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Escaflowne (2002)
Director: Kauki Akare

review by Amy Harlib

Escaflowne (aka: Escaflowne: A Girl From Gaea), a Japanese anime feature based on a hugely popular TV series, has found limited distribution here in the USA and can readily be found on video/DVD. The up and coming director and creators, with considerable experience already, working on the TV version and on such projects as various Mobile Suit Gundam series, Stardust Memories and the acclaimed Cowboy Bebop series, possess ample qualifications to craft an exemplary full-length movie incarnation of the hit small screen programme.

The story focuses on a young woman, a high school senior named Hitomi (voiced by Kelly Sheridan) suffering feelings of alienation and depression. During a suicidal emotional crisis she experiences the ultimate, life-saving wish-fulfilment - to be transported to some 'other place' where she can feel important and appreciated, thus appealing to the desires of a vast majority of the intended youthful audience. This actually happens when emanations from Hitomi's inherent psychic power enables certain inhabitants of the magical parallel world of Gaea to sense her vibrations. In response, they open a doorway through which they whisk Hitomi away to their dimension badly in need of a prophesied 'Wing Goddess' saviour and our protagonist appears to be the candidate for the job.

Hitomi struggles to overcome her initial confusion and culture shock, for Gaea's denizens include not only exact human look-alikes, but a variety of sentient humanoid animals. Hitomi also learns to accept the awesome role thrust upon her and at the same time to cope with her awakening and burgeoning psychic skills. Hitomi's most significant companions include young Prince Van (Kirby Morrow) with whom she slowly develops a romantic attachment despite his aloofness born of sorrow because of the destruction of his people and country by a brutal civil war instigated by none other than his very own brother Lord Folken (Paul Dobson) who will stop at nothing in his attempts to seize total power.

Besides Prince Van, Hitomi eventually wins the friendship of his chief supporters, members of the Abaharaki Clan who also oppose Lord Folken. They include: the Amazonian warrior Millerna (Venus Terzo); the brave fighter Allen (Brian Drummond); the financial backer, merchant Dryden (Michael Dobson); the mole-man fortune-teller (Terry Klassen); and the orphaned, high-spirited, kittenish, young felinoid Merle (Jocelyne Loewen). The heroes must face the formidable forces of Lord Folken and his sadistic, principal henchman Dilandau (Andrew Francis) reluctantly aided by the coerced, imposing caninoid Jajuka (Scott McNeil) and the ethereal prophetess Sola (Sylvia Zaradick), sole survivor of the conflict's depredations.

Hitomi's uncanny gifts as Wing Goddess represent the only means to summon and resurrect the legendary giant suit of white dragon armour, the eponymous Escaflowne. This device controlled by Prince Van who operates it in a cyborg-like manner from inside the chest cavity, is the sole match for its ebon-hued twin possessed by the Black Dragon Clan that bears its name. Despite the predictable outcome of all this, excitement gets generated along the way by several skirmishes and clashes (with some graphic violence) between the contending factions, building up to the big showdown.

One's interest also gets held by the colourful, vivid, eccentric leading characters, each one fascinating (including the antagonists), the actions and interactions of all hinting at tantalising depths no doubt developed in the TV series. The world Gaea also proves most intriguing with its spectacular landscapes; its exotic flora and fauna; and its myriad of sentient races and varied cultures possessing a range of levels of technology from super-scientifically advanced to pastoral and shamanistic (these background aspects unquestionably revealed much more over the course of the TV episodes).

Escaflowne's splendidly detailed animation (enhanced by some CGI effects), heavily influenced to its benefit stylistically and cinematically by the masterful Hayao Miyazaki, dazzles the eye. Character and background design of the highest quality and a lovely, lush, dramatic score, offers much to enjoy here and that more than compensates for the basic wish-fulfilment plot which definitely had its amusing and surprising moments nevertheless. The considerable virtues of this anime series and its theatrical feature make its popularity well deserved. Escaflowne represents excellent entertainment - a fantastic flight to a gorgeous otherworld for all who crave quality fantasy films.
Escaflowne

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