Anime Reviews: Vision of Escaflowne - A Girl in Gaea
Bearing no resemblance to its source material, this film version of Escaflowne squanders its hefty budget with inconsequential action and undercooked writing.
Title: The Vision of Escaflowne - A Girl in Gaea a.k.a. Escaflowne: The Movie
Film Length: 96 minutes
Air Dates: 6/24/2000
Age Rating: 13+ (strong violence, dark or disturbing thematic elements)
Summary: Hitomi Kanzaki, once an involved and energetic girl, now scrapes through her days in a state of perpetual depression. Always sleeping, blowing off her friends, and wishing only to fade away, she has boxed herself into a lonely existence. And then, one night, an enigmatic figure calls her to the world of Gaea, where she finds herself encased inside a war machine called Escaflowne. As a group of mercenaries led by the princely Allen approaches, Escaflowne opens up, releases Hitomi, and disappears, leaving behind only a small gemstone. While Hitomi is puzzled by all this, the mercenaries celebrate the descent of the prophesied Wing Goddess, said to bring fortune and peace to Gaea. Elsewhere, the enigmatic figure who called Hitomi to this world plans to realize the other half of the prophecy--that the Wing Goddess will annihilate Gaea and all those who inhabit it.
The Good: Great animation; interesting concepts
The Bad: Zero resemblance to the series that spawned it; poorly-written story and characters; it's just plain dull
The Ugly: The legendary noses are gone!
You know, I really didn't want to see this movie. Everyone I know who's seen it said it sucked, and plenty of reviews mirrored that, but the completionist in me knew that I could never truly rest unless I did. Escaflowne was a perfectly decent anime despite not having an original bone in its body, but this? This film, intended as an alternate take on the franchise, is a disaster of cinema and an affront to all that is decent. While it's not the worst movie I've ever seen, it's still pretty awful. And now, in my typical fashion, we shall examine the good points of the film before we tear it a new one.
Firstly, there is some gorgeous animation to be found in this film. While not every shot is a winner, many of the action sequences and moments of character development are given a lot of love by the animators. The artwork is also quite interesting, paying homage to the original series while taking on a sleeker, darker edge. Characters' outfits look more tattered or guerrilla than before, and major character designs (especially Van's and Allen's) are given more militaristic touches. While fans of the TV show might be sad that the infamously-large noses, a quirk of the original art direction, are now a thing of the past, it's safe to say that the rest of the film looks quite solid.
The film also has some new concepts added to the Escaflowne universe, such as the blood-injection system onboard the titular machine, the introduction of psionic magic, and Folken's use of illusion. You could say the mechs from the TV series were a blatant rip-off of Evangelion, but at least the film had the good sense to add a few original ideas, like said injection system, to keep the setting fresh. The psionics were also a nice touch, as it adds extra flair to the combat and flavor to the world as a whole. I don't have much else to say on the subject, other than these were some neat ideas that I would've liked to see in the original series.
As far as the audio department goes, the voice acting is perfectly fine and the soundtrack consists of reused tracks from the TV series (hello there, "Dance of Curse") and a few new tracks that leave no lasting impression, though I'd be lying if I said they were terrible. Adequate is the word I'd use to sum it all up, and that's that.
But now I'm going to complain for a bit, because this movie warrants a few complaints. To start, while I was well-aware long in advance that A Girl in Gaea had almost nothing to do with the TV series, I was still dumbstruck by how distant this film was from its source material. Aside from character names and designs, long-time fans will be just as lost as newcomers. If the creators were going to scrap nearly everything, then why didn't they just go all-out and create this story from scratch? Why use the Escaflowne name and universe? This story would've succeeded without brand recognition, right? Well, about that...
The story just doesn't stand up. Not only is it hilariously rushed in its 96-minute runtime, but it also makes no sense whatsoever, whether it be because of continuity issues or just plain forgetting what it established. For example, when Van is dueling it out with Dilandau (one of the enemy leaders), Hitomi falls into a crevasse made by the battle, and without any indication whatsoever that Van even noticed that this happened, he leaps in after her. We never see him look back, break away from the fight, or even leap in--Hitomi just falls and there he is, already apparently to the rescue. This is one of the very few moments they kept from the original series, and they botched it.
Another example of hilariously bad writing occurs near the beginning, when Hitomi tells her friend Yukari about a dream she had, which was a memory of her childhood. One day, she and her parents were at a train station when Hitomi spots a man wearing otherworldly clothing, and this is set up as being an important detail in the story. After this scene, it's never mentioned again. The man never reappears, the dream is never referred to, and by the time the movie ends, you'll have no answers as to what it was all about. And that leads to my final point:
By the time the movie ends, you'll have no answers as to what it was all about. There is no rhyme or reason to anything, especially Hitomi's character arc. She starts out all sad and mopey and nihilistic, some stuff happens, and suddenly she's in love and enjoys life again. The final confrontation is a headache-inducing mess of last-minute contrivances, too. This film literally can be summed up with, "Hitomi is bored with life, then she gets whisked away to Gaea where some stuff happens, she learns to love life, and then she goes back. The end." There is no emotional impact, no dramatic payoff, and no reason for you to care about any of it. I sure don't.
And really, that's the film's greatest sin: It's boring as sin. Because the characters are paper-thin, the action sequences never connect with you, and due to the writer's inability to form any coherent narrative, the conflict is not in the least bit compelling. It took great effort to even remember how the story started to write the summary above, and I just finished my second viewing of the film mere hours ago. Nothing leaves a lasting impression, and that's the worst thing you can really say about any movie.
If you've never seen Escaflowne, don't try to substitute it with this trash, and if you're a fan of the series wanting to cap it off with its movie incarnation, you'll be better off forgetting it exists. It is not here to please you; it is here to insult you. It is here to suck your time away, like a celluloid vampire, until it's bled you dry and disappears to find another victim. Avoid at all costs.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 10. Though it certainly looks pretty and introduces some neat ideas into the Escaflowne universe, A Girl in Gaea wastes its potential with an undercooked story that deviates too far from the series that spawned it.