The Escaflowne movie (hereafter referred to as E:TM), in limited release around the country, has a gorgeous poster. Van Fanel is silhouetted against a beautiful blue background (you should be able to see it above.) That is the one positive thing I have to say about this release, so if that’s what you’re here for, you can go now. For the rest of you…DO NOT SEE THIS MOVIE. My sensibilities as an anime fan have never been so offended as by this bucket of rat crap trying to pass itself off as a film.

I love the Escaflowne TV series. In fact, my review of the first disc is so gushy it’s a little embarrassing (and I was wrong about the dub being good). Escaflowne is brilliantly paced, has characters with strong motivations and enough depth to be likeable even when they aren’t wholly admirable, merges 3D graphics with cel animation almost seamlessly, contains brilliant music by Yoko Kanno and Hajime Mizoguchi, and tells a complete story that ends in a satisfactory manner. On technical merits alone, the story and animation are about the most consistent of any ’90s series released so far in the U.S. E:TM is a daring move, in that it eliminates everything that made the TV series great and replaces it with crap.

Both tell the story of young Hitomi Kanzaki, a Japanese school girl who finds herself transplanted to another world where a great conflict between nations is taking place. In both, the young king Van Fanel must take care of Hitomi while learning to command his battle-armor robot suit thing, Escaflowne. That’s about as much story as can be gleaned from the film, which then veers so wildly into incoherence that a further recitation of the plot would be pointless. There is no plot – the movie is a random concatenation of occurrences and scenes that serve no purpose. They don’t move the story forward because the movie has no story.

One can’t even defend the film by saying it is trying to cram too much story into too little time. Were it throwing plot points at you at breakneck speed, requiring a nerd in the seat next to you to keep you up to speed, that would mean the film actually had content. But it does not. Taken in order, the first ninety-eight minutes of the TV series contained much more story, characterization and action than this whole film. E:TM has nothing in it.

In particular, it has no characters, and no one to care about. The TV series’ Hitomi is vivacious and fun. It would be inaccurate to say E:TM‘s Hitomi is a mopey teenager like the movie pretends, because she really doesn’t do anything but sit around. A number of characters are reprised from the TV series, and they do exactly nothing. Allen has a bit part of no importance, Millerna isn’t anything but some tired and poorly drawn t & a (an anime cliche that was refreshingly absent from the TV series), and Merl the cat-girl is irrelevant and poorly drawn. The cavalcade of TV series characters that do nothing just adds to the overall incoherence of the movie.

But E:TM is even worse than incoherent. It is ugly. The animated battle scenes (of which there are very few) are ridiculously bloody and very stilted. The one big robot battle scene simply looks terrible – it is less intense and interesting than the combat that takes place in the TV series’ opening animation. The direction is poor on a number of counts, but the worst is that you never get a feeling of real scope in this world. Escaflowne‘s sharply realized setting has been made generic and dull in E:TM.

Mediocrity reigns here, even (and I do hate to say this) in the music. Yoko Kanno and Hajime Mizoguchi work beautifully together, and a few tracks in this film are stunning – a very few. For the most part,
the music is recycled from the TV series (though underused at that) or so non-descript as to be wholly unnoteworthy, which is very much unlike previous scores by the composers. Even Merl’s song, which has distinct Yoko Kanno-isms of naive, childish melodies and weird electronic arrangements, wears thin, and is cloying and saccharine.

I’ll not mince words: I hate this movie. And I don’t hate it because it’s different from the TV series – if it had gone wholeheartedly in the more brutal direction it pretended to, it could have been something special. But it doesn’t, and it is nothing more than a bland rehash of good ideas poorly fleshed out and stupidly implemented. I took my brother to see it with me, expecting something at least passable, and afterwards I ended up apologizing to him. There’s no reason to go out of your way to see E:TM. It just plain sucks.

Footnote: The theater I saw it in carried the dubbed version, as I’m sure the rest of the prints in this country do. And yes, that too is poorly directed and acted. But the problems with the movie go so much deeper than the acting that I cannot believe they would be overcome by good subtitling and the surely decent Japanese cast. The film is just terrible.

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