Part 1 of Dee, Caitlin, and Vrai’s 4-part newbie-friendly rewatch of the quintessential ‘90s anime: Shoji Kawamori’s mecha isekai, Escaflowne! Join them for some production history, why Hitomi is great, and why the shounen manga version was super not. Oh, and no need for newcomers to worry about spoilers—none of us can remember a damn thing about the plot, either.
Recorded: Saturday 10th November 2018
Hosts: Dee, Caitlin, Vrai
0:01:01 Format and production notes
0:11:35 Histories with the series
0:31:59 Van, toxic masculinity, and survivor’s guilt
0:38:38 Allen, chivalry, and sexism
0:47:03 License and dubs
0:55:35 Final thoughts
VRAI: Hello, listeners, and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. My name is Vrai. I’m an editor and contributor at Anime Feminist. You can find me on Twitter, @writervrai. If you check my pinned thread, it has all the nifty places I have freelanced. Or you can hear my other podcast that I cohost, @trashpod. And I have Caitlin and Dee with me today.
CAITLIN: Hi. I’m Caitlin. I am a writer and editor for Anime Feminist, and I do various other stuff on the internet that for some reason I just don’t feel like listing today.
VRAI: Sometimes it’s like that.
DEE: Short and simple. And I’m Dee, the managing editor at AniFem. I also run the anime blog, The Josei Next Door, and you can find me on Twitter, @joseinextdoor.
VRAI: And we are beginning a new watchalong for the 1996 series, The Vision of Escaflowne. This is a little bit different from our usual watchalong in that, while normally we try to have two people who aren’t familiar with the show at all, all three of us have seen this series before.
These will still be spoiler-free—a spoiler-free discussion—so we’re only gonna talk about what we’ve seen up to. But we’re kind of tentatively talking about them as a “newbie guide.” We know it, but we want to experience it with you, the listeners, who might be getting into it for the first time. Does that sound right to you guys?
DEE: Yeah, yeah. We’re sort of, you know, helping folks ease into it and discuss it using the extra knowledge we have, but without necessarily spoiling anything. So we might be able to point out things you wouldn’t necessarily notice your first time through, kind of stuff.
We technically did this with Fushigi Yugi, but we didn’t really have a set format for watchalongs back then, so we just called it a “watchalong.” But now we’re sort of thinking of these as newbie guides.
CAITLIN: Mostly, the three of us just want to get together and talk about a series that we really love.
VRAI: We had a lot of fun doing Fushigi Yugi, and we missed it, and we wanted to do it again. With another ‘90s isekai. So, here we are.
So before we get a little bit into our backgrounds with the show, let’s do some production background. As I said, Escaflowne ran for 26 episodes in 1996. It was originally based on a concept drawn up by Shouji Kawamori, who was the creator of Macross, with Yasahiro Imagawa slated to be the director. He was the head writer for the ‘90s Berserk series.
It was originally supposed to be a very shounen-leaning series, and they batted around the concept for a long time, but eventually the series was shelved.
CAITLIN: Just to give a hint of what it was going to be like, Imagawa left to do Gundam, which is way more along the lines of what they were thinking.
VRAI: And so, eventually, it was shelved, and there’s a little bit of “they said-they said” with this. The Wikipedia credits an article from Animerica from 2000 that unfortunately was never digitized that is definitely right on some details, but also states that it was originally planned as a 39-episode series and got knocked down to 26. But when they did the Escaflowne redub, they had a Q&A on the Kickstarter that was like, “No, no. It was always planned to be 26.” So, I’m not entirely sure what’s going on there.
But, facts we do know is that eventually Kazuki Akane was brought in to be the new director. He was responsible for adding in a lot of the shoujo elements of the series. Van and Allen were retooled to have more of a bishounen look, and the tarot cards and divining elements were really beefed up. And so that’s kind of how we got to the series that we have now, which is a little bit of a hybrid between shounen and shoujo aesthetics, which we’re definitely gonna talk about today.
There was also… It was the premiere—well, not the very first, but the breakout role for Maaya Satamoto, a really huge voice actor who, recently, you might remember from the watchalong of Ouran High School Host Club, because she played Haruhi.
DEE: She’s great.
CAITLIN: She’s one of my favorites.
DEE: I love her.
VRAI: Same here. You might also know her as Mari in the Rebuild of Evangelion films, or Aerith in Final Fantasy: Advent Children, and just a bunch of other… Crona in Soul Eater. She has done so much stuff.
DEE: She’s one of my favorites. A lot of my favorites are in this! This one has an all-star Japanese cast.
CAITLIN: It really does. It really… The cast is just absolutely amazing.
VRAI: Yeah. Production-side, too. The mechs for this were designed by Mahiro Maeda, who also did some of the angel designs for Evangelion, and went on to be the series director of Gankutsuou, which is one of my favorite anime of all time.
VRAI: Yeah. Which is very cool. And it also had a fairly notable soundtrack, by Yoko Kanno, who before this, had just done Please Save My Earth.
CAITLIN: This was a relatively early one in her career, too.
CAITLIN: Yeah, back when she was still working with her then-husband.
VRAI: Mostly, you’ll probably know her name from Watanabe series, like Cowboy Bebop or from Wolf’s Rain, which also has a really stellar soundtrack, and Kids on the Slope. All that stuff.
DEE: She’s very good.
VRAI: She’s very good, is what I’m saying.
So, yeah… This, despite being a kind of rocky and unusual production, it ended up with some really talented people behind it. Did we want to talk about the manga now or later?
DEE: I mean, give folks a… You don’t have to go into the details. Just kind of address the fact that they exist. There’s more than one, right?
CAITLIN: Yeah. So, there’s two manga. One is a shounen that was sort of made out of the production. When they thought that the series was not going to get made, they basically handed off the production notes to the mangaka, Oh! great, who made a shounen manga out of it, and that’s sort of a very interesting glimpse into what Escaflowne was supposed to be originally. And then, I believe, after the anime was made, they made a shoujo manga version of it, which I have not read. But I’ve read the shounen one.
VRAI: [flatly] It blows.
VRAI: But, yeah. The shounen manga is the one that was brought over by Tokyopop. Hello again, Tokyopop. Actually, it’s interesting because it started running six months before the anime did. There’s kind of… There’s a real short little interview in the back of the last volume with Katsu Aki, who is the credited mangaka.
CAITLIN: Oh, it was Katsu Aki, not Oh! great. Nevermind.
VRAI: Yeah, and you can see some of the original concepts, like Hitomi is originally kind of a ditz, but then they talk a little bit about deliberately differentiating themselves from the anime once the anime did start running, but at the same time, they also seemed a little bit beholden to the anime, because—
CAITLIN: There were a couple of things in the later manga that were like, “Really?”
VRAI: Yeah. And Aki talks about Hitomi starting out with glasses because that was her original design, and then they just kinda vanish halfway through the manga, which was apparently because Hitomi’s anime design got rid of them. And it’s very baffling.
VRAI: It’s not a good manga. At all.
CAITLIN: It was also written by my friend and once-special-guest Lianne Sentar—did I say “written” or “translated?”
DEE: You said “written.” You meant “translated.”
CAITLIN: Translated, yes. I was… The translation was written by… I was like, “Yeah, you gave Van a really filthy mouth,” when I was talking to her about it. She was like, “Well, have you ever talked to me?”
VRAI: Yeah, I was wondering about that. ‘Cause we talked on our manga roundup podcast about how Tokyopop had a “loose” approach to translation scripts, shall we say. So, I wondered how much of him being just a rude asshole was a different take in the manga characterization and how much was Tokyopop being Tokyopop.
CAITLIN: No, I mean, I think the rudeness was him, but you know how… Being rude in Japanese and being rude in English, swearing in Japanese and swearing in English, they don’t really work the same way. Right?
DEE: Yeah. Yeah they don’t.
CAITLIN: So, her choice, as a young, newbie translator, was to just make him swear and swear and swear and swear constantly.
VRAI: It does leave an impression. For sure.
DEE: Potty-Mouth Van. I’m trying to imagine.
VRAI: It’s… It’s not… He’s just horrible to Hitomi, is manga Van.
CAITLIN: He’s… He’s awful. Manga Van is awful.
DEE: And I think you see a glimpse of that in the very, very first episode of the anime—the first couple episodes of the anime—he’s a little bit of an ass. And Hitomi yells at him. And then he pretty much immediately stops, [laughing] which is nice, right?
CAITLIN: Right, well—
DEE: And, in his defense, he is under a lot of stress. Being attacked by a dragon, and his kingdom gets destroyed. So…
CAITLIN: It’s like an angsty teenager sort of way.
DEE: Yeah. Well, he has a line in the first episode where he’s like, [in a macho voice] “I didn’t need to be saved by some girl,” or something like that. And Hitomi’s like, “Yo, dawg, fuck off.”
CAITLIN: Isn’t that when she slaps him?
DEE: And then things get… Yeah. Yeah, she slaps him.
CAITLIN: [laughs] Good.
DEE: It’s very good.
VRAI: Very good. Yeah. And also Manga Hitomi is naked a lot. Naked a lot with bathing and peeping scenes.
DEE: I am somehow unsurprised. That does not sound good at all.
CAITLIN: Yeah. I mean, listen, I can get into the manga a little bit later. I do wanna note, though, one thing that jumped out at me in the manga was—this is not a spoiler for the anime, ’cause we see it very early—the Escaflowne in the anime transforms into a dragon, and in the last volume of the manga, with absolutely no foreshadowing, completely out of nowhere, the Escaflowne transforms into a dragon.
VRAI: They talk a little bit here and there about Escaflowne’s true form and whatnot, but it’s very poorly used as a throughline, ’cause it gets mentioned early on and then dropped for a long time.
CAITLIN: I feel like they saw it happen in the anime, and they were like, “That looks cool.”
CAITLIN: “Let’s do that.”
DEE: Well, the fact that they just decided Hitomi magically didn’t need glasses anymore a few volumes in suggests that there was maybe not a lot of focus on consistency of story and character in the manga.
DEE: Well, we can kind of talk about the comparisons as we go, if you guys… ‘Cause I’ve not read it. I don’t know anything about it. So, I am interested to hear how it compares as we move through the series, for sure.
VRAI: Cool! Well, since we’ve all seen this before, I guess it might not be a bad idea to touch briefly on our histories with the series. You guys wanna go first?
CAITLIN: I don’t really have much of a history with this series, honestly. There’s nothing really remarkable or notable about what made me decide to watch it or who watched it. It just had positive word of mouth, and eventually, I bought the DVDs when they were on sale, and watched it. And it was good.
DEE: Were you a teenager, or a grown-ass adult when you saw this?
CAITLIN: College, or something.
DEE: Okay. So, grown-ish-ass adult. [laughs] ‘Cause college.
VRAI: A half-ass adult, if you will.
DEE: Yeah! There it is.
I was a teenager. I was 14, 15. This was during the two-year period after I discovered anime and I had access to a lot of it and a best friend who was also very into it. And pretty much every Friday night, we’d get together, we’d rent an entire series, and we’d binge it in 24 hours. That was me in middle school—I was wild and crazy. [laughs]
But, yeah, Escaflowne was one of those when we started looking for shows. It got mentioned a lot. So, I don’t know exactly when I watched it in relation to Slayers and Utena and Evangelion and Bebop and those big-name shows, but it was definitely in there.
I really liked it. And it ended up being a show that I would use as kind of a gateway anime for my girl friends in high school, because it’s action-focused but it’s also got some really good character interactions and development and stuff like that. So, a lot of the time, I’d be like, “It’s very Anime. So if you like this, you’re gonna like anime.” And so I used it as a gateway for a few friends, and it worked! They’re still anime fans to this day, so I did something right.
CAITLIN: It really does have all of the ‘90s anime tropes.
DEE: And very little of the ‘90s anime bullshit.
DEE: Which I think also made it a nice starter show.
CAITLIN: It’s got giant robots. It’s got catgirls. It’s got pretty boys with wings. It’s got all those. It’s…
DEE: Knights errant and…
CAITLIN: Yeah. It’s all of the above.
DEE: And the sympathetic antagonists… Yeah, no, it’s quintessential. It, to me, also feels like if a ‘90s JRPG got turned into an anime, I think it would just be… I think Escaflowne is that. I think it fits that pattern of storytelling very strongly, especially in the sense of the plot doesn’t really make sense? But you can roll with it because you’re so invested in the characters’ stories.
Which is part of my weird history with it, is I have… So, I watched it in middle school, and then I watched part of it a couple of times in high school, and then my friends who I would get into it—who got so sucked in that they would watch the rest of it without me. They were like, “Couldn’t wait! Sorry.” And then I rewatched it two or three years ago with a couple of friends who had never seen it, and I was like, “I’ve been meaning to rewatch it. Let’s do it.”
But I genuinely couldn’t tell you what the plot of Escaflowne is, even having just watched it a couple years ago. There is some hole in my brain where the plot of Escaflowne should stay, memory-wise, and it just falls. It just drops through that pit, and disappears as soon as I watch the show.
CAITLIN: Same here!
DEE: But I can tell you all about the characters and how great they are, because they’re all very great and very memorable. Even the shitty ones are great and memorable, so…
So, yeah. I’m fond of it. It’s not a show that I’ve ever… It’s one of those where when I’m making Top 20 lists, it’s always right there on the edge and I can never decide if it’s quite there or not. I really like it, but I don’t know if I love it. But I’m excited to be watching it again, for sure.
CAITLIN: My understanding is that it was not a huge hit in Japan. It’s one of those series that’s considered more quintessential in Western fandom rather than in Japanese fandom. I know it was huge, huge, huge in the fansub days. When I was getting the Viz catalogs, they had the fancy clamshell cases with the very soft art rather than the clearly anime-cel sort of style video cases, ’cause this was VHS in a mail-order catalog way back in the day.
And I didn’t think it… I didn’t like the look of the artstyle on those cases, but it was definitely treated like something that was very special in the catalog and by the licensers. And so I don’t… But I don’t think it’s really popular in Japan. If you go to even nostalgia-based anime stores, you’re not going to see a lot of Escaflowne manga or merchandise, rather.
VRAI: Yeah, allegedly, it was specifically the adoration for it in Western fandom that got the movie made, and it just wasn’t a big deal in Japan at all. I think similar to Trigun. The same kind of dynamic. Just not that big a deal in Japanese fandom at all, despite being the cornerstone of ‘90s anime in the US.
But I mentioned on the Fushigi Yugi podcast that this is kind of my ‘90s isekai problematic fave. But my experience with it is not quite the same as your guys’ with that show, because I didn’t see it until I was right out of college and, like most bad decisions in life, I made it because I was in love with a straight girl.
CAITLIN: Those straight girls’ll get ya.
VRAI: I should say straight people in general… But, in any case…
Yeah, I had gone to her house like three hours away, and this was the first person… I had started going by “Vrai” not too long before, and this was sort of a transitional relationship that I had in that time, friendship-like, and I was very depressed and she had work that weekend even though I was there and so I watched the entirety of Escaflowne in 24 hours at her apartment by myself. [laughs] And that relationship fell apart not too long after, but the show always really stuck with me. Particularly because of a few things we aren’t gonna be able to talk about until the end of this watchalong.
But it was… I like to call it “the Les Miserables of anime” because, like you said, Dee, the plot makes no damn sense, but it is so emotionally earnest. It believes so strongly in its characters, it has minimal bullshit, and it just feels really passionately about all of these emotions of [emphatically] Love, and Truth, and Understanding, and… I don’t know. It just always really stuck with me, even though I’ve only watched it through the once. It left a very powerful effect on me.
DEE: Well, that’s fun. So, this’ll be your first proper rewatch of it now that you kinda know… It’s a show that I think rewards a rewatch because there are—and, again, we’re gonna be real careful not to spoil anything for folks—but it is a show that reveals things later on that, retroactively, affect how you see some of the characters and some of the activities early on.
VRAI: Mm-hm. Yeah. It’s been almost nine or ten years, so we’ll see how much I remember because, like you, I remember almost nothing about the actual plot details of Escaflowne. I forgot Merle was a character.
DEE: Aw, poor Merle. It’s okay. Everything’s made up and the plot points don’t matter.
VRAI: Mm-hm. Extremely. Which, I guess is… I think we’re going to have an issue with this early—with people who are coming in unawares, and just saying, “Welp, I guess I’ll watch this and hear what they have to say about it,” maybe hitting that moment of, “Why the hell are they talking about this?” ‘Cause the first six episodes do have hints of what’s going to come later that’s interesting, but it’s also… It looks very standard-fantasy on the surface.
DEE: I would agree with that. I think there are still hints in these early episodes that, again, it’s refreshingly free of a lot of the bullshit that comes with those fantasy tropes. I think one of the best examples is Hitomi is just right off the bat really great.
VRAI: Mm-hm. Hitomi is so great.
DEE: And she, I think… You can feel through her, especially, that the series is interested in exploring and even challenging some of those fantasy archetypes. Like the whole concept of chivalry—
DEE: —and the perfect knight and the perfect soldier. And we’ll get into that more with Van and Allen definitely as we go.
But Hitomi being there… There are moments, especially early on, where both Van and Allen have these moments where they’re like, “No, go sit in the corner while the menfolk fight each other.” And she’s like, “No. No, I’m not going to do that, thank you.” And I think just her very presence right off the bat shows you that the series is interested in playing with those kind of tropes.
So, even though it’s falling into some of those patterns, it’s still fun to watch early on. Even though there’s sometimes that sense of, “Oh, are you guys gonna do the thing?” You don’t ever necessarily feel like it’s locked into those roles.
VRAI: I will say that I basically sped through the manga for this first watchalong. I’d never read it before. But it was… ‘Cause I’ve always liked Hitomi, but I definitely gained a new and deeper respect for her character and characterization while rewatching these and reading the manga alongside it. Because she’s not a combatant character. She never fights. But—
CAITLIN: No, but she’s active.
VRAI: Yeah. She’s always doing something. And she is… Throughout these first six episodes, she’s basically always the one saving Van.
DEE: She saves Van’s ass a lot.
CAITLIN: Yeah. It’s great. Allen comes along and he basically… There’s one point where she’s upset about something, and he just strokes her hair. He’s like, “It’s okay. Don’t worry about it.” And I just wanted to jump through the screen and punch him in the face. Because what the fuck. Ugh, it’s so…
DEE: Allen is a condescending shit to Hitomi, especially in the early episodes where he… ‘Cause, I mean, he shows up, and there’s that moment where—there’s that brief scene where she’s afraid that she’s being assaulted. And she’s not. It’s Hans Moleman—is what I call him—is trying to steal from her, and [laughs] Allen stops him. And Hitomi immediately passes out. And that’s sort of their first interaction, is this very traditional, damsel-in-distress rescued by the knight.
Except, again, she wasn’t really being rescued. The moleman ends up being totally benign. But I think that immediately slots the… It’s like the… I dunno. It’s like the world of Gaia is trying to slot them into those roles, and so Allen kind of plays into that by being a condescending shit, and Hitomi is having none of it. And it’s great.
CAITLIN: Yeah. The part where he just leaves her behind and she’s like, “No. Fuck this. I’m going to jump.” And I love that… ‘Cause Hitomi is athletic.
DEE: Yeah. She’s a track athlete. And a good one, too.
CAITLIN: She’s not a fighter, but she has… She is physically fit and physically capable of doing shit like jumping six meters when Allen tries to leave her behind. She is totally capable, and never, like you said, never a damsel in distress. Never sitting around, waiting to be rescued. She gets rescued a couple of times, but she also does the rescuing.
DEE: Mm-hm. There’s a good balance.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Her abilities are absolutely instrumental to the plot so far.
VRAI: Yeah, and I do love that she loves running. Because it’s not too uncommon for a heroine to have one hobby that turns out to be really crucial to the plot, so it’s basically a plot point, and… She has things that she likes. And she’s really passionate about running and it helps round out her character some.
I will say that this show isn’t as talented as Fushigi Yugi at connecting her back to Earth. It really tries hard to convince us that she cares a lot about her friend and her crush. But it’s like, “Girl. Literally everything about this new place is better and more interesting.”
CAITLIN: Yeah, and she finds the CD and she listens, coincidentally, to a Japanese Carol King song. And she thinks about her friends. So, of course she loves her friends.
DEE: The song is sung by her voice actor. It’s Maaya Sakamoto.
CAITLIN: Is that Maaya Sakamoto?
DEE: Yeah. Maaya Sakamoto sings most of the insert songs. They’re all lovely. But yeah, that was her.
VRAI: [crosstalk] She was still in high school when she did this role!
Caitlin [crosstalk] Just the melody is very Carole King.
CAITLIN: Yeah, this contrasts with… Should we talk about how Manga Hitomi is different?
VRAI: Yeah. Yeah.
CAITLIN: Yeah, so Manga Hitomi is a literal object.
DEE: Oh boy.
VRAI: She sure is.
CAITLIN: She is the… What’s the name of the thing that powers the Escaflowne?
VRAI: She’s an Energist. So, she’s the battery that powers Escaflowne.
DEE: Oh no.
CAITLIN: She is the Energist. And when she is being the energist, instead of having glasses, her boobs get bigger, her hair turns blonde, and she makes O faces a lot.
DEE: This sounds terrible.
CAITLIN: It’s so bad!
VRAI: And, again, a lot of purifying ritual baths with sexy bathing where she has to connect to the Energist that powers Escaflowne and, coincidentally, a lot of people see her naked, or she gets turned to crystal, which rips off all of her clothes because of course it does. And just prominently-drawn areolas.
VRAI: And, yeah, at one point she gets literally turned into a big old crystal and captured, so she’s a literal object.
CAITLIN: That’s her only contribution to the plot. ‘Cause she doesn’t have the intelligence to do anything else. Manga Hitomi is an idiot.
VRAI: Yeah. It is kind of interesting, because technically Manga Hitomi is a more active combatant because she gets them out of trouble now and then by communicating with the robot, but it’s so based around her being a prized object that everybody is constantly trying to steal, or her passively feeling emotions that then other people do something about; instead of, you know, her having those visions and trying to warn people like in the anime, that it… Despite her being in a combat role, it feels a lot less… She feels a lot less capable, with less agency, than Anime Hitomi.
CAITLIN: Yeah, no, it’s… it’s bad.
CAITLIN: It’s bad.
VRAI: It’s really bad.
DEE: It’s always interesting to me when you see these kind of manga/anime projects happening simultaneously, and how different they can end up, even though they technically came from the same baseline. And this one sounds dramatic.
VRAI: Mm-hm. I also suspect that the—
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] It is.
VRAI: —the manga was… I think there are comparison points between Escaflowne and Fushigi Yugi even though they’re different shows. They’re the two biggest “isekai with female leads” series, but the manga feels like it ripped off the end of Fushigi Yugi Part One really hard. The bad guy literally wants to go to Earth and take it over because he doesn’t like his planet anymore.
DEE: Sure, no, that tracks.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I honestly don’t remember the plot of the Escaflowne manga very much. Just that it was bad and that the characters were bad and Van cursed and Hitomi was an object.
DEE: I love that [cracking up] we can’t remember the plot of any of the Escaflowne adaptations. See, this’ll be fun. We’ll also be discovering what’s going on with the newcomers. And then as soon as I watch it, I will immediately forget it again.
DEE: Because that’s how this show goes. I am way too busy being into the cast to care about whatever’s going on with the international conflict.
I will say I groaned a little bit when I remembered Merle existed. But even by the end of this six episodes, she’s kind of worked her way around to “endearing.” Which is much faster than this type of character usually does.
CAITLIN: Yeah. I like Merle.
DEE: Yeah, I like Merle, too. I think… First of all, I think she’s a pretty good example of a catgirl who is a cat. In that, you know, she shows up and she’s got this one person she’s very attached to and everybody else is weird and she has to be suspicious of them for a while.
But then, again, within these first six episodes, she and Hitomi are basically friends. They kind of snap at each other a little bit, but it’s sort of good-natured. I think by episode six they’re giving each other crap back-and-forth.
I think she’s a good example of some of those… We talked about some of the standard tropes that the series plays with in the sense of “Aw, man, look at these Women Be Competin’.” Pretty quickly, you’re like, “Oh, no, I think they’re actually getting along, and they like each other. So… just kidding?”
VRAI: Thank God.
VRAI: Should we talk about Dilandau now?
CAITLIN: Should we talk about Dilandau now?
DEE: I mean… I think there’s some fun stuff happening in these early episodes with ideas about these traditional masculine-coded warrior ideals, especially with… and I think you see that with Van, especially, and then also Folken and Dilandau in their own ways. So, yeah we can definitely… I don’t see why we can’t talk about Dilandau a little bit.
Dilandau in these first six episodes is great because, basically, every scene in Zaibach is Dilandau going, “I’m gonna do the thing,” and somebody else going, “You shouldn’t do the thing,” and then Dilandau going [defiantly] “No! I’m gonna do the thing! You’re not my dad!”
And he does the thing.
DEE: And he ruins everything. [through laughter] And Folken is just in the corner like, “God dammit.” Every single episode. It’s like, “Why did you put this child…” Clearly. I think he’s, like, 15. “Why did you put a 15-year-old in charge of your military?” How has he not been locked up for insubordination? How?!
VRAI: [wheezing] Oh my God. It’s just…
DEE: Dilandau’s great.
VRAI: And special shoutout—
DEE: I love Dilandau. Like I said, I love… Even the bad characters. Quote-unquote “bad.” Are very good in this show.
VRAI: He’s my son. And he’s objectively terrible. And I adore him. He’s fun to watch every second.
CAITLIN: His army of young pretty boys.
DEE: Whose ships basically, when they fly, just are giant penises.
CAITLIN: [laughing] They’re just dicks!
DEE: They’re just giant dicks. No, the phallic symbols are strong with the Zaibach military. Which I think, again, is something that the show is maybe playing with a little bit, just under the surface.
Because I also think that you see that with Van a lot in these early episodes, where he’s got these very… He’s not really a warrior? He doesn’t really want to be one, but he’s kind of been forced into this role, and is very determined to play the part. And so you end up with a lot of sparring scenes where people are like, “You know you’re not coming at me seriously? You’re not acting like you actually want to hurt me, and that’s gonna make you dead when you’re up against a fight with somebody who actually does wanna hurt you.”
Then, on the other hand, he’s also got these really rigid ideas about “A true warrior never runs away. They always stay to fight.” And he basically tries to kill himself four times within this first six-episode stretch out of this misguided idea about what it means to have courage.
And I like that the series bats him down—I think, in some ways, gently but firmly—pretty much every time that happens. His teacher yells at him about it when Fanelia is attacked; and then Alan, I think, gives him some good advice, actually, when he’s acting as a mentor-figure for a few episodes there. He’s like, “Listen. Your job is to provide people with hope and live to fight. If you die here, the kingdom’s screwed, so you’ve got to be thinking past these rigid, selfish ideas,” almost.
I like the way the series plays with that. I think Hitomi’s there to yell at him sometimes, too, which is good.
CAITLIN: You think Van has an actual death wish?
VRAI: I definitely think he has some survivor’s guilt, at the very least. Yeah.
DEE: Yeah, I think he has this idea, and I think it’s kind of baked into his community. And I think this is part of what’s interesting about the conflict with Folken and the fact that he ends up turning against his nation is: to become the king, you have to murder a dragon and take its heart. And so I think baked into their world is this idea of this “warrior code” and how you find your value through violence. “Even if you die, you must die nobly,” kind of thing.
VRAI: Right. Folken is disgraced because he ran away and preserved his life rather than dying in battle.
CAITLIN: And Folken’s response is to go, “Fuck this. I’m gonna fuck this shit up.”
DEE: Yeah. So, then Van… But then, because of that, Van is kind of forced to step into this role as the next king, because he wasn’t supposed to be and now he suddenly is. And there’s… It certainly seems in these early episodes—again, things happen very quickly in this show. But I think there’s a decent amount of subtext about how the world works that gives you some meat to chew on.
There’s very much this sense in the early episodes that every scene in Fanelia, basically, with Van, is something to do with fighting or killing, and so you get the sense that being a warrior and being the king are very closely tied together. So I think Van being forced to step into that role that he really wasn’t prepared for and wasn’t suited for… I think that influences his character.
But, you know, [he] wants to do that for his country, because he does care about Fanelia. I think that’s where a lot of his central conflict comes from. ‘Cause then you get scenes where Hitomi and Merle are sick and Van’s doing a really good job of looking after them and comes up with the medicine they need and everything, and you’re like, “Aww! This is what you should be doing, huh, honey?” I like Van.
CAITLIN: Yeah. And he cares about his people. Fanelia is shown as one of those small kingdoms where everyone sort of knows the king. The king is out in the world, in the kingdom, among his people, and everyone knows him and everyone adores him, and he wants to do right by his kingdom.
So, he’s a very empathetically-driven character, but the demands towards him are for him to be violent, to be a king and to be a man. And I think those ideals are what led him to be like, “Oh, I don’t wanna be saved by a woman because that’s not what’s manly.” It would have been better for him to have died at that point, in his view.
And, like I said, maybe he a little bit wanted to die. Maybe he had already been thinking, “Well, I’m going to die for my country doing this, and I’m okay with that.” And then Hitomi comes in and is like, “Nope! You’re not getting killed today.”
DEE: Yeah. Again, that happens every single time. So it’s definitely… It feels like something the show is really trying to hammer home, because Van does that three times in this span of episodes, and every single time somebody else tells him to knock it off.
VRAI: That really sad conversation he has with Folken where we find out they’re brothers… He finds out his brother is alive, and he’s like, “Oh, I just told myself that you were dead and you died honorably.” Like he’s more disappointed that his only living relative is still alive because it means he ran away and preserved his own life. That’s just The Saddest.
Crucially, I think, Folken’s not really rejecting masculinity, either. He’s just this wounded, angry masculinity who’s still playing within the system. He’s just mad that he couldn’t do it, and he’s internalized this feeling of failure. “The system isn’t broken, I’m broken. So fuck everything.”
DEE: Um… I’m not 100% sure I agree with that all the way through. I do agree that there is that sense of being wounded and feeling, maybe, betrayed by his own country. But his… His kind of “ends justifies the means” goal… He’s got this idea that the system we had built that forced us into violence and conflict is bad. So, we need to get rid of it. We need to find a way to eradicate conflict. And his solution is, “Well, if Zaibach just takes over the entire world, then there will be no more fighting!”
CAITLIN: Remember, this is a Kawamori series. Kawamori did… He did the series composition, as well as the original concept. So, Kawamori at least partially has the reins here, and that has always been a very major concept with him, is the concept of conflict and how it can be destructive and how people can concentrate more on the conflict itself than healing the source of it.
Kawamori has a lot of big ideas, and whether they always come through is not a subject of debate, because Kawamori… They often do not come through.
VRAI: I have no idea how to pull us back on track, but we haven’t talked about Allen yet, and we need to.
DEE: [laughs] Allen.
CAITLIN: Oh, yeah, sorry. I’m totally in a tangential sort of mindspace today. The ADD is strong today.
DEE: It’s okay. No, but, so here’s… I guess here’s a place to pull us back in. We were talking about Folken and his “I’m going to defeat conflict with conflict.” So, Vrai, what I was… Circling us back. What I was kind of moving to… So I’m not sure I agree with you in the sense of “The system’s not broken; I’m broken.” I think he thinks the system is broken, but I think instead of trying to step outside of it, he’s trying to work within it.
VRAI: Yeah, I think that’s more what I meant. You’ve said it better.
DEE: And he’s perpetuating a lot of the… Again, when you look at his underlings, Dilandau’s whole team seems, you know, maybe like they’re leaning a little bit too hard into the “might makes right; let’s go murder everybody” mindset.
VRAI: He’s like a tiny, compact embodiment of masculine violence.
DEE: Extremely so.
VRAI: To the point where he has no other traits, almost. Starting out.
CAITLIN: The interview with the director that was on the Patreon was like, “Dilandau’s not terrifying because he’s unstable. He’s terrifying because he knows exactly what he wants, and he’s going to do it.”
VRAI: Right. He talked about enjoying the honesty of young characters who can just be very direct about what they want. Which, in his case, is just petty, wanton destruction. Also, it’s not a good trope, but I kind of miss the “Oh no, my face!”
DEE: “My beautiful face! Now I’m going to destroy you.” Yeah, that used to show up a lot more in action and fantasy series than it does nowadays, but… Yeah. He gets real, real mad about that wound.
VRAI: I feel like every week I can check in and ask, “Is Dilandau okay?” And the answer will always be “No.”
DEE: [cracking up] No. No, Dilandau is not okay.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Dilandau is never okay.
VRAI: [gently] He’s my son.
DEE: He’s good. Again, even though he’s bad, he’s good. Which I guess does kind of bring us to Allen, doesn’t it?
VRAI: Yes, let’s talk about your terrible son.
DEE: [laughs] He’s not really my son, because I don’t think he’s quite young enough to be. I have a weird, enduring fondness for Allen, even though I think he’s probably… [chuckles] He’s a bit of a trashbag. And we’ll—again, don’t wanna dig too deep into this because I think we run the risk of accidentally spoiling stuff for people—but we talked earlier about how he’s kind of a condescending shit towards Hitomi.
I think the show does a fun thing with Allen, where Hitomi— He shows up and he rescues her, and he’s got this… He’s obviously very pretty, and he’s voiced by Miki Shinichiro, who… Mmm. That voice.
DEE: But. Anyway! And so, there’s this sense that you’re supposed to see him as this princely, knightly figure. But pretty much right from the beginning, any time you’re hanging out with his crew, who do like him, but they… Anytime he starts going into Romantic Hero Mode, they all just give him shit about it. They’re like, “Oh, there goes Allen again! Man! Poor girl!” And you’re like, “Huh. Should we be concerned?”
DEE: And I like that—I don’t think the series ever—I think that it’s easy to fall into that same sort of trap that Hitomi does with him, but I think if you’re paying attention, the series never really does. The series is like, “No, he’s a womanizer. You can see it happening. He has a reputation.”
VRAI: Yeah, I… Millerne is one of my other favorite characters in the series, and I’m really looking forward to the show digging into that whole thing. Because I don’t virulently hate Allen, aside of, you know, obviously he’s a bag of trash, but I do think he is like a spark for other people to be interesting around him. If that makes sense.
DEE: I think that’s fair. I think Allen is kind of interesting. I think Allen is interesting insomuch as the way they use him to, again, to explore a lot of these traditional fantasy tropes.
And I think you can see how he got to be the way he is based on the somewhat stereotypical backstory they gave him about he had a younger sister and a mom and they died and his dad’s been gone forever. And it’s like, “Okay. Yeah, I can see why you would think Hitomi is a fragile waif, because you’ve come to equate femininity with fragility.”
I also… The thing I like about Allen is he’s… [amused] He is a bag of trash, as we continue to say, in very specific contexts. I think he’s an interestingly nuanced character, in that you also have… I think he is a valuable role model for Van—[correcting self] not “role model”—mentor-figure for Van in these early episodes. I think he tells him some stuff Van needs to hear that helps him going forward.
And I also think that, you know, his code of chivalry, while… We’ll get into his flirtations later, now that we’ve got both Millerne and Hitomi, who are pretty obviously crushing on him. But he’s also very adamant about protecting Van even when the king of Asturia is like, “Nah, we gonna give him up. It’s more practical this way.”
So, I appreciate that he has this streak of loyalty. He has some worthwhile ideas, I think, about how one best serves others in the role of a knight or a soldier that he passes on to Van. And he’s also a bag of trash when it comes to women! [laughs]
DEE: But also: Miki Shinichiro with an owl. Soooo… I like him. [laughs]
VRAI: [verbal shrug] Fair enough. By the way, Allen’s almost a non-entity in the manga. Millerne is a completely different character.
DEE: So not a whole lot of comparisons to make there, huh?
VRAI: No. Allen’s almost… Yeah, he’s there early on, but then he just kind of vanishes in one of the million dropped threads and it’s not good. Millerne tries to stab Van at one point, but can’t do it because something something her dad has been poisoned, so… It’s not very… But she’s just so sad and weak and she holds Allen back by asking him to stay with her, and I’m already asleep. I’m already asleep and bored.
CAITLIN: Yeah, Millerne’s… Manga Millerne is very standard what you thought maybe the show was going to do with her and then didn’t, ’cause she’s actually awesome.
DEE: Yeah. The… One of my favorite moments in these first six episodes is they’re all getting ready to go to the bazaar, and Millerne’s like, “Oh, Allen was supposed to come with us,” but she doesn’t do that thing that a lot of girls with crushes would do where she just says, “Oh, nevermind,” and just pines and mopes. She’s like, “Oh well! Let’s go to the bazaar without him. He’s not gonna stop us from having fun.” And I’m like, “Yeah! You have other shit going on in your life.”
And we see that immediately with her, which I like… Again, it toys with a lot of those crappy tropes without actually falling into them, and it’s interesting to watch it play out. And it makes the show enjoyable and very easy to binge.
VRAI: It’s a very… Again, we both watched it in 24 hours and we were young, but it is extremely consumable.
DEE: Almost every episode ends on a cliffhanger, so I could see us coming into these every week being like, “Welp! Well, I guess we’ll find out what happens next week.” kind of thing. So.
VRAI: We definitely had behind-the-scenes conversations about how to break the episodes up, of, “All right, which is the more talk-about-able cliffhanger to break these by?”
CAITLIN: [laughs] Yeah.
DEE: I guess this one wasn’t too bad. Van’s about to fight a bounty hunter. But it wasn’t like anybody was in mortal peril as of the closing credits. So.
VRAI: By the way, when we started doing prep for this, it was before the big announcement, or the big divorce. So, Escaflowne is still streaming, but it’s over on Funimation’s site now. So that’s a thing. If you were hoping to watch along with us. It’s not on Crunchyroll anymore.
CAITLIN: I sadly had to remove it from my queue in Crunchyroll.
DEE: Yeah, it got pulled off Crunchy. You can find it on… I dunno what the international situation is. I know in North America, it’s on Funimation now. They just put the subs back up as of the recording of this, which will go out in a few weeks anyway, so… You should be able to track it down there.
They have both the sub and the new dub, which is good, but cannot possibly compare. And this isn’t the new dub’s fault. Again, I think the new cast is doing a fine job. You just can’t compare. It’s an all-star Japanese cast. They’re so good.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I watched the new dub a couple years ago when I was working on my isekai anime panel, and Funimation only had… It wasn’t on Crunchyroll then. It wasn’t on Crunchyroll yet, but for some reason, they had a couple episodes of subs and then after that, it was all dub. And the dub… It is good. It’s well-done. It was a little bit weird to me listening to Aaron Bismuke play a post-adolescent boy, because last time I had heard him was in Fullmetal Alchemist, and it was strange for me.
VRAI: Thank God they redubbed it, though, because the old Escaflowne dub by Geneon is probably one of the most famous bad dubs.
DEE: Is it really?
DEE: I watched the dub the first time through ’cause all I had were VHSes. I liked it. The dub wasn’t so bad I couldn’t enjoy the show. But I’ve pretty much… I have reliably watched it Japanese every time since. And I thought this time, I was like, “Oh, I’ll watch the new dub. I’ll experience it in a new way.” [quietly] No. No. They’re fine, but, mm. No. It’s Seki and Maaya and Miki, and they’re all so good. And Jouji Nakata! It’s such a good cast.
CAITLIN: It is!
VRAI: The fucking Count is in this series! I can’t! Sorry, I…
DEE: [laughs] Yeah. It’s a lot of my very favorites playing the major roles, so it’s hard to compare.
CAITLIN: Early in their careers, too.
DEE: Oh, yeah. No, this is a very young Maaya Sakamoto. A very young Seki Tomokazu. A very young Miki Shinichiro. And all three of them would go on to be rockstars.
I’m not sure about Jouji Nakata. I think he was a little bit more…
CAITLIN: No, I think he was pretty established by then. He’s been around for a while.
DEE: Yeah, he’s a bit older than the other trio. He’s in his 60s. So, he was a more established actor at the time. But they cast these three main roles as reasonably up-and-coming… I think all three of them had had… This was Sakamoto’s first major role. Miki and Seki had had pretty decent roles at this point.
CAITLIN: I think Seki was… He was Domon in G Gundam, so he had played lead roles before, but he was still pretty new.
DEE: Oh, yeah. Well, they were both in Fushigi Yugi the year before they were in Escaflowne. So, yeah. These are… Oh, God, yeah. These are their first major roles, both of them. I’m looking at the cast list now. And then within the next year, Miki was cast as James/Kojiro in Pokemon, and the rest is history.
DEE: So cute.
VRAI: They’ve got Minami Takayama as Dilandau, too, who she… She did Nabiki in Ranma before this, so I’d call that her first major role, but then after this, she started voicing Conan of Detective Conan.
DEE: Oh, yeah! She’s excellent as Dilandau, by the way. Just every line just drips with the perfect blend of over-the-top, barely suppressed violence. She’s so good.
VRAI: It’s fucking awesome. Baby anime fans may know her has Envy in FMA: Brotherhood. She’s so good. God, I love every second. She pulls off everything.
CAITLIN: That baby series is like ten years ago, you know, Vrai.
VRAI: No, time occurs in the manner I perceive it.
DEE: Baby anime fans. [laughs]
CAITLIN: [laughs] I dunno if it was exactly ten years ago. What else was I thinking of? Oh, Merle is Pikachu.
DEE: Of course. That’s so good. Ikue Otani. That’s wonderful.
VRAI: Kind of a big deal!
DEE: Yeah, no. So, again. All-star cast. I know we went on, again, on a little bit of a tangent here talking about the voice cast, but it’s very important that people know how good it is. Because I… I think that’s part of what gives it so much of its charm, too, is how well everybody embodies these characters and brings them to life, and they’re all… Again, even the trashbags are really good characters, and I appreciate that about it. So.
VRAI: As we talk about it, it kind of reminds me… I’m not personally a fan of Gurren Lagann, but I think there are similar touchstones in that it’s a cast that really cared about what they were doing. The robots are well-designed. It has a very excellent voice cast. And a plot that’s kind of really stupid, but runs exclusively on feelings that it really impacts towards the audience well. I do think this is the better show, but…
DEE: [crosstalk] Well, Gurren Lagann has Anime Bullshit, and, again, Escaflowne is refreshingly pretty much void of it. I mean, there’s a little bit, but for the most part, it’s pretty void of it, which is awesome. So, it makes it an easy show to enjoy because of that. And I think in a lot of ways it holds up better than a lot of stuff in the mid-‘90s does.
VRAI: Mm-hm. Absolutely.
DEE: Because of the way it’s trying to engage with a lot of those ideas. And Hitomi’s great. I just keep coming back to: Hitomi’s great.
CAITLIN: I want to touch on the theme songs a little bit too. ‘Cause “Yakusoku wa Iranai” is probably considered one of the best anime theme songs of the ‘90s, if not all-time, and it was Maaya Sakamoto’s first theme song to go with her first major role.
DEE: Yeah, it’s an all-time great. For sure.
CAITLIN: And “Mystic Eyes” is hot ‘90s garbage.
VRAI: Oh my God. It’s so amazing.
CAITLIN: It’s so [unintelligible due to crosstalk and laughter] techno dancing.
DEE: [crosstalk] I love the ending theme.
CAITLIN: And the… Just the flashing lights and Hitomi making out with every male character.
CAITLIN: It shows her kissing everyone and then at the end it just shows Van looking at the sky and smiling. What just happened?
CAITLIN: [wobbly with confusion] What is going on here?! This song is so bad!
DEE: I… I like the ending theme for the same reasonI —the Fushigi Yugi ending theme is a better song, by far, but they both have this thing where they drop a pop ‘90s beat on you, and I just gotta dance!
VRAI: I also love this art style. It’s the most ‘90s in many ways, but my favorite is the fact that it has the “more wrinkles=more detailed” aesthetic, which always makes me laugh.
DEE: The art and animation holds up exceedingly well.
VRAI: Oh, it’s beautiful.
CAITLIN: Yeah, it does.
DEE: The fight sequences, the whole thing with the dragon in the first episode. I’m like, “This is really good-looking.” This was, what? ’96, did we say?
DEE: Yeah, no, it looks good. And it’s got a little bit more of a detailed art style to it. Which, again, given that it’s pretty high on action scenes, is impressive.
CAITLIN: I just love blu-ray high-definition cel animation. Sorry, you just can’t beat that for me. I’m not saying that cel animation is inherently better than digital animation, which is… I do have a personal preference, but whatever. But seeing… You can see the weight of the lines that the animators made, and it looks… The colors are so bright and it just looks incredible. And it… Yeah, it holds up super well.
Well, so we are getting to the end of the hour. This is usually the part in these where we’d be like, “Hey, what do you think is gonna happen next? What do you hope will happen next?” And I guess we can’t really have that conversation ’cause we kind of know what’ll happen next, even if our memories are a little fuzzy. Any other final thoughts, gang? In terms of…
VRAI: Uh, there’s gonna be no other time to talk about this ever, so I feel like I should say that Van’s mentor who dies immediately… His daughter shows up in the manga and she has metal nipples on her uniform.
DEE: Oh no!
CAITLIN: [groans] Why?
VRAI: And then she vanishes.
CAITLIN: [dryly] Thanks, shounen manga.
CAITLIN: Thanks, Katsu Aki.
DEE: I love that we’re gonna keep popping back into, “Meanwhile, in the bad manga, here’s what’s happening.”
VRAI: I wish they’d localize the shoujo. I don’t know if it’s good, but it probably would have been better than the shounen one.
DEE: There would have been less bullshit.
DEE: Of course I can’t guarantee that.
CAITLIN: Or at least a different kind of bullshit.
DEE: I was gonna say. It would have been a different kind of bullshit, for sure.
I feel like we were maybe a little directionless this week, but we’re also just getting started, so I think next week we’ll be able to zero-in on the characters and storylines a little bit better.
VRAI: Yeah, yeah.
DEE: Less production chatter.
VRAI: And next time we’ll be watching episodes seven through 13. This is 26 episodes. So, it’ll be six, seven, seven, six for anybody watching along at home. Which is, you know. We hope you do, because we all like this series. And we wanted to share it with you.
And I would say that wraps it up for us this time. Thank you so much for listening, AniFam. If you liked this, you can find more podcast episodes on our Soundcloud, or on our website, at animefeminist.com. If you really liked it, you can support us on patreon.com/animefeminist, where every little dollar counts. We really appreciate our patrons, and it helps us to do things like hopefully pay our contributors more in [the] future. That kind of thing.
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Until next time, AniFam. Take it easy.