What They Say:
The world of Gaea is on the brink of war. As evil Zaibach continues to lay waste to the lands, Hitomi and Van must use the magnificent Guymelef Escaflowne to stop them.
With the help of the handsome knight Allen and their comrades, they embark on a journey to find the Mystic Valley and the secret of Atlantis. But even with Hitomi’s powers and ability to see into the future, it is no easy task”especially when Van’s own brother, Folken, is also hunting him.
As Hitomi hones her powers, she finds that it becomes harder to cope. Seeing the death of people she’s come to know is hard to handle. On top of it all, her heart cannot decide between the handsome Allen or the brash Van. Her destiny could very well rely on that one choice. And there’s still the matter of getting her back home! Can the world of Gaea be saved, or will the ravages of war tear it apart?
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. 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 deep black that’s almost a deep blue/purple 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 Hitomi once again but with Allen and Millerna – 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 black 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 Allen and Millerna against his mecha 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 deep blue 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 second set of 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. This set also brings another of the excellent extras to the forefront with the roundtable chat at the bar, which is just delightful. On the new side, we get another of the Conversation about Escaflowne pieces that talks with cast and staff, and social media as well as art production, about what was involved in bringing this particular set to life.
Thinking back on the long and slow churn of episodes back in the day with a bimonthly release of three episodes per disc, it’s definitely interesting to revisit it in this form. To be fair, Bandai Entertainment released all the VHS tapes in one massive box set, which I consumed over a few weeks because binging wasn’t as much of a thing then, and the show can take on a very different feel. With Escaflowne, I’d almost recommend taking the time to just enjoy an episode by itself since they do tend to do a fair bit in each of them as there isn’t a lot that’s really throwaway material here. Not all of it is as strong as it could be and part of me wishes some of it wasn’t produced, but this isn’t filled with padding to make it a twenty-six episode run.
With the back half of the series, Vision of Escaflowne does follow some familiar patterns. Hitomi has learned more of the world and she’s seeing her place in it pretty well because of her fortune telling ability, something that Dornkirk craves and is willing to send his forces after. That raises her value as well and has everyone protecting her all the more. The growth of the characters is something that works well in this half as we’ve now seen Van becoming more in tun with Escaflowne, to the point of his body taking on similar wounds, that mirrors Hitomi’s confidence. Each of them also have to face some realities about this as well, with Van struggling with what it means to be that bonded while Hitomi sees it as a way of getting what she wants. That pushes her down a problematic path yet it’s one that feels authentic because of her age and just general sense of feelings toward others.
This plays out with regards to Dryden, the man that Millerna is betrothed to, that the group heads to see as he may have information to help Van with his bonding struggle. Dryden’s a tough character to take because he’s more of a personality than a lot of the other characters in the show and he can kind of rub people the wrong way, which raises a few hackles. With Hitomi, her seeing Dryden gives her the opportunity to push Millerna toward him more as a way to save Asturia when they all end up there, which means she can keep Allen to herself. I like that she’s not instantly drawn to Van when the series start and even at the halfway mark she’s gotten close to him but not romantic in thought. So when she realizes that this wedding that’s now going forward to help cement alliances will lead to bad things, she has to deal with the truth of what she did and why. It’s a tough growing up moment for her to take responsibility and she doesn’t get it easy here, which is a big plus, but it helps to reinforce why she’s an interesting character as she does make mistakes, does struggle with the resolution, and does follow through on it to deal with the consequences.
Where this half of the show loses me just a bit is when it explores some of the past, notably with the journal that Allen has that details his father’s journey. Through this and Hitomi’s powers, we see how he was searching for the origins of Gaea with Atlantis and its powers only to come across Dornkirk all those years ago. This ties into how Hitomi has a connection to all of it through her pendant as it plays to the way time moves differently between the two worlds. It’s not exactly convoluted but it felt more forced than it needed to be and the use of Hitomi’s grandmother was something that really felt like it needed several episodes to truly be brought out in a stronger way so that you connected with her, Isaac, and what was going on then. Here, it’s more superficial and just a step or two above being a montage for the most part, especially since the focus given at the end is about Allen dealing with the problems he’s had with his father in the past for abandoning him and his mother, a plot point that really wasn’t necessary.
As the series moves into its final arc where we get the big battles and all that it entails with much on the line, we also get the reveal of what Dornkirk is after. His attempts at recreating the world through the power of Atlantis is a solid plot piece to it and I even love the Fate Alteration Engine naming as it just has something that totally fits this world. Within this we get some wonderfully fun material with Folken as he attempts to right his own wrongs upon discovering some of the bigger picture and there’s a very good subplot involving Dilandau that takes a psychotic character and upends your perception of him in all the right ways. When it forces you to go back and look at him in a new light throughout the series run, that’s a very good twist (even if I knew it from seeing it almost twenty years ago, it still resonates). Though there are familiar things to how all of this plays out, such as Van taking a formal leading role and there being some losses along the way, Kawamori and Akane execute it with such precision and flawlessness in both story and animation that it’s simply a delight.
But, realistically, it’s the final minutes that win me over the most. So many series work to make things open-ended and that often just causes an ending to feel weak because it’s not an ending. While there’s a kind of out to what we get here, the truth is that the series ends with some real finality to it and not everyone gets what they want. The end montage is still one of my favorite ones over the years as we see who has ended up where and what they’re facing because it doesn’t come down in a way where everyone gets what they want – the leads included. It’s often easy to make things difficult for the supporting characters while giving the leads what they want, but I love that the team here played this more realistically and put some emotional weight on it for the leads so that it resonates with the viewer more and it actually sticks with you longer. So much anime and manga goes for either a non-ending or everyone is happy ending, so something like this is highly appealing.
With it being probably about fifteen years since I last saw the show, revisiting The Vision of Escaflowne has been a real treat. This is a series that has not only aged well it feels ageless in many ways. This could have easily been put into rotation among the shows today with the new season and outside of the character designs not looking like most others, well, it would be just as striking and engaging as it was back in 1996. Funimation’s release brings together a whole lot to like and I’m beyond pleased that we got a new dub while still retaining the previously created dub, a release that has many fans. I’m sure the chance to compare, contrast, and debate the two will make for a lot of fun for the dub fans as well. This is a great series that has long demanded a strong release and Funimation did well with these regular edition releases in pretty much hitting all the right points for it. A very easy upgrade for many and a must-have for anyone who has never seen the series.
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Language (2001), English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language (2016), English Subtitles,Conversation About Escaflowne, Club Escaflowne, Music Videos, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Roundtable Chat
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
Running Time: 325 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
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.