We’re back with Part 3 of Dee, Caitlin, and Vrai’s four-part rewatch of Shoji Kawamori’s Escaflowne! With dream ghosts, cat twins, and literal fanfic machines, it’s the show’s wildest stretch to date—and that is saying something.
Recorded: Sunday 2nd December 2018
Hosts: Dee, Caitlin, Vrai
0:01:42 You Will (Not) Remember
0:07:07 Twincest and portrayals of race
0:12:55 Folken kinda sucks
0:16:17 Allen’s dad really sucks
0:17:34 Millerna’s desire vs duty
0:20:58 Dryden > Allen
0:28:22 Van and PTSD
0:31:21 Escaflowne on Fox Kids
0:32:36 The power of positive thinking
0:43:20 Van, Dilandau, and toxic masculinity
0:49:24 Manga Dilandau
0:52:09 Van and Hitomi’s dreams
0:53:50 Allen’s father complex
VRAI: Welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. My name is Vrai. I’m an editor and contributor for Anime Feminist. You can find me on Twitter, @writervrai, and if you check my pinned tweet, you’ll see all the places I freelance. Or you can find the other podcast I’m on, @trashpod. With me today are Caitlin and Dee.
CAITLIN: Hi, I’m Caitlin. I’m a writer and editor for Anime Feminist as well as having my own blog, I Have a Heroine Problem. “Heroine” with an “e.” I review anime for The Daily Dot and I will be starting—it should be up by the time this podcast comes out—a King of the Hill watchalong blog called “Patriarch of the Knoll.”
DEE: That’s amazing. This is my first time hearing about this.
VRAI: That’s really good. Hard same. I’m interested.
CAITLIN: I’ve just made the Tumblr today.
DEE: Congratulations! Well, I don’t have any exciting news like that. But I’m Dee, the managing editor at AniFem. You can find all my writings on my blog, The Josei Next Door, and you can find me on Twitter, @joseinextdoor.
VRAI: And welcome back to our “Rewatchalong” of Escaflowne, which I can’t believe we didn’t think of right off the bat. Thank you, Peter, for that. That’s what we’re calling them now. It’s a good title. It’s good.
DEE: It was an obvious title, but, yes, it is very good, too.
VRAI: We overshot the moon and went to the planet behind it. This time around, we’re watching episodes 14 through 20, so we are officially in the thick of it of the weird shit happening in this series. And because this is a series where everything happens so much and yet it vanishes from your mind instantaneously—
VRAI: —not unlike a man in a tan jacket—I have compiled a handy list of notes to refresh your memory as to what the heck happened over the course of these seven episodes.
CAITLIN: Good, because I need it.
DEE: So you know how for Fushigi Yugi we coined the tagline “Fushigi Yugi: You Will Have an Emotion”? I’m pretty sure it’s “Escaflowne: Everything Happens. So Much.”
DEE: I think that’s what needs to be on the box for this one.
CAITLIN: I mean, I think we need to incorporate the collective amnesia that Escaflowne fans always have into that for it to really work. “Escaflowne: You Will (Not) Remember.”
VRAI: That’s unkind. Escaflowne already lives in Evangelion’s shadow. It literally premiered right after it.
DEE: And we remember a lot about it. Just not the plot points.
VRAI: All right, so, here we go. Van almost died after fusing with his guymelef. We introduced Dryden, Millerna’s fiance who we didn’t know about. And he was able to call in a bunch of [unintelligible] engineers who, I guess, know how to fix the giant robots. We learned that there are blood pacts, and this particular kind of guymelef is special, because the user dies if the robot is ever broken.
Van goes into berserker mode because he has PTSD and murders all of Dilandau’s crew. Hitomi is absorbed into the Escaflowne while trying to get out of him and dies, again. Everybody has a crisis of feelings.
Dilandau is not taking things well and gets carted off by a bunch of people known as “The Alchemists.” While he is gone, two of Folken’s right-hand cat-people show up, named Eriya and Naria.
Everybody finds a path to the Mystic Valley using a journal that was left behind by Allen’s father. We learn that Allen’s father left his family because he was going to find this mystical valley and also, while he was there, he met Hitomi’s grandmother, who was also spirited away to this other world several generations ago. Allen’s dad was even more of a trashbag than previously estimated.
As it turns out, Dilandau is being operated under something called a “Fate Alteration Experiment,” which has implications about things. Meanwhile, everybody in the Mystic Valley is dealing badly. Van has so much PTSD. Allen is dealing with his daddy issues, and the disappearance of his sister, Selena, many years ago, who he failed to save.
As it turns out, Atlantis wasn’t just a lost city, but our lost Atlantis, the one from Earth myth.
DEE: [starts laughing]
VRAI: They made Gaia with the power of their magical thoughts, and the big machine that they built that ruined them all.
DEE: [continues laughing uproariously]
VRAI: So, that also means that the power to influence the… [cracks up] Goddammit, Dee.
DEE: [laughs, then quiets down again]
VRAI: —Which also means that the power to influence things with your thoughts… means that Hitomi has literally been cursing everyone by making her teenage anxieties real with her predictions, but it’s okay, because Van’s mom shows up and tells them that it’s okay. They just have to wish for a better future. And she gives a new energist to Van to put inside of Escaflowne.
Then, they all get magically, psychically, transported to Dornkirk’s throne room, and he gives them a big fucking exposition dump about how he was a philosopher on Earth, but he escaped to Escaflowne at the moment of his death because he wished so strongly to understand the nature of fate.
And then they all escape, but, oh no, Folken has a plan—
DEE: [starts cracking up again in the background]
VRAI: —because he’s going to Love-Doctor fate into a different arrangement by just feeling emotions really hard until Hitomi and Allen kiss at an inopportune time and Van sees it, meaning that Hitomi and Van are separated, and she is prime for kidnapping. And there is, oh no, a romantic misunderstanding.
Naria and Eriya have a flashback about how they were sad children until Folken saved them and brought them over to his cause, and in order to be more helpful to him, have luck blood transferred into their veins, which is a thing.
DEE: [laughing so hard she’s crying a little]
VRAI: So, now they’re practically unbeatable.
VRAI: Meanwhile, during all of this, Millerna gives up on her feelings for Allen in order to marry Dryden, her fiance, believing it will be the best thing for the kingdom, but, uncertain, she asks Hitomi to give her a reading to see if this is really the right thing that she’d be doing, and Hitomi, confused about her feelings for Allen, gives a false reading, saying that the marriage will be good despite seeing portents of doom.
And because she does this, Folken is able to stage an attack on the wedding and they all demand that Hitomi be turned over to the Zaibach Empire, which she does, because she feels guilty and she is a sad teenager. End of episode 20!
DEE: [cracks up again]
CAITLIN: Oh, goddammit.
DEE: I did warn you guys this episode might just be me cackling hysterically for a solid hour. Also, Vrai, I’m pretty sure it took a solid hour to summarize the plot.
So, thank you for listening to this episode of Chatty AF. We hope you liked it, and if you…
VRAI: Everything happens so much.
CAITLIN: See, next time, try doing it all in one breath.
DEE: So, yeah. I did warn that it was gonna get buck-wild.
VRAI: I mean, I used to be able to do that shit in high school. So much happens. Everything happens so much.
So. How did you like it?
CAITLIN: It was good.
DEE: Yeah, there was quite a bit higher ratio of anime bullshit in this stretch than in previous stretches, and I didn’t remember a lot about it except that it was gonna get buck-wild. But I think the show does just enough with winking at the fact that it’s doing anime bullshit that it sort of works and I wound up having a pretty good time, even though it was doing a lot of stuff that would normally just make me wanna throw stuffed animals at my television.
CAITLIN: I agree. There were… Well, the thing is that there were real anime bullshit moments, but those anime bullshit moments, which… The scene with Naria and Eriya where they were fencing. And at first: I have no idea which one is which.
VRAI: I think Eriya is the gold one, because she did the fake smooch scene.
CAITLIN: Okay. So, I’m just gonna go with that and hope that that’s correct. Naria pins Eriya and is like, “Oh, I wanna know what Folken’s lips tasted like,” and it’s weirdly horny and very uncomfortable because No, Twincest. Twincest is not allowed. It was very strange.
But then after that weirdness, they rolled over and started having a very genuine, kind of sisterly conversation. And then it’s like, “Okay, actually I really like this.” The way they’re talking is actually very genuine and feels kind of authentic, having shared a room with my sister for my entire childhood.
VRAI: Yeah, I feel like those two characters are responsible for at least 70% of the anime bullshit in this stretch of episodes, if we’re honest. ‘Cause I also felt distinctly uncomfortable with their sort of pet-like coded relationship to Folken. It’s weird and uncomfortable, and the fact that they are… They have fur, but they’re also some of the only visibly brown characters in the show, and with the Doppelganger we talked about last time, there’s weird fantasy racism elements going on again, and, whoops, you done fucked it up again.
Honestly, when I was reading the manga—these are another set of characters that I forgot were in the anime—in the manga they’re slightly more obnoxious. Every word out of their mouth is a double entendre. It’s very annoying. And then they die.
DEE: Yeah, they’re given more development here, for sure.
VRAI: They… The strokes of it are there, but I dunno. Aside of that one conversation, it falls kinda flat for me. ‘Cause it’s… They’re characters who I feel like would work… They’re character types that I have liked in other shows, but they have so little time compared to everything else that’s happening.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I mean… I think we need… For them to have really worked, we needed more backstory on sort of how the cat people work in the world of Escaflowne. ‘Cause they were escaped slaves. They’re the same species as Merle.
VRAI: Right, and there’s that one kind of interesting moment that never really comes back around where they spare Van because they see Merle, who, I guess we know now, is explicitly a child.
CAITLIN: Right. Yes. Merle is young. So, yeah. It seems like loyalty… Is loyalty a thing with their particular species, or is that just a coincidence that they are very loyal to Folken and Merle is very loyal to Van? Is it a thing about how those two inspire loyalty? Why were they being cornered like that? Why were they treated like wild things? There’s so many unanswered questions about their background that it doesn’t really work, and it makes their obsession with Folken very… It doesn’t sit right with me.
DEE: Yeah, I’d agree with that. I think that they were the kind of—to me, them and the Doppelganger character as well, I get the sense that somebody put thought into the kind of people they were, because they’re not completely flat, right? There are glimmers in both of those very short arcs of fully fleshed-out people. But I get the sense that within the narrative itself, they are primarily there to show us stuff about Folken.
VRAI: Yeah, their flashback about being abused and escaping and almost dying is a vehicle to show us that Folken is kind.
DEE: Yeah. Or that’s what it’s supposed to show us. And there is… Again, this isn’t really our lane, but there is a noted issue with having your marginalized characters exist primarily to forward the story of your—I mean, I guess in a way Folken and Van are kind of marginalized, ’cause they are mixed-race, and Draconians are reviled. So there is a connection there. So I don’t wanna—I guess I need to acknowledge that. But it still doesn’t quite sit right. You know what I mean?
VRAI: Yeah, and it doesn’t help that they are basically introduced because we carted off Dilandau for this arc and we need a mini-boss antagonist.
DEE: Yeah. They need more time to work. I also… Remember how I was like, “Folken’s my favorite character and I really like him”? I’m not sure I think that anymore. I think he maybe kinda sucks.
DEE: And I don’t… I think the show wants us to like him. I think he’s supposed to be kind of a tragic figure who is trying to do good and is fucking up a lot of peoples’ lives in the process. Which is interesting, but still kind of sucks.
VRAI: I 100% see how he would have been Teenage Dee’s favorite character.
DEE: Oh, yeah. I mean, it tracks, right?
CAITLIN: Yeah, and he is misguided for sure. He is not a cackling villain. He’s not pursuing selfish means but he is still… He messes up in some pretty significant ways that are not just, [clicks tongue] “You know, he meant well.”
DEE: Yeah, I mean, he’s basically grooming child soldiers, and whether that was the intention… The show tries to make it clear that he genuinely cares about them and is concerned about them, but does it make it better when the end result is still: you’re grooming child soldiers? So I… Yeah, this stretch, I was like, “Ah, damn. I used to really, really like you and now I’m much more conflicted.”
VRAI: And also that particular brand of anime bullshit where you have multiple devoted foot soldiers but the women are specifically and exclusively—their devotion is always romantic.
DEE: It’s romance-coded, yeah. And I don’t think…
VRAI: Mm… I hate it.
DEE: I think the series is pretty good about… I don’t think Folken leads them on. Does that make sense? I think the kindness he shows them is platonic. So, there’s that, at least. But he also doesn’t really make any effort to shut it down. He has to know. They’re not exactly subtle about how much they care about him.
And the other thing? Here’s one of the bigger things, especially watching it now as a grown-ass adult, is if Folken were the same age, or very close to the same age, as Van and Hitomi, I would cut him a lot more slack. But he’s—
CAITLIN: Yeah, that’s a good point.
DEE: How old is he? Dude should probably know better.
DEE: Is he 30? I mean, he’s gotta be in his…
DEE: He’s only 25? [laughs] Okay.
VRAI: He’s the same age as Allen. Really.
DEE: [sarcastically] Sure. Sure. I believe that! And no, kind of the same thing with Allen (which, we’ll talk about him later, LOL) is there’s a lot that’s interesting about the characters—and I’m not 100% sure how much the creators were aware of this when they decided to put that ten-year gap there—but there’s a lot of slack I will cut a teenage character in an anime that I will not cut a character in their mid-twenties.
CAITLIN: Well, because they’re supposed to be able to make good decisions. Not terrible, poorly-thought-out teenage decisions.
DEE: Yeah, so, there are… There were moments in this stretch where I was like, “Did you guys realize that? Are we supposed to be harder on them, or are we supposed to sympathize with him the same way we do with the teen characters?” I’m not always sure what the intent was.
VRAI: Given the way they’ve tried to spin Allen’s dad, I think we’re supposed to feel for them. Allen’s dad is garbage, by the way.
DEE: Oh yeah.
CAITLIN: Yes. Yeah, remember the part where he was pursuing a teenage girl?
VRAI: He just wants to see this 15-year-old again, you guys. He has a child. A 10-year-old child, but, gosh. Seeing that teenager again really filled him with life. Thanks, I hate it.
DEE: There’s some kind of interesting ideas twirling around Allen’s shitbag of a father especially in terms of… We see this come up with Millerna, too, that kind of conflict between your duty—what you’re supposed to do with your life, like what’s expected of you—versus what you actually want to do. And I think the way the series keeps touching on that is interesting.
I’m not 100% sure what they’re trying to say yet. I’m hoping maybe in the last arc we’ll get some concrete answers to… If the creative team will take a stance on some of this. But I think there’s definitely an argument happening here about how trying to fit into a prescribed role screws you up down the road, and screws up a lot of other people as well.
‘Cause he ditches his family ’cause he’s like, “Well, the only reason I started a family in the first place was because that’s what you were supposed to do.”
CAITLIN: Cool motive. Still abandonment.
DEE: Yeah, and then I think you see that with Millerna. You know, she’s decided to marry Dryden, and there’s this conversation Hitomi has with her about: “But is that what you actually want? Do you actually care for him, or are you just doing this for political reasons?”
And that’s kind of Hitomi’s whole thing this arc, too, ’cause when she’s talking to Isaac—Dornkirk—whatever you want to call him—he talks about, “I’ve made all the people of Zaibach happy by basically determining their fates for them,” and Hitomi’s like, “Well, no, I don’t think you should do that. I don’t think that fabricated, fake happiness is real.”
And she’s very much about… I mean, you know, she’s 15, too. But she’s very much about following your heart. She’s very passionate about that in this stretch. And I like that about her and I’m curious to see if the show wants us to lean in that direction, or if they’re gonna circle back around to, “No, no, no. Sometimes you do just have to do things because it’s the right thing to do, because it’s the responsible thing to do.” So, I think there’s… That tension is there.
CAITLIN: Right, and that was sort of what I was thinking of when she was talking to Millerna. Millerna is a princess. She has grown up with the reality that she is… her marriage is primarily going to be for political reasons. And that’s something that always gets me in medieval-ish settings, is if they have been raised as royalty or landed nobility, they have had… Marriage for love is not something that has really been part of their upbringing. Why is it treated as something that’s even possible?
What I wanted Millerna to do was to turn around and say to Hitomi, “This is what marriage is for in my world. Marriage is not about love.” But, you know, that’s not what Escaflowne‘s all about.
VRAI: Yeah, I think it’s because I was watching this video on Fight Club and fascism the other day, but I was definitely thinking about that quote about: the appeal of fascism being that it frees people from the” terrible burden of choice,” which is very much what Dornkirk is going for.
CAITLIN: “People make bad decisions if you let them decide things for themselves.” This sounds like another mecha anime that came out recently. Whether or not people should be allowed to choose things for themselves. [whispering] It’s Planet With. [chuckles]
DEE: Yeah, this kind of idea pops up a lot in, I mean, fiction in general, but I think you see it a lot in anime as well, because I think there’s a historical tension, especially within the last 50, 60 years, in Japan in particular, because arranged marriage and stuff like that stuck around longer there than they did here, so I think that you see that.
And in ‘90s anime—I mean, this was coming out in the mid-’90s—I think some of that tension is also coming from that sense of… You grew up in a family that ran a shop, and so obviously you’re going to run that shop, and that will be your future. And that kind of clashing up against more individualistic ideas.
CAITLIN: Right. Sacrificing your happiness for the greater good of the group.
DEE: [robotically] The Greater Good. [returns to normal voice] Sorry, had to be done.
VRAI: [laughs] It was good. It was good. Thank you for that.
But in this case, it was really… I got what they were going for. It was really hard for me, because Dryden is clearly the better option in this scenario.
CAITLIN: Yes! That is true.
VRAI: He has a couple of those Han Solo-y sleazebag lines about how “I always get when I want,” and…
CAITLIN: Jared said that Dryden looked like if Han Solo were really into philosophy.
DEE: [laughs] That’s apt. No, that’s apt.
VRAI: Also, my mind melted out of my fucking head because Dryden’s voice actor is also Akio Ohtori is also Fernard de Morcerf, meaning that fucking Gankutsuou is just one big Escaflowne reunion, you guys. I’m die. I’m die.
DEE: [laughs] Yeah, once I realized that, I couldn’t unhear it too. And then I was like, “I don’t trust you, Dryden. What are you up to?” [laughs]
VRAI: And aside of those surface lines, Dryden’s interests align with Millerna’s. He seems to genuinely care about her and what she wants to do.
CAITLIN: He doesn’t bullshit her with the courtly knight lines, like Allen does. He’s very straightforward. He’s aware that she is intelligent and capable.
VRAI: He could bring her weird medical textbooks from his trade route and be a good and supportive husband, and they’d be really cute, you guys.
CAITLIN: [laughs] Yeah, no. Dryden is definitely the better catch. But she [sing-song] loves Allen. She loves him.
VRAI: [becoming increasingly exasperated] Why. No! He sees you as a convenient source of affection and adoration who looks kind of like his dead lover! This is a bad decision!
CAITLIN: Mm-hm. Yeah, no. Allen is garbage. He’s a garbage man from the garbage.
DEE: [proudly] I still like him! [laughs]
VRAI: H’ooh. I was feelin’ what you were putting down last time around, but as soon as he finds out that Millerna has rejected him, and then to fill that sad gap of “Aww, I’m not getting compliments anymore,” he goes and macks on Hitomi.
DEE: Two things. One, it is a literal forced romance created by a Fanfic Machine. If Hitomi is under its influence, so is Allen.
CAITLIN: [laughs] Dornkirk really just wanted to make his ships real.
DEE: Yeah! Folken had an OTP, and it didn’t look like it was gonna be canon. He was like, “Fuck it. I’ll do it myself.”
DEE: And he didn’t just write fanfiction like the rest of us. He co-opted the story.
CAITLIN: No, he LARP’d it. He made his own YouTube video with the catgirls.
DEE: Yeah. But, my point being, I think that if we’re gonna… I think if we’re going to say Hitomi was definitely under the influence at that moment—and she was—I think we have to give that to Allen as well, because they’re both stuck in this Fanfic Machine.
VRAI: [hesitantly] Yeah… I think it’s just that ten-year gap.
DEE: And, you know, the thing is, Allen’s character design doesn’t make him look ten years older than them. Folken is clearly so much older than them, right? His character design makes him look like he’s maybe a couple years older. And so I keep forgetting.
VRAI: Right, like 18 or 19.
DEE: So when I’m watching it, there’s a part of my brain that’s like, “You’re ten years older, dude. You should know better.” But then I keep forgetting that, and I keep jumping back into this: “Oh, no, it’s just that your dad abandoned you and your mom died when you were really young and you lived in the woods hitting people with your sword because you had nothing better to do, and you’re just so desperate to be loved that anybody who comes to you and says ‘I like you,’ you’re like, ‘Yeah, okay. Let’s do it!'”
CAITLIN: He is emotionally 16.
DEE: He really is.
DEE: And I can sympathize with that character arc. But, again, it’s one of those things where if I take a step back and go, “Wait, he’s 25,” I’m like, “No, you should still… You still have to make better choices. I understand the desperation to be loved. I understand that you’ve lost a lot of people you’ve cared about and you’re very lonely. But you still need to make better choices. You’re a grown-ass adult.”
VRAI: Yeah, it’s a tough… It’s amazing how one decision can completely skew the context… ’cause Hitomi makes bad decisions this arc, but I forgive her, because she’s 15. And being 15 means being dumb a lot of the time.
DEE: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I don’t think any of us made all the best decisions when we were 15.
VRAI: Not at all!
DEE: Not that I didn’t make bad decisions when I was 25. They were just a different kind of bad decision.
VRAI: That’s true.
DEE: So, I… Yeah, I still find Allen to be kind of an interesting character. I think the cyclical history stuff that we see with the past is pretty interesting with him, ’cause he’s super mad at his dad for abandoning his family, and I’m like, [through clenched teeth] “Yooo, you technically have a son.”
VRAI: Who you just kind of knew about and didn’t do anything for, even from a distance.
CAITLIN: I mean, to be fair, I don’t think they would let him do anything for him.
DEE: No, he couldn’t, but I think a little… I think we’re probably intended to see some parallels there. Maybe I’m reading too deeply into his character, but I think we’re…
VRAI: No, I mean, cycles are a big part of the show.
DEE: Yeah, and so, when he’s shouting at his dad, there’s probably a part of him… ‘Cause we did see him give a lot of morose looks at Prince Chid in those early episodes, so I wonder if a little bit of that is projection. But I… The other thing I kind of love about Allen is the narrative throws shade at him in these really amazing ways.
On the one hand, I think we’re supposed to kind of sympathize with him. I don’t think the creators necessarily thought as much as they should have about the fact that he’s ten years older than the other characters, which is why sometimes I have to just put that on shelf and not engage with it when I’m watching the show.
And fantasy universes will do that a lot to me, too, because ages are just different. There’s 15-year-olds fighting in wars, and nobody thinks that’s weird.
CAITLIN: Cough-cough, Tamora Pierce, cough-cough.
DEE: Yeah. I mean, it’s a pretty common thing in fantasy series, and so those layers of unreality make it so I sometimes will ignore ages a little bit more than maybe I should. I admit that.
But I think on another level, the narrative is kind of mocking him for… Van and Hitomi are trying to acknowledge their past mistakes and move forward, and it feels like he just keeps doing the same thing over and over again. He’s stuck in the loop, whereas they’re moving past it. And I think the narrative is kind of making fun of him for that, and I love it.
‘Cause that part where they’re fleeing—where they end up in Zaibach and they’re fleeing—and he steps in front of Hitomi, draws his sword all nobly, and is like, “I’ll protect you even if it costs me my life!” And then Van shows up immediately behind him on the dragon and he’s like, “Hitomi!” And Hitomi turns around, her face lights up like the sun has just shone out from behind the clouds, and she’s like, “Van!” and just jumps onto the dragon.
DEE: And Allen looks so annoyed that he didn’t get to be the hero knight. He’s very much stuck in this role that nobody actually needs him to play anymore. And, once again, like I said last week, I find it kind of pathetic and a little bit moe, at times. So, that’s where I am with Allen, The Trashbag.
CAITLIN: You want to just pat his head and be like, “It’s okay. You’ll be relevant again someday.”
DEE: I want to drag him out of that. I want to say, “Get your shit together. I think you’ve got some good points. I think that you’ve been a pretty good mentor for Van sometimes, but get your shit together! You’re 25. Get your shit together!”
That’s how I feel right now about Allen.
VRAI: Meanwhile, Van is dealing with just debilitating PTSD. And, again, this show aired right on the heels of Evangelion, and had been in development for two years. So, it’s not copying Eva, but it’s also trying to do the “What if war had real psychological consequences?” thing in a lesser, more fantasy-grounded way, and just got totally ignored by everyone.
CAITLIN: I mean, I wouldn’t call it “lesser.”
VRAI: I just mean there’s less dialed-in narrative focus on it comparatively. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It’s not lesser qualitative, just quantitative.
CAITLIN: Right. I guess. I personally… I really liked how they did it in this show. Because, the thing is, that he was the guy in the Escaflowne, and the other soldiers were in the guymelefs. He could kill them. He didn’t see them personally.
But once he was able to really merge with the Escaflowne and he started having these visions of the people that he killed, and then all of a sudden, he has to deal with the fact that he has killed people. He wasn’t just fighting other robots, he was ending lives. And that they were, in their last moments, scared and hurting, and he was the one who did this, and it just breaks him. And, you know, maybe it’s not as grounded as Evangelion, but…
VRAI: I mean, again, that was—
CAITLIN: I thought that was a really good part of his arc and sort of seeing… and an important thing for him to realize, for him to really be a fully sympathetic character. And it’s kind of cliche, but I think that the way the show handled it was really good.
CAITLIN: And very distinct.
DEE: Yeah, I liked the… I think there’s the sort of metaphorical cutscenes… You get the dream visions [that] were a nice way to address it directly, but also poetically.
I really appreciate that one of the main issues is that he won’t admit it or talk to anybody about it, and it’s only when he finally does that he starts to get better. He’s willing to reach out to Hitomi and work together and share that burden. And I like that element of not just ignoring your fear and saying, “No, I’m fine. Everything’s fine.” He talks about it, and that’s where the next step is.
It also helps that Seki Tomakazu acts the absolute fuck out of those scenes, because he’s amazing. He’s very, very good in those moments. So, absolutely.
VRAI: Also, side note that I meant to bring up last time, but I guess I’ll bring it up now. Escaflowne ran on TV for a hot minute in 2000, on Fox Kids. And it only made it… I’ve heard conflicting reports, because I’ve seen recovered audio of the dub all the way up to episode 20, but supposedly, it stopped airing right after episode 12—which, coincidentally, was why I brought it up now: right before Van goes on his extremely gory murder rampage.
And there are conflicting reports that it was partially because that first set of episodes is fairly action-heavy and then this one is all about feelings and romance and, “oh no, that’s for girls and we can’t market that anymore.” But I feel like the just alarming amount of blood and truly horrific violence might have played a part.
Aside… I brought up the inevitable comparison, but I do think that Van’s arc is handled pretty well in what it drives him towards as far as the series’ themes of empathy. Although, for the rest of it, when Van is vowing not to kill and then, “Well, he’ll do it if he has to,” from there on, the fights tend to come to convenient ends that don’t require him to make that decision as of yet.
CAITLIN: [disappointedly] Well, yeah…
DEE: And I wanted to talk to you about that, because his decision… One of them is he kind of faces up to his own guilt and sorrow and decides “I’m gonna forge forward anyway,” which is good. But the other thing is, he comes out of his dream quest… I shouldn’t call it that. [struggling to find the right words] They had a… you know, he comes out of his, uh…
VRAI: It’s the river scene from Metal Gear Solid 3, which I’m now wondering if Kojima stole from this.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I’m trying to think of something to call it that’s not, like, colonialist—
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah.
DEE: Yeah, that’s why I caught myself there and went, “No, that’s not okay.” Van comes out of his little vision with Balgus…
VRAI: His journey to the center of his mind, if you will.
DEE: Yeah. And it kind of feels like the decision he’s come to is very similar to Folken’s “I’m going to stop this violence with more violence!” You know, ’cause then he immediately goes to Hitomi and is like, “Hey, so, I need your power.” And part of that is him misspeaking like a dumb kid. But part of it is also that he does still kind of see her as a vehicle of power to help win a war.
And I’ll be real curious to see… ‘Cause, again, I don’t remember the plot. I’ll be real curious to see how they address that in the next six episodes. Because I do think the parallels between him and Folken are really interesting, but I don’t get the sense that the show wants that to be the endgame.
I think the show is pushing for something where we… is pushing more for forgiveness and love and belief, and Hitomi’s powers… There’s that idea of: when she has faith in somebody, her powers are effective and are used to help people. And so, again, I’m kind of curious to see how they play that out in the last six episodes. ‘Cause it could get real messy, or they could do a good job with it. We’ll see.
CAITLIN: I just… You know, this whole part happened because… with Allen and Hitomi and Van and the destiny thing, it was able to happen because Van is an idiot, and said “I need to use your powers” instead of “I need you.”
DEE: “I care about you and you’re important to me and I want you around.”
CAITLIN: “I want you by my side.”
DEE: Treat her like a person? Not a tool?
CAITLIN: That whole thing… And so when Van is not—the whole thing is, when Van is being emotionally honest, good things happen. When Van is being closed off, that’s when the bad stuff happens.
DEE: That’s a very good point. Like when he—
CAITLIN: Van needs to be honest with himself about his own emotions, because when he’s not, that sort of leaves things open for the destiny prognostication to come in. That creates a weak point. Which I think feeds into the idea that the show is largely about being true to yourself.
DEE: Kind of a clever idea at play, especially with Hitomi—and one of the things that Allen’s dirtbag father says that kind of pinged with me and I thought was sort of a wise thing that they threw into the show was: he basically says the power to make your wishes come true is useless because most people don’t actually know what they want.
CAITLIN: That’s true.
DEE: And we see that… I kind of talked about this last week, too. When characters are uncertain, they become more ineffective. And we see that a lot with Hitomi that week, and her magic fate powers becoming kind of wibbly because she doesn’t actually know what she wants.
I don’t think she’s lying to herself. I think she genuinely doesn’t know how she feels right now. She cares about Millerna. She wants Millerna to be happy. She’s pretty sure she likes Allen, but she’s got some weird feels for Van right now that she’s not quite sure how to quantify.
CAITLIN: Right. Allen looks like her senpai.
DEE: Same voice actor, too, so.
CAITLIN: [laughs] But she has this very close friendship with Van, and she maybe doesn’t acknowledge it to herself, but she definitely thinks Van is cute at this point. Yeah, no. Everyone just needs to be honest with themselves.
VRAI: I will say that the other 30% of anime bullshit in this run of episodes is… I know that Van is caught in the whirlpool of the Fanfic Machine, but he’s got very convenient love-triangle timing.
DEE: I know!
CAITLIN: His sad face!
DEE: In the rain!
CAITLIN: Oh! His puppy-dog eyes!
VRAI: [through pained laughter] That stops immediately afterwards.
DEE: Of course it does. The thing that… That was the moment I was saying earlier—that some of the anime bullshit, I feel like the show does a nice job of kind of making it work.
The thing I genuinely love about that whole scene, though, is that it is… It’s when we complain about, “Ugh, that forced romance in that show that didn’t need to be there.” It literally is a forced romance. You know what I mean? Narratively speaking, that is the thing we always complain about.
Those are all the bullshit cliche tropes, and they happened because somebody else forced them to happen within the story itself, and I kind of love that. So, I laughed during that scene a lot, ’cause I thought that was clever and fun.
VRAI: Well, and like Fushigi Yugi, this is a show that dabbles in adolescent metaphors, where who you want to smooch is literally the power that will determine the fate of the world. And also, kids, your intrusive thoughts are real and they are making life worse.
DEE: Yeah, Hitomi’s anxiety made manifest is a brutal metaphor that I think we can all kind of “oof” and feel for.
VRAI: It is one of the two spoilers that has stuck with me all of these years, and it’s one of those things that, if it had been written slightly differently, it would have come off as kind of distasteful to me, in terms of, “Oh, you’ve got depression and anxiety? Well, you should just try thinking positively. That’ll work! Yeah!”
But because that… (A) it’s so grounded in the world, this idea that wishes make reality, and the rest of the metaphor stuff… It ends up coming across a little bit more like wish fulfillment. Like: Yeah, your bad thoughts do do bad things. The worst fear for an anxious teenager. But also, you have this power to demonstrably, magically affect the world with your good thoughts, and you know it will work rather than just being a bullshit platitude about positive thinking.
DEE: Yeah. I love fantasy shows that literalize adolescent fears and concerns and, like you said, kind of that wish fulfillment aspect of, “Oh, well, maybe… ” I guess it’s encouraging for the audience is, how I would describe it.
CAITLIN: And I think the thing is that it’s like… Hitomi feels guilty, but no one tries to make her feel guilty. If that makes sense. They say, “Yeah, these things have happened because of your power and you have the stone. And that sucks, because no one can blame you for feeling that way and having those worries.” And no one turns around and says, “Well, try to think good thoughts.”
VRAI: Yeah, that’s the other thing. It’s not just—
CAITLIN: It’s more like, “Sucks, doesn’t it?”
VRAI: It’s not just “Think good thoughts. Be happy because we’re uncomfortable with you being anxious or depressed.” It’s “Assess your life and take concrete steps, and you will make changes.” And I like that.
I really like Hitomi. I love that… ‘Cause the whole fortune-telling scene to me would have been so much more frustrating if she didn’t genuinely want Millerna to be happy. She’s such a sweet kid.
DEE: She really is. And I liked… The scene where she and Millerna and Merle are failing the Bechdel Test real hard [laughs] is not my favorite scene in the show, but I think it’s sort of… It continues to be kind of undercut or underscored—I’m not quite sure which one I should use in this circumstance?—by the fact that the three of them genuinely like each other. And we see that all the time.
So, even when they have this kind of cliche moment of, “Well, no, I like him.” “Well so do I. Oh, snap,” kind of thing, it doesn’t really go anywhere because, like you said, Hitomi… She does like Allen, or she thinks she likes Allen. But she also likes Millerna. She genuinely likes her. So, it’s very much genuine conflicted teen feelings of “I like somebody that my friend likes. How do I handle that?” And so it doesn’t fall into crappy Women Be Competin’ tropes, as we have discussed in the past.
VRAI: Yeah, and I do wish… God, I wish they would drop it with Merle. Especially after we’ve learned that she is probably a prepubescent child. Weirdly, it’s after that moment that instead of dialing it into a more sibling-y bond between the two of them, you have that scene where… You have the, “Well, which one do you like?” scene and it’s like, “God, just please stop. Please stop. She doesn’t have a chance and we know it and this is irritating.”
DEE: Yeah, but, I mean, I dunno. I think it’s fine for… It doesn’t bother me at all in the show, because it tracks for me. I understand why Merle likes Van as much as she does. She’s 13 by the way. She’s two years younger than them. Which is, again, especially at that age, quite a bit younger, but she’s not like eight. She’s also a teenager. And there’s never any sense that Van reciprocates.
CAITLIN: Yeah, he… Van loves Merle as a friend.
VRAI: It’s not gross to me, it’s just irritating in how it’s drawn out. It’s a trope I don’t like, is all.
DEE: Sure, that’s fine. That’s fair.
VRAI: That’s all.
I don’t know how to pivot away from that. Who haven’t we talked about yet? I feel like I wanna talk about Dilandau so bad, but it’s going to be really hard for me not to talk about the rest of his arc, because he has a fairly significant scene in this run of episodes, and then he’s just gone for the other five. So, I think I’m gonna put a pin in that, and just talk about him a whole bunch in the last episode.
DEE: Well, real quick, Vrai. Real quick. Is Dilandau okay?
VRAI: He’s super not okay.
DEE: He’s super not. I think “extremely not okay” this time around, I think we can definitively say.
CAITLIN: Yeah, no, I don’t think he is okay under any definition of the term “okay.”
DEE: No, he has clearly been fucked with real bad by these alchemist folks that we don’t really know anything about except that they’re—what’s the word?—”ominous.” [Chuckles] They’re ominous.
And he… It does… I think… At some point, when I can keep the plot in my head long enough to form complete thoughts about it, I think they’re…
CAITLIN: No, that’s never gonna happen.
DEE: No, I know, which is why I’m probably never gonna write this essay. I think there’s something really fascinating going on with parallels between Zaibach and our heroes. and I’ve talked a little bit about how I think there’s some stuff between Folken and Van, but I think there’s some good stuff between Van and Dilandau.
And this week, one of the things we see, I think, is both of them dealing with trauma and loss, but Van is able to reach out and find people who will support him; and that scene where Hitomi helps him find the Escaflowne and shares the burden of the pain with him is a really good scene of these two characters and equals coming together.
And, meanwhile, Dilandau has nobody now, and collapses. Just has a complete breakdown. And, again, we can’t really get into… Clearly this is going to come back. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to tell folks at home, “Dilandau’s not just gone from the story. He’ll be back.”
CAITLIN: Right, well, it messes with his part in the destiny prognostication. I think we can say that much.
VRAI: Yeah, well, in the very first episode, I mentioned that, comparatively, Van is struggling with toxic masculinity; Dilandau seems like an embodiment of it. And he’s literally been surgically, precisely fucked with to be that tiny little ball of violent rage.
And it’s kind of why I’m a little bit more forgiving with him than I probably should be, because he’s obviously awful. He’s a terrible, murdering ball of violence who is awful even to the men who are his family before they all die horribly—but also, he’s also a teenager, and you get the feeling that maybe this has happened before and every time his programming starts to waver and it breaks his mind a little more, they put him back under the knife.
DEE: I talked earlier about grooming child soldiers, and that’s what we do appear to be dealing with here.
VRAI: [voice wavering] My son!
DEE: And, like you said, the fact that he’s 15… Yeah, he’s awful, but he’s also a child soldier who has been pretty clearly fucked with, very badly. And I don’t… So, I agree with you there. I think that makes it a little bit easier to feel sympathy for Dilandau, even when he’s being objectively terrible.
VRAI: Yeah. We’re gonna put a pin in that and I’m just gonna scream a lot next episode.
DEE: [laughs] It’ll be great.
CAITLIN: I just want to say that there’s some weird imagery around the destiny prognostication machine.
DEE: How so?
CAITLIN: It looks like when it shows the shots of the workings of it… It looks like sperm swimming around DNA.
DEE and VRAI: Yeah!
CAITLIN: And I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean.
DEE: [deadpan] They’re birthing a new future.
VRAI: [snickers] I mean, there is a lot of organic imagery around the fate stuff, and it’s sort of been backgrounded since the early episodes, but there’s definitely that tension between newfangled metallic-looking tech and old, organic-looking tech, which is better.
DEE: Yeah, I mean, Isaac shows up and gives them Science! to free them from their sadness. And then you look out over Zaibach and you’re like, “Are we sure the fascist state is happy? ‘Cause I’m not sure I’m sure.”
CAITLIN: Although, those Zaibach guymelefs look pretty organic. Just gonna say that again.
DEE: They are giant penises. This is true.
CAITLIN: [laughs] What is all this dick-related imagery around it?
DEE: It’s almost like the show is maybe having a conversation about toxic masculinity on purpose! [chuckles]
CAITLIN: [sarcastically] Mm-hm. Maybe.
VRAI: [sarcastically] Maybe.
CAITLIN: Quite possibly.
DEE: [faux-shocked] What?! Politics in anime?
CAITLIN: Maybe. It’s a stretch.
VRAI: Here nor there, I do love the scene with the Dragonslayer ghosts. It’s so cheesy, but it’s also like, “Oh, no, my heart!”
CAITLIN: It is. It is. It’s a really good scene.
DEE: I also like that it’s not 100% clear if there are literal ghosts—because it’s a fantasy-verse, there could be—or if that’s just Van’s guilt and trauma manifesting itself.
VRAI: And the colors are so good and oh my God, this so pretty.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] This show’s so pretty.
DEE: There’s some really excellent storyboarding and imagery used, pretty much all the way through the show, but [there were] definitely some stretches in these episodes where I just kept being like, “Hot damn, that’s a good shot!” So.
VRAI: And also that scene where Escaflowne is a dragon and falls from the eclipsed moon because of Zaibach’s ship and it’s so. Fucking. Good!
VRAI: Sorry, it’s… Sometimes I geek out about storyboarding a little.
DEE: No, I think that’s totally fair. This is a show that clearly—despite the plot sometimes being incomprehensible—clearly a lot of love was put into it.
CAITLIN: Can we talk about Manga Dilandau?
VRAI: Yes, we can.
CAITLIN: Let’s talk about Manga Dilandau.
VRAI: He is weird. It’s so weird, because (A) I think it’s an inferior character, writing-wise.
CAITLIN: I mean, you could say that about any character in the Escaflowne manga.
VRAI: Fair. The character design could be interesting, except that it ends up being more like Escaflowne did a whoops, because now Dilandau is the only visibly brown-skinned character, and he’s a violent psychopath.
CAITLIN: [wearily] Yeah.
DEE: Oh, boy.
CAITLIN: He’s a completely different character in the manga and I don’t remember his deal.
VRAI: He was maybe a prince of another nation who got taken in by Zaibach after he killed his mother, but he killed his mother in self-defense because she tried to murder him, and he’s got a lot of issues about that.
Van’s mom is a way bigger character in the manga. She gets kidnapped early on and Dilandau carts her around for a while before accidentally murdering her because they’re at a hallucination forest, and he thinks it’s his mom trying to kill him again.
So, then Dilandau joins up with Van’s party for a while, and you think it’s going to be a “I am a morally ambiguous antihero warrior” type thing, but then they decide to drop that plot thread entirely and he winds up going back into Violent Murder-Gay Town, to kind of get on track with the anime version, and then he dies. And it sucks.
CAITLIN: [sighs] It’s bad. The Escaflowne manga’s bad.
DEE: There’s nothing good about it.
VRAI: No. Oh, and his version of Violent Murder-Gay is that instead of him having a team who dies and he’s real broke up about it, he has another freakout and stabs the only other person who was shown giving a fuck about him, who is the younger recruit who kind of idolized him and maybe had a crush. It sucks! So much.
DEE: I’m glad I’ve never read it. I am never going to.
CAITLIN: You don’t have any idle curiosity to?
DEE: No. I feel that you have painted a word picture for me, and I’m good.
VRAI: Yeah, it’s bad. Don’t read the manga, y’all. Don’t do it. I think it might be out of print anyway.
CAITLIN: Yeah. But it’s cheap on Amazon. But still don’t get it.
VRAI: Yeah, just don’t. Pay zero monies for this.
CAITLIN: But also don’t pirate.
VRAI: Yeah, don’t do that.
CAITLIN: Just don’t.
DEE: Leave it alone. Just watch the anime like we are. Right now. Much better.
DEE: Despite some frustrations.
Oh, I remembered one other thing I wanted to bring up. And I don’t have an answer for this, but I’m kind of curious what you guys think about this. During the flashback dream sequences, I thought it was noteworthy that both Van and Hitomi’s flashback moments are… Van’s kind of a mix.
So, Hitomi’s is maternal attachment, right? It’s her grandma. And it’s characterized by trust and love and they clearly had this strong bond. Her grandma encourages her to have belief in others.
Van has kind of a dual one, ’cause he has… Is it Balfus? Am I mispronouncing his name over and over again?
DEE: Balgus! Thank you. He has the one with him, and then he has the one with his mom. So he kind of has a combination of the two. And he is a character who seems to be kind of fighting with this balance between masculine aggression and more feminine-coded compassion and caring.
And then Allen’s is purely of this paternal attachment that is completely characterized by resentment and anger.
And I just noticed this thing. And then watching the trajectories of their characters and sort of the… What’s the word I’m looking for? The family members and mentor figures who are the ghosts of their past that they carry with them and how that affects their characters, and that there does seem to be kind of a gendered role situation here, in the fact that Allen is becoming increasingly ineffective and shitty, whereas Hitomi and Van seem to be trying to navigate their way into being better, more rounded people.
Something I noticed.
VRAI: That is definitely a thing that is going on. I will say: shout out to them doing that thing that I kind of hate in anime, especially when they haven’t earned it, where he’s like, “Oh you really loved your dad all along and were looking for a way to forgive him.” For what? Being an asshole, just because he had a good reason for it?
DEE: Yeah, that was one of those points where I’m like, “I disagree with you here. I don’t think…” I think I get where Hitomi’s coming from in terms of Allen probably is searching for some kind of reason to make peace with this thing that’s been pissing him off forever. But I don’t think his dad deserves forgiveness.
DEE: I think Allen needs to make peace with it because I don’t think he’s ever gonna be able to move on from the fact that he just jumps into the arms of anybody who shows him affection. I don’t think that’s good. But I don’t think forgiveness is necessarily the answer, so I think that is one place… I think the anime is probably pushing it that way, and that is one place in the series where I pretty strongly disagree with him.
CAITLIN: I feel like forgiveness is one of those cultural issues, a less obvious one, because forgiveness is very heavily emphasized in Japan. When I was living there, during the orientation, they were like, “Yeah, no, forgiveness and apologizing is a really big deal.”
Sometimes, they were like… one factoid they gave us was saying that, in a car crash, who has to deal with the insurance more and who’s considered responsible… whether or not you apologize can be factored into it. And not apologizing… In the US, apparently, it can be factored into it, ’cause if you apologize, it’s an admission of fault, and that can hurt you.
But if you don’t apologize in Japan, that can be seen as… Well, I don’t know exactly what it can be seen as, but they told us that not apologizing makes you look way worse in that case, and you’re more likely to get the short end of the stick. So, always apologize and hope for forgiveness. So I think that is a more cultural thing, so I…
DEE: I… So, I see what you’re saying. Having grown up in a white, Midwestern, Catholic community/family, what you just described is pretty much legit how I was raised, too. Forgiveness is very much top-priority, and most of the time I would agree with that.
And I think that’s something that I’ve kind of had to come to terms with myself over the past, I dunno, five to ten years of adulthood… is that sometimes “making peace” doesn’t necessarily mean “forgiveness,” and it’s complicated, right? I think that’s always my instinct, too, is you should be able to forgive somebody else for their faults and move on from that. But then having spoken to people who have gone through some pretty terrible situations that I certainly have not, I’ve had to kind of re-orient my thought process on that.
And that’s the position I’m coming from. I get where the show is coming from because I’ve absolutely been there, and I’ve reached a point now where I’m like, “Mmm, I’m still not sure I agree with you.”
CAITLIN: No, absolutely. You know, it’s just…
DEE: And obviously family is a huge part of it, too. And, again, that’s a culture I came from as well, where it was like, “Well, no, you should forgive them for it, because they’re family. They’re this or that.” I think that was very common in the particular subculture I grew up in as well.
VRAI: [quietly] Oh yeah.
DEE: So, I see where it’s coming from. Very much so. I sometimes… I agree that we need to take into account the cultural differences, but at the same time, I think sometimes we overplay those cultural differences? Because, again, I relate to that very strongly. And I’m still saying, “Mm, maybe Allen doesn’t need to forgive his dad.” [chuckles] So…
VRAI: Good convo. Good convo. I’ll bring us in for the thing now.
Yeah, so that about wraps us up for this discussion, I think. And next time we’ll be watching the last stretch of the series, episodes 21 to 26, which there will be probably, if nothing else, emotions. I think we can all guarantee that. A lot of stuff will happen.
So, if you’re watching along with us, that’s still on Funimation or on the Blu-rays that you’ve purchased. Don’t do piracy, kids.
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CAITLIN: [whispered] In the second day!
DEE: It was amazing. Y’all are amazing, seriously.
DEE: I still don’t actually believe it’s true. I keep looking at the numbers and just going, “Huh.” [laughs] I’m just kind of in shock. Happy, happy shock. So, thank y’all. Seriously.
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Thanks so much for joining us, everybody! [sarcastically] And remember: your feelings matter, in that you are completely ruining the world around you with everything you—wait, no.
DEE: No, no. No. That can’t be right.
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