Welcome everyone to another (late) post about The Vision of Escaflowne! Where last week was a great example of Escaflowne’smoment to moment storytelling, this week is one of the issues with that approach to narrative. What do I mean? Lets dive in and find out!
To start off, what do I mean by the weaknesses of this moment to moment approach? To put it simply: Escaflowne seems to be focusing on the episode to episode experience, on memorable highs, rather than fitting them into a coherent story. Take the transition between episode 20 into 21 for instance. Hitomi gives herself up to Zaibach for a cliffhanger ending only for that to be resolved almost immediately so that Escaflowne can jump to its next plot thread. It never follows these things through. Instead feeling like its written to jump from cliffhanger to cliffhanger. I want to be clear, Escaflowne is still a grand, fun show. I enjoy watching it. It’s just that because of this I don’t think its going to leave a lasting impression on me beyond “That was fun”.
Getting into the actual episodes lets start with episode 21, “Reaction of Fortune”. I’ve already talked about what I didn’t like in the episode. The way it handled the transition from last week to this week. But before we dive into what I did like I want to take a moment to talk about what I was looking for. What would have made it work for me. And I think its a very simple, but effective change: Let Hitomi be captured. Let her meet, and interact, with Folken in a one on one setting. They both clearly care about Van so let them bond over that, introducing doubts about Dornkirk into Folken’s head. And then when Van and Allen inevitably come to rescue her, let him be defeated. The ending can still go exactly how it did here, just with more character interaction in between.
I think this would add a lot to the story. And not just in Folken getting some alone time to meet and bond with our main cast! It also removes the need for the, admittedly awkward, re-inclusion of the wolf-men in Fanelia. Instead of needing some silly message carried by wolves Folken can just tell Van flat out to meet him in Fanelia as his fortress is going down. Cleaning up the whole “How do we get them to Fanelia” part of the story really easily. It would also allow Escaflowne to introduce Folken’s philosophy on peace a bit earlier through how he handles this direct assault on his fortress and the loss of the cat girls. Now, is such a barebones structure going to be perfect? No! There’s a lot of work that could be done to make this better. But the point is that it would be better.
Speaking of Eriya and Naria, they also suffer from this moment to moment story telling. Now I want to be clear, not everything done here is bad. In fact the concept of it, a heart to heart with Hitomi, is exactly what I wanted to happen for Folken. The main difference being that Folken is a way more interesting character. In the moment this is all fine! The realization of Naria and Eriya that they both care for Folken far more than any mission is a good one, as is the reversal of their luck when it comes into contact with Hitomi and Van. My issue question though is this: How does it serve the larger plot? What does letting Hitomi go, and all of the excuses and conveniences that are required to make that work, do for the story of Gaea at large? From what I’m seeing, not much.
This brings me to Folken who I simultaneously enjoy and wish was much more. All of the ideas around Folken are good. Escaflowne has that down. His whole thing about having the same end goal as Dornkirk but realizing they are pursuing it for different reasons, in different ways, is a good one. They have competing philosophies on “peace”. And the use of Naria and Eriya and their fates to represent that difference is good to. My problem though is that for all that Folken was introduced early as an Antagonist and character I can’t help but feel we haven’t been let inside his head much. Like with Eriya and Naria, he keeps his thoughts and feelings close to the chest. That’s a fine archetype but we need some way to see inside his head. As it is, I feel like I know and care more for Dilandau than Folken.
What I’m trying to say here is that Folken deserved more. His importance to the story, to Van and the world at large, warrants more screen time. It feels like Escaflowne is focusing in the wrong place. That rather than focusing on building Dornkirk up as this big villain and epic character it should have given all of that time to Folken. Make him the main antagonist, make his journey and eventual betrayal of Dornkirk, the main narrative of the story. This of course means that Dornkirk and his defeat becomes a given, almost an epilogue in a way. But that’s always the case in these kinds of stories isn’t it? The big bad guy is destined to lose and it’s only the fates of the side and leads left up in the air. I think Escaflowne should have embraced that. Maybe it still kind of can, a little bit.
Next up we have episode 22, “The Black Winged Angel”, our primary “Folken” episode. It’s meant to be the big confrontation between brothers! The climax of their relationship, a thing we’ve been building up towards since like… episode 2. And it just feels clumsy to me. I mentioned it before when talking about episode 20, how I think the core idea here is good. Folken wants true peace where as Dornkirk really just wants to rule with peace as a pretense. But I find how we got those ideals, as revealed through more of Folken’s backstory this episode, awkward. He fights a dragon, loses and is spared and that becomes the basis for his whole philosophy? He understands that dragons don’t actually want to hurt people and are only defending themselves based on that one interaction? It feels very surface level to me and I wish we got more.
This feeds into another concern I have with Escaflowne’s larger narrative: Where the fuck are the dragons. They are so important to the story! Their hearts fuel the Guymelefs, they protect Fanelia, an entire race of ancient people are named after them and were apparently dreamed into existence when the Atlantians created Gaea. And yet this is the first time we’ve seen one live and in action since the first episode. It feels like we should have interacted with them more before now. Had some encounters that hinted at and built up their true nature. It’s not that I don’t buy it, I do. I think Escaflowne had this in mind for awhile. I just don’t think that Escaflowne did a good job of presenting it.
Finally we have to talk about what is yet to come for Escaflowne. In case it wasn’t obvious, we’re gearing up for the final battle now. Folken has switched sides, a floating fortress has been destroyed, Zaibach is being sanctioned. Everything is in place! So why does it feel like we rushed into this? Just a few episodes ago we were on the run. You know what this reminds me of actually? Avatar: The Last Airbender and what happened with Zuko. Now maybe thats an unfair comparison, Avatar had 3 whole seasons for its story after all. And Zuko had the entire last season for his change of heart. But I think its a comparison that gets my point across rather well. Escaflowne wants to be a much larger story than it is. It clearly wants and needs more than 26 episodes. But it didn’t get them. And that’s concerning.
So yeah all in all where last week was a good representation of everything Escaflowne does well, this week felt like the opposite. It still had the moment to moment stuff of course. Dilandau’s return was nice, as was the destruction of the fortress and Folken turning on Dornkirk. But when you step back and look at these events in the context of a larger story they all start to fall a part. Did Folken really become OK with the destruction of his kingdom and everyone in it that easily? It took him this long under Dornkirks conquering ways to notice their differences? Naria took Hitomi all the way out of the city only to take her back… into the city to get to the docks? There are just so many of these it’s hard not to mention them.
The sad truth is that in its quest for some kind of sci-fi fantasy epic, Escaflowne has inadvertently opened itself up for comparison to other series that did take time and care when building out their narratives. Stuff like Twelve Kingdoms, Moribito etc. And these are not comparisons that Escaflowne wins. At least not right now. Hopefully it can tie things up in these last 4 episodes.
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