The Vision of Escaflowne (天空のエスカフローネ, Tenkū no Esukafurōne, lit. "Skies of Escaflowne") is a 26-episode Japanese animated series produced and distributed by Sunrise in 1996. It was created by Shoji Kawamori and directed by Kazuki Akane, and the soundtrack was composed by Yoko Kanno and Hajime Mizoguchi. Though generally considered a fantasy and mecha anime, Escaflowne borrows elements from other genres, including shoujo, shonen, romance, drama, and psychological.
The plot follows 15-year old Japanese schoolgirl Hitomi Kanzaki, who, while training with her classmate Susumu Amano, gets involved in Fanelian prince Van Fanel’s dragonslaying rite and is soon transported to the parallel dimension of Gaea with Van. While on Gaea, she travels to Fanelia, Asturia, Freid, Atlantis, and Zaibach, accompanied by Van, Merle, Allen Schezar, Millerna Aston, and Dryden Fassa.
Main article: The Vision of Escaflowne (plot)
Warning: This section may contain plot or ending spoilers. To skip this section, click here.
Fate and Destiny
"When the dragon and the girl come close, the image of the future wavers." - Emperor Dornkirk
One of the major themes of Escaflowne is fate. Hitomi gives characters tarot readings in order to determine what may happen to them, and her power to see visions helps avert bad futures. Sometimes, Hitomi agonizes over the possibility of a bad future, and even if bad things may happen, everything turns out fine in the end.
Zaibach, and particularly Dornkirk, tries to control fate by using the Destiny Prognostication Engine. It is shown through the character of Dilandau, however, and the attempt to separate Hitomi and Van by drawing Hitomi and Allen together, that altering the course of fate is an impossibility. Unlike Dornkirk assumes, the people of Gaea are not mere pawns in his machine, and whatever they do is independent of his plan. Even in the Zone of Absolute Fortune, when Dornkirk assumes Van and Allen will fight to the death, Hitomi is able to alter that future by convincing Van to stop fighting.
"If this war won't pass us by, then I'll shoulder the burden. I'll shoulder the karma of war... along with the sorrow of the dead!" - Van Fanel
Escaflowne takes a critical stance toward war and fighting, in which it is shown that war is harmful not just to the "good guys," but also to those in Zaibach. This aspect of war is studied in detail with Van and Dilandau in particular. Van's reluctance to fight, coupled with his desire to avenge Fanelia and Balgus, causes severe internal conflict. Dilandau, who was created through Fate Alteration to essentially be a fighting machine, is shaken so heavily when his Dragonslayers become casualties of war that he is unable to return to battle until later in the series due to his loneliness. The consequences of war thus override the thrills of battle.
Hitomi quickly grows tired of the fighting, and it especially worries her that Van develops bloodlust because he wants to protect her. In the Zone of Absolute Fortune, Dornkirk tells her that everyone's wish is to fight, even after Zaibach was defeated, with allies turning against each other simply because they want to. It is Hitomi's conversation with Van and Allen's reunion with Celena that finally stops the fighting.
"Her crimes are my crimes. Even if she was controlled by Zaibach's magic!" - Allen Schezar
Escaflowne displays complex notions of what constitutes romantic and platonic love. It differentiates relationships based on mutual trust, understanding, and sacrifice from those based on surface feelings alone.
Hitomi and Van's relationship grows from one of mutual distaste to sacrifice, understanding, and a willingness to believe in each other. Their connection is enough to alter fate, and encourages Van to put down his sword and everyone to stop fighting. Dryden and Millerna experience a similar growth in their relationship, in which they come to respect each other mutually and make sacrifices for each other.
Even if the power of Van and Hitomi's love was enough to stop the Zone of Absolute Fortune from tearing Gaea apart, Escaflowne does not promote a "love conquers all" message. Feelings alone are not enough to make a healthy relationship, and both romantic and platonic relationships are realistic in their complexity. Allen struggles with resentment and hatred for his father, yet loves him and wants to forgive him regardless. Millerna latches onto Allen because she believes he can make her happy, and Allen gives into her advances, despite Eries' advice, because she reminds him of his first love, Marlene. Allen and Hitomi fight and she calls him out for his controlling behavior. Folken struggles with his loyalty to Zaibach, under whose rule he was reborn, and his desire to be reunited with his brother Van.
Sacrifices are made in both platonic and romantic relationships. Balgus dies protecting Van and Fanelia; Allen is injured protecting Hitomi; Jajuka dies protecting Dilandau; and Allen is willing to bear all the wrongs Dilandau committed as his own and die for his sister if necessary.
"Perhaps I was scared. Scared of finding out that he really did abandon us." - Allen
The effects of severe trauma are addressed through Van and Allen's characters. While they are in Atlantis, Hitomi glimpses their mental battles with their traumatic experiences.
Van lost his family at a young age and resolves that he will never turn his back on an enemy, so as to differentiate himself from his brother. After he kills the Dragonslayers, Van becomes locked inside his own mind, shaken by the experience. Afterward, he cannot bring himself to hold a sword without shaking, or to fight, and flashes back to the deaths of the soldiers. Returning to his mind while the group is in Atlantis, he tells Balgus that he refuses to fight any longer, and is faced by specters of the soldiers he has killed. Hitomi's belief in him shakes him of the experience, but he never outgrows his pacifist nature.
When he was young, Allen's father left his family, his sister Celena disappeared, and his mother died. To avoid confronting his traumatic experiences directly, he blames his father for it, and holds an irrational anger at him. Hitomi encourages him to forgive his father. While inside his own mind in Atlantis, Allen has a discussion with his father, and learns to accept his father for what he did, realizing that his mother and father did love each other.
During his relationship with Hitomi, Allen continues to suffer from the effects of his trauma. He acts possessive and jealous, concerned when she tries to leave him to go anywhere with Van, and tells her not to hide anything from him. When she returns to Gaea for the first time, he realizes that he may have been seeing his sister in Hitomi. This presumably caused him to display those behaviors. When she returns, he accepts that her place is with Van.
Spoilers end here.
Main article: Making of Escaflowne
While on a trip to Nepal, creator Shoji Kawamori devised the idea of a mecha anime that addressed themes of fate and divination. Yasuhiro Imagawa was appointed as the original director, and he envisioned Escaflowne being in line with established shonen tropes, focusing more on the battles and making Hitomi more fanservice-oriented. However, Imagawa left the project to work on Mobile Fighter G Gundam, and director Kazuki Akane was brought in. Akane changed Hitomi to be more athletic and intelligent, contrasting with Imagawa’s design. He made several other changes, including adding the key plot element of Hitomi’s tarot card readings.
Apparently, Escaflowne was originally going to be 39 episodes; however, due to time and budget limits, it had to be compressed into 26 episodes. Many fans of Escaflowne note how quickly the action moves, with almost no filler as compared to other anime; this is likely due in part to the compression that the budget and time constraints required. When asked about the episode limitation, director Kazuki Akane has said that Escaflowne was always intended to be 26 episodes.
Main article: Dubs
The Vision of Escaflowne has two English dubs. The original dub was licensed by Bandai Entertainment and produced for Canadian television with Canadian actors playing the voice roles. It aired in 2000 in both cut and uncut versions and was cancelled due to low ratings.
In 2016, Funimation Entertainment, to whom Escaflowne is currently licensed in North America, launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a redub of the series. Voice actor Sonny Strait directed the redub, and it was released in 2016 along with a new special edition of the series on DVD. Other backer rewards included Hitomi's pendant and tarot card deck. Both the subbed and redubbed versions of Escaflowne can be watched on Funimation’s official web site.
Aside from English, Escaflowne has been dubbed into at least five other languages.