2002, Movie, PG-13, 98 mins


Mix together equal parts LORD OF THE RINGS, THE WIZARD OF OZ, leaven with adolescent angst, add some fighting robots and you have this fantasy-adventure, spun off from the 26-episode Escaflowne TV series (1996), broadcast on American TV in 2000 (cut and dubbed) as Vision of Escaflowne. But be warned: Fans of the series may be disconcerted by the movie's darker tone. Fifteen-year-old schoolgirl Hitomi Kanzaki (voice of Kelly Sheridan) is sliding gradually into suicidal depression. She's quit the track team, withdrawn from her closest friends, feels constantly sleepy and wants more than anything to simply fade away. She's also haunted by a childhood memory: While waiting in a train station with her father, time seemed suddenly to stand still, and Hitomi saw a handsome young man in medieval garb. Then he vanished, and things returned to normal. Now she dreams about the incident, and has begun to hear voices calling her, telling her she's the "Wing Goddess" and her help is needed. To Hitomi's amazement, she's actually transported to Gaea, where bloodthirsty Black Dragon warriors are systematically destroying every being who oppose them. The clan's main rivals are the Abaharaki, a disparate coalition of displaced survivors determined to save what's left of their homelands or die trying; they include leader Allen (Brian Drummond), warrior-babe Millerna (Venus Terzo) and volatile cat-girl Merle (Jocelyn Loewen). Fighting at their side is perpetual loner Lord Van (Kirby Morrow), whose brother, Lord Folkan (Paul Dobson), commands the Black Dragon legions. It was Folkan who called Hitomi to Gaea, but somehow she was drawn instead to the Abaharaki, and especially to Van. As Hitomi struggles to find her place in Gaea — could she actually be this Wing Goddess? — the Abaharaki search for Escaflowne, a suit of living armor that may be their only chance of success against Folkan and his cohorts, psychotic Lord Dilandau (Andrew Francis) and Sola (Sylvia Zaradick), an elfin psychic whose motives and loyalties aren't entirely clear. Filled with fanciful characters (all complete with complicated backstories) and blessed with more plot than can be reasonably crammed into a 90-minute film, this beautifully animated epic is never dull, though anime's saucer-eyed character conventions are particularly ill-suited to characters like the sadistic Dilandau and tormented Van. Yoko Kanno's Enya-ish contributions to the soundtrack are outstanding. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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