The Vision of Escaflowne (天空のエスカフローネ Tenkū no Esukafurōne?, lit. Escaflowne of the Heavens) is a 26-episode Japanese anime television series produced by Sunrise Studios and directed by Kazuki Akane. It premiered in Japan on April 2, 1996 on TV Tokyo, with the final episode airing on September 24, 1996. Sony's anime satellite channel, Animax also aired the series, both in Japan and on its various worldwide networks, including Hong Kong, Taiwan, Southeast Asia, and South Asia. The series is licensed for Region 1 release by Bandai Entertainment.
Deliberately blending elements from both shōnen and shōjo genres, the series follows a teenage high school girl named Hitomi, who finds herself pulled from Earth to the planet Gaea when a boy named Van appears on the high school track while battling a dragon. In Gaea, she is caught in the middle of a war as the Zaibach empire attempts to take over Gaea. Van, king of the fallen kingdom of Fanelia, with aid from Allen, a knight from the kingdom of Asturia, struggles to stop Zaibach using his mystical mech Escaflowne. Hitomi, whose fortune telling powers blossom in Gaea, discovers she is the key to awakening Escaflowne and to stopping Zaibach's plans.
While the anime series was in production, two very different manga retellings were also developed and released: a shōnen version of the story entitled The Vision of Escaflowne and a shōjo retelling titled Hitomi—The Vision of Escaflowne. In addition, a second shōjo adaptation called Escaflowne—Energist's Memories was released as a single volume in 1997. The story was novelized in a series of six light novels by Yumiko Tsukamoto, Hajime Yatate, and Shoji Kawamori. A movie adaptation, Escaflowne: The Movie was released on June 24, 2000, but bears only a basic resemblance to the original series. Four CD soundtracks and a drama CD have also been released in relation to the series.
The series focuses on the heroine, Hitomi Kanzaki, and her adventures after she is transported to the world of Gaea, a mysterious planet where she can see Earth and its moon in the sky. On Gaea, Earth is known as the Mystic Moon. Hitomi's latent psychic powers are enhanced on Gaea and she quickly becomes embroiled in the conflicts between the Zaibach Empire and the several peaceful countries that surround it. The conflicts are brought about by the Zaibach Empire's quest to revive the legendary power from the ancient city of Atlantis. As the series progresses, many of the characters' pasts and motivations, as well as the history of Atlantis and the true nature of the planet Gaea, are revealed.
In planning for five years, The Vision of Escaflowne almost never made it to the air. Shoji Kawamori first proposed the series after a trip to Nepal, during which he visited the foggy mountain region and picture a hidden world where an epic focusing on both fate and divination should be set. When he returned, he proposed the series to Bandai Entertainment and Sunrise Studios. According to Kawamori, his pitch for the series was simple: "if Macross was robotic mecha and love songs, why not a story about robotic mecha and divining powers?"
He worked with Bandai producer Minoru Takanashi to finish fleshing out the original idea. They researched various mysteries for inspiration, particularly stories centered around the mythical land of Atlantis and the Bermuda Triangle. As the series began taking shape, they changed the lead character from a male, the norm for an action-mecha series, to a high school girl as the lead character. Nobuteru Yuki was hired as the character designer, and tasked with crafting a design for Hitomi and the rest of the cast. He would later state that Hitomi was his favorite character because it was the first one he'd ever designed completely from scratch rather than simply being adapted from an existing medium. Initially, Folken and Dilandau were a single enemy commander, but as the story fleshed out, the creators felt the series would be more interesting if there were two with very different personalities.
Initially, the series was planned at thirty-nine episodes, with Yasuhiro Imagawa brought on board to direct. He is credited with coining the word "escaflowne", a Latin-based derivative of the word "escalation", that would be used in the title. Imagawa saw the series as being a typical shōnen series that was heavily male oriented and featuring a shapely heroine and dramatic battles. However, he left the project before actual production started to direct Mobile Fighter G Gundam. Without a director, the series was put on hold and Kawamori left to work on other projects. After two years sitting on the shelf, Sunrise revisited the project and brought in relatively newcomer, Kazuki Akane, to act as the new director. In order to broaden the potential audience, Akane decided to add more shōjo, or girl-oriented, elements to the series. The suggestive elements were removed, several of the male characters were given more bishōnen—"beautiful boy"—appearances, and the plot element around the tarot cards were added. Akane also gave the character of Hitomi a complete make over, taking her from being a curvy, air-headed, long-haired girl with glasses to the slim, athletic, short-haired and more intelligent and confident girl seen in the final series.
With the series character designs finalized and the story set, Yoko Kanno was selected to write the songs for the series, including the background songs which she co-wrote with Hajime Mizoguchi. Initially they found it difficult to score the film as the plot itself was still being reworked around the new concept, but the plot changes were finished in time for them to prepare the score and give the film the desired final "epic touch." Sixteen-year-old Maaya Sakamoto, fresh from a small role in the anime adaptation of Mizuiro Jidai, was selected not only as the voice of Hitomi, but also to sing the Escaflowne theme song. Kanno is noted as saying that Sakamoto is an ideal interpreter of her work. After this project, they continued to collaborate on many other works and some consider her work on The Vision of Escaflowne to be the launching point of Sakamoto's career.
As the series entered into production, the budget required it be cut down to twenty-six episodes before work began on the final scripts and animation began. Not wanting to cut out any of the characters or the already elaborately planned plot lines, the series was instead forced to fit into the shorter length and cover more of the story in each episode than originally planned. This can be seen some in the first episode, where in the credits were cut in favor of adding more exposition. While a few scenes were deleted, as a whole each episode was left with a feeling of giving the viewer a great deal more information than in many anime series, and it added to the series epic scope. In the retail Japanese video release, some of the deleted scenes were restored to the first seven episodes.
The Vision of Escaflowne premiered in Japan on TV Tokyo on April 2, 1996 where it aired weekly until it completed its twenty-six episode run on September 24, 1996. Bandai Entertainment's North American division, which licensed the series for home video distribution under its AnimeVillage label, first released the series with English subtitles, across eight VHS volumes, including a box set, from September 15, 1998 to December 15, 1998. In August 2000, Fox Kids began broadcasting the series in the United States. Produced by Haim Saban, these dubbed episodes were heavily edited to remove footage, add new "flashback" sequences to remind the audience of the events that just occurred, and to heavily downplay the role of Hitomi in the series. The first episode was skipped altogether, and the series soundtrack produced by Yoko Kanno was partially replaced with more techno themes. This modified version of the series was a ratings failure and canceled after ten episodes. Fox explained that they edited to meet their own target audience, to comply with broadcast standards, and to fit the allowed timeslot. The Canadian television channel YTV acquired Fox's dubbed version of the series for broadcast. Following Fox's planned broadcast schedule, they premiered the series on September 11, 2000 with the second episode. YTV aired all of the episodes Fox Kids dubbed, concluding with the series true first episode in February 2001. Bandai began releasing the dubbed version to VHS in 2000, discontinuing the releases in February 2001 after only four volumes had been released.
Bandai later released the entire series, unedited and in the original episode order, to Region 1 DVD. Spanning eight volumes, the releases include the original Japanese audio tracks with optional English subtitles, and the uncut English dubbed track. Bandai also later released the series in several different box sets, including a Limited Edition set released on July 23, 2002, a "Perfect Collection" – which included the Escaflowne feature length movie – released October 26, 2004, and an "Anime Legends" box set on April 11, 2006.
Three pieces of theme music are used for the series. "No Need for Promises" (約束はいらない Yakusoku wa Iranai?), performed by Maaya Sakamoto, is used for the series opening theme for the entire series, except the first episode in which no opening sequence is used. Performed by Hiroki Wada, "Mystic Eyes" is used for the ending them for the first twenty-five episodes, while the final episode uses Yoko Kanno's instrumental piece "The Story of Escaflowne ~ End Title" (ザ ストーリー オブ エスカフローネ~エンド タイトル Za Sutoorii Obu Esukafuroone ~ Endo Taitoru?).
The Vision of Escaflowne is the debut work of Maaya Sakamoto, who not only voiced the main character of Hitomi Kanzaki, but also performed the opening theme song "Yakusoku wa Iranai" and other songs from the series. Yoko Kanno and Hajime Mizoguchi composed and produced the series' musical themes and background, incorporating a variety of styles including contemporary, classical, and Gregorian chant.
Four CD soundtracks have been released in Japan by Victor Entertainment. Escaflowne: Over the Sky was released on June 5, 1996, with sixteen tracks, including the series' full opening and ending themes. The second CD, Escaflowne Original Soundtrack 2, was released on July 24, 1996 and contained an additional seventeen tracks.
Released on September 28, 1996, Escaflowne Original Soundtrack 3 contained an additional fifteen tracks. The fourth CD soundtrack, The Vision of Escaflowne: Lovers Only, was released in on January 22, 1997 and contained twenty tracks, including the original TV length opening and ending themes and the ending theme used for the final episode of the series. Despite the relative popularity of the soundtracks, they have not been licensed for release outside of Japan and are only available by importing them.
Three alternate retellings of The Vision of Escaflowne have been released in manga form, with first two manga series developed at the same time as the anime. Due to the radical changes in the anime series during production, these two manga series are very different from the original anime series and each other. The first series, also titled The Vision of Escaflowne was one of the first manga series to appear in the then new Shōnen Ace magazine from Kadokawa Shoten. Despite the anime series itself being on hold, Sunrise gave artist Katsu Aki the existing production and character designs, resulting in the first manga series having the heavy shōnen feel and curvaceous Hitomi that was originally planned for the anime series. Given free rein to change the story however he wanted, Aki's version is a violent saga focused primarily on fighting and has Hitomi transforming into a "curvaceous nymph" that is the power source of the mecha Escaflowne. The series premiered in Shōnen Ace's first issue on October 24, 1997 and ran until November 26, 1997. The thirty-eight chapters were collected and published by Kadokawa across eight tankōbon volumes. It was licensed for released in North America by Tokyopop with the first volume released on July 10, 2003. The Tokyopop English editions were also imported for distribution in Australia by Madman Entertainment.
In 1996, with the premiere of the anime series, Messiah Knight — The Vision of Escaflowne was created. This shōjo oriented adaptation was written by Yuzuru Yashiro and serialized in Asuka Fantasy DX from April 8, 1996 through January 18, 1997. Unlike the first manga, it focused more on the interaction of the characters and severely toned down the violence to the point that the mecha are not used for battle at all and Escaflowne only appears near the end of the series. It was abruptly canceled after only 10 chapters and the end of the anime, due to the slowing popularity of the series. The individual chapters were released in two tankōbon volumes, at which time the series was retitled Hitomi — The Vision of Escaflowne.
A final manga retelling, Escaflowne — Energist's Memories, was a collaborative effort of various mangaka around Japan to create 15 "mini-stories" related to the anime series. The single volume manga was published in January 1997 under Kadokawa's Asuka comics DX shōjo imprint. Artist's who contributed to the volume include: Tammy Ohta, Yayoi Takeda, Kahiro Okuya, Daimoon Tennyo, Kazumi Takahashi, Masaki Sano, and Kyo Watanabe.
Yumiko Tsukamoto, Hajime Yatate, and Shoji Kawamori collaborated in the writing on a novelization of the Vision of Escaflowne anime series. The light novel chapters were originally serialized in Newtype, and the illustrations were provided by Nobuteru Yuuki and Hirotoshi Sano. The individual chapters were collected and released in six individual volumes by Kadokawa under their "New Type Novels" label between June 1996 and August 1997.