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Escaflowne the Movie Blu-ray Anime Review

10 min read

Escaflowne MovieAre you ready to return to Gaea?

What They Say:
In Escaflowne the Movie Hitomi Kanzaki is depressed. She feels isolated from her friends and family, and wants nothing more than to disappear. From her melancholy, the otherworldly presence of Lord Folken is summoned, and she is spirited away to the foreign world of Gaea.

On Gaea, Hitomi is both feared and worshiped as the legendary Winged Goddess: a powerful being who can call to life the mystical Dragon Armor, Escaflowne.

Hitomi is bewildered by the strange new world, where ships fly through the air, cat women walk and talk, and her apparent role as a goddess makes her a prized possession for several nefarious organizations. Hitomi finds a kindred spirit in the vengeful and headstrong King Van, who has sworn an oath of revenge against the Black Dragon Clan, who destroyed Van’s kingdom. Now, Van lives by the sword. And with Hitomi by his side, Van and Escaflowne will either lead the world of Gaea to harmony, or destruction.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release is pretty great all around as we get three tracks in 5.1 using the Dolby TrueHD lossless codec. The original Japanese for me is still the best simply because that’s how I’ve always seen it. We also get the original English dub produced by Bandai Entertainment from years ago and we get a new English dub from Funimation that uses the cast from the TV series, allowing them to shake things up a bit from what they did for twenty-six episodes. The film works a strong design overall but it’s really the music that shines the most here with what it does, hitting some really great notes throughout and some powerful moments. When the action goes big it has a lot more impact here compared to previous lossy low definition releases and it’s a lot more theatrical in its nature here. The end result is definitely a very big plus as it sounds wonderful and is problem free.

Originally released in 2000, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. This is a single disc release with all the extras on it so it’s got plenty of room to work with considering it’s just a hair under a hundred minutes. Animated by Bones for Sunrise, the film has all the hallmarks you’d expect from a theatrical project of this nature with lush scenes, fantastic color definition,and some beautiful detail to the character designs and backgrounds. All of it comes together with some incredibly fluid action sequence that just has the whole thing standing out. It’s a strong departure from the visual aesthetic of the TV series and that works in its favor to give us something new and different whose ends results look beautiful across the screen here.

The packaging for this release comes in a standard sized Blu-ray case that has an o-card that replicates the artwork on it. The front cover works the familiar key visual/poster artwork that has our leads shadowed along the top while below we get a really haunting image of Hitomi against the Mystic Moon as everything is in flames below her. It’s a very appealing cover in how it feels more artsy than a lot of other covers since it doesn’t just use pieces from the film or the traditional grouping of characters, instead shadowing them along the top. The color design as well really stands out in a fantastic way. The back cover carries over this smoky red aspect for the background and we get a clean breakdown of the premise in easy to read form that doesn’t overly reveal the story. The extras are clearly listed and we get some decent shots from the show that don’t really give us a big feeling for how much of a departure the character designs are here. The technical grid breaks everything down very well in a clean and easy to read form and the reverse side artwork from the case gives us the beautiful two-panel spread of Hitomi sleeping against the wings with the bright light playing on her that accents the blue shading really well.

The menu for this works a bit better than the TV series releases did as we get the image of Hitomi from the reverse cover artwork, direction changed, with the thin font logo through the middle in black. It’s an exercise in simplicity but with a good bit of detail and some solid emotion conveyed by how Hitomi looks here. It goes more white than blue like the cover does and that changes the tone for it a bit as well. The navigation strip along the bottom is a slightly opaque bar that has the selections in white with a simple font that makes it easy to read both as the main menu and as a pop-up menu. It’s fully functional and problem free when it comes to setup and use during playback.

The extras are, sad to say, quite the disappointment as expected compared to the previous Ultimate Edition that Bandai Entertainment put out. I tend to not compare releases because each must stand on its own, but the previous release just made out so much better on DVD years ago. In addition to getting a beautiful isolated score, there was a second disc with the Anime Expo premiere, a production art gallery, overlapping storyboards during playback, musical footage, a making of piece and a theatrical poster gallery. Plus the pack-in of the soundtrack.

Here, we get a promotional video. Granted, a lot of what was on the DVD edition were created by Bandai Entertainment and I wouldn’t be surprised if those extras were… misplaced over the years if they ever made their way back to Japan at all. But it’s definitely a disappointment and a big reason why I’ll be putting this release inside that package.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
When it comes to theatrical anime, there’s definitely some different schools of thought of how things get done. Compilation films are more of a thing today but they’re certainly not new. When a TV series proved popular it was generally thought that the best approach was to do a compressed version of the main part of the show, to give fans what they want and then to draw new people in to what made the show so good. Bandai Visual tended to lean away from that, however, as they would do what we got here in having a new movie using familiar characters and settings but shifting it in some big ways. It’s essentially an alternate take on the original so that people are sometimes the same, sometimes very different, and new twists brought into play – particularly with Hitomi coming across as just a bit more suicidal than I think the TV series viewers thought..

The beginning of the film has two sections that eventually come together. In the world of Gaea, we get introduced to Van as he flies through the air with his white wings extended. From on up high, he brings them back into himself and begins a fast descent towards a massive black airship that’s flying just in the clouds. With a loud crash, he hits one of the lookout posts and quickly slays the black clad soldier there. Van makes his way deep into the airship, killing quickly and efficiently as he goes. His attack goes up to the bridge, where in a very samurai like fashion, the remainder of the crew is dealt with.

On Earth, we get introduced to high school girl Hitomi. She’s laying out on the roof of the school sleeping, dreaming the same dream again where she’s a little girl and time stops at a train station and she sees a strange man standing there looking at her. Her friend Yukari finds here on the roof and the two talk a little bit about what’s going on, as we learn that she’s recently quit the track team and just feels like sleeping all the time. Things take an odd twist as Yukari discovers a suicide note Hitomi was leaving her, as she was going to jump off the roof. Hitomi couldn’t do it though, as she proclaims herself a coward.

As Hitomi and Yukari are out and about, Hitomi feels someone calling to her. She begins to fall into her selfish/depressed cycle and says things to cause Yukari to leave her, which only makes Hitomi feel worse. But the pull of this call is strong, and she ends up in the sports arena where a black-cloaked man beckons to her, to fulfill her destiny as the Wing Goddess. She’s confused as all can be, but transfixed by his words, as the sky begins to darken and the stadium feels up with water, swallowing her up into itself.

This is where the two stories meet, as Hitomi is transported to Gaea and into the belly of Escaflowne, a massive piece of near-organic armor that the black airship was transporting. It’s also the object of Van’s attack, as having Escaflowne will give him the power to defeat the enemies of the Wing Goddess, which he believes Hitomi to be when she falls out of the armors cockpit. Everything is too much for Hitomi to bear, and she eventually passes out after meeting some of the people who Van fights alongside.

The world of Gaea is under siege. The forces of the Black Dragon Clan are going out and destroying everything they can, led by Folken. Folken is a dark and imposing man with a voice that just commands attention. His goal is to eliminate everything in the world, which is why he is after Escaflowne, as the prophecies dictate that it will cleanse the world with its power. But now it’s fallen into the hands of Van as well as the catalyst he needed, Hitomi. Her sorrow and desire to die, to fade away to nothing, is critical to bringing his plan to fruition.

The film moves the plot forward with Hitomi joining Van and the group that he’s with that fights against Folken and his plans. We learn more of the history of the world and of Van, the king of a nation that no longer exists. His own sorrow is strong, and it’s something that Hitomi finds herself attuned to, and the two eventually click in a certain way that’s not the typical first-love romance, but something more basic between each other. There’s various fight sequences the occur as things move forward, as a new armor is discovered that Folken has, as well as the desire of Folken to gain Hitomi back for his own plans.

The world of Escaflowne is very richly filled, though we only get a few areas here and there for the film. The city of Toshura is an enticing one, with it’s high walls circling around it and the layers it has. The designs for the kingdom and others we see are delicious, giving plenty of new visuals that we haven’t seen before. The character designs are also a treat, using the TV series models as a basis and tweaking them. Gone are the long pointy noses (and yes, I was disappointed by that), but we get more fleshed out and richer looking designs. Van and Hitomi get tweaks and are still pretty much the same, just done in a different style. Allen’s changes are more noticeable, as his hair is quite a bit longer and his black leather fetish is revealed. The most drastic change is Millerna who sports short shorts, pink leggings, and tight tops for her fighting outfit and sits in ways a lady shouldn’t sit.

One of the best parts of the movie is the music. And this is definitely a movie that deserves its rich music, from the action sequences to the haunting Sora lyric that comes out several times, be it the woman with Folken singing it or the two sisters in the bar. Yoko Kanno and Hajime Mizoguchi, two of my favorites, produce a get piece of music with this movie. During the Escaflowne’s second awakening, as it appears before Hitomi, the way the music plays with the wood is just gorgeous. I listened to the soundtrack to this for what seems like two years before seeing the movie, and it’s one that I just love to listen to even to this day from time to time in my library.

In Summary:
The Escaflowne movie is a great piece of film that tells a simple story without retelling the entire TV series in compressed form. It takes a basic premise from it and works with one segment of it, turning it into a very workable and quite enjoyable story. The pacing is great, as it flows without slowing down too much or being too much of an amusement park ride. Unlike a lot of anime feature films, I saw it theatrically back when anime features were a lot harder to find and just found it to be a beautifully animated piece. Revisiting it all these years later – it’s now been fourteen years since I last saw it – hasn’t diminished my appreciation of it on the technical side to be sure. There’s such a level of detail to this movie that taking in new viewings is definitely worthwhile, especially this very appeal high definition presentation. The only thing this release comes up short on are the extras, and while I’ll ding it heavily for that, it’s also something that I understand.

Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language (2000), English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Language (2016), English Subtitles, Promotional Video

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

Released By: Funimation
Release Date: October 18th, 2016
MSRP: $34.95
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

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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