Part 2 of Dee, Caitlin, and Vrai’s newbie-friendly rewatch of 90s mecha isekai, Escaflowne! The team debates whether Allen is a trashbag (and how much), the show’s views on romance and female friendship, and how the sub compares to the dub.
Recorded: Saturday 18th November 2018
Hosts: Dee, Caitlin, Vrai
0:00:59 Quick recap
0:02:03 Impressions (and dub/sub stuff)
0:17:55 Gendered characteristics
0:24:16 Women don’t be competin’
0:37:25 Positive thinking
0:39:16 Power is scary
0:43:01 Fantasy racism
0:51:27 Final thoughts
DEE: Hello, and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. 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. And today I am joined by fellow AniFem staffers, Vrai and Caitlin.
VRAI: Hey! I’m Vrai. I’m an editor and contributor at Anime Feminist. I’m a freelancer on the internet. So, if you go to my Twitter, @writervrai, and look at my pinned thread, you can find all the places I freelance and do stuff. Or you can find the other podcast I’m on, @trashpod.
CAITLIN: Hi. I’m Caitlin. I’m a writer and editor for Anime Feminist, as well as having my own blog I’ve been neglecting, I Have a Heroine Problem—“heroine” with an “e”. And [I’m] the anime expert for The Daily Dot.
DEE: And today we’ll be continuing our newbie guide/watchalong of Escaflowne, covering episodes seven through thirteen. Where, I mean, really nothing important happened. It was a pretty slow stretch…
DEE: Except that, um… Asturia’s king chased everyone out; Dilandau and Allen made a bunch of bad choices; Van killed a snake; Allen got stabbed; everyone went to Freid; they met Prince Chid; Prince Chid met his baby daddy, doesn’t know it; a doppelganger joined the cast and then died; Zaibach burned Freid into the ground; the Duke of Freid told his son to never, ever, ever let anyone ever unlock Atlantis’ sealed power, and then immediately changed his mind, and died—
DEE: They gave the sealing sword to Zaibach; and Van may have fused with his robot. So… I think that was everything.
DEE: [amused] Did I miss anything important?
VRAI: Everything happens so much.
CAITLIN: Everything happens so much.
DEE: [laughs] Exactly. Certainly not boring. Pretty easy to binge. Which also means we should have lots of stuff to talk about today, which is exciting. So, I guess, just to kick us off: how did folks enjoy this very busy stretch of episodes?
CAITLIN: It’s good. It’s very good. The characters. The character stuff is always very good and, you know, I… the plot… like we said last week, the plot always falls right out of our heads after we watch it. So, all the big plot twists in general were not total surprises, but, “Oh, right! Yeah, that was a thing, wasn’t it?”
VRAI: Mm-hm. Yeah, it’s very interesting to rewatch, because all the plot fell out of my head, except for two major… This is a series that loves twists, and there was one major twist that I remember that I know isn’t until the very end of show, and there’s one that I keep expecting to come along any day now. Like, “Is it this—? No, I guess it’s in the next crop of episodes. All right.”
I’m still having a good time. It has been interesting in that we mentioned, at the end of the last episode, that kind of right as we were prepping for the first episode of the watchalong right as Funimation was taking its toys and going home from Crunchyroll, so I went from watching the HD subs… the HD remaster on Crunchyroll, to not wanting to deal with Funimation’s whole thing, and pulling out my Geneon DVDs, which is not an HD remaster. And let me tell you, the visible difference is palpable.
VRAI: Yeah. Also, those DVDs are very old, because it’s one of those where if, say, you have to pick up the run of new episodes in the middle of a disc, and you click on a middle episode, it only plays that episode. It will not just start and play the rest of the disc from there. No, no.
DEE: So, you had yourself a great time?
VRAI: Oh, yeah.
DEE: With your DVDs. Is it just that the… Is the art just a little bit less polished-looking?
CAITLIN: Just kinda fuzzy?
VRAI: It’s a little fuzzy in places. There was some screen-tearing on my TV until I turned it off and back on and then it popped back into the smaller ratio. And, also, it just looks more washed-out, like when you watch a tape too many times and the image starts to degrade. The HD remaster looks a lot sharper.
CAITLIN: I wonder how many people listening to this podcast are going to really recognize that feeling of the tape starts to degrade.
VRAI: [cracking up] The tape… Excuse you, we’re very old.
DEE: [laughs] That’s a good point. You just dated us. Well done, Vrai.
CAITLIN: I mean, DVD hasn’t been around that long. I was in high school. Maybe they won’t remember it, but they might have experienced it.
DEE: Okay. Anyway, guys, we don’t have to have a crisis about this. It’s fine.
DEE: And, Caitlin, you said you wanted to say something about… ‘Cause you’ve been watching the dub. How’s that going? I’m still watching the sub, ’cause all-star cast, as I said last week. Can’t not watch it subbed.
CAITLIN: Well. ‘Cause the Funimation app is garbage.
VRAI: Mm-hm. Yes.
CAITLIN: Just hot garbage, and I can’t seem to get it to play with subtitles.
VRAI: You have to be subscribed to…
CAITLIN: I am subscribed!
VRAI: Oh, and it’s still— That’s fun.
CAITLIN: Yeah, it gives me the option, and then I select the option, and then it puts it in raw Japanese with no subtitles. And I’m like, “Hey, Funimation, can I please have some subtitles?” And they’re like, “What’s that? You just want the Japanese?” I’m like, [frustrated] “No. Give me subtitles.” And they’re like, “Okay. You understand Japanese, I guess.”
CAITLIN: “Perfectly fluently enough to watch a series without any subtitles. Here you go.” I’m like, “No!”
CAITLIN: So, I ended up having to switch to the dub. Which is fine. It’s a perfectly acceptable dub. Caitlin Glass is good. Aaron Dismuke is good. Everyone in it is good. Just, the Japanese cast is so amazing. And Folken’s voice is Vic Mignogna, and I’m sorry, but no!
VRAI: Excuse me?
CAITLIN: No! No!
VRAI: I assumed he’d be playing Allen because trashbag blonde. But, ew.
CAITLIN: No, he’s Folken, and it just… You know, he’s speaking in a lower register than he usually does, but it’s still… it doesn’t work for me. There’s no—
VRAI: Yeah, no, he can act when he feels like it. He was on the Tiger & Bunny dub and I didn’t even immediately recognize his very irritating, omnipresent voice.
CAITLIN: He was good in the Princess Tutu dub, too. Yeah, but he’s no—
DEE: We’re getting a little off-track, guys.
CAITLIN: He’s no Jouji Nakata. Is what I’m getting at. So, yeah.
DEE: That’s fair. I’m fortunate enough that the Funimation app is working for me. It’s finicky, but I am able to pipe it through my phone via Chromecast, so.
CAITLIN: Chromecast is another thing that hates subtitles for me.
VRAI: Oh no. Cursed.
DEE: I’m sorry. Yeah, I guess. But it’s kind of fun that we’re all having slightly different experiences with them. ‘Cause, Vrai, you’re also watching a different translation. ‘Cause Funimation re-translated.
VRAI: Oh, really? Interesting.
DEE: So… And, I mean, I’m sure they’ll be about the same, but it will be interesting as we’re talking about this if we come across any clashes there.
VRAI: Yeah, I actually did wonder about that, ’cause I didn’t… It had a different feel to it, if that makes sense.
VRAI: Yeah, so that is… Also, the DVDs come with these little extras they filmed around the… as just extras for the home release called “Club Escaflowne,” which is really cute. They all sat at a bar and Van’s voice actor put on a fake mustache and just asks them silly questions, and Jouji Nakata drew the little tear on his cheek.
DEE: [faux-angrily] “Van’s voice actor.” You mean Seki Tomokazu. That is A Name! Come on!
VRAI: [through laughter] I’m sorry! It’s early!
DEE: But that actually…Those sound amazing, and I’m sad I never owned that particular version of Escaflowne, because I would happily watch the voice cast in this mess around together.
But let’s go ahead and get into the meat of the conversation. It’s kind of… There’s so much happening and it all kind of interweaves that I wasn’t 100% sure how to structure this one. So, I thought maybe we’d kinda just go character-to-character and bounce around as needed.
So let’s check in, I guess, first, with our protagonist, Hitomi, in this stretch of episodes. So, how’s she doing this week, guys?
VRAI: She’s still good.
CAITLIN: Well, she’s having a rough time, but she’s very good.
VRAI: Yeah. It is interesting… ‘Cause, you know, she has her big crisis of faith, “rejecting the call” moment if we’re going—not that we should go by Joseph Campbell, he’s ancient and overbearing, but—she has to have that moment where she doubts what she’s doing and starts to take it seriously.
And I found it interesting that I had this moment where, if you take the whole “these are scary visions” thing and replace it with “I’m having really vivid hallucinations when I do this and it’s freaking me out,” somehow it made more sense to me as, “Yeah, this would be really overwhelming for a teenager.” A 15-year-old teenager.
CAITLIN: If she has the divination powers, and she’s… Before, she told fortunes for her friends, ordinary high school kids, then she’s not going to see much that’s upsetting. But when she is in a different world, in the middle of a war, she’s gonna see some pretty horrible stuff.
DEE: Yeah, and her powers are getting stronger. The lock-in she had with Zonji? —That’s his name, right? The… Zongi. Sorry, the doppelganger. The lock-in she has with him, she dies! For, like, a decent chunk of time. And pictures him dying, functionally, twice and cannot stop it.
So, yeah. I think Hitomi’s freakout here is completely understandable, and there’s never a moment with her… ‘Cause there’s some shows where sometimes they’ll do stuff like that and it almost just feels like they’re trying to inject drama, and one thing I really enjoy about Escaflowne, at least thus far, is despite the sheer amount of nonsense that’s happening… And I do have some quibbles with the Duke of Freid—
DEE: —because of the about-face in that final episode where he’s like, “You must always protect this,” and he’s like, “Actually, nevermind” within about five minutes of each other.
The main characters… I think the internal logic of who they are propels the story forward really well, and I think… So, the drama that comes out of that—calling it “drama” makes it sound like I’m talking about melodrama, and I’m not—I think the way Escaflowne builds in a lot of soap opera elements… I think it does it kind of low-key. Which is, to me, more fun and entertaining that way.
CAITLIN: You mean like “secret love child?”
VRAI: [groaning] God.
DEE: Yeah. Oh, we will get to the secret love child.
DEE: But. Before we do, my point was… I don’t feel like Hitomi’s “No, I’m not gonna do this for you guys” felt like “Oh, they’re just trying to slow down the story.” It felt very much like: “No, it tracks. This is a thing Hitomi would do in this situation based on the severe amount of trauma she’s gone through in the past few days.”
VRAI: It was—
DEE: I also like that— Sorry, what were you gonna say, Vrai?
VRAI: Oh, no, I was just… I guess the reason I was thinking about it is I feel like it’s so common with female protagonists for people to be like, “Why don’t you just spine up and do this thing? You’re the protagonist of a fantasy anime. Clearly we know you’re gonna do the thing, so why are you being whiny?” And I feel like it’s very fair for her to say, “No, I don’t wanna do this. This is upsetting.”
DEE: Yeah. And I like that there’s an element of… especially when we talked about the manga last week and how she’s really just a literal object in that, I like that the conversation is framed around: she walks in on the guys and they’re like, “Hey, so you’re gonna do this for us, right? We’re gonna use your power.” And she’s like, “I’m not your frickin’ tool.”
DEE: She even says, “I don’t want to be used as your tool.” And so I like that there’s this pushback of “I’m not like a sword you can just wield. I’m a person and this is very hard for me.”
DEE: And I also really like that that ends. Within the next episode, Van goes up to her and is like, “Hey, I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking about you and that wasn’t cool of me.” [quietly] He’s a good boy. He’s a sweet boy.
VRAI: Oh my God, they’re so cute. In grand fantasy or adventure anime that have romantic subplots, I so often have difficulty caring about it above the level of, “they’re okay, I guess,” but I really like their—Van and Hitomi’s—dynamic. They’re so sweet.
CAITLIN: It is so character-driven, right? You know, you say that the character drama drives the story, and that’s sort of… I think that’s why the plot tends to fall out of people’s heads is because it is the stuff with the international conflict and—what’s the name of the place? Why am I thinking “Xeon?”
VRAI: Uh, Zaibach.
DEE: The Zaibach Empire?
CAITLIN: Not the Xeon Empire. The Zaibach Empire. I don’t see how I could ever make that mistake.
CAITLIN: All that stuff is pretty… Not tangential, but it’s pretty broadly sketched, whereas the character drama is so intricate and it all interlocks together. It’s a… not a tangled mess, that makes it sound like it’s a mess, but it is all… It is deftly woven together.
So of course your investment is going to be in the characters. It’s not like a side note in some big fantasy epic. It’s not a side note in this big fantasy epic so much as it is the main point, and the epic is more a vehicle for the character action.
VRAI: Whereas I feel like it is—
DEE: Yeah, I would agree with that.
VRAI: It is very opposite the manga, I think, which is, again, more traditionally shounen, where their relationship is very tangential-feeling. There’s a kiss near the end and it’s like, “Oh, all right, I guess we’re back to this now. Anyway, back to the final conflict.”
DEE: [laughs] Well, and I really like how we are seeing a relationship develop over the course… At this point, I think maybe they are slightly aware that they might, kind of have a crush on each other, but it’s not… They’re just— They’re friends. I shouldn’t say “just.”
They are friends at this point. They have developed an organic friendship with each other based on a lot of mutual aid and respect for one another, and it’s great. So I feel like I can confidently ‘ship them whether or not they eventually ease into a romance or not. It feels like that’s the direction the show is going, but we don’t know that for sure.
And I… Again, like Vrai said, I think it’s easy to get behind it because you do sort of—are able to see these shared points and why they would like each other and want to spend time with each other. And that scene in the woods where they open up about their childhoods and their siblings was just really sweet.
VRAI: Oh my God! They’re both such good kids!
DEE: And we need—we need more anime romances to take some pages out of the Van-Hitomi Book, I would say.
VRAI: Yeah, ’cause I feel like there are modern versions of this basic dynamic that are basically more extreme and, for lack of a better—more Anime Bullshit. Because they’re more broadly sketched, and those are insufferable. But these two feel so natural, like human people.
DEE: And, again, I think the fact that the show is in no hurry to make that ‘ship happen helps it along a lot.
CAITLIN: This is what you can do when you have 26 episodes. Whee!
DEE: Well, I mean, there’s that, but also we did a Fushigi Yugi watchalong last year and I’m pretty sure they fell in love within three episodes? So…
CAITLIN: Well, yes. Okay.
DEE: So it’s not necessarily the amount of episodes you have.
CAITLIN: Yes, that is true. But, you know, having that longer span of episodes makes it so that you have the option of an organically growing relationship, as opposed to choosing to make them fall in love after talking to each other twice.
DEE: Yeah, that I totally agree with. And, again, I think the fact that it’s character-driven… Having those 26 episodes allows you to spend more time with everybody. And this show does a really nice job of kind of checking in on people, even if you’re not even really getting dialogue from them.
There was a really nice back-and-forth where Hitomi’s talking to Chid, and the two of them are talking about basically the power of positive thinking. And we’ll get into that later.
CAITLIN: The Secret.
DEE: It’s kind of a running theme. Yeah, Hitomi shares The Secret with Prince Chid. [laughs] And we’ll talk about that later, ’cause I do think that’s kind of a running theme in the show that I wanna touch base on.
But, simultaneously, Van is practicing archery in the forest and trying to get used to picturing things with his eyes closed. And there’s no dialogue there, but it’s just a really nice touchstone for what he’s doing and kind of hammers home what he eventually tells Hitomi when he apologizes to her, is that sense of, “Oh, yeah. I shouldn’t force somebody else to do this. If it’s that important to me, I should be working harder on it myself.”
And I just… Little things like that, where they’ll touch in on characters, or just a few shots of a person… It builds the cast very well.
VRAI: I do feel like the one slight downside is, even though it feels more earned when this stuff tends to happen, is that the trade-off for Hitomi having this crisis in an understandable way… She’s very faint-y this batch of episodes.
DEE: I mean, her heart stops. Are you talking about her heart stopping? ‘Cause I would—
VRAI: [laughing] No, God!
DEE: ‘Cause I wouldn’t call that being “faint-y.”
VRAI: No, I mean, specifically the moment where they have the fight with Dilandau and she’s kind of forced to help Van pilot… Which, on the whole, I think is a nice moment of them working together. I think the show salvages it. But it’s where it gets the closest thus far to her being like, “I thought I could do it, but actually, Van I need you to do it and I’ll be on the sidelines.” I do think it works, but, yeah.
DEE: Yeah, no, that was something I wanted to talk about, too, is I do think this arc sidelines Hitomi a little bit. And part of it is… I mean, it does, but it doesn’t. She gets kidnapped early on; I think there’s a few different attempts from the other characters to objectify her, and the narrative pushes back against that.
But I think part of Van coming into his own… I like that plot point, because I think there’s kind of a running idea, especially in these episodes, about who can find “the things that are unseen.” The secrets. The hidden things. And Hitomi’s adept at it. Millerna, it turns out, is really good at it. We are definitely gonna talk about Millerna in a second, here.
And we don’t really see it from the guys so much. And so it’s almost kind of a feminine-coded characteristic in the ability to wait and listen and pay attention to what’s going on around you, kind of thing. Which I think could have leaned really hard into “the different genders have these ingrained qualities” type thing.
And so the fact that Van takes an interest in it and wants to learn how to do it, and is, in fact, learning how to do it… I think that’s a good way to show traditionally feminine characteristics being an asset and how they’re not just something that only The Womens can have. You know what I mean?
VRAI: Yeah, definitely.
VRAI: Even in shoujo that is really about making feminine-coded qualities powerful and useful, there can still be that divide between The Genders, I think. So, it is nice to see Van doing that.
DEE: Yeah, and the unfortunate side effect of that is that it does end up sidelining Hitomi a bit in this stretch, because she’s like, “Well, you can do it yourself, so I don’t have to.” So, I mean, it’s something to keep an eye on going forward. You know, if they find… Certainly, Hitomi still does plenty because she functionally exposes the doppelganger because she’s able to see past that disguise. And, I mean, she also finds out about the Baby Daddy, but has respectfully chosen not to say anything.
DEE: Okay, do we want to talk about Millerna next? Since I did just mention her.
VRAI: Yeah, I think so. I really like… It’s one of those things that, again, is… The show demands so much sincere engagement. If you start to poke at it even a little bit, it comes apart. It demands this very sincere, “Oh, you’re trying! Oh, you’re doing the thing!”
‘Cause Millerna secretly being a doctor is so very on one level like, you know, “She’s pink and feminine but girls can do stuff too!” But also, it’s like, [sympathetically] “Oh, she has to have her own personhood and her own goals that she had to put aside, and oh, I feel for her. And, look, she helped.”
CAITLIN: Yeah. I mean, I don’t think… You seem to be implying it’s almost disingenuous how she’s “Oh, she’s girly-girl but she’s also a doctor!” But I thought that was really cool, ’cause, keep in mind, this was the mid-‘90s. So, it’s not a matter of her rejecting femininity, ’cause it would be so… I think an equivalent sort of thing that we might see, especially out of YA fantasy, is: “She’s a princess who wants to be a doctor and she refuses to wear fancy dresses and she hates going to balls.” That sort of thing.
But showing that she is intelligent and has personhood and goals outside of trying to be a doctor shows that… I don’t think, necessarily, they’re going for an actual message with it, but she is girly and she is also trying to be a doctor and… y’know, I’m not saying, “Oh, it’s feminist that she is feminine and wants to do a traditionally masculine approach.”
VRAI: Yeah, no.
CAITLIN: I’m not going to try to make that argument, ’cause it’s a tired argument and it is full of holes. But I didn’t really have an issue with it. They both felt like organic parts of her character.
VRAI: No, yeah, I like it. It’s just—it reminded—what I was saying is that it was… I think the show often, on the surface, looks like it’s doing dumb things that other shows have done, but it’s in the execution that it ends up looking better.
I have watched plenty of shows where something like “the girly character has a secret masculine skill and that’s cool,” and then that’s used for one plot point. Or isn’t used at all. It’s just an informed characteristic. But with Millerna, it makes sense with who she is and her characterization, and it comes in handy in a number of situations throughout this stretch of episodes. It’s not just tied to her having a crush on Allen and saving him that one time and then it kind of floats into the background.
So, I do think it’s well-done. I just keep having that thought about this show broadly, if that makes sense.
CAITLIN: Yeah. I guess. I just… Yeah. I like Millerna. I like how she… I like her cute little blouse-and-leggings combo, for when a dress isn’t practical.
VRAI: She has very adorable fashion.
CAITLIN: [laughs] I like how the moment she realized she’s gonna be spending more time with Hitomi, she’s just like, “Well, we might as well get along. I might as well not be a total catty bitch to her.” And gives her her duffel bag back.
DEE: Yeah, they pretty much immediately get along, which I appreciate. Hitomi is very likable, and so is Millerna, and so is Merle, and so the three of them… I do enjoy that the show has these kind of underlying ideas about: Oh, well, Merle pretty clearly has a crush on Van, and Millerna’s obviously into Allen, and Hitomi’s kind of—at this point, Hitomi has way more important shit to worry about than romance, so she’s not really…
CAITLIN: But they both see her as a threat. [quietly] But then they learn to get along.
DEE: Well, they do, initially, but I think the way the series plays it is it looks like it’s gonna swerve into that whole “oh, they’re gonna compete and hate each other,” but it just kind of sits in the background. And they all get along pretty well, and Merle and Hitomi have a very fun playfully combative relationship at this point that I enjoy.
VRAI: Yeah, I do like that the moment where Merle thinks about spitefully not telling anybody about Hitomi being in trouble lasts half a second. ‘Cause normally that kind of thing could go on for an episode or two and it would just be dire.
CAITLIN: And then it turns into the men yelling at her, like, [in a gruff voice] “Why didn’t you do this? Ah! Women!”
VRAI: “You silly, emotional women!”
DEE: Yeah, so Merle has this one tiny moment where she’s like, “Ah, serves her right,” and then she’s like, “No, no. I gotta help her.” And then Millerna, too, when she gets back together, she’s like, “Oh, we’re gonna be hanging out. All right, let’s be friends.” And then they pretty much immediately are. There’s not really a lot of sniping or anything like that, and I really appreciate that.
VRAI: Yeah, the relationships between women aren’t super forefronted in this series, but I do feel like they’re not inconsequential, either, if that makes sense.
DEE: Yeah, no, I agree with that. Again, I think it’s a lot of Escaflowne—and there’s stuff where, if this were an anime airing right now, I’d probably have maybe some deeper criticisms about it here and there. But as a show that was airing in ’97 that was very much playing with a lot of fantasy tropes that were common at the time, I like the way it swerves a lot of those into much healthier and more entertaining directions. And we talked about that last week as well.
Even with Millerna, I think that she kind of… She consistently frames her entire driving motivator around how much she loves Allen, but I think the narrative keeps pushing her out of that space. Does that make sense? She, herself, will be like, “I’ll give up anything for you, ’cause love is the most important thing,” and she has some moments like that, where she talks about giving up her job as a ruler, functionally, so she can be with him and protect him and all that shit. She does save his ass several times, so good for her.
But at the same time, I think…You know what I’m saying? I think in her head, she’s like, “This is my thing,” but then the narrative seems to be: “Well, no. That’s not your only thing. You’re also a doctor. You’re a pretty good diplomat, actually. Again, you saved Allen’s ass not just with your medical skills but also with your speechifying skills” when she talks to the Duke.
And since she has this desire for agency and freedom, when Allen tries to get her to not do a thing she wants to do, she’s still gonna fucking do it.
DEE: And I appreciate that about her as well.
VRAI: Yeah, when Allen has that dramatic, “But I must go!” moment where he loads her back in the carriage, and then a day later, she’s like, “‘Sup I’m here. Beat ya here.”
DEE: She just immediately leaves. Nah, he briefly kisses her into paralysis, and then when she… Because he’s either apparently very, very good, or very, very bad. We’re not sure which.
DEE: Once she gets over that, she’s like, “Yeah, I’m not gonna stay behind, so… I’ll see you guys in Freid.” It’s great. And the show does that with everybody that Allen tries to stop from doing the things they want to do? Which is a character trait of his.
DEE: He does it with Van, too. It’s not like… It’s more noticeable with the girls, with Hitomi last week and with Millerna this week, but he does it Van a few times, too, where he’s like, “No, no, no. I’ll step in and take care of this.” And Van’s like, “Naw, dog. I want to do it. I don’t need you protecting me.”
CAITLIN: He just wants to be the hero.
DEE: He does. But he’s actually just the messiest bitch of everyone. In all of fiction.
DEE: And the messier he gets, the more I like him. In my show notes—you guys maybe noticed this; the listeners obviously wouldn’t—on my note for every character, I have a little thing in parenthesis, and for Allen, it just says, “lol.”
CAITLIN: He’s also the only one who doesn’t have any bullet points underneath him.
DEE: Well, I have things I wanna talk about, but I wanted to leave it open for you guys to say stuff as well. ‘Cause y’all know that I love Allen even though he is a bag of trash.
VRAI: Yeah, this is the “Trashbag Rising” period of Allen’s character arc, I feel like.
CAITLIN: Yeah. [laughs] He just wants to be the hero. He wants to be the cool guy who comes in and is like, “I am here to save the day,” and everyone’s like, “Yeah, sorry. We already beat you to it.” Or is like, “No. Shut up. Go back. Go back over there.”
DEE: Yeah, I find this stretch low-key hilarious with him. I think I joked with you guys that Allen is the comic-relief character in the show and you just don’t realize it ’til you watch it through a second time.
DEE: Because of… Kind of what you’re talking about, in this stretch of episodes, the mystique and knightly romance around him is just gradually peeled away, and you’re like, [weary] “Oh, he’s making a bad decision. Oh, that’s another bad decision.”
VRAI: “Oh, every decision is bad.”
DEE: He gets framed— Most of his decisions are not good ones. And I’m not even… Here’s the thing. I think… [pained sighs and chuckles] Everything with Millerna is wrong and bad. Damn it, Allen.
VRAI: “What if I just didn’t make a clean break because you kind of remind me of your dead sister who I was hot for?”
CAITLIN: He can’t stop flirting with girls. He just can’t stop himself. Like: “Oh, there’s a pretty girl! Guess I’m flirting with her now. “
DEE: [crosstalk] “I guess I’ll have to do some…”
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] “Uh-oh!”
DEE: [crosstalk] Well, and he’s so… “Oops!”
And we talked about this last week, he’s so wrapped up in these ideas of chivalry. Which sometimes works out for the best, especially in terms of military matters; like he’s gone to bat for Van, a lot, and it’s been good. He’s helped Van stay alive for large stretches of this series, and that’s great.
And I think there’s an interesting conversation being had in the series about loyalty to a nation versus to individuals, or a personal code. “Do you do what’ s right, or do you do what the king tells you to do because he’s the king and you’ve sworn loyalty to him?” ‘Cause Allen gets framed for treason in this episode for the one treason he hasn’t committed!
DEE: He’s committed all the other treasons. But I think the show does ask the question, “Was that actually treason?” And Millerna fights for him and says, “No, he’s ultimately trying to help Asteria and everybody by standing against Zaibach, because my dad’s wrong.” So, from that aspect, I think that some of these moral codes he follows are interesting and of value.
But on the other side of things, he a messy bitch.
VRAI: No, you right.
DEE: Which I just keep saying. I don’t use that word very often, but I feel like in this context, it is very important that I use it. And I say it with nothing but affection, you understand.
VRAI: I feel like your endearment for him is endearing in itself.
DEE: [laughs] I’m trying to figure out what it is about him that I enjoy. And, again, part of it is, to me, he’s kind of a hilarious character.
I think that, in some ways, I think… Not in the same… So, you know how… Okay, apologies to listeners at home who haven’t seen Utena, but you know how in Utena, there are… I’m gonna keep this as vague as I can. There’s these princely figures and the series is systematically stripping away the myth of “The Prince”?
I think Escaflowne‘s doing that a little bit with “The Knight” with Allen and some of these concepts of chivalry. The difference, to me, is that in Escaflowne, it’s almost… It’s a little bit like wish-fulfillment empowerment, because it’s like once you realize what’s actually going on there, he has no power, and he’s kind of comical and sad.
VRAI: [quietly thoughtful] You… Oh! Hmm.
DEE: It’s like he keeps trying to sideline everybody, and once everyone realizes, “Well, no, I’m just not gonna do what you said to do, ’cause that’s not what I want to do,” I think… It’s like, blam! He’s gone.
He’s not even really a factor in this stretch of episodes. He gets hurt immediately. Everybody has to do everything for him. You know, Van and Hitomi have to prove his innocence. Millerna has to keep the Duke from, I dunno, what did they used to do? Draw them and quarter them and hang them by the neck until dead, I think? Something to that effect.
VRAI: All of those steps.
DEE: I think that’s kind of great.
VRAI: You like him the way I like Saionji. This makes sense now.
DEE: That’s probably…
CAITLIN: [laughing] Saionji is probably worse than Allen, though.
VRAI: Oh, Saionji is terrible.
VRAI: But he’s also a sad, pathetic trashbag, and I kinda feel for him.
CAITLIN: That’s true.
DEE: Yeah, Saionji is 100% worse than Allen because, while Allen makes some very poor decisions, I don’t think there’s anything malicious at the core of anything he does. I think, like Caitlin says, he just doesn’t know how to not flirt.
CAITLIN: He doesn’t have a lot of self-awareness.
DEE: No, he does not.
CAITLIN: He clearly has this image of himself as the heroic, chivalrous knight, and I think him being promoted to such a high order of knights at such a young age probably arrested his development, almost. Does he have a canon age?
DEE: Yes, and it’s way too old for comfort. So, it’s never… I don’t think it’s ever said within the show, but I looked it up on Wikipedia, and I went, “Oh no.” Uh, he is 25, according to Wikipedia.
CAITLIN: Okay. So, he’s 25. He’s old enough that he should be figuring his shit out. But he has not figured his shit out.
VRAI: Yeah, it definitely makes it (A) good that he’s not so noncommittal, but also, (B) weird that he has these two… ‘Cause Millerna’s almost the same age as Hitomi, right? So he’s got these two…
DEE: She’s 17.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I mean, listen…
VRAI: They are young kids.
CAITLIN: Listen. The romantic parts of it are no good, but that’s not what I’m focusing in on here. He became part of the highest order of knights at such a young age, and then he slept with the princess and had a secret love child.
CAITLIN: [laughs] Whoops! That he just… he achieved all of his achievable goals so early that I think that robbed him of a lot of his self-awareness, or his ability to see himself as, “Oh, no, it’s on me that I keep flirting with all the girls. This is my fault.”
DEE: Yeah. And I think on some level, he is aware of it. And certainly in this stretch, he’s becoming more aware of it. Because there are a lot of shots of him just sadly or thoughtfully staring at the ground. And I’m like, “Okay, you might be actually reckoning with some of this now.” And maybe even the realization that you’ve put on this cloak of chivalry, but look at all the treasons you’ve committed!
VRAI: We talked last time about how this series is kind of poking and trying to critique masculinity, and it’s still doing that here, but one thing I wish it had pushed at a little bit harder is the idea of who is Chid’s father: is it the man who raised him, or the man who gave him his genetic code?
And I feel like it’s mostly in the Duke’s camp, but sometimes it feels a little bad at Allen. And I’m over here like, “No! You’ve known this child was here and have not been part of his life at all; and I get that you kind of can’t, but also, bro, you don’t have any claims to this kid.”
DEE: No, he doesn’t. And so far he hasn’t attempted to. So, I think going forward it’ll be interesting to see how the relationship between him and Chid develops, if it does. ‘Cause Chid is now currently an orphan, so, you know, having some parental figures wouldn’t be a bad thing. He’s what? Seven? I don’t know how old he is. He’s not very old though.
VRAI: Six or seven.
CAITLIN: The fact that he… Gosh, I don’t know how old he is, ’cause he doesn’t act like a child.
DEE: Well, no.
VRAI: He acts like an anime child.
DEE: Well, it’s a fantasy series, and he’s…
CAITLIN: You can sort of see his relationship with the Duke—with his father, the Duke—and yeah, there’s definitely very strong—
DEE: I don’t like his dad.
CAITLIN: —sense of… Some part, when the Duke yells at him to stop crying, I didn’t love that.
VRAI: Did not love that. No.
DEE: Yeah, I do not care for his father.
CAITLIN: Didn’t love that, but at the same time you can see that the Duke has taken an active interest in raising him and in being his father.
DEE: He’s eight. Sorry, I Wiki’d it. He’s eight. According to the Esca Wiki. And they have two fathers listed on his page, which I appreciate. But yeah. I know what you mean about that.
Sorry, circling back a little bit to something you said, Caitlin, about Allen’s lack of self-awareness and that oozing confidence he had last week, and this week it is gone. Kind of… I would say by the end of this stretch of episodes, there is zero confidence to that hot mess of a boy.
And I think that ties into some of the ideas at the heart of this stretch of episodes about… When Hitomi’s talking—which I mentioned earlier—when Hitomi’s talking to Chid and she’s like “the power of positive thinking” kind of thing. If you say you can’t do it, well, then, yeah, you’re not going to be able to. But that sense of “personal confidence actively grants you power.”
And I think the narrative pushes that with the characters in fun ways, where the more confident they become, the more active and effective within the story they are.
Because— Hey, Vrai. Is Dilandau okay?
VRAI: Umm… The answer to that, of course, as last week and forever into the future, is: no, he is not okay.
DEE: No! Dilandau is not okay. However, Dilandau gets shit done, because Dilandau is always extremely confident in what Dilandau is doing. Dilandau has a great deal of effective narrative power because of that confidence.
And I think we saw that with Allen in the last stretch of episodes. And this stretch, he has been rendered completely ineffective.
Van’s becoming more confident. Hitomi’s becoming more confident in her ability to read the future accurately, which is terrifying her. And I think that interplay between this— And they talk about that with the Atlanteans. What do they say? “Utilizing personal will as power.” Or magic. Or something to that effect. So, I think the series is leaning into that idea, and I think you see it in the character arcs, and I think that’s really neat.
Millerna shows up and is very confident about her doctor skills, and, voila, saves the day multiple times. Go Millerna.
VRAI: [quietly] Yay!
I know you wanted to talk about the Duke’s five-minute turnaround. On the one hand, it’s completely ridiculous. On the other hand, I kind of appreciate it a little bit, because it’s at least diverting the show away from the really boring “getting too advanced in technology is bad and we should just like old and simple things because advancement is scary.”
And I like that even though it’s completely ridiculously paced, the decision to unlock the key to all that Atlantean history and knowledge is at least acknowledging that, no, human beings are capable of grasping and using knowledge and power responsibly. You just need the right people.
DEE: Yeahhh, I’m not sure the Zaibach Empire is the right people.
VRAI: No, they’re not.
CAITLIN: Nope! Nope!
DEE: But. But that sure is the decision the Duke made. No, but I agree with you, and I think it does kind of tie into the idea that we see with Van and Hitomi here at the end, where it’s like: power is scary and can be dangerous. And we’re not sure what’s going on with Van and that Escaflowne right now. I genuinely don’t remember because it’s been a while.
VRAI: He’s having a Shinji moment where he’s just kind of souped into his Eva—I mean Guymelef.
DEE: [through laughter]That’s kind of what I was thinking, too, yeah.
CAITLIN: That actually… What’s coming up is a scene I remember pretty distinctly, ’cause it gets pretty raw, but I won’t say how. But, yeah. Definitely. Van figures out this power before he knows how to really use it, or he uses it in a way that Hitomi never really could have considered because it isn’t part of her world, and things kinda go sideways with it.
VRAI: Yeah, and I think… I feel like we should touch on Folken and the doppelganger and all of that for a second, but there is a strong sense throughout this episode of the theme of “how we construct our identity.”
Allen doesn’t know what to do with himself because he’s not the chivalrous knight, he’s a traitor who has also not been there—who is not this man’s father, somebody else is. And I think he always had that romantic notion that he had this kid and this life he could have had, and any minute he could sweep back in and do that chivalrously. And just never did. I don’t know why I get that feeling about him.
But there’s so much… Hitomi was a normal schoolgirl. Whenever she’s really scared, she goes back to that idea of “That’s who I was. That was my role.”
And you have the doppelganger character, who’s like, “I don’t have a place. I never had an identity of my own. My entire people has no identity.” Which is what draws him to Folken, who’s specifically rejected his identity. And I feel like those themes are shaping up very nicely in this stretch.
DEE: Yeah, that’s a really good point. Yeah, and I like that the doppelganger’s backstory is this sense of: not only does he not have an identity, but the identity of his people is intricately tied to war, and he doesn’t want that anymore. And so Folken shows up and says, “Well, you can change. You can reject that identity and find something else.”
Now, he does end up murdering people and dying, so not… didn’t really work out the way they said it would. But, I think him being drawn to Folken because of that is a valuable plot point, about showing how Folken’s ideals are appealing to a lot of people who feel similarly trapped in these specific roles or identities that they’ve been forced into.
There’s a touch of fantasy racism to it that’s not great. But it’s… I think it’s not pushed at hard enough for it to be super distractingly awkward.
VRAI: I mean, in general, I think Escaflowne has that low-key problem that a lot of anime based on Western fantasy do, in that they’re sort of thoughtlessly recreating problematic issues baked into Western fantasy. Like all of the greedy assessors in Millerna’s kingdom have awfully large noses. Et cetera.
CAITLIN: Did not process that.
DEE: Didn’t notice that, but that’s a fair criticism, yeah.
VRAI: Yeah, so I think that’s kind of… I don’t think any of us are quite qualified to talk too much about that, but I feel like if the people in the comments wanted to talk a little more about that, it’s a thing that happens in anime fantasy based on Western settings.
DEE: Well, and there’s also things like the kind of tribal makeup on Zongi, the doppelganger, and we have the backstory with the Atlanteans and Van’s mom being a victim of fantasy racism.
And, again, I think it’s… I don’t think the series pushes on it hard enough for it to really feel like they’re trying to Do A Metaphor about real-world racism, but it’s in the background, and it’s worth noting. And, again, we’re probably not the best people to talk about it. But I did want to at least acknowledge that it is there, and I saw it, and, you know, if folks wanted to discuss that in the comments and whatnot, please do. Feel free.
VRAI: Yes. Yes, definitely. But I also… Yeah, it’s interesting how the thing with the doppelganger kind of opens up Folken. ‘Cause I feel like when he talks with Van, he comes across as this very straightforwardly tragic figure, as, “No, no, he might be almost an antihero.” And then this kind of skews more towards: “Well, his ideas might be good, but he’s also very happy to dirty his hands with tactics that may or may not be actually better than the people he’s aligned himself with.”
DEE: Yeah, he’s, uh… he’s absolutely using—we touched on this a little bit last week; I’m sure we’ll keep circling back to it: he’s decided to end all conflict with the greatest conflict the world has ever seen. And that sense of “becoming your enemies in order to beat them” and how that’s probably not gonna work out; and the pushback of that is on the other side of things, where we have a lot of characters who are more defined by trying to protect and stop fighting.
And Hitomi desperately wants to keep this doppelganger from dying, even though he’s murdered some people and tried to frame her and her friends for treason. She still doesn’t want him to die. And so, you know, we’re starting to see that conflict setting itself up in broader strokes, too, I think.
VRAI: Yeah. And on the flip side of Folken, Dilandau is still a horrible little murder machine and only getting worse about it, but these episodes… I like how the series takes time to humanize and individualize his Dragon Slayers. His knights. And how much he needs them. They’re his family.
DEE: Yeah, I mean, he does get genuinely upset about Miguel being murdered by Zongi. Even though Dilandau was punching the dude the episode prior, he does definitely… You can see that there is a sense of attachment and loyalty there.
CAITLIN: Yeah. No, absolutely. Dilandau has his… He has selected all of those like him—young, pretty boys—to have with him, who he really does want to see… not “safe,” but he doesn’t like seeing them get hurt. And it’s kind of nice, even though he is kind of horrible to them himself.
DEE: Oh, he’s objectively horrible to them. [laughs]
CAITLIN: It’s… He’s pretty… Honestly, he’s pretty abusive to them. Let’s not, you know…
DEE: I was gonna say: Dude! One of his buddies, one of his underlings, read him a message that was not his own words. It was the words of the emperor. And when the emperor said, “Don’t get carried away—“
CAITLIN: He slapped the messenger.
DEE: Yeah, he slapped the messenger. What an asshole.
VRAI: He is. He’s objectively a terrible little monster.
DEE: [crosstalk] Dilandau is awful.
CAITLIN: Yeah, no. Vrai, I let your fondness for Dilandau let me start getting soft on him. No, he’s awful. Sorry, Vrai.
VRAI: No, I know this.
DEE: It’s okay. You can be fond of terribles—of characters who are terrible.
CAITLIN: [chuckles] Just like I like Haiji in Run with the Wind.
DEE: And I’m very fond of Allen, for reasons that I’m still sort of putting together as we go.
VRAI: This is an exploration for all of us.
DEE: Yeah. It’s like: here are characters we know are doing the bad things, but we also kinda like ’em, because that’s how fiction works, sometimes. And Escaflowne has good characters.
VRAI: Yeah, and I think…
DEE: Even when they’re being shitty, they’re good characters.
VRAI: And just about all of the antagonists in Escaflowne have a big, big case of “cool motive, still murder.” Which we’ll get to in the coming weeks.
VRAI: So, yeah.
DEE: Yeah. And we’re definitely seeing that with Folken, ’cause after they murder the dude… Well, I shouldn’t say “murder.” After they’re in the middle of battle and the Duke walks into a bunch of arrows…
VRAI: Really stupidly.
DEE: [jokingly] “He walked into that arrow 16 times.”
VRAI: [laughs] Nice.
DEE: Sorry. Folken shows up and is like, “Thank you for stopping this senseless fighting,” and it’s like, “You do remember that you’re the ones who started this senseless fighting, right, bro?”
I really, really like Folken. I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time talking about my affection for the female characters, obviously, and then also Allen, even more obviously. I’m not sure if I had mentioned that Folken is my favorite character. Folken is my favorite character. And so…
VRAI: He’s Jouji Nakata.
DEE: I find—I mean, it’s Jouji Nakata—I find antiheroes really compelling as characters. And, again, his arc of sort of trying to reject this violent society—we talked about this last week, but of trying to reject that, and then falling into the trap of it. I find that very… I think it’s interesting, and so anytime he’s onscreen, I’m excited to see what he will be up to next. Plus I get that really good background song with the violins, and that’s always good, too.
VRAI: One last thing, I guess, as we’re sort of wrapping up, is I want to give my kudos to the fact that Chid’s parentage is so very obvious from basically the word “go,” but the actual unveiling of it with the cuts between Millerna reading the diary and Hitomi telling the fortune is a really well-cut-together scene, even though it’s not a reveal at all.
DEE: It is.
CAITLIN: Oh, the editing in this show is amazing. The editing and storyboarding and everything is absolutely incredible. I love… The show’s visuals hold up unbelievably well.
DEE: Yeah, it’s really well put-together, and you’re right. That scene with the two of them… I remember watching this as a kid—and, listen, I was 13, 14. I was not super quick on the uptake when it came to—not plot points in general, but stuff involving relationships and things like that. And I remember Prince Chid showing up, and within an episode, my friend and I were like, “So, he’s Allen’s kid, right? That’s his biological father, right?”
CAITLIN: Yeah, it’s not subtle.
DEE: And I think… The show, I don’t think, pretends like it’s subtle. I think the reveal is really effective, partly because of how well it’s cut-together, and partly because that’s the moment when the characters figure it out, and it’s like, “Oh, okay. So, now Hitomi and Millerna, who have been the people closest to him, really, know this. What are they gonna do with that knowledge? ‘Cause that is potentially very, very bad knowledge.” Especially if the Duke hadn’t known—and the Duke frickin’ knew.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Listen. Listen. Black hair and brown eyes. You’re not gonna produce a child with blonde hair and blue eyes. That…
DEE: Well, and the kid doesn’t… It’s not like the kid looks a lot like Marlene. The kid looks like Allen. The kid looks extremely like Allen. So, it is… No, it was super obvious, and I always find that funny every time I watch it. The scenes where Hitomi’s like, “Oh, I can tell they share a bond.”
DEE: And Millerna makes a comment like, “You guys kind of look alike!”
CAITLIN: “You almost look like you could be brothers!”
DEE: And I’m like: “Hahahaha!” And I just imagine Allen on the inside just screaming.
DEE: “Oh God! Oh God! Oh God! Don’t figure it out!”
It’s delightful, is my point. The soap opera wearing a robot suit is very, very good.
VRAI: Mm-hm. It gives me feelings.
DEE: And I approve.
So, yeah. That… Anything else you guys wanted to talk about? We’re pretty much at the end of the hour here. I think we covered all the main points I wanted to cover, but I wanted to make sure I didn’t leave anything out on the floor.
VRAI: I think we did all the things I wanted to talk about. Yay, us.
CAITLIN: You know…
DEE: It was a busy stretch of episodes, but we got through ’em. Heck yeah.
CAITLIN: I just thought it was very funny that I turned on the first episode for this stretch and my immediate reaction is like, “Wait. Why is Van in a coliseum?” Because I had already forgotten the plot of the first six episodes.
DEE: [laughs] The plot points are incidental to the good, good characters. And that’s okay.
So, I don’t… The second stretch of the show I’m very fuzzy on, because I’ve seen the first half a lot and the second half relatively fewer times. ‘Cause like I said last week, my friends would watch it without me. Which was fine. I’d already seen it, so I didn’t mind.
CAITLIN: Wow. Rude.
DEE: No, it was like I’d introduce them to the show and they’d be so into it that I’d be like, “Well, I can’t get together to watch any more of it for another week,” or something, and they’d be like, “Well, I don’t want to wait.” And I’d say, “It’s fine. Go for it.” I will not begrudge your excitement on an anime.
So, I’m a little bit fuzzy on this next half. I think it’s buck wild. So, folks at home, be ready.
DEE: I think it’s… And this last stretch was busy. I think it gets buck wild in the next six episodes.
VRAI: I’m pretty sure that the one other big twist that stuck with me is in this next stretch, so that will be exciting to talk about.
DEE: Yeah, we’re gonna… There will be… As folks at home have probably noticed with Allen and Marlene’s whole backstory, and Folken being Van’s brother, this is a show with a lot of reveals in it, and that will continue to be the case, and it’ll be fun, and sort of retroactively affect how you look at people, and we’ll have a great time. So, look forward to that next week.
Okay, folks. We’ll be taking a break for the next show to do a one-shot, so you’ll have plenty of time to watch the next stretch of episodes. We will be doing seven again. It will be episodes 14 through 20. So, look forward to that. Should be lots more to talk about next time we all get together on this one.
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