11 March 2013

#2LR Too Late Review - Escaflowne, episodes 1-5

There's so much to go through, I could legitimately write a week's worth of posts (and at this rate, I just might).  There's all of what I posted yesterday to go through which could be teased out to about five blog posts, especially since Civ V ended up almost playing as two separate games depending on if you have the expansion pack.  But tonight, I figured I'd go with the anime that we're currently screening, vintage 90s anime Escaflowne

As with most of my other reviews, consider the below Spoiler Space.

Escaflowne, oddly enough, starts as a high school coming-of-age anime.  Hitomi Kanzaki is (from what I can see) a first-year high school student and budding track star on the girls' track team, and seriously crushing on one of the upperclassmen from the boys' track team.  However, when she starts her race, she pulls into the lead only to collapse from a bizarre vision.   The first episode then completes the strange transition from high school drama into a high-fantasy and steampunk hybrid taking place on Gaia, a planet where one can see the "mystic moon" (Earth) in the sky, along with the regular Moon.

Within this world are people who know how to get her back, but of course before they can do that, the small city-state they live in is attacked by another group of people who raided the Romulans for their cloak technology, as well as having flamethrowers and other weird shooty things.  Hitomi and the king of this city-state, young Vaan, escape in Vaan's mecha robot to another country.

In the next country they pick up some allies, including the somewhat pompous knight Allen Schezar, though the ranks of the allies are thinned out somewhat by the same enemy mecha robots (from the nation of "Zaibach").  Through some fancy flying by their airship and a daring rescue plan, they prevent Vaan and his special mecha from falling into enemy hands.  They escape, flying the airship into the sunset.

(Spoiler space over)

Fittingly enough, episode 5 could have ended a sort of miniseries, as the airship flies away and the enemy base is unable to scramble units to chase after our heroes.  Having a conclusion to this story arc gave me a good opportunity to blog about the series up until this point.  Of course, it was also about an hour and a half, pretty much movie-sized if you strip out theme songs and recaps too, so it should give the viewer a good idea of where the proceedings will go.

This was a series that I watched quite a few years ago, back when I attended university and was a member of the anime viewing club there.  At the time, I recall that I was not a huge fan of the show, and to some extent I can understand why I was not at the time.  While watching, I can see a bit of why I was not a fan at the time; for instance, you can't quite classify this show as "high fantasy" because of the mechas, but you can't call it steampunk because the outfits and the methods of fighting (pure swordplay) scream high fantasy.  At one point during Episode 4, the defenders that were fortifying against a mecha attack were preparing.... catapults.  Not even trebuchets, not cannons, but catapults.  (And ballistas, for what it's worth).  So, there's massive amounts of technology inside the robots, but not an ounce of it outside the robots.  I'm sure that there will be an explanation, such as that the robots were old technology left there by others, but that doesn't quite explain Zaibach's cloaking mechanisms or new robots... those are purely out of left field and far beyond even today's technology.

The other issue I pointed to fifteen years ago was that I was not a fan of the protagonist, or the king, or the knight, or... well, really anyone.  However, I suppose that this was the young me that didn't feel like thinking through a show and not giving it a chance.  Hitomi, Vaan, Allen... they are all irritating and annoying in their own way, but the more jaded reviewer I've become now realizes that their foibles and annoyances actually make them more human than if they were perfect.  Watching this show again makes me feel that the protagonists are more real, that they have personalities and feelings and concerns, and draws me in more as a viewer.

As well, another high point is the that the writers of the show do a decent job of injecting enough comedy to keep you on your toes.  Since the humor is not frequent, each punchline gains more impact because there's not another one for a little while.  In this regard, they set Hitomi up with a good foil, the cat-girl Merle, who snips at her and puts in her own digs.  Hitomi, when she's aware enough, gives as good as she gets though.

It should be noted that there are quite a few hallmarks of the male-targeted cliches in this show, including the sword-fighting as well as the giant mechas.  While they managed to sneak in a female protagonist and they seem to be setting up a "Jacob-or-Edward"-style subplot of who gets to date Hitomi, the writers have also managed to make her enough of a girly-girl that she's not going to kick ass and take names.  For each time she's making a nine-foot leap to run to Vaan's side to warn him of danger, she faints after a premonition.  I almost wish they had her pick up a sword and really bust out some of the stereotypes, but alas, this show did not want to bust too many of the cliches apart (immediately, at least).

This time around, especially having seen more series, I've been more interested to see where the plot goes.  Of course, I am a bit put out by the fact that I know some of the twists yet to come, but I have completely forgotten the ending... so, bonus!  I actually have VHS tapes of this one, and they're dubbed too, so I can't really give a good opinion of the voice acting nor the music.  To be truthful, there is some painful dialogue in the English version, though I'm not sure if the same painful dialogue (or bad delivery) is present in the subtitled version.

So, I have enjoyed the first movie-length portion of Escaflowne, and that has guaranteed me to keep watching through the second movie-length portion (episodes 6-10).  Stay tuned for further reviews!

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