, which opened its doors with the show, in some massive clamshell VHS cases. Oh, those were the days I railed against them for not getting onto the DVD bandwagon. But, eventually they did and we got some very fun releases out of it – across eight DVDs and multiple repackagings until Bandai Entertainment closed its doors.

So, here we are now in 2016 and through a Kickstarter project the series has gained a new dub and renewed attention as one of the crown jewels of proper original anime storytelling from the last thirty years or so. I’ll admit that I was certainly a bit wary about revisiting it because the show has so many memories for it and its existence was tied strongly to a friend of mine who passed away recently as it was one of their favorite shows that just brought so much delight. Revisiting oder shows through a “modern” lens, even of just twenty years, can bring about some very different expectations and thoughts on it. But what struck me the most about the show, beyond the fact that we have characters with noses!, was that it still feels as fresh and engaging as it did way back then and could easily be broadcast today and still stand above the majority of shows that air.

The premise of the series is simple enough in that we’re introduced to high school student Hitomi, a young woman who ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time as a dimensional portal is opened at school that has a dragon coming through that’s being chased by Van Fanelia, a future King of Fanelia from the world of Gaea. He’s also being chased by a mecha known as a Guymelef that’s part of the Zaibach Empire that’s looking to stop him from acquiring the dragon and through its Energist reviving the mecha suit known as Escaflowne, something that will have some sentience about it if Van can unlock it. The opening episode has all this chaotic introduction and fighting going on, and the introduction of the Escaflowne itself, before Hitomi finds herself thrown into this other world and all that problems going on there. Luckily, she seems to have expanded an ability in this world with her dowsing to be able to see the future. That’s a little something that makes her pretty valuable to someone like Van who would otherwise just discard her for his own goals.

The world of Gaea, which Hitomi’s world can be seen in the sky as the Mystic Moon, is in a state of flux as the empire of Zaibach under Emperor Dornkirk is looking to make big inroads in conquering for reasons beyond the basics to be detailed later. Van’s looking to protect Fanelia with the Escaflowne, which is part of his right of passage trials, but he’s also got the extra incentive to do this as his older brother Folken is a Strategos for Zaibach and is conquering nations through the floating fortresses and the mecha team that he has, which includes a pretty great character in Dilandau, a nearly psychotic person who is that way for good reasons. Van’s intent on protecting Fanelia is nicely layered but it’s one that goes down in flames, causing him to be on the run with Hitomi and others, marking the beginning of a journey for the group.

The first half of the series does work in fairly familiar tones as we get a lot of stage setting and character introductions, revealing the neat parts of this world, from a catgirl named Merle that’s pretty much smitten with Van, to more mystical types that can shapechange upon consuming the soul of someone else. The technology is fantasy oriented but it brings in some neat mechanical elements as well, from the aforementioned flying fortresses to other airships. And the various mecha as well, which have a naturalistic bent to them that definitely makes them engaging to watch. This is a Sunrise series, after all, and you can see it as a fantasy Gundam show in some regards. But Kawamori and Akane take it in its own direction and really drill down into the characters and their motivations in concise ways, giving it scale but keeping it very personal as each of the elements are introduced.

As each of these new things are brought into focus, you really do have to admire how smoothly it does it all. There are a lot of characters brought in, such as the knight Allen Schezar from Austuria and the princess Millerna from there that intends to be his wife, to the range of nobles that have their own key roles in moving things forward. And, of course, the support crew on the airship that Van and Hitomi take residence in while trying to build up a resistance to Zaibach. The series moves through familiar patterns of progress and setback with some gains to be made but it never feels like battles are drawn out or storylines becoming too complex. They’re not superficial but rather it goes back to a simpler theme of the kind of time and period, a world where it’s a little more black and white with a few twists along the way. That makes it easily accessible to a wide range of audiences but opens itself up to reading a lot more into various areas as Kawamori’s scripts doesn’t work to keep the characters simple. They grow and expand organically.

The other big plus for me with this show is that, as much as I love how great animation is today with all it can do, there really is something special about traditional animation. And that’s without even including how characters here have noses, something that has been whittled away in most design work over the past twenty years. The series has created a wonderfully rich word that feels authentic with its details in the backgrounds while giving us something really warm and beautiful in the character and mecha animation. There’s just something about how this all comes together with its design and the passion of the project, being an original work, that you really do get that sense that everyone involved went further than they had before and the results are beautifully visible on the screen.

In Summary:
The opening half of The Vision of Escaflowne is just that, an opening half where it works hard to introduc so much of the foundations for the world, the mechanical of the mecha, and the characters. Each piece works toward a really beautiful whole that comes into view and keeps you engaged with each character – at least those that survive – and pushes it all forward in really fun and exciting ways. I was wary of revisiting this title simply because of how important I thought it was during my first viewing but taking in the first half over the course of the day just reaffirms what a fantastic project this is. Funimation’s release is pretty solid here all around with what it does and fans of the show that want to reconnect and experience that magic all over again are likely going to be able to do that far easier than they may think.

Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language (2004), English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language (2016), English Subtitles, Kickstarter Thanks, Conversation About Escaflowne, Club Escaflowne, Music Videos, Clean Opening, Clean Closing

Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: C
Extras Grade: B+

Released By: Funimation
Release Date: October 18th, 2016
MSRP: $54.95
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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