A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Escaflowne – The Movie

June 2, 2011

Escaflowne – The Movie

It has been many years since I last watched this movie, and even longer since I saw the anime series that preceded it. I do remember having some issues with the movie though. There are a couple anime movies I can think of off the top of my head that attempt to encompass larger series within the time restrains of a feature film. On the more successful end there’s the Macross Plus movie, which is actually better than the series it is derived from (we’ve reviewed that for the movie a day project already if you’re curious.) On the other end of the spectrum what leaps to mind for me is X (1999) which was a movie that attempted to cram so much back-story into such a short amount of space that it ended up simply not working at all. This movie is closer to X than to Macross Plus. It takes a twenty six episode series and tries to fit roughly the same plot into an hour and a half movie. The result doesn’t quite work.

My recollection (an again, it has been a long time since I watched the series) is that the movie version here is not simply an edited version of the entire series (which I think would be impossible) but is an entirely separate entity created from scratch but with many of the same characters and some of the same story beats.

As a series and as a movie Escaflowne is amusing in that it seems to encompass just about every anime trope in a single glorious hodgepodge. There’s a Japanese schoolgirl (complete with sailor uniform) transported to a magical world where she is welcomed as the “Wing Goddess”, a figure foretold in legend to be instrumental in an epic confrontation. There’s a savage young prince, last of the line of Dragon Kings who is fighting to re-gain his kingdom. There’s the angst-ridden brother of the prince who has userped his power and now heads the Black Dragon army which is laying waste to the previously peaceful world of Gaea. There’s a rag-tag band of unlikely rebels including a bishoujo swordsman, a sexed up princess of some sort, a cat girl, a buck-toothed red nosed monk, a cocky knife wielding rogue… you get the picture.

At the heart of the conflict between the dragon brothers is an ancient bio/steampunk mecha armor suit called Escaflowne that is destined to destroy the world. or maybe not. The gaunt and oh-so-emo Folken wants to use Escaflowne to end all suffering on Gaea by ending all life. To this end he summons a suicidally depressed schoolgirl named Hitomi from Earth so that she can awaken the armor. She ends up with the exiled prince Van instead though, an angry young man who the movie takes great pains to assure us is lonely and isolated. Van is travelling with a whole crew of dispossessed rebels who are trying to find a way to stop the Black Dragon armies. They think Hitomi is the key to their ambitions too.

The biggest problem this movie has is that its subject matter is so grand in scope and so melodramatic, with so many factions and characters involved, that it simply doesn’t work in the time frame available in a movie. Most of the characters in this movie have only a brief few lines to explain everything about themselves and then they’re swiftly forgotten in the headlong rush to get to the final confrontation. Particularly the rebel band that Van travels with – they each have only a couple seconds of screen time, then they’re gone. One of Folken’s generals has a trio of loyal compatriots who seems like nice enough folks except that only one of them ever speaks and he only has two lines. The movie is full of characters who have no purpose and simply muddy the storyline like that. I have to assume this is because they’re folks from the series who had entire plot arcs to themselves and are wedged into the movie as cameo appearances, but they do make the film feel crowded with non-essential characters.

The other problem the movie has, which is related to all the undeveloped minor characters, is that it ends up feeling rushed. There’s so much plot to cram in here that by the time we get to that epic confrontation with the entire world hanging in the balance, well, it simply lacks impact. You don’t know anybody well enough to be invested in any way with the world that is at risk. Sure you know who’s good and who’s evil, and there’s this fantastic stirring music, but I simply didn’t feel myself caring at all. Then another of those minor characters from earlier in the movie shows up and does something heroic and abruptly the movie is over. I know how it’s supposed to work, but the movie was in such a hurry to get to this point that it didn’t provide enough background to give it any impact.

The music, however, is great. In fact it’s the entire reason I bought this movie in the first place. I think I might have downloaded some of the soundtrack before I saw the movie even and bought the film to see what the music was intended to evoke. It’s because this score is by Yoko Kanno. This is the most large-scale and orchestral music I’ve heard from her to date, and I wanted to know what this grand music was attached to.

Sadly, a fantastic score is not enough to make a great movie. In general I’d say that virtually anything Yoko Kanno touches turns to gold, and I’ve not often been disappointed by anything that has her name attached to it, but this movie is the exception that proves that rule. I do enjoy the plot, filled with cliches though it may be, and I like the world and the epic struggle too. I think though that for any future return visits to Gaea I will stick to the full series. It might not have as much blood, the animation might not be as impressive, and it might not have Yoko Kanno doing the score, but it feels more epic and grand nonetheless.

June 2, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , ,

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