First off, hard to believe the stupid losers at Saban and Fox would start here when it aired the butchered Escaflowne on Fox Kids. You’d think censorship and it treating you as stupid (what with all the forced flashbacks) is bad, but the worst part is what they did with the music. No they didn’t replace Yoko Kanno’s score; they kept it, but shifted it around so much that it no longer felt right in the very show it was made for. Even worse, they overused the most iconic BGM in the series, and made it legit tiresome to listen to. That’s like… a war crime, man.
Anyway, the second episode is not only a great episode but an excellent reward for those who decided to keep at the series after the normal, if vague, premiere. Now that Hitomi is out of the way when it comes to establishing characters, Van gets his turn. While rather brusque and dismissive towards Hitomi in the premiere, we now see how this member of royalty acts during his downtime; never mind what his kingdom thinks of him. Despite his uncertainty and reluctance to certain ideas of what it means to be a ruler, Van is well-loved by his kingdom. His subjects love him, his military advisors admire him, and his cat girl sidekick showers him with kitty kisses when he arrives in his home kingdom, Fanelia.
You only see Fanelia in its full glory once in this series outside of flashbacks, but boy does it leave an impression. It isn’t just the Japanese-inspired architecture or its location deep within a valley; it is also the uplifting music that plays when Van makes his return. Fanelia’s Prince has returned, and while it is a return of modest means, given he is picked up in the middle of nowhere by friendly wolf men, the heart is stirred by the way it executes it. It perfectly conveys how momentous the event is to Fanelia, from Van making a dramatic flourish declaring the completion of his rite of passage to the veneration of the kingdom’s samurai at the sight of their new king. It’s all kinds of magical in that aesthetic-y kind of way.
The other thing magical about this episode is how Van’s Dragon-slaying is momentous ONLY to Fanelia, with absolutely no inkling towards destiny, fate, and so forth. Van’s actions are the result of following through what is considered a normal thing for Fanelian royalty to do when ascending the throne. He and the rest of Fanelia don’t bat an eyelid over the idea he was transported to the Mystic Moon (the name for the Earth in Gaea), never mind that some inhabitant of it was accidentally brought along when he was teleported back. Hitomi’s arrival is considered neither a blessing nor an omen, just some weird and unfortunate occurrence. In a world populated by wolf men, catgirls, and giant knight robots, what other way is there to see Hitomi’s arrival without sounding forced? (i.e. “DUH! HOW DID A GURL FROM THE MOON TRAVEL TO OUR LAND OF FLOATING ROCKS AND GIANT ROBOTS!?!?!?!?!?!”)
Speaking of gurl, HItomi’s quite a trooper this episode. Her reaction runs the gamut of indifference, boredom, and bemusement. One would think she’d freak out over being transported to another world, yet she never does that. For a moment, it seems like a questionable writing choice given how Gaea is so sui generis from the life of Japanese teenager circa 1996. Yet, Hitomi has really no grounds to freak out, especially when Balgus promises her Fanelia will do everything in its power to find a way home for her. When one thinks about it, this is a minor setback for Hitomi, and all she needs to do is be patient and eventually she’ll get to go home. What happened to her isn’t destiny, just unfortunate circumstance…
…But the universe doesn’t work that way. Thankfully as a result we get a great introduction to our foes for the series. Everything about their reveal is awesome: The cloaking technology, the liquid metal claws, their effortless dispatching of veteran Fanelian soldiers, the lack of any reveal whether or not the pilots of those guymelefs are human, and that Jaws-like music track that plays after they tear down the gate to Fanelia. They even overshadow the introduction to Escaflowne, which despite its great design and combat ability, doesn’t compare to his versatile foes.
Then like lightning, Van’s victory against them is without celebration when he witnesses Fanelia burn to the ground. Then moments after his mentor, Balgus dramatically bites it. Bowed, bent, and broken, Van is only saved by some pillar of light generated by Hitomi’s fear and uncertainty. They disappear into it, and conclude an episode that would’ve been uneventful in an ideal world...
…Yet in this world, it just means the series is only getting started.
Dance of Curse – I may as well get this out of the way before I do anything else. You know the drill. Intense string work, bombastic horns, and an eager choir chanting the titular guymelef await you with one click. It’s a great leitmotif to Escaflowne, which, despite being on the side of the heroes is characterized by a chorus that raises the specter of terror rather than uplifting with hope. Even so, it does not evoke a sense of evil, only a sense of dread, as if a force of nature is coming your way. It is a far cry from another particular Sunrise franchise where such mecha are considered to be heroic icons for the most part.
Strangely though, this music track is not played TOO much in the series, with only three major instances if I remember correctly: Episode 2, Episode 4, and Episode 26. Probably for the best. The Fox Kids Escaflowne does everything in its power to over saturate their dub with the track, and thus dilute it. This is why good things are better when they’re a
diamond butt pony rarity.
Notes of Escaflowne:
- Don’t listen to the Ocean dub’s lies. Fanelia never even KNEW of Zaibach’s existence, so when somebody goes around saying “It’s a Zaibach attack!” Don’t listen!
- Whaaaat? You say Merle sounds annoying? You’re either dumb or listening to the English dub. While Jocelyn Loewen eventually nails better cute roles in her future (Komugi from Soul Eater and Millefeuille from Galaxy Angel in particular), she’s a bit grating as Merle. It gets even more so, when you hear Ikue Ohtani (Yes, Pikachu herself) as her.
- Before she utters her first lines, Merle is first seen a few seconds before hand heading towards the gate to greet Van. Always loved that little detail. Sure you already know from the intro she’ll be a primary character, but the show went out of its way to make her stand out from the rest even if it was in the background.