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A high-fantasy story involving Hitomi, a girl from Earth, who falls into the world of Gaea. Using her clairvoyant abilities she helps the last prince of the fallen kingdom Fanelia, Vaan, fight against the Zaibach Empire.
Hitomi Kanzaki is transported to an alternate Earth when a dragon appears on her school's running track. On Gaea, Earth is called the Mystic Moon, beast-men rub shoulders with knights in giant robots, and Earth girls are respected and feared for their sorcerous powers. Her companion, Van, is the disinherited prince of Fanelia and owner of the robot-armor Escaflowne, with which he resists the evil Zaibach Empire. Hitomi is witness to the uneasy alliance between Van and another nobleman, Asturia's roguish ladykiller Allen, but she is also the object of their competing affections. Tortured family ties writhe beneath the surface, with missing or disinherited siblings galore and revelations of dark or forgotten pasts. In only the first of several major plot twists, it is revealed that one of the leaders of the Zaibach armies is Folken, Van's disgraced brother. As war sweeps Gaea, Hitomi is revealed as the crucial key to victory, a role she is tempted to swap for a simple, carefree life back on Earth.
Deliberately designed to appeal to male and female viewers in equal measure, Escaflowne is genuine family entertainment, both in and out of the anime world, and arguably the best TV anime of the 1990s. Its ambiguous nature is reflected in two spin-off manga, Katsu-Aki's Vision of Escaflowne for the male readership of Comics A, and Yuzuru Yashiro's Messiah Knight for the female readership of Asuka Fantasy DX.
Five years in the planning, with something of a debt to Secret of Blue Water, it and Utena were the two highly romantic shows that flourished in the morbid vacuum left by Evangelion. In retaining its coherence throughout, and its earnest devotion to fantasy ideals instead of arch irony, posterity may well decide that Escaflowne is the best of them all. Reputedly passed over by Manga Entertainment for being "too childish," it starts off looking like a school romance or girls' sports anime before transforming into high fantasy adventure. As with Gunbuster, its first episode is a red herring, a school soap opera where Hitomi pines for her handsome senior Amano. In a steal from the stage version of Peter Pan and Wendy, the actors of Earth scenes also play doubles in the fantasy world-Shinichiro Miki provides the voice of both Amano and real prince charming Allen. One of the few shows to continually outdo itself, Escaflowne is a triumph-though the dub sadly missed the opportunity to differentiate between accents on the two worlds by making all the Gaeans British.
Though it was reduced in size from a planned 39-episode run partway through production, the only evidence is the absence of opening credits from the first episode in order to allow the crew time to cram in extra exposition. This was remedied in the Japanese video release, the retail version of which also restored deleted scenes to the first seven episodes. As the inevitable consequence of its popularity, it exists in bastardized versions, including the incoherent three-part Best Collection that unsuccessfully crams the entire story into just 180 minutes. The series was further bowdlerized for the American TV market, with Yoko Kanno's beautiful music torn out in favor of humdrum techno, and the first episode removed in a version that, with bitter irony, was taken off the air after 10 episodes because of "low ratings."
The movie version Escaflowne: A Girl in Gaea (2000) is a complete remake that redesigns the characters for the big screen and plays up the Asian feel of the series-the earlier TV version allowed elements of European fantasy to creep in.