The year is 2000; the time when the Y2K virus was meant to destroy all of civilized life as we know it in a blaze of computer cannibalization; this never came to pass.
I am a 13 year old girl, perpetually face-hugging my Gameboy like an alien. My father urges me to go out and chew pine needles in the outdoors, which I do, with Pokemon Blue as my companion.
I resist his outcries about ‘kids these days’, and continue with beating small slave monsters into submission so that I can use them for the fictional equivalent of dog fighting.
I’m a beast at Darkstalkers and solely use one of the decidedly crappiest characters: Morrigan Aensland. She distracts the tween boys as I kick the ever loving shit out of my opponents, even as they complain that she sucks.
Anime and Saturday Morning Cartoons fuel me. It’s X-Men Evolution, all day, every day. Darkstalkers and Sailor Moon greet me every morning before school, and give me something to look forward to when I wake up.
I make friends with a girl at my school who initially hates my guts. We realize we’re both into video games, anime, and comics, and hit it off like the destruction that should’ve been caused in Y2K’s wake.
It’s a shounen. I’ve been burned by shounen like some women have been burned by bad boyfriend choices for the entirety of their lives.
I’m jaded at 13 years of age.
Most forms of media I engage with at this time have dudes as the central focus of every story.
Ash Ketchum is the main character of Pokemon, Pokemon only lets me play as a boy, and Morrigan is somehow a shit-tier character. Monster Rancher? Dude main character. Digimon? Let’s not pretend Tai and Matt aren’t the main characters, people.
Yugioh? Dudes. Every single superhero show at the time, sans She-ra? Dudes. Yu Yu Hakusho, which is great, but? Dudes. DBZ? Raaaa, dudes.
Sailor Moon, Silent Hill 3, Parasite Eve, Inuyasha, and Slayers are the exception, not the norm.
At this point, at an age where I’m trying to figure out my identity, I have very little that I feel like is made with girls like me in mind.
Especially Shounen. So I ignore Escaflowne, until I get bored enough.
Sitting on my giant, e-z-boy couch with a flip-up ottoman, I scroll through the channels on the TV guide. I pick out something I recognize: Escaflowne. I don’t remember it being on Fox, or else the horrid English Intro would’ve been my first taste, and let me tell you, I wouldn’t have watched it.
It’s a television show, which I think is easier to handle than a movie because I’m a tween with a piss-poor attention span, so I take a stab at it.
What greets me when I tune-in is something very focused on a young woman who seems to have miraculous powers. This isn’t Cardcaptor Sakura, who is literally a baby, who I find entitled and whiny.
This is a teenager leaping over obstacles by the sheer force of her own willpower. She runs track, I play soccer. She looks average, I feel average.
What greets me when I tune-in is something that has epic fight scenes, music that grabs me, giant robots, fantasy-elements, and romance. It feels like a real story, with a real point, with characters I can actually relate to.
I see myself in the heroine; I feel like I belong.
What greets me is something that showed me exactly what I yearn to see in almost every form of media to this very day:
A show that men and women can enjoy, that doesn’t draw a line in the sand as to who gets to be the hero or not.
Something vivid, real, with visceral feelings, that explores the entire scope of human emotions, and grapples with topics of morality, psychology, fate and responsibility.
What greets me is The Vision Of Escaflowne:
There comes a time in every anime fan’s life where they place a benchmark on something. They declare a series the best of all time because it sparked a flame in their heart that they can’t quite articulate. Something that might not quite deserve such high praise speaks to them on a human, personal, intimate level.
This is their top pick, even if it’s not objectively a masterwork.
Escaflowne is the benchmark I measure every other anime against.
I only wish that I had higher-resolution screenshots and clips to show you just how immaculate this series is, in all shades of artistry.
Escaflowne might not be everyone’s top-pick, but my reason for placing it above all others has less to do with nostalgia than my intro would have you believe. The entire package that makes up the Escaflowne TV Show, and the Girl In Gaea Movie, sings to a deeper humanity than anything I’ve witnessed since. And I’ve witnessed a lot, let me tell you.
To make it brief, because I am gently holding you captive in a Guymelef’s (Mecha’s) quasi-organic grasp until you agree to watch the series and film, Escaflowne is a story about relationships.
Escaflowne is about love. About paternal love, platonic love, love between siblings, what love really is, and what love can do to change the world.
Even if it’s full of immaculate fight scenes and tons of graphic violence, it’s about love and relationships: full stop.
But you probably don’t want to hear that. Love is girly and has no teeth.
The striking brief you’d want me to tell you would have to do with the fantasy-setting, the magical elements, the mysticism, the dashing princes and gorgeous princesses.
You want the glory and the sprawling shounen setting, and it’s there in gorgeous gouache colors, but it’s merely the bones the flesh of this story sits on top of.
You’d want me to fill you in on how a normal looking, athletic young woman named Hitomi ended up on Gaea. Spirited away to another planet to fulfill a prophecy to help change fate’s master design.
That logically seems like the most interesting thing: how fantastical it is. I’m here to tell you that it isn’t what makes this show so special.
You’ll want to know why everyone seems to be in love with Hitomi, and I’ll want to instead tell you about how she launched over a deck after a short sprint, and leapt across a canyon. I’ll want to fawn over her performing a feat only capable by the bravest and most skilled of athletes.
I will not care to tell you about how she is a damsel in distress, as she is not.
I will only care to tell you about how she reframes love for every single prominent character on the show, and is not the object of it, but instead comes into herself as a young woman fully aware of what love truly is, and what it means to lose it forever.
You’ll want to focus on Van, thinking him the token Shounen protagonist, and I’ll tell you he is not the hero of this story. I’ll tell you that the hero of the story is our connection to other people, and that’s what saves the entire world, in the end.
And that rings true for us here in the real world, too, you know.
I’ll tell you that Van is a troubled young man who seeks power. The power to fight his enemies and destroy all in his path. The power to take vengeance, to enact his will upon the world, because of how much he’s been hurt. Because of who he’s lost, because of what he’s lost.
I will tell you that he’s complex, genuine, human, and fallible, while you might insist he’s ornery and one-dimensional.
I’ll insist his story of redemption, shying away from his basal impulses to rend the world asunder, in favor of embracing the complexity of human relationships and accepting love in its many forms, is riveting.
You might see another shounen protagonist, but I see a teenaged boy with the weight of the world on his shoulders, crying out for a healthy male role model.
I see loneliness. Real, raw loneliness. And the final acceptance that he is, no, he is not alone. Van had to realize that, and it took 26 episodes to do it.
You might be interested in the villain Dilandau, because he’s maniacal to a level I’ve only seen realized is possibly two other cases, on screen. I mean to say that his impeccably inconsistent sense of self is a masterwork of crazy.
But if you’re not paying attention, you’ll miss that he’s a mirror for Van. He’s a warning for Van. He’s a warning for what happens when you twist someone into something they should never become.
You’ll also miss that Dilandau’s own story is one of losing who you truly are by a cruel twist of fate, and how that can affect a person, to be wholly misplaced from themselves. This creates such instability that the only soothing thing to someone like this is to destroy everything around them.
They are in agony, and so everything else must suffer for their pain, even if they paint it like pleasure.
But you might only stay long enough to see him torch a city, not long enough to understand who he is, or who he used to be.
Which, if you get to that plot twist, will confuse you. And I will tell you to watch it again because you were not paying attention.
You’ll want to know about Folken, the other key villain turned anti-hero, turned true hero. I’ll tell you his story is a sad one, and you might think he’s just cryptic.
He’s Van’s older brother, an older brother he looked up to and thought abandoned him. An older brother that went on to have a bold dream to change the world for the better because he sympathized with creatures unlike himself (dragons, beastmen/women).
He didn’t want any more killing, not even of fearsome beasts.
And then he became someone that killed for that ideal.
He’s an older brother that went to the wrong side to achieve these dreams, and let himself be hated by his younger brother, because the goal of creating an idyllic world was just too important to him.
He died for that goal, in true Shakespearean fashion. But you might not stick around long enough to see it, because you’ll be annoyed by the romance and confusing plot.
I’ll tell you, if you tell me you bailed because of this, that you weren’t quick enough to catch what this is really all about.
You might pass on Allen, because his pretty-boy, white-knight swagger is what you’d expect of a fantasy anime. You’d be right to assume he’s “too good to be true” for the first part of this series, but you won’t expect what happens later, if you stay that long.
The amazing thing here is that he is called out on his hero-complex profusely during this series. You don’t expect that. You don’t expect the other characters to reframe what he thinks is love, but really is lust.
No, you expect Allen Gets The Girl, which is Hitomi.
Your image of him becomes disrupted. The hero-worship dies. You experience this as Hitomi experiences this. It’s an amazing thing.
Someone meant to be the shining example of knighthood, a champion of the people, a supporter of justice, a protector of women, becomes someone who subtly, subtly goes against everything he seems to stand for.
This is created via the villains; they enable this to happen by way of twisting fate. Allen isn’t to blame for some of this, but you can see where his thought processes and his deceits weren’t just concocted from thin air.
He is flawed, and it takes just pulling the strings a bit, to see Allen The Ideal unravel.
Allen is a normal, fallible human being. A normal human in anime is a rare thing to see, writing-wise.
But it’s real within him. A character from an anime that came out in the 90s, one that most people forget about, has humanity in spades.
You’d probably also want me to outline how the entire story revolves around changing the fate of Gaea, of the world, and making the environment the way people wish by dubious, reality-bending means.
I will tell you this is no different than any other story of war; real life or otherwise. This is no different than our time here, on Earth.
Our planet, here, that we’re existing on, right now.
That beyond all the magic, and beyond the mecha battles, in between the spaces of philosophy and moral grey areas, beyond the wings, the romance, and inside of the very fabric of Escaflowne is one solitary hope, one shining ask of every single person that ever existed:
“Love, accept love, accept others, and work towards a better world, together. Your connection to other people effects the shape of our reality. So you must love, and you must accept love, or the world will be made in the image of hate.”
Escaflowne has more characters than I’ve listed, each integral to the story, each a part of the tapestry of a narrative that moves at a break-neck pace. I can’t speak about them all, we’d be here all day, and I want you to instead go find a way to watch this for yourself. I urge you to take this in, coming into the show and movie with fresh eyes, even if I’m heralding it as the second coming.
Be receptive to what it’s giving you, and know that not everything is what it seems, and you’ll have to pay attention.
Escaflowne doesn’t wait for you to catch up, like I’m trying to now. It asks that you keep up with what it delivers, and take in what it provides.
It asks you to be smart, while also expecting you to understand what you see is narrative, literary structure, framed over gorgeously painted, matte cels and watercolor dreamworks.
This series, a scant 26 episodes, with one film, and comics that I could never imagine hold up to the luster, has something for everyone.
A story that feels welcoming to everyone, but is mature enough to respect its audience’s intelligence, is rare. It’s something that needs to be cherished, and protected.
Escaflowne doesn’t give you quite enough information sometimes, but that’s the beauty of it: it doesn’t assume you’re too stupid to grasp the concepts it throws at you.
It expects you to understand historical and scientific people of interest, the concept of fate, relational psychology, literary foils, subversion, trope-breaking, and various other things that me, at 13 years old, had never seen before, ever.
When I say that Escaflowne is the Best Anime Series Of All Time, I mean it.
It didn’t treat me like an idiot when I was young and often treated like an idiot for being young. It didn’t treat my expectations for a strong female lead, and strong female characters, as demanding. It didn’t make me feel stupid, it inspired me, and made me smarter.
Escaflowne asked the question: can shounen and shoujo ever merge, and if they can, what does this look like when done right?
Can a shounen actually do justice to each concept it tries to present, or is it just a derivative of what came before it?
Can an action-oriented, fantasy anime show carry extremely weighted concepts without dipping into lore-vomit?
Can there be an anime film that tackles mental health in a way that deftly explores the obliterating feeling depression drowns us under?
Can there really be something that shows ‘the power of love’ in a light that is hopeful, harrowing, and profound, and not just trite?
Is there something out there that moves both adults and children to tears, for the exact same reason, without the latter being able to explain this loss they’re feeling?
A loss they’ve never felt before, not truly? But they feel when they watch this, as I watched this, at 13, which is still the age of a child?
There is, and that series is called Escaflowne.
Escaflowne may not be everyone’s cup of tea. It might not reach you the way it has for me, and that’s okay. You might not get all these concepts when you watch the film or the series, but I promise you they’re there. You might find the romance overpowering, which is always valid.
You might even say this reminds you of other Isekai series. Escaflowne is one of the Grandmothers of Isekai, so if you’re a fan of the genre, I urge you to try to see where it came from.
I’m well aware my bias runs deep. It’s a personal, intimate, visceral one that extends to how I’ve shaped my understanding of narrative, prose, character development, and world-building.
If you do not like it, or think it hardly deserves the top spot, that’s valid.
But all I ask, if you made it through this extremely anemic review (compared to the show and film), is to give it a chance.
Even if you can’t see what I see, I want to give you something I love. I want to share it with you, in the way that Escaflowne begs people to give, share, and accept love.
A world without a shared vision of people caring about people is a sad world, indeed.
That’s all I ask: accept this gift, and if you have time, let me know how it made you feel.