The key to loving Escaflowne: A Girl in Gaia is letting go of the TV series. The movie is not meant to be a sequel to the television show. It's not meant to be a prequel. It's not even meant to a relative. A Girl in Gaia is a completely new interpretation of the Escaflowne world, and as such, it should be judged with a fresh mind, rather than pitting it against the standard set by the television saga.
This is not to say that it fails to reach that standard. It actually surpasses it on most levels — but in a very different manner than the original. What was a more or less straightforward fantasy setting has turned into dark steampunk. Character personalities are taken to extremes, and the battles are more bloody and violent than ever. At the same time, the plot is tighter, with almost no superfluous elements. This movie isn't telling the varied stories of Hitomi, Van, Folken, Allen, Millerna, Merle, Dilandau, and all the kingdoms of Gaia — it's telling the story of Hitomi and Van. Period. Everything and everyone else are tools to help the main characters grow and learn about themselves. In the wrong hands, this kind of focus could be deadly to a movie-length feature. But A Girl in Gaia pulls it off with flair. Hitomi and Van aren't just the main characters of the film — they are the film.
Hitomi is a typical Japanese high school student who chafes at the pointlessness of her existence. She doesn't like her life, and she doesn't like herself. When she wishes she would vanish off the face of the Earth, she does — but not completely. She reappears in the war-torn land of Gaia. The people there think that she is the Tsubasa no Kami (Wing Goddess), with the power to either save or destroy their world. Is it true? Can she learn to open her heart to the suffering of others so that she can save the world from total holocaust? Or will her denial result in the destruction of Gaia?
Hitomi's apathy towards life is shared by the Abaharaki warrior Van. Van is the last of his people, king of nothing at all. He is the most violent and stubborn of the rebel warriors fighting against the Black Dragon Clan — successful in battle primarily because he has no fear of death. What does death matter, when life is so bitter? Van has no one, trusts no one, and cares for no one, not even himself. Yet Van is the only hope the Abaharaki rebels have to win against the Black Dragon Clan, because he alone can pilot the legendary Escaflowne. Will he use it to help Gaia, or will his hatred of war and isolation from feeling make him a deadly weapon against both sides?
This is what the film is about, in the most basic of nutshells. Yes, on the surface it's a film about war. But more specifically, it's about the war within people's own souls. This is Escaflowne for philosophers.
Somewhat paradoxically, it's also Escaflowne for lovers of action. The TV series was hardly boring, but the movie makes it seem positively static. At times the battles are so extreme that they almost become parody. Then again, this is anime. What anime battle isn't outrageous? Heads fly, limbs are severed, blood spurts like a geyser, and in one particularly notable scene, a horse is ripped to shreds by psychic powers. Those who prefer their wars "cartoony" will most likely feel repelled by the violence of A Girl in Gaia. But those who prefer their battles gritty, bloody, and vicious will be in heaven. The movie's greatest victory, some might say, is its successful pairing of this dark action with the heart-wrenching character growth of Hitomi and Van. As with the TV series, this seemingly inappropriate juxtaposition of shoujo and seinen works, despite the odds.
The animation, as is to be expected for a production of this scope, is exquisite. The characters are more realistic and the movements more fluid than ever before. Of particular note is the detail. When the camera zooms in on Hitomi's watch, it looks like a photorealistic timepiece. Shadows, light, wind, rain — all of the natural forces that impact the world's appearance are taken into account for virtually every frame. When a knife whizzes past Allen's ear, his hair moves. When the rain hits the hot ground, steam rises. When Dilandau paws his cheek, the skin bulges and ripples to make the pressure visible. This is the ultimate example of animation as art.
A good portion of the impact of the film should be credited to the score composers, Yoko Kanno and Hajime Mizoguchi. Almost anything seems fantastic when accompanied by their music. As befitting the new interpretation of the Escaflowne story, Kanno and Mizoguchi do not attempt to reprise the TV series tunes. The music of A Girl in Gaia is much darker and feral than the score used in the original. In fact, there are only a few nods given to the previous Escaflowne soundtracks. The infamous medieval chorus remains intact, though it is used far more sparingly and is more wild in tone. The much-loved song "Dance of Curse" is also adapted for the film, with an increased tempo, heavier beat, and shorter duration. The rest of the movie music is totally new. Only the most critical elements of the original score are reused in the film. The result is a soundtrack that can be loved by both the neophyte and the Escaflowne purist.
A Girl in Gaia's most incredible victory, however, lies not in its technical achievement but in its humanity. Hitomi is one of the few clinically depressed characters to have a major role in anime. And she's not just any character — she's the heroine! The constant sleepiness, the apathy, the mood swings, the self-hatred — all of the aspects of a true medical depression are portrayed with brutal frankness. Hitomi's condition is not glorified, but neither is it mocked. As befits this honest treatment, A Girl in Gaia avoids the temptation to make Hitomi "better" by the end of the film. When the credits role, Hitomi is still the same person that she was before. The only difference is that she has learned to hope.
Despite all of its recommendations, the movie is not without its weaknesses. Its primary failing is the lack of characterization given to the lesser figures in the film. Allen, Millerna, Merle, Folken, Jajuka, Dilandau — all are reduced to foils of Hitomi and Van. While this is understandable, due to the short length of the movie, it is nonetheless disappointing to fans of these characters. Each is a one-trick wonder, eliciting emotions in the viewer but never truly achieving depth. It is slightly unfair to criticize the film for this flaw, as the movie's clear purpose is to track the development of Hitomi and Van, but nothing is harder to ignore than bitter, alienated otaku. Surely the studio could have taken more care to appease the masses. Merle-lovers will find little here to feed their appetite — the adoring legions of Dryden, even less so. Some characters, such as Ruhm and the cat twins, appear only in the most minor of cameo roles. Van's mother wins the dubious award of having the briefest screen time — she appears in only one split-second shot. A sad fate for the beautiful and tragic Varie!
In the film's defense, it must be noted that repeated viewing does reveal subtle depths to many of the minor characters. By way of example, on the first go-round Allen comes off as little more than an irritatingly calm bad-ass. A very entertaining bad-ass, to be sure, but still a one dimensional character. Re-watching, however, makes it clear that Allen is the only character in the film to completely trust that Hitomi is the Tsubasa no Kami. Even Millerna, who develops a close bond with Hitomi as the film progresses, never truly accepts that she is the Wing Goddess. Yet Allen wholly believes in Hitomi — even if it is in his cool, detached way. In the end he is rewarded with the sight the Tsubasa no Kami's power, and he gazes up adoringly — for the first and only time in the film, reacting to something with more than a smirk. Is it a true fleshing out of the character? No. But neither is it the black hole of characterization one originally thought.
The other major flaw in A Girl in Gaia — if one can truly call it a flaw — is its simplicity of plot. The Escaflowne TV series made such a impression because its plot was so intricate, weaving an elaborate web of lives, loves, and battles. The movie, clocking in at only an hour and a half, must by necessity leave out a great deal of that complexity. The plot it covers is masterfully handled, but it is not as broad. Personally, Webmistress Lizzard finds this refreshing. The goals of the film are clear, and the focus on one plotline — namely, the charting of the relationship between Van and Hitomi and its impact on the war on Gaia — allows it to be developed with more depth than would have been otherwise possible. But many will complain that by leaving out the secondary storylines, A Girl in Gaia loses much of what made Escaflowne lovable.
The problem with this kvetch is that it's simply not realistic to compare the film to the television series. The movie was never intended to be a continuation of the original. That fact must never be forgotten. Complaining that the movie isn't the same as the TV series is like complaining that the new shirts for sale at the store aren't identical to all the old shirts in your closet. If you don't like the violence, if you don't like the new character designs, if you don't like the plot of the movie, that's fine. But if the only reason you don't like them is that they aren't the same as they were before, you need to open your mind a bit. Flexibility is a beautiful thing. If you had expected all anime to be the same as the very first series you viewed, would you have ever come to love Escaflowne in the first place?
A Girl in Gaia succeeds at what it set out to do. It's accepting "what it set out to do" that causes some fans trouble. If you can just let your prejudices go — or if you're entirely new to the world of Escaflowne — you're in for a treat. Anime hasn't seen anything like this before, and probably won't see it again for years to come.
Taken from http://www.lizzard.net/Escaflowne/revie
I have to say that I agree with the review on most counts. If you take the movie from an objective standpoint, you can see it not as a sequel to the television series, but as an independent project. It doesn't devalue the experience when you see it from this perspective, although I have to admit that I wanted more from the film. I think I was more or less expecting a shortened replay of what happened in the series. Instead, I was rewarded with a completely unique look into the world of Gaea.
What I most agree with is this: Its primary failing is the lack of characterization given to the lesser figures in the film. Allen, Millerna, Merle, Folken, Jajuka, Dilandau — all are reduced to foils of Hitomi and Van. It's true -- characters that were so well developed in the series are left to surface studies in the film and I was quite disappointed by this. Moreso in Dilandau's case than anyone else's. He was so complex and beautiful in the series, but was left to be simply an incoherent madman in the film. The film was limited in time and thusly in development, but I wish they'd found a way to portray him fairly. (Also, semi-spoiler: Why was he so insane through the duration of the film, and then completely normal at the end??)
What made the whole film turn around for me was the deciding battle between Van (in the legendary Escaflowne) against Dilandau. I'm not a big mecha fan, but the Guymelefs are so cool and the connection between the mecha and their pilots is amazing. The emotional battle that took place for Van (and Hitomi) is what brought me back into the movie. And from there, things just kept looking up.
The music in the film is, of course, absolutely beautiful. My favourite part, to be honest. Yoko Kanno and Sakamoto Maaya are musical geniuses. Kanno has done music for the likes of Sharon Apple in Macross Plus and Sakamoto has lent her voice in both seiyuu and songstress form for so many anime. Her solo career hasn't been too shabby either. The theme "Sora" is so gorgeous.
In all, once I stepped back and looked at the bigger picture, I enjoyed the film quite a lot and would recommend it to anyone who likes Escaflowne but can keep an open mind.
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