Usually an attempt to make a series with 'something for everyone'-- in the case of Escaflowne a shoujo romance with both mecha fighting and sword-and-sorcery aspects--comes out terrible. Escaflowne, however, avoids the pitfalls one might expect, and ends up ranking as one of the must-see anime of all time.
True to its shoujo format, the story begins with a Japanese schoolgirl, the protaganist Kanzake Hitomi, dreaming of true love. It turns out that while not a 'magical girl' in the usual sense, Hitomi has a bit of magic about her: she can give uncannily accurate Tarot readings.
Her ability turns out to have another aspect: while running in a practice heat with the school's track team, she has a vision of a young man, armed with a sword, confronting a dragon and collapses. When she recovers, she learns that the captain of the team, on whom she has a massive crush, will be leaving the country.
In hope of winning a kiss from him, and improving her running time, she extracts a promise that he will give her her first kiss if she beats 13 seconds in the 100m. But the test of her ability is never completed: the vision she had materializes in reality; she collides with the young man who has arrived in a column of light; and she and her companions flee from the dragon.
During the fight, Hitomi, for the first of what will be many times, warns the youth of danger, saving him from an attack by the dragon's blade-like tail. When he slays the dragon, the column of light returns, and Hitomi is swept up with him.
She finds herself transported to Gaea, a world where magic is a sort of technology, based largely on 'energists', gem-like organs found in dragons, and where the Earth and moon are seen together in the night sky.
The dragonslaying turns out to be a part of the accession rite to the throne of a small kingdom, Fanelia, and the youth, Van Fanel, is soon crowned king. But on the day of his coronation, Fanelis is attacked by a force of invisible guymelefs (as the magically powered mechas which are the normative weapon in Gaean warfare are called).
In the ensuing battle, Hitomi's gift, on Gaea no longer simply a bias in Tarot readings, but an actual second sight, allows her to direct Van, piloting the eponymous mecha, Escaflowne, to defeat enough of the invisible foes to allow them to escape from his devastated capital.
The attack on Fanelia proves to be the opening of what becomes a Gaean world war.
Hitomi thanks to her second sight, and the regard with which she is held as a girl from 'the mystic moon' as Earth is called on Gaea, is obliged to gradually grow into a role she would never have chosen: a major player in the power-politics of the war-torn world into which she has been thrust.
Love triangles, jealousy, family conflicts and jealousy keep the shoujo aspects of the series alive throughout, even as battles, assassination attempts, and quests satisfy the mecha and sword-and-sorcery lover. The series also has a deeper subtext as a romantic (in the cultural sense) critique of the Enlightenment project of rationally controlling man's fate for the common good, but explaining that would be a spoiler.
Beautifully drawn (except for the noses), wonderful music (but then I'm partial to Gregorian chant--the last really good Western Christian liturgical music), good performances by all the voice-actors.
Unless you are engaged in a futile effort to shield your children from any hint of violence or conflict, or from the notion of romantic love, there is nothing in Escaflowne to which parents would object.
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