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Scope Dogg’s Mecha Showcase: The Vision of Escaflowne

This is part of a series of reviews I plan on doing on various mecha franchises. The only rule is that I’m not touching the three franchises I think are the most well known (Gurren Lagann, Evangelion, Gundam) in an effort to spread the love towards some series that I feel fly somewhat under the radar for non-mecha fans. Any spoilers will only be very minor and will typically only concern the very beginning of the story.

Why you should watch it, in brief:

A masterful blend of romance, fantasy and battling robot action in an absorbing fantasy setting. Entrancing visuals and musical score.

The setting:

Hitomi is a normal high school girl, concerned with normal high-school-girl things. The only thing she does that could be considered out of the ordinary is her hobby of reading tarot cards for her fellow students. However, her life changes when suddenly a magical portal opens, depositing a dragon before her, pursued by a prince from another world. Following this remarkable event, she is whisked away to the world both prince and dragon are from; the fantastical world of Gaea, where the Earth hangs in the sky, known as the Mystic Moon to its inhabitants. The Prince’s name is Van, who is due to be crowned King of the Gaean kingdom of Fanelia. However, not all is well in Gaea. The kingdom of Zaibach, a nation with unusually advanced technology, has unnatural designs for Gaea masterminded by their Emperor Dornkirk, and their advanced Guymelefs, giant humanoid constructs armed with arcane weaponry and abilities, mean that little stands in their way of carrying them out - and Zaibach has set its sights on Fanelia next. Fanelia is a simple kingdom and has little that can stand in Zaibach’s way, save for one piece of Fanelia’s inheritance - a special Guymelef called Escaflowne, specially crafted by a race of master artisans. It has special significance in the eyes of Dornkirk, who fears that it may be the undoing of his grand design. Thus, Hitomi is thrust into a desperate struggle for the future of Gaea.

Why you should watch it, in full:

When you think of a typical mecha anime, the normal images brought to mind are technology, space ships and ray guns - in short, sci-fi. Likewise, you’re likely to expect a focus on action first and foremost - while there may be romantic subplots, those are just that: subplots, not the main focus. Of course, as you might guess, Escaflowne isn’t your typical anime. Instead of being sci-fi, Escaflowne is distinctly fantasy - instead of space marines and aliens, Escaflowne’s world is populated by kings, knights and dragons, and instead of futuristic sci-fi technology, its machines are powered by magic. It’s not the only fantasy mecha series out there - the most prominent other example is the classic series Aura Battler Dunbine - but it’s part of a very small club, and as such it stands apart from the pack. Meanwhile, mecha series are usually strictly shonen - action-focused first and foremost, with action hero protagonists, usually hot-blooded males. Escaflowne bucks that trend too - while there are several characters that vie for centre stage, the obvious frontrunner for the title of “protagonist” is Hitomi, who never boards a mecha and whose contribution in the story’s violence is usually hands-off. Instead, the chief conflicts that she has to contend with concern her own feelings as often as not, and these struggles are usually the chief focus of the story whenever they arise.

While the series is defined in part by how anachronistic it is thanks to these ideas, there is also another factor that makes it a distinctive and worthwhile series - quality. Escaflowne takes its odd concepts and executes them with such a superior level of quality on almost all fronts that it becomes an essential watch for anyone eager to explore the mecha genre. Even if you’re not a fan of mecha stories in general, Escaflowne is such a different and varied mix of ideas, each executed extremely well, that practically anyone is bound to find something that they’ll like in it, whether that’s stirring action, an engrossing fantasy setting, flowery romance or high drama. More details after the break.

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